Your body depends on a significant number of vitamins and nutrients to continue optimal functioning. Unfortunately, when you’re missing essential vitamins in your diet, your body is forced to function at much less than peak efficiency. If you allow your body to become deficient in one or more vitamins, you may even notice some rather unpleasant side effects.
Why? The key lies in the way vitamins aid your body in completing its most critical bodily processes.
Vitamins and Biochemical Reactions
Your body spends all day, every day, completing the bodily processes that keep you alive and functioning. These processes, such as respiration, metabolism, digestion, excretion, growth, and reproduction, take place within your body as biochemical reactions. Vitamins are cofactors—or vital helper compounds — necessary for enzymes to act as catalysts in each of these reactions.
In short, if your body doesn’t receive enough of a vitamin, the essential bodily functions that depend on it to act as a cofactor don’t proceed at optimal levels. If you allow your body to develop a deficiency of that vitamin, bodily functions can become impaired. This impairment can result in one or more physical symptoms that can serve as a warning that not all is well.
Signs You Are Missing Key Vitamins
Fortunately, most vitamin deficiencies can be addressed with a combination of dietary adjustments and over-the-counter supplements that maximize your intake of the vitamin in question. If these five symptoms are familiar to you, it may be time to consider a combination of dietary and pharmaceutical solutions to restore your vitamin and mineral levels to normal:
Mouth Issues Like Bleeding Gums, Cracked Skin, and Oral Lesions
You could be deficient in B vitamins, iron, or zinc. Cracks at the corners of the mouth and lesions inside the mouth can be a sign of insufficient intake of a particular set of vitamins known as B vitamins. Studies of both oral lesions and angular cheilitis (the condition that causes cracking, splitting, and bleeding of the corners of the mouth) have found that often people with these symptoms also had B vitamin deficiencies—particularly in thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), and pyridoxine (vitamin B6). Meanwhile, gums that bleed easily can signify a Vitamin C deficiency.
How you can address the deficiency: Add foods and supplements rich in vitamins B1, B2, and B6, as well as iron, zinc, niacin (vitamin B3), and vitamin C. Foods rich in these nutrients, include salmon, tuna, poultry, eggs, organ meats, legumes, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens like Swiss chard—consider accompanying these foods with vitamin C rich foods that aid in iron uptake, such as broccoli, cauliflower, red bell peppers, and citrus fruits. To ensure B vitamins, iron, zinc, and vitamin C are at optimal levels, pharmacists recommend taking a B-complex supplement that includes vitamin C combined with iron and zinc supplements.
Changes in Hair and Nails, and/or a Red, Scaly Rash
You could be deficient in biotin (vitamin B7). If your hair, fingernails, and toenails become brittle, flaky, or begin to crack—or if you notice a red, scaly rash on your face—you could be dealing with a biotin deficiency. This essential vitamin is also known as the hair vitamin, but deficiencies of biotin can also cause fatigue, muscle pain, and cramps. Pregnant women, people with Crohn’s disease, heavy drinkers, and heavy smokers are more susceptible to biotin deficiencies. Also, bodybuilders who regularly consume egg whites may develop biotin deficiencies, as avidin—a protein in raw egg whites—prevents biotin absorption.
How can you address the deficiency? Add foods and supplements rich in biotin, since the body does not store many water-soluble B vitamins, including biotin. Food sources rich in biotin include egg yolks and cooked eggs—cooking deactivates problematic avidin—organ meats, salmon, other fish, dairy, nuts, avocados, bananas, blueberries, spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower. If your nails are cracking and splitting, pharmacists say a biotin-specific supplement or hair, skin & nails supplement could help.
Unexplained Muscle Cramps
You could be deficient in B vitamins, magnesium, calcium, and potassium. B vitamins are water-soluble, and magnesium, calcium, and potassium are often lost through heavy sweating. If you’re experiencing excessive muscle cramps in the calves, toes, legs, and the arches of your feet during exercise, you may not be consuming enough of these key nutrients to replenish your losses.
How you can address the deficiency: Add foods and supplements rich in B vitamins and minerals. You’ve likely heard that consuming a banana after strenuous workouts can help replenish potassium, but consuming dark leafy greens like spinach and kale, almonds, hazelnuts, apples, grapefruit, broccoli, and squash in your regular diet can help as well. In addition, our pharmacists recommend utilizing a sublingual B complex vitamin in conjunction with a calcium, magnesium, and potassium supplement to help your body replenish these essential nutrients.
Neurological Symptoms Like RLS, Prickling, and Numbness
You could be deficient in iron, B complex vitamins like pyridoxine (B6), folate (B9), and B12. If you experience restless leg syndrome (also known as RLS or Willis-Ekbom disease), you could be dealing with a deficiency in iron; in fact, multiple studies have linked low blood iron levels with RLS symptoms. Other causes of numbness, tingling, and prickling in the extremities have found a potential link between the peripheral nerves and B vitamins.
How you can address the deficiency: add iron and B vitamin supplements, as well as foods rich in iron and B vitamins. Increases in iron intake have shown moderate success at reducing RLS symptoms, as well as the fatigue and anemia that often accompany it. You can try cooking with cast-iron cookware, eating more spinach, organ meats, and red meat, or adding an “easy iron” supplement. Unidentified neurological symptoms like tingling and numbness can be addressed by adding foods high in B6, B9, and B12 like shellfish, octopus, squid, poultry, eggs, beets, spinach, asparagus, and legumes, or taking a pharmacist-recommended B complex vitamin that includes B12.
Persistent White Bumps on the Skin
You could be deficient in vitamins A, C, and D as well as essential fatty acids. If you’ve noticed persistent, white (or red) acne-like bumps on your arms, cheeks, buttocks, or thighs, you could be dealing with keratosis pilaris, a condition in which the body produces too much keratin in its hair follicles. This condition appears typically in childhood and recedes in adulthood. Although it can be passed on genetically, Keratosis pilaris can also appear in people who lack fatty acids or vitamins A, C, and D.
How you can address the deficiency: add vitamin A, C, and D rich foods and supplements, utilize a vitamin A and C supplement, or try a topical cream. Adding vitamin A and C rich foods to your diet can help to boost your levels and ward off bumps—try veggies like carrots, bell peppers, and sweet potatoes as well as leafy greens, nuts and seeds, and fatty fish like salmon and sardines. For vitamin D, our pharmacists recommend a vitamin D supplement that also includes fish oil or a vitamin D supplement that contains vitamin A or vitamin K to aid in absorption. Finally, a medicated cream that contains salicylic acid, lactic acid, urea, or alpha hydroxy acid can help treat your skin.
How Can You Ensure You’re Getting the Proper Vitamins?
While the ideal way to promote optimal levels of vitamins and nutrients in your body is to eat a healthy, balanced diet, making nutrition a priority isn’t always possible. Fortunately, scientific advances have allowed the development of several quality vitamin and mineral supplements you can take to help ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need. At Compounding Pharmacy of America, our pharmacists recognize the importance of supplementation with key vitamins and minerals; for that reason, we recommend the high-quality vitamins and minerals from Puritan’s Pride to address your vitamin deficiencies.
Chief Operating Officer, The Compounding Pharmacy of America
Matthew Poteet, Pharm.D. graduated with Honors from Lee University with a Bachelors of Science in Biological Science. After his undergraduate training, he completed the Doctor of Pharmacy program at Mercer University Southern School of Pharmacy, graduating in 2004. Dr. Poteet has spent much of his pharmacy career on staff at two of the most prestigious academic teaching hospitals in the Southeast; Emory University in Atlanta and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. At these institutions he received extensive experience and training in sterile products compounding.
He returned home to East Tennessee in 2010, where he has held the position of Pharmacy Director at two sterile products pharmacies in Knoxville. Matthew lives in Knoxville with his wife, Chris. Dr. Poteet is Tennessee’s first Board Certified Anti-Aging Pharmacist by the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine.