7 Signs You're Undernourished

Many health problems are blamed on vitamin or mineral deficiencies and, in fact, even in a well-fed country like the United States, nutritional deficiencies are possible.

It is important to speak with a medical expert to determine the exact cause of the problem, however, because some signs and symptoms of nutritional deficiency are similar to those of other medical conditions, and one type of nutritional deficiency can also mimic another.

Some vitamin and mineral deficiencies have been linked to chronic conditions that often develop with age, including those that may be life threatening such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. That's one good reason why it is important to pay attention to the signs and catch a nutritional deficiency in its early stages. If you develop one or more of the following symptoms, speak with your doctor to find out if a nutritional deficiency is the cause.

1. Weakness and lack of energy can be signs of dehydration or an iron deficiency. Although you may not need eight full glasses of water each day to stay sufficiently hydrated, you do need plenty of fluids. You can get the fluids you need from water and other beverages, and also from watery foods such as yogurt, fruits, and vegetables. If you need more iron in your diet, you can get it from meat, poultry, fish, vegetable sources such as dried beans and lentils, and iron-enriched foods such as cereal, rice, and pasta. Eating foods that are high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, and peppers, at the same meal, will help you absorb more iron.

2. Mental confusion and inability to concentrate can be signs of many different problems, including deficiencies of magnesium, iron, or even salt (sodium and/or chloride). Good sources of magnesium include nuts, legumes (such as dried beans, lentils, and split peas), whole grains, seafood, and chocolate.

3. Frequent infections can be a sign of vitamin C or zinc deficiency, since both of these nutrients help support your immune system. Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables will keep you stocked up on vitamin C, while seafood and meats are your best sources of zinc.

4. Mild bone pain and loss of muscle strength may be early signs of a vitamin D deficiency. Since vitamin D is not found in many foods, most people get their D from sunlight and fortified foods such as milk, some brands of yogurt, orange juice, and breakfast cereals. But ongoing research suggests that the amount of vitamin D normally consumed from these sources may not be enough to protect some people against deficiency.

5. Skin rash is one symptom of a B-vitamin deficiency, specifically vitamins B6 and riboflavin, which are found in leafy greens and whole grains. Dairy can provide a good source of riboflavin.

6. Muscle cramps, difficulty walking, or tingling or numbness in your legs or arms can be a sign of a vitamin E deficiency. Foods that are rich in vitamin E include wheat germ, whole grains, vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. If you have any type of condition that makes it difficult for you to digest and absorb fat, you are at higher than average risk of developing a vitamin E deficiency.

7. Depression has been linked to specific nutritional deficiencies as well as overall poor eating habits. For instance, a diet too low in complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can be as devastating to your mental health as a diet that contains too many simple carbohydrates from sugary foods such as sodas, candies, and other sweets. Depression has also been linked to a deficiency of folic acid, a B vitamin found in leafy green vegetables, legumes, seeds, and enriched grain products.

Eating a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of foods from all food groups is the best way to get the nutrients you need. If you cannot eat a balanced diet for any reason, a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement that contains no more than 100 percent of the daily requirement for each nutrient may be all you need to ensure you get what you need. In some cases, you may need an individual supplement. Keep in mind, however, that high doses of supplements can do more harm than good. Your doctor or dietitian can tell you the type of supplement and dose that is right for you.



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Vitamins and Minerals Web. November 2012 http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/vitamins/

Harvard School of Public Health: Nutrition Insurance Policy: A Daily Multivitamin. Web. November 2012 http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/multivitamin/

Oregon State University: Zinc Deficiency Mechanism Linked to Aging, Multiple Diseases.  October 2012. Web. November 2012 http://oregonstate.edu/ua/ncs/archives/2012/oct/zinc-deficiency-mechanism-linked-aging-multiple-diseases

Sathyanarayana Rao T.S., et al. "Understanding Nutrition, Depression and Mental Illness." Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 2008 Apr-Jun; 50(2):77-82 Web. November 2012 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738337/

Sizer, Frances and Whitney, Eleanor: Nutrition Concepts and Controversies.

Zhao, G. et al. "Use of Folic Acid and Vitamin Supplementation Among Adults with Depression and Anxiety: A Population-Based Survey." Nutrition Journal  Sept 2011; 10:102 Web. November 2012 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21962075