Are you at risk for a vitamin deficiency?

When you’re staring down a pharmacy aisle packed with multivitamins and dietary supplements, it’s tempting to just grab a bottle and hope for the best. However, your health may lose if you play a vitamin guessing game.

You could be taking unnecessary supplements while neglecting a real vitamin deficiency. Your body needs vitamins, along with minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. They are important for resisting infections, maintaining healthy nerves and gaining energy from food. 

However, many people have a vitamin or mineral deficiency. For example:

  • More than 10% of Americans age 1 and up have a vitamin B6 deficiency
  • Nearly 10% of women age 12 to 49 have an iron deficiency
  • 8% of those older than age 1 are deficient in vitamin D

Curious if you need to fortify your vitamin supply? Here are four of the nutrients many Americans are not getting enough of, along with deficiency symptoms and food sources to ensure you get the proper vitamins and minerals.

1. Iron

Insufficient iron levels can cause low energy, poor memory and concentration, digestion problems and decreased ability to fight germs and infections. 

What to eat:

  • Lean meat
  • Seafood
  • Poultry
  • Beans 
  • Iron-fortified cereals and breads

2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and maintain strong bones, as well as healthy muscles and nerves. Insufficient vitamin D levels can lead to soft, thin and brittle bones, especially in children or older adults.

What to eat: 

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Beef liver
  • Cheese
  • Egg yolks

3. Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is crucial for fetal and infant development and for your body’s metabolism. People with kidney disease, alcoholism, autoimmune disorders and certain medical conditions are more susceptible to a vitamin B6 deficiency, which can cause anemia, itchy rashes, depression and confusion. Infants deficient in vitamin B6 can develop overly sensitive hearing or seizures.

What to eat: 

  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Organ meats
  • Potatoes
  • Non-citrus fruits

4. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 keeps nerve and blood cells healthy. A vitamin B12 deficiency is relatively common, especially among older adults. It can cause fatigue, weakness, constipation, depression, confusion, nerve damage and weight loss. Infants deficient in vitamin B12 may show failure to thrive, or the inability to gain weight.

What to eat:

  • Beef liver
  • Clams
  • Fish
  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Milk and other dairy products 

While deficiencies pose potential health issues, getting too much iron, vitamin A, zinc, niacin or folic acid can be harmful, according to the National Institutes of Health. For example, women who get too much vitamin A during pregnancy risk birth defects, including malformations of the eyes, skull, heart and lungs, though the risk is slight. 

Want to make sure your nutrients are covered from A to zinc? Ask your doctor to perform a blood test for vitamin and mineral levels and to recommend necessary supplements or multivitamins (check with your insurance first to see if the test is covered). In addition, try eating a healthy diet for a natural supply of vitamins and minerals.

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