Nutritional deficiencies are often the source of many common ailments — including things that we tend to accept as a normal part of life, such as fatigue or muscle aches. You might not immediately think of low nutrient levels when experiencing symptoms such as nausea, loss of appetite, irritability, or sleep problems, so it’s important to be familiar with the signs of common nutritional deficiencies. Keeping your vital nutrients at adequate levels — whether through diet or supplementation — can help you prevent disease and maintain proper function of all of the processes throughout your body.

The following are four of the most common nutrient deficiencies:


In addition to helping maintain strong bones, calcium also plays a role in blood clotting, muscle contraction, and nerve function. Approximately ten million Americans suffer from osteoporosis, and an additional 44 million have low bone density. Postmenopausal women and people over the age of 70 have an increased risk of calcium deficiency because they don’t absorb calcium as well. Symptoms of calcium deficiency are not always obvious because the body will pull calcium stores from bones as needed to maintain calcium levels in the blood — a process known as bone resorption. Over time, this leads to weak bones and an increased risk of bone fractures. Symptoms of severe calcium deficiency include fatigue, muscle cramps, numbness and tingling in the fingers, and abnormal heart rhythms.

The conventional advice for getting enough calcium in your diet is obviously to consume foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese; however, this can be problematic. Some evidence shows that dairy products (as well as other staples of the American diet including meat, sugar, white flour, rice, corn, and coffee) introduce acid to the bloodstream, which further contributes to bone resorption. Looking at the diets in Asian countries such as Japan, where people consume little to no dairy and yet experience low rates of osteoporosis, many researchers recommend eating a low-acid diet rich in fruits and vegetables in order to strengthen bones. Leafy greens such as kale, collards, and mustard greens contain high levels of calcium that is easily absorbed by the body, as do non-dairy milk alternatives such as almond milk.

If you have difficulty getting enough calcium in your diet, you may want to take a calcium supplement. The recommended daily dosage for calcium is 1,000 mg for most adults and slightly more for postmenopausal women, people over 70, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Calcium supplements comes in two main forms: calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Calcium carbonate is best absorbed with food and is included in many over-the-counter antacid products. Calcium citrate can be taken with or without food and is absorbed more easily than calcium carbonate. Calcium from supplements is best absorbed at amounts of 500 mg or less; if you are taking 1,000 mg of calcium per day, split it into two doses.

Vitamin D

Two-thirds of people in the United States have low levels of vitamin D, and unless you live south of Los Angeles, chances are you aren’t getting enough year-round. That’s because vitamin D is produced when the skin is exposed to UVB rays from the sun.

Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include fatigue, frequent colds, lower back pain, depression, and impaired wound healing. Vitamin D is also necessary for proper calcium absorption, which makes it doubly important. Food sources of vitamin D are few; these include some fish and foods that are fortified with vitamin D. When taking a vitamin D supplement, look for one with at least 5,000 international units (IUs), which is enough to maintain optimal blood levels for most people. Some people have a genetic variant that reduces their ability to transport vitamin D within the body and may want to increase their vitamin D intake to ensure optimal levels. When taking vitamin D supplements, take them with your largest meal of the day to increase absorption.


Signs of magnesium deficiency can often be overlooked. That’s because magnesium is involved in numerous processes throughout the body, and low levels can manifest in several different ways. Magnesium helps regulate muscle function, so muscle cramps, spasms, or twitches could be signs of magnesium deficiency. Other symptoms of low magnesium levels include fatigue, nausea, weakness, sleep problems, headaches, and constipation. Supplementing with magnesium has been shown to help prevent migraines, including menstrual migraines.

Magnesium is naturally found in many foods, including almonds, spinach, black beans, bananas, raisins, broccoli, salmon, chicken, and beef. The recommended daily allowance for magnesium is around 1,000 mg for most adults. Multivitamins often contain magnesium, but you may need a separate magnesium supplement to get this much. Not all of the magnesium that you consume — whether from food or from supplements — is actually absorbed by the body, so even if you’re taking supplements, you may be absorbing less than you realize. To improve magnesium absorption, take smaller doses throughout the day, look for magnesium citrate or magnesium chloride rather than magnesium oxide, and take your magnesium supplements with food. You can also get magnesium in oil form, which is more easily absorbed by the body, or even topical magnesium products, which are absorbed by the skin.

Vitamin B12

Low levels of vitamin B12 are becoming increasingly common, especially among vegetarians or people who have difficulty absorbing nutrients, such as the elderly or individuals who have had gastric bypass surgery. Symptoms of B12 deficiency can include weakness, shortness of breath, pale skin, digestive issues, depression, feelings of numbness or tingling, and loss of vision.

Vitamin B12 is found only in foods that come from animals or that have been fortified. Vitamin B12 is absorbed in the small intestine, so certain medical conditions that affect digestion can make it difficult for your body to absorb vitamin B12, including bacterial growth, pernicious anemia, celiac disease, or certain immune system disorders. Certain genetic variants can also impair a person’s ability to absorb B12 in the intestine. The body’s ability to absorb B12 is dependent on a protein known as intrinsic factor, which may be lacking in some people. For this reason, many health experts recommend taking vitamin B12 as a sublingual spray.

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