What Happens If You Have a Lack of Nutrients? 9 Symptoms

Medically Reviewed on 5/18/2022
What Happens If You Have a Lack of Nutrients
Here are a few warning signs you may have a nutrient deficiency

While eating poorly for a week or two won’t do much damage to your health, consistently eating a diet low in essential nutrients can cause serious health problems and impair the ability of your organs to function properly.

Here are a few warning signs that you may have a nutrient deficiency.

9 signs of nutrient deficiencies

1. Fatigue

Unexplained fatigue could be caused by a lack of vitamin D

Vitamin D is made by your body when your skin is exposed to the sun. A small amount of vitamin D can also be found naturally in foods such as:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Vitamin D-fortified foods such as milk and cereals
  • Vitamin D supplements
  • Mushrooms

2. Hair loss

On average, we lose approximately 100 strands of hair a day. However, if you notice clumps of hair falling out after a shower, it could be a sign of iron deficiency.

Good dietary sources of iron include:

  • Lean meat
  • Poultry
  • Spinach
  • Beans
  • Cashews

3. Dry skin

Dry or scaly skin could be a sign of vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A plays a crucial role in the growth and maintenance of skin tissues. 

You can increase your intake of vitamin A by consuming foods such as:

  • Green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale
  • Orange vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots
  • Orange or citrus fruits such as cantaloupe and apricots

4. Spoon-shaped nails

Another warning sign that your iron levels are too low are softening and bending of the nails at the edges, resulting in a spoon shape. This spooning of the nails may be a sign of hemochromatosis, a condition that causes the body to absorb excess iron.

5. Cracks in the corners of the mouth

Initially, cracks in the corners of your mouth (angular cheilitis) may develop as skin becomes dry or irritated at one or both the corners of the mouth and can later turn into painful, bleeding sores.

If these cracks do not go away even after using lip balm, it could be a sign that you are deficient in iron or B vitamins (riboflavin). If that is the case, consume riboflavin-rich foods such as:

  • Eggs
  • Lean meats
  • Milk
  • Green vegetables such as asparagus and broccoli 

6. Swollen tongue (glossitis)

If your tongue is swollen and looks smooth and glossy, it could be a sign of low iron or B vitamins such as folic acid, niacin, riboflavin, and B12. To get more B12, eat foods such as:

  • Fish
  • Meat
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fortified cereals

7. Easy bruising

Collagen is a protein that is responsible for holding intact your skin cells. If you notice more bruises than usual, you may be low in vitamin C, which is a key element in collagen. Vitamin C deficiency could be a result of smoking, an eating disorder, and severe digestive conditions. 

Vitamin C deficiency can be treated by eating foods such as:

  • Bell peppers
  • Citrus fruits
  • Tomatoes
  • Broccoli

8. Burning mouth syndrome

Burning mouth syndrome is a condition that causes a burning sensation, dryness, and numbness in the gums, lips, inside of the cheeks, and roof of the mouth. This condition can be a sign of a vitamin B deficiency—folate, thiamin, and B6. 

To boost vitamin B6 in your diet, eat more of the following:

  • Beans
  • Bananas
  • Spinach
  • Fortified cereals

9. Mood disorders

A lack of nutrients can also affect your mental health, making you feel depressed or overall low in energy. B vitamins such as folate or folic acid help the body produce red blood cells and create chemicals that regulate sleep patterns and mood.

Folate deficiency can be made up with:

  • Fortified cereals
  • Chickpeas
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach

What are daily requirements of essential nutrients?

Table: Adequate daily intake (ADI) and recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of various vitamins and minerals according to the Institute of Medicine
Vitamins or minerals RDA or ADI
Vitamin A
  • Men: 900 mcg/day
  • Women: 700 mcg/day
Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
  • Men: 1.2 mg
  • Women: 1.1 mg
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • Men: 1.3 mg
  • Women: 1.1 mg
Vitamin B3 (niacin)
  • Men: 16 mg/day
  • Women: 14 mg/day
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
  • Men and women: 5 mg/day
  • Pregnant women: 6 mg/day
  • Lactating women: 7 mg/day
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
  • Men ages 19-50: 1.3 mg/day
  • Men over age 51: 1.7 mg/day
  • Women ages 19-50: 1.3 mg/day
  • Women over age 51: 1.5 mg/day
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
  • Men: 5.94 mcg/day
  • Women: 3.78 mcg/day
Vitamin B complex (choline)
  • Men: 550 mg/day
  • Women: 425 mg/day
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
  • Men: 90 mg/day
  • Women: 75 mg/day
Vitamin D (cholecalciferol)
  • Adults ages 1-70: 15 mcg/day or 600 IU
  • Adults over age 70: 20 mcg/day or 800 IU
Vitamin E (tocopherol)
  • 22.4 IU/day or 15 mg/day
Vitamin K
  • Men: 120 mcg/day
  • Women: 90 mcg/day
Biotin (B complex)
  • 30-100 mcg/day
Folic acid (folate)
  • 400 mcg/day
  • 1-13 mg/day
  • Adults ages 19-50: 1,000 mg/day
  • Women over age 51: 1,200 mg/day
  • Men over age 71: 1,200 mg/day
  • Adults ages 19-50s: 2,300 mg/day
  • Adults ages 50-70: 2,000 mg/day
  • Adults over age 70: 1,800 mg/day
  • Men: 35 mcg/day
  • Women: 25 mcg/day
  • 900 mcg/day
  • Men: 4 mg/day 
  • Women: 3 mg/day
  • 150 mcg/day
  • Men: 8 mg/day
  • Women ages 19-50: 18 mg/day
  • Women over age 51: 8 mg/day
  • Men ages 19-30: 400 mg/day
  • Men over age 31: 420 mg/day
  • Women ages 19-30: 310 mg/day
  • Women over age 31: 320 mg/day
  • Men: 2.3 mg/day 
  • Women: 1.8 mg/day
  • 45 mcg/day
  • Less than 1 mg
  • 700 mg/day
  • 3,500 mg
  • 55 mcg/day
  • Adults ages 19-50: 1,500 mg/day
  • Adults ages: 51-70: 1,300 mg/day
  • Adults over age 71: 1,200 mg/day
  • Less than 1.8 mg
  • Men: 11 mg/day
  • Women: 8 mg/day


Foods That Aren't as Healthy as You Think See Slideshow
Medically Reviewed on 5/18/2022
Image Source: iStock Image

Christine Mikstas. Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Nutrients. WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-not-enough-nutrients

Sabrina Felson Vitamins and Minerals: How Much Should You Take? WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/vitamins-minerals-how-much-should-you-take

Vitamins and Minerals for Older Adults. NIH: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/vitamins-and-minerals-older-adults