The average adult requires 13 essential vitamins and 15 essential minerals for their body to gain all the benefits it needs to function properly. These vitamins and minerals are considered essential because your body can’t manufacture them on its own. Therefore, you must get them from the foods you eat and from dietary supplements.
Essential vitamins and minerals play many vital roles in your health. They set off chemical reactions in your body that drives cell and tissue growth, and they are involved in every bodily function literally from your head to your toes—from your brain, heart, bones and muscles to everything in between.
A deficiency in any of these essential vitamins and minerals can lead to a variety of health problems, including depression, anemia and a weakened immune system which could leave you susceptible to all kinds of illnesses. Sometimes the problem isn’t that you’re not getting enough essential nutrients, but that your body is not absorbing them properly. This can happen for a number of different reasons such as obesity or not getting enough of certain vitamins or minerals that aid in the absorption of other vitamins. For instance, vitamin C helps you absorb iron more efficiently, so it’s always best to combine iron-rich and vitamin C-rich foods in your meals. Or, when taking supplements, take your daily vitamin C at the same time you take your iron supplement.
The question remains, “How can you tell if your vitamins are working?” Unfortunately, there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” answer to this question because everyone’s biochemistry is different. Plus, many other factors come into play when it comes to a person’s health and nutrition. Such factors as age, weight, medical history, physical fitness, metabolism, dietary habits, medications being taken, hormonal balance, etc., all affect how each person’s body absorbs, stores and utilizes nutrients.
However, there are some tell-tale signs to look for that can indicate that you aren’t getting the proper nutrition and benefits of vitamins you need.
Here are some examples of how you can tell if your vitamins are working or if you may have a vitamin and/or mineral deficiency:
1. Dry lips with cracks at the corners of your mouth.
The problem: This could mean you’re not getting enough iron, zinc, and vitamins B3 (niacin), B2 (riboflavin) and B12. This type of deficiency is common among vegetarians and dieters who don’t eat enough protein, which is important for the immune system.
The solution: Make sure your diet includes poultry, salmon, tuna, eggs, sun-dried tomatoes, peanuts, and lentils. Keep in mind that your body needs vitamin C in order to absorb iron more efficiently. Vitamin C also helps ward off infections and illnesses, so add plenty of broccoli, red bell peppers, kale, and cauliflower to your diet.
2. Hair loss and a red, flakey rash on your face and possibly other parts of your body.
The problem: These may be signs that your diet is lacking vitamin B7 (biotin), which is important for healthy hair and skin Unfortunately, your body can’t store most B vitamins, which are water-soluble, like it can with fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K.
The solution: Eat more eggs, salmon, avocados, mushrooms, cauliflower, soybeans, nuts, raspberries, and bananas, and take a vitamin supplement.
3. Red or white bumps that look like pimples on your cheeks, arms, thighs and bottom.
The problem: You may not be getting enough essential fatty acids or enough vitamin A and vitamin D.
The solution: Cut down on saturated fats and trans fats and include more healthy fats in your diet by eating more salmon, sardines, walnuts, almonds, flaxseeds, hemp and chia. To get more vitamin A, eat plenty of leafy green salads and carrots, sweet potatoes and red bell peppers. These vegetables contain beta carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A that your body needs to produce vitamin A. To increase your vitamin D, consider taking a supplement such as Vitamin D-3, which provides an extra-strength, all-natural daily dose of 5,000 IU of vitamin D.
4. A tingling feeling or numbness in your hands and/or feet and possibly other parts of your body.
The problem: You may not be getting enough daily B vitamins like vitamins B9 (folate), B6 and B12. This kind of deficiency may also include other symptoms such as anxiety, depression, anemia, fatigue, a hormonal imbalance, etc.
The solution: Add plenty of vitamin-B rich foods to your diet including spinach, asparagus, beets, pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, lima beans, eggs, clams, oysters, and poultry.
5. Muscle cramps in your toes, calves, legs and arches of your feet.
The problem: Your diet and supplement program may be lacking magnesium, calcium, and potassium. If cramps are a chronic problem for you, it’s a good sign that you’re not getting enough of these important minerals. If you work out or train hard, all that sweating is probably causing you to lose excessive amounts of essential minerals and water-soluble B vitamins. That’s why it’s important to consistently fortify your diet and supplement program with daily doses of foods and supplements that are rich in these essential nutrients.
The solution: Include more fruits, vegetables and nuts in your diet such as bananas, almonds, hazelnuts, squash, cherries, apples, grapefruit, broccoli, and dark leafy greens like spinach and kale.
6. Dry, itchy skin, dandruff or slow-healing wounds.
The problem: These may be signs of a deficiency in zinc or vitamins A, B6 and E.
The solution: Eat more low-fat dairy products, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, and plums, salmon, walnuts, canola oil, flaxseeds; whole-wheat breads, muffins, and cereals; turkey, tuna and Brazil nuts; drink green tea and hydrate every day by drinking plenty of water.
7. Canker sores in your mouth, a sore tongue, or tender gums that bleed.
The problem: These may be signs that you’re not getting enough vitamins B2, B3, B12 and C.
The solution: For a healthy mouth and gums, a high fiber diet and vitamin C are recommended, so eat more whole grain breads and cereals, beans, pears, oranges, kiwi, celery, broccoli, peas and green leafy vegetables. Other healthy foods for your gums include grape seed, green tea, onions, shitake mushrooms, parsley and mint.
8. Pale, whitish inner linings of the eyes.
The problem: Check the inner linings of your eyes by gently pulling down on your lower eyelids. If the linings appear pale and white instead of pink like they should be, then you may have an iron deficiency. Iron is an important mineral that is instrumental in red blood cell production. If you’re deficient, you may also experience excessive tiredness, low energy and/or dizziness.
The solution: To increase your dietary iron, eat more red meat, egg yolks, dark leafy greens, dried fruit, iron-enriched cereals and grains, turkey, beans, chick peas, soybeans, liver and artichokes. For the best iron absorption, eat iron-rich foods along with foods that are rich in vitamin C.
9. An enlarged thyroid gland.
The problem: Check for an abnormal bulge in the front and center of your neck near your larynx, which is where the thyroid gland is located. Also, note if you’ve experienced any recent bloating, unexplained weight gain, and unusual fatigue. These may be signs you have an iodine deficiency. Iodine is a mineral that is crucial for thyroid function and hormone production, as well as for detoxification, growth and development.
The solution: Eat more iodine-rich foods such as seaweed, cranberries, yogurt, cod, eggs, turkey breast, potatoes including the skin, navy beans and strawberries.
10. Thin, brittle fingernails that split easily, or nails with ridges, white spots or a concaved, “spooned” appearance.
The problem: If your nails are thin, brittle and split easily, it could be a sign you have low levels of magnesium or copper. If there are white spots on your nails, you may have a zinc or calcium deficiency. Nails with ridges or that have a concaved, spooned appearance may indicate low iron or low vitamin B12.
The solution: To get more vitamin B12, eat more carrots, tomatoes, leafy green lettuce, liver, peanut butter, nuts, peas, oatmeal, beans, meat, eggs, milk, yogurt and cheese. To increase your zinc, eat pumpkin seeds, beef, pork, lamb, dairy products and hard-boiled eggs. To get more iron in your diet, eat more leafy greens, prunes, grains, seeds, red meat, broccoli and tofu. Calcium is also important for healthy nails, and it is best absorbed along with vitamin D, so drinking Vitamin D-fortified milk is a good way to get more calcium. Other sources of calcium include yogurt, cheese and kale. Healthy nails also need protein, so eat more beans, legumes, meat, eggs and soy as well.