4 Common Nutritional Deficiencies

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The Most Common Nutritional Deficiencies and How to Treat Them

Maintaining our health comes with a lot of chores. Exercise, relaxation, sleep, nutrition – it’s easy to fall behind. 

Many of us would probably never guess that we have nutritional deficiencies, but our bodies show the signs every day.

Changing your diet is one of the best ways to take charge of your health.

No, I don’t mean fad diets that have you swearing off of a lot of different foods. In fact, those kinds of diets can be one of the biggest culprits of nutritional deficiency, due to the things you cut out.

With a nutritional deficiency, you often have to add some food to your diet, or at the very least, increase your intake.

Here are 4 of the most common nutritional deficiencies and what you can do to get your body back on track.


Iron deficiency affects you in more ways than you realize. It can lead to a little thing called anemia – which, in truth, is not so small, – and can also lead to an increased risk of infection.

Women, vegetarians, and blood donors have a higher risk of iron-deficiency.


Iron deficiency shows itself in many different ways. One of the most important things you can do to stay healthy is to take stock of how your body feels regularly. When you know what normal is, you also know what normal is not.

Remember to take time every week to check in with yourself. 

If you’ve been paler than usual lately, it may not be because you’re craving some time in the sun. And lotion isn’t always the cure for dry or damaged skin. Both of these can be signs of iron deficiency.

You may already know that cold hands and feet can indicate low iron levels, but how about dizziness, headaches, and fatigue?

One of the most prominent signs of iron deficiency is having strange cravings, like the desire to eat clay, dirt, and chalk. So if you feel like chowing down on something inedible, it might be because your body is looking for any source of iron it can get.

Even if it doesn’t taste that great. 


Some great sources of iron are lean red meats, poultry, and seafood, such as haddock and clams.

Vegetarians are at a higher risk for iron-deficiency than non-vegetarians. While they often consume as much, if not more, iron than non-vegetarians, the body doesn’t absorb iron from plant sources as well as it does from animal sources.

Our bodies can absorb almost double the amount of iron available from animal sources (heme iron) that it can absorb from plant sources (non-heme iron).

Because of this, vegetarians should eat about 2 times the amount of iron-rich plant foods.

Some great plant-based sources of iron include dark leafy greens, (like spinach, kale, and collard greens), beans and lentils, fruits (like figs, raisins and apricots), and nuts (like almonds, and cashews).

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 plays a role in making red blood cells, nerves, and DNA, but, like all other vitamins, the body can’t create this vitamin on its own. Instead, we have to get it from food and supplements.

A lack of B12 can lead to anemia and, in severe cases, can harm your nervous system.

People older than 50 or who follow a vegan lifestyle are at a higher risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. 


If you’re looking a little yellow (please show me the source for this), you may need more vitamin B12 in your life. And continued sensations of pins and needles aren’t just unpleasant, they can also be a sign that you’re lacking some good ole’ vitamins.

More severe symptoms of this deficiency include mobility issues and disturbed vision. If either of these symptoms come up, you should speak to a doctor. The quicker you act, the sooner you can get back to living your best life.


Luckily, dealing with your B12 deficiency is as simple as eating some tasty food. (Not the clay, dirt, and chalk we were talking about earlier.)

If you like seafood, then you’re in luck. Clams, salmon, halibut, and sardines are excellent sources of vitamin B12.

Eggs, and dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, are some other excellent providers.

Seeing what foods are quality sources of B12, you may be able to guess why vegans are at a higher risk for deficiency. Some great non-animal sources are Brewer’s yeast, seaweeds, chlorella, and spirulina.

Recent studies have found that Nori may be the best plant source of B12.

Vitamin D

Healthy foods containing vitamin D

Just because we get vitamin D from exposure to sunlight doesn’t mean that we’re getting enough.

It’s incredibly important to make sure that we provide our bodies with enough of this vitamin. A deficiency means we risk a loss of bone density, which can lead to osteoporosis and bone fractures.

People with darker skin tones are at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency because the melanin in dark skin doesn’t absorb as much UV radiation.


These symptoms are subtle, which means many people don’t realize that they are Vitamin D deficient until their condition gets more serious.

Because vitamin D is crucial for bone health, a couple of the tell-tale signs are muscle and bone/back pain.


While sunlight is a good source, it’s difficult to have enough exposure before we burn to raise our Vitamin D levels.  Unfortunately sunscreen not only blocks the harmful rays of the sun, it also blocks the production of Vitamin D in our skin. 

For those of us who spend most of our day inside or burn too easily, foods like fish, cod liver oil, egg yolks, mushrooms, and pork, and beef can get the job done.


Assortment of food containing magnesium
Assortment of product containing magnesium. Healthy diet food

When we think of the vitamins essential to our well-being, magnesium probably isn’t one of the first thoughts to pop into our heads.  This might explain why magnesium deficiency is so common.

Magnesium is important for regulating muscle and nerve function. Our magnesium levels also have an effect on our blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and many other functions.


Irritability, nervousness, and anxiety can all be telltale signs of this deficiency. But they aren’t the only ones.

If you’re running low on magnesium, you may also deal with migraines, fibromyalgia, and insomnia.

Some other symptoms you might experience are constipation, PMS, and cramping.


To get your fill of this essential vitamin, try incorporating more nuts, seeds, and legumes into your diet. Bananas are another good source.

As you can probably tell, leafy greens are a good source of a lot of different vitamins, and magnesium is no exception.

And if you’d like to treat yourself, get your hands on some dark chocolate. This sweet treat is rich in vitamins.

Nutritional deficiencies often show themselves in a small way before they become bigger problems. So listen to your body. It’s telling you more than you know.

Are you worried that you may have nutritional deficiencies? Come into my office today, and we’ll find a way to get you back on track.

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About The Author:

Picture of Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Threlkel received her degree of Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from The National College for Naturopathic Medicine (now called The National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, Oregon. She also holds a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology from The University of Maryland. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, past president & current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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