The human body’s uncanny ability to adapt to bad situations means that vitamin and mineral deficiencies sometimes go unnoticed for months, only raising their heads when you go to the doctor, or someone mentions it.

Vitamins and minerals help our cells and organs do their jobs, from keeping bones strong (calcium) to bolstering immunity (zinc).

So, it really makes no wonder a deficiency in some vitamins and minerals can have noticeable effects on our health.

The good news is that if you catch a deficiency, fixing it can be as simple as small diet or supplement changes to improve your levels, provided no illness or condition is sapping you of the ingredients your body requires.

Here are some signs you could be deficient:

  1. Fatigue

Fatigue is the tiredness and loss of energy you feel after strenuous activities, but if you have a mineral or vitamin deficiency, it can also happen spontaneously and for no reason, such as walking to the car or reading a book.

Iron, B12 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin) are the three big deficiency culprits for fatigue – iron is particularly telling because your body needs it to carry oxygen. The resulting anaemia leaves you tired and short of breath during everyday activities.

  1. Weakness

Being unable to walk around and lift things like you normally can is a tell-tale sign of a mineral deficiency. Our strength comes from our muscle fibres and nervous system, and anything that impacts these is a deficient candidate.

Magnesium is the usual offender because it regulates blood pressure and protein synthesis (necessary for muscle maintenance), reduces the likelihood of muscle spasms, and works as a calcium blocker to let your muscles relax.

  1. Pale skin

Pale skin can come from illness, lack of sun exposure, or a mineral/vitamin deficiency – usually B vitamins, vitamin D, folate, iron, or zinc, although a combination of deficiencies isn’t out of the question in all age groups.

Extremely pale skin, hyperpigmentation, and a lack of colour in the lips can be from B12 deficiency – B12 helps your body produce red blood cells and can’t be made by the body, so you need to get it from your diet through food or supplements.

  1. Difficulty concentrating

Difficulty concentrating and brain fog are signs you have a deficiency in magnesium and B vitamins, with magnesium an often-overlooked deficiency in brain fog, despite our brains using it to harmonise nerve signal transmission and the blood-brain barrier.

B2 (riboflavin) is a contender for this symptom because it stops toxins from damaging cells, working with other B vitamins to maintain energy, while B3 directly protects brain cells from stress and inflammation.

  1. Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath is a frustrating symptom of mineral and vitamin deficiency because it’s easily mistaken for illness and fitness lapses. But trust us – if you are short of breath, it could be because you are deficient in vitamin B9.

B9 (folate) deficiency can cause shortness of breath and rapid breathing because folic acid is an essential ingredient for red blood cells, so a lack of folate means fewer red blood cells for your muscles and brain.

  1. Hair loss

Some vitamins and minerals like riboflavin, biotin, folate, and vitamin B12 are associated with thinning hair and shedding. Age and stress are also critical factors, but a deficiency can also cause your hair to fall out easily.

Zinc helps with hair tissue growth and repair with protein synthesis and cell division, while biotin produces keratin, a protein that makes up hair, skin, and nails - a deficiency in either of these can lead to weakened hair follicles.

  1. Body odour  

Excessive body odour or a strange smell like cat pee around the armpits can indicate a magnesium deficiency - magnesium helps control the sweat glands and detoxifies all your organs, making it a body-odour-buster.

Zinc is another candidate for excessive body odour – it helps your body break down sulphur-containing amino acids found in garlic and onions, as well as odours caused by bacteria.

  1. Mouth sores

Vitamin C helps your body produce collagen for healing and building new tissues, so a deficiency can stimulate new ulcers and sores. Add a vitamin B12 deficiency to the mix, and you also get abnormally large red blood cells that can form ulcers.

Iron and zinc deficiencies are also causes of poor overall oral health (which is why we see them in oral health products).  

  1. Heart palpitations

Palpitations in your ticker can be extremely worrisome – the first thoughts you probably have include irregular heartbeat or heart attack - but a much more common underlying cause is deficiencies in vitamin C, magnesium, and folate.

Oxidant stress and inflammation of the heart are less likely with ample vitamin C levels because it works as a blood cleanser. Magnesium affects your heart’s electrical impulses, so a deficiency can directly cause heartbeat issues.

Folate breaks down the amino acid homocysteine, with high homocysteine levels known to cause heart disease.

  1. Pins and needles

Tingling in your hands and feet is perfectly normal, although if it happens regularly (say, twice per day), it might have an underlying cause, like a deficiency in vitamin B12, or copper, calcium, and magnesium.

Copper and calcium deficiencies can trigger peripheral neuropathy (a fancy name for numbness and tingling), while B vitamin deficiencies can cause all manner of neurological and nervous system hold-ups.

Summing Up

Vitamins and minerals are the unsung heroes of our bodies, working tirelessly behind the scenes to keep us functioning at our best in a fascinating dance.

Some, like vitamins C and B, are water-soluble and get quickly absorbed into our bloodstream, ready to get to work, while others, like vitamin D, are crafted inside us when we expose our skin to sunlight.

Getting the right combination of vitamins and minerals is possible with a nutritious diet and supplementation when a boost is needed.

A good source of dosing information is Harvard’s Nutrition Source.