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Common Nutrient Deficiencies

nutrition | January 2, 2018 | Author: Naturopath

IBS, general, Digestion

Common Nutrient Deficiencies

Deficiencies in micronutrients are common and can happen if there is malabsorption, poor diet or underlying medical conditions. Most nutrient deficiencies can be diagnosed by a blood test but sometimes a highly trained health practitioner can detect deficiency signs and symptoms in their patients. Here’s some of the most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies and how to get more of them in your diet!


Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide, which can lead to microcytic anaemia, decreased capacity for work, as well as impaired immune and endocrine function. It is the main component of red blood cells which binds to haemoglobin and transports oxygen to cells.

Anyone can be susceptible to iron deficiency, even children and those who eat meat.

Groups who are at higher risk include vegans, vegetarians, menstruating women and frequent blood donors. In most cases iron may need to be supplemented to ensure adequate supplies.
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Dietary sources of iron include:

  • meat
  • seafood
  • dark green leafy vegetables
  • dried fruit, beans and peas

Vitamin B12

Also known as cobalamin, B12 is a water-soluble vitamin. It is essential for blood formation, brain function and nerve health. The majority of vitamin B12 is found in animal products—which makes vegans and vegetarians at high risk of deficiency. The elderly is another group at risk of deficiency, since absorption decreases with age.

The absorption of vitamin B12 can be impaired due to a lack of a protein called intrinsic factor. If deficiency occurs, supplementation or B12 injections may be recommended.
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Foods which are rich in vitamin B12 include clams, oysters, meat, eggs and milk products. Unfortunately for vegans, tempeh and nori rolls may be the only dietary sources available.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a common nutrient that can come back low in a blood test, particularly when levels drop in winter months. This fat-soluble vitamin is produced out of cholesterol in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight.

People who are indoors a lot, cover most of their skin while outdoors or have darker skin tones are at higher risk of deficiency.
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Vitamin D levels are commonly low in people who suffer autoimmune diseases, take certain medications and experience muscle weakness and bone loss.

Unfortunately, very few foods contain vitamin D, but the best dietary sources include:

  • egg yolks
  • cod liver oil
  • fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon and trout

It’s usually unreliable to get sufficient amounts of vitamin D through the diet and supplementation may be required. Most products contain 1000 IU per capsule but if higher doses are needed, vitamin D may even need to be dispensed through a compounding pharmacy.


Magnesium is the third most abundant mineral in the body and is important for over 300 enzyme reactions. It is essential for the health of our bones, teeth, muscles and nerves. Low intakes of magnesium have been associated with type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease and osteoporosis.
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magnesiumThe main signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:

  • muscle cramps and spasms
  • restless legs
  • headaches and migraines
  • abnormal heart rhythm
  • fatigue

Dietary sources of magnesium include wholegrains, nuts, green leafy vegetables and dark chocolate. However, many people eat very little magnesium, and deficiency is very common in Western countries.

If you are experiencing any of the above speak to your health care provider for supplement advice.


Testing for sufficient levels of calcium in the body can be a bit tricky! Only 1% of calcium is found in the blood, while the rest is stored in bone. Deficiency occurs when calcium is leached from storage to maintain levels in the blood. Apart from a blood test, calcium levels can be assessed by doing a bone density scan. This is why osteoporosis is the most common symptom of calcium deficiency.

Additionally, calcium plays a role as a signalling molecule—important for the health of our muscles, heart and nerves.

Rich sources of calcium include:Calcium

  • sardines
  • dairy products
  • dark green vegetables
  • almonds

Low calcium intake is especially common in young females and the elderly.

Supplementation may be indicated if there is low dietary intake, such as those who avoid dairy, and in the elderly.


Iodine is essential for thyroid function and the production of thyroid hormones which regulate metabolic rate. These hormones also play a role in growth, brain development and bone maintenance.
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MagnesiumDeficiency symptoms include:

  • enlarged thyroid gland (goitre)
  • increased heart rate
  • shortness of breath
  • weight gain

Severe deficiency in children can result in:

  • mental retardation
  • reduced cognitive function

Pregnant females and children under the age of 2 are the population groups at highest risk of iodine deficiency.

Any foods derived from the ocean are usually a rich source of iodine.

Here’s some reliable sources to include in the daily diet:

  • seaweed
  • fish and seafood
  • dairy
  • eggs

Iodine can also be obtained from foods that are grown in soil, but this is not always a reliable source as soils may be depleted in this nutrient. Some countries have responded to iodine deficiency by iodising table salt, which adds another dietary source of iodine.

Vitamin A

A deficiency in vitamin A is common in third world countries and is the leading cause of blindness worldwide. Vitamin A is crucial for immune system function and to form healthy skin, eyes, teeth, bones and cell membranes.

Vitamin AThere are two different dietary forms of vitamin A:

  • Beta-carotene: This is the most abundant form of pro-vitamin A which the body converts into vitamin A. It is found in plant-based foods such as brightly coloured orange, red and yellow fruits and vegetables.
  • Pro-vitamin A: Found in animal products such as meat, fish, poultry, dairy, cod liver oil and organ meats.

In Australia, vitamin A deficiency is not as common.

However, if there is impaired skin, eye or immune function, supplementation may be recommended by your health practitioner.

Take home message

  • It is possible to be deficient in any nutrient, but these are the most common forms
  • To avoid deficiency, it is important to increase dietary sources but this may not always be possible and supplementation may be required
  • Children, young women, the elderly and vegetarians/vegans seem to carry a higher risk of certain nutritional deficiencies

Click Here For Article on Being Vegetarian  Australia’s best online discount chemist


Bailey RL, et al. The epidemiology of global micronutrient deficiencies. Ann Nutr Metab. 2015;66 Suppl 2:22-33

Camaschella C. Iron deficiency: new insights into diagnosis and treatment. Hematology Am Soc Hematol Educ Program. 2015;2015:8-13

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