How to Spot and Remedy Vitamin Deficiency: Common Signs and Treatment Options   

How to Spot and Remedy Vitamin Deficiency: Common Signs and Treatment Options

Vitamins spilled out on a counter, vitamin B12

May 19, 2023

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Tara Piantadosi, RDN

Strolling past aisles in your local pharmacy, or even scrolling your social media feed, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the number of vitamins and dietary supplements and wonder which, if any, you really need.

“Vitamins are essential to support good health. These micronutrients are important for many body functions,” says Tara Piantadosi, RDN, a nutritionist at Hackensack University Medical Center. But how can you tell when you are suffering from a vitamin deficiency and what can be done to remedy it?

What Is Vitamin Deficiency?

“Vitamin deficiency is a clinical diagnosis determined by blood work that your body is lacking a vitamin it needs to function,” Tara says.

The amount of vitamins the body needs to function differs based on a number of changing factors. For instance, women need more folate when they are pregnant than when not pregnant.

Vitamin deficiency can also be caused by medical conditions (such as Crohn's disease, kidney disease or inflammatory bowel disease) or dietary restrictions, particularly if you are vegan.

Vitamin deficiency can cause a range of clinical symptoms—including fatigue, skin and hair issues—which depend on what vitamins are at low levels.

Common Vitamin Deficiencies

Tara notes two common vitamin deficiencies that she sees in her patients:

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is extremely common due to reduced sun exposure and the increased use of sunscreen. According to the National Institutes of Health, 42 percent of American adults are vitamin D-deficient. People of color are affected even more because of the amount of melatonin in their skin: nearly 63 percent of Hispanic adults and 82% of African American adults are deficient.

  • Changes in mood
  • Bone pain
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness

Sources of vitamin D:

“Unfortunately, there aren’t many good food sources for vitamin D,” Tara says. “So if you are deficient, your doctor will most likely recommend supplements.”

While supplements can be a simple answer to a vitamin deficiency, Tara cautions that supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA. “Try to find vitamin supplements that are USP-verified,” she says. “The USP is a scientific organization that aims to set quality standards for things such as supplements.”

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 deficiency is common, especially in older adults. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 20 percent of adults older than 60 are vitamin B12-deficient.

It can be caused by diet choices and/or restrictions, particularly a lack of meat, fish, eggs and dairy, as well as various medical conditions such as Crohn’s or Celiac disease. Some people simply have trouble absorbing vitamin B12, leading to deficiency.

  • Anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet

Sources of vitamin B12:

The good news is that you can get vitamin B12 through various foods, including:

  • Animal products, including meat, dairy and eggs
  • Fortified foods like breakfast cereals
  • Nutritional yeast

If you cannot get enough vitamin B12 from diet, supplements may be necessary as well.

When to See a Doctor

“If you think that you may be suffering from a vitamin deficiency, schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor,” Tara says.

Your doctor can order the necessary lab blood work to verify vitamin deficiency and connect you with a dietitian to determine the best course of action.

“Vitamins are a key piece of good health, and while you can easily buy supplements, they shouldn’t be taken just to be taken,” Tara says. “Vitamin deficiency is a clinical diagnosis, so you shouldn’t just assume and self-medicate. See a doctor if you think you may have a deficiency.”

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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