The symptoms may be easy to miss, but a chronic deficiency can take a toll on your health. Some common deficiencies and the symptoms associated with them include:
Vitamin B12: Tingling or numbness in hands or feet, balance problems and general weakness can all be signs of a Vitamin B12 deficiency. Left untreated, memory loss, confusion and depression can occur. The only food sources for vitamin B12 are animal products, so strict vegetarians are at high risk. If you've had weight loss surgery, have a condition such as Crohn's disease that interferes with food absorption, or take certain medications for diabetes or acid reflux, you are also at higher risk.
Vitamin D: A lack of Vitamin D can result in bone pain, thinning bones, and muscle weakness. It may even contribute to heart disease, and insulin resistance. It is difficult to obtain an adequate amount of Vitamin D from food alone, but adequate sunlight can help make up the difference. Seniors are particularly susceptible to deficiencies because they spend less time in the sun, and their aging skin is less efficient at synthesizing Vitamin D.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is necessary to grow and repair tissue, cartilage and bones. It's also a powerful antioxidant that blocks some of the damage free radicals may cause, including cancer and heart disease. Easy bruising, nosebleeds, bleeding gums and a decreased ability to fight infection can all be symptoms of inadequate Vitamin C intake. Scurvy, although rare, can result from a severe and prolonged lack of Vitamin C. Smokers are at an increased risk for Vitamin C deficiency. Your body cannot make or store Vitamin C, so your best bet is to get the daily recommended amount by eating lots of fruits and vegetables – which all contain some Vitamin C.
Magnesium: The risk of magnesium deficiency is higher for those with type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, or alcohol dependence. In addition, many of the medications older adults take can affect the body's ability to absorb magnesium. A decreased appetite, nausea and fatigue or weakness are all common symptoms of magnesium deficiency. Serious deficiency can also result in numbness, tingling, muscle cramps, and even abnormal heart rhythms.
The good news is that most vitamin and mineral deficiencies can be corrected with appropriate diet modifications or supplements. If you think you might be experiencing a deficiency, discuss your concerns with your doctor and determine the best approach for treatment. Vitamins and supplements can interact with many medications, so never take them without your doctor's consent.
For a referral to a doctor that specializes in senior health, click here or call 800-216-5556.
This article first appeared in the February 2014 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.