Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies: Symptoms and Potential Diseases

  • Medical Reviewer: Mahammad Juber, MD
Medically Reviewed on 8/16/2022

Vitamin D

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies occur when you fail to eat a balanced, nutritious diet. Symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiencies include fatigue, muscle aches, and other symptoms.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies occur when you fail to eat a balanced, nutritious diet. Symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiencies include fatigue, muscle aches, and other symptoms.

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies occur when you fail to eat a balanced, nutritious diet that gives your body the nutrients it needs to function smoothly. Your body needs both macro and micronutrients to stay healthy.

Macronutrients are those that your body needs in large quantities, such as fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and fiber. Although required in smaller amounts, micronutrients are also essential for several critical processes. Vitamins and minerals are essential micronutrients.

If your diet does not give adequate nutrition to your body, it may lead to unpleasant symptoms, which is your body’s way of letting you know that it’s deficient in specific nutrients.

Some of these symptoms could be as mild as fatigue or muscle aches, but they could sometimes lead to serious conditions.

Identifying these symptoms and the conditions they could lead to helps you make the necessary changes to your diet to avoid such deficiencies. We look at the seven most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies, their symptoms, and the potential diseases caused by a shortfall.

One of the central roles of vitamin D is to increase the supply of calcium in the body and make it available to form a strong bone structure. Vitamin D is also essential for developing muscles.

It improves the capacity of your intestine to absorb calcium from digested food and enhances your kidneys' capacity to recycle calcium that would otherwise pass from the bloodstream into the urine.

Your body gets vitamin D primarily from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and fish liver oils are also rich in vitamin D. Other sources include eggs, dairy products, and dietary supplements.

Although rare, an acute deficiency of vitamin D in children may cause rickets. This could lead to inadequate growth, muscle weakness, joint deformities, and bone pain.

The signs of vitamin D deficiency in adults are not as apparent. Symptoms in adults include fatigue, muscle aches or cramps, bone pain, and sudden mood swings.

The deficiency of vitamin D in adults may lower bone density and cause:


Calcium is an essential mineral your body utilizes for many vital functions. It’s the most abundantly found mineral in your body, as almost all calcium content is used to build and maintain your bones and teeth.

Your body also needs calcium to enable muscle movement and to support communication between your brain and other organs. Other functions of calcium include supporting the movement of your blood vessels within your body and releasing hormones that regulate several bodily functions.

Your body regulates the flow of blood either by constricting or narrowing the blood vessels (called vasoconstriction) or by widening them (called vasodilation). Calcium ions play a crucial role in both these processes.

Your body gets calcium from the following sources:

  • Milk and milk products such as yogurt and cheese
  • Vegetables like broccoli, kale, and Chinese cabbage (bok choy)
  • Certain packed fruit juices and milk substitutes such as soy and almond milk
  • Food products made out of grains such as bread, pasta, and cereals contribute very little calcium, but collectively, they are adequate calcium sources

Although there are no apparent symptoms of calcium deficiency, severe deficiency over time is symptomized by numbness and tingling in the fingers, convulsions, and an abnormal heartbeat. Severe calcium deficiency can lead to serious conditions such as:

  • Osteoporosis: leads to fragile bones and may lead to incidences of falling, especially in elderly people
  • Rickets: a condition in children that causes the bones to become soft and weak
  • Osteomalacia: which leads to soft bones in children and adults
  • Preeclampsia: a serious deficiency in pregnant women


Your body uses potassium to maintain optimum nerve and muscle function and regulate your heartbeat. Potassium is also essential for the movement of nutrients and waste products in and out of the cells across the cell membrane.

Some of the food sources of potassium include:

  • Leafy vegetables such as spinach and collards
  • Root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes
  • Fruits such as grapes, blackberries, and oranges

Your kidneys play a central role in regulating the potassium levels in your body. Some of the symptoms of potassium deficiency are:

Severe potassium deficiency can cause abnormal heart rhythms, and the chances of this happening are higher in people with heart disease. Sometimes, low potassium levels can even cause your heart to stop. There have also been reports of life-threatening paralysis (called hypokalemic periodic paralysis) due to severe potassium deficiency.


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Iron is the most important component for the production of blood. Around 70% of the body’s iron content is in the red blood cells (called hemoglobin) and muscle cells (called myoglobin).

Hemoglobin is critical for transporting the oxygen in your blood from the lungs to the tissues, while myoglobin stores and releases the oxygen as and when needed to regulate muscle activity.

Iron is an important constituent in certain proteins that are vital for respiration, energy production, and some neurotransmitters' smooth functioning. Your body gets iron from several food sources, such as:

  • Meat and poultry (like beef, veal, pork, lamb, chicken, and turkey) 
  • Seafood (such as fish, mussels, and shellfish)
  • Vegetables (such as beets, broccoli, sweet peas, Brussels sprouts, kale, bean sprouts, tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, and all leafy green vegetables)
  • Iron supplements

Iron deficiency leads to a condition called anemia that impacts your blood cells.   Some of the symptoms of iron deficiency include:

Your body stores iron in the form of ferritin. The average adult male has around 1,000 milligrams of stored iron (enough for three years), while an adult female typically has around 300 milligrams (enough for around six months).

At the onset of iron deficiency, your body uses these reserves, which may either delay the onset of symptoms or cause mild ones that you may not notice. Once the deficiency becomes severe, these symptoms become acute and could also include unusual cravings for non-food items such as ice, dirt, or paper.

Vitamin B12

Some essential processes that depend on vitamin B12 include the production of red blood cells, DNA synthesis, and neurotransmitter functions. 

Some of the best sources to get vitamin B12 are:

  • Meat
  • Eggs
  • Poultry
  • Dairy products

Research has shown that vegetarians and vegans are at higher risk of B12 deficiency because there are no plant B12 sources. Also, vegans are at a higher risk of B12 deficiency as they don’t eat traditional dairy products.

An inadequate supply of this vitamin could lead to a condition known as vitamin B12 deficiency anemia, which usually has the below symptoms:

  • Numbness or tingling sensations in your hands and legs
  • Having trouble walking or balancing while you walk 
  • Unusual sensations
  • Tongue inflammation
  • Loss of memory
  • Cognitive challenges
  • Extreme fatigue or weakness

An extreme deficiency of B12 could lead to a severe condition called pernicious anemia.


Folate (also called folic acid or vitamin B9) is a B vitamin essential for the generation of red blood cells and healthy cell growth. It’s critical for women of childbearing age, especially during the early stages of pregnancy, to reduce the risk of congenital conditions of the brain and spine.

Folate is naturally present in many food sources, such as:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Leafy greens like spinach, asparagus, and broccoli
  • Poultry, pork, and shellfish
  • Beans and legumes
  • Whole grains such as wheat bran
  • Mushrooms

Symptoms of folate deficiency include:

  • Poor growth
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue and irritability
  • Smooth and sensitive tongue

Folate deficiency can lower the number of normal cells and red blood cells in the body and cause defects in the neural tube in an unborn child. Severe deficiency can cause low levels of white blood cells and platelets.


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Magnesium is an essential component (known as a cofactor) of more than 300 enzyme systems that operate essential functions, including blood glucose levels, blood pressure, protein synthesis, and muscle and nerve functions.

It’s also essential for the production of energy, synthesis of DNA and RNA, the structural development of bones, and the transportation of calcium and potassium across the cell membrane.

Your body gets magnesium from many food sources.

  • Vegetables like broccoli, carrots, and potatoes
  • Fruits like bananas, apples, raisins, and avocados
  • Legumes such as kidney beans and black beans
  • Nuts such as almonds, cashews, and peanuts

Some early symptoms of magnesium deficiency include a loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue, and weakness. As the deficit becomes more marked, it could lead to other symptoms such as muscle cramps, seizures, unusual heart rhythms, numbness, and tingling sensations.

Extreme magnesium deficiency may cause hypocalcemia (low serum calcium) or hypokalemia (low potassium levels), as magnesium is critical in regulating other mineral levels.

Low magnesium levels have also been linked to other health conditions such as osteoporosis and migraines.

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Medically Reviewed on 8/16/2022

Cleveland Clinic: "Are There Any Telltale Signs That You’re Not Getting Enough Calcium?" "Iron-Deficiency Anemia," "Vitamin D Deficiency."

Department of Health, State Government of Victoria, Australia: "Vitamins and Minerals."

Harvard Medical School: "Vitamin B12 deficiency can be sneaky and harmful."

Mayo Clinic: "Iron deficiency anemia."

Medicine Library: "Short-Term Chemical Control."

MedlinePlus: "Folate deficiency," "Potassium."

National Institutes of Health: "Calcium," "Magnesium."

National Library of Medicine: "Vitamins, Minerals, And Chronic Diseases."

Nutrition Reviews: "How prevalent is vitamin B(12) deficiency among vegetarians?"

University of California, San Francisco: "Hemoglobin and Functions of Iron."