You eat right, try to stay healthy, and make sure to get enough sleep. You even wear one of those fitness watches that can guilt you into parking just a little farther from the supermarket to get your steps up. But good health can sometimes be hard to measure. For example, how do you know when you're running low on nutrients, short of a blood test?
It turns out your body holds the clues. When you're low on certain vitamins and minerals, it will show: in your skin, in your hair, in your overall mood. And the problem is more common than you think; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 10 percent of people in the U.S. over the age of one have a vitamin B6 deficiency, while 8 percent of the population has a vitamin D deficiency. And while you may think that vitamin C deficiency is just an old problem sailors used to have, about 6 percent of the U.S. population older than six is lacking in this vitamin - which comes out to more than 1 in 20 people.
If you're concerned about any of your symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor. In the meantime, here are just a few ways to look for signs you may be running low on key vitamins:
- Hair and Scalp Issues
Going gray early? If you don't have a family history and are in your 20s or younger, you may be going gray because of a copper deficiency. On the other hand, if you notice your hair is brittle, it may be a sign of anemia caused by a lack of iron. Brittle hair could also be due to low levels of B vitamins like biotin or folate, also known as folic acid. Finally, if it's your scalp that's the issue - because of flakiness and itchiness, perhaps - you may be missing certain key vitamins like vitamins A and C, or fatty acids. Those can help with the production of hydrating oils in your scalp.
Sources of copper: canned clams, oysters, mushrooms
Sources of iron: beef, beans like chickpeas and kidney beans, lentils, spinach
Sources of fatty acids: fatty fish, walnuts, flax
- Mouth Sores
If you have mouth sores, it could be one sign you have low levels of B12 in your system. But just as with all other symptoms listed here, it could have many different causes, so be sure to check with your doctor.
Sources of B12: animal foods like lean red meat, poultry, and eggs, or fortified foods like soymilk, cereal, and nutritional yeast.
- Feelings of Fatigue
Fatigue can be caused by a variety of things, including low levels of potassium. That, in turn, could be caused by chronic diseases like kidney disease, or by things like vomiting, diarrhea, or even antibiotics. Fatigue can also be caused by a vitamin D deficiency. Finally, if your fatigue is accompanied by loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and weakness, it could be due to a magnesium deficiency. Obviously, if you're suffering from serious symptoms, call a doctor right away. But if it's just a nagging feeling, make sure you're getting the right vitamins.
Sources of potassium: bananas, whole grains, milk, vegetables, beans, peas
Sources of vitamin D: fortified dairy in the form of yogurt or milk, certain fish like sardines
Sources of magnesium: almonds, cashews, peanuts, spinach, black beans, edamame
- Red Bumps on Your Skin
If you find you have little red bumps on the back of your arms, it may be a condition called keratosis pilaris. That could indicate that you're missing out on key nutrients like vitamin A and zinc. And you aren't alone: According to the CDC, about 17.3 percent of the global population is at risk for zinc deficiency, while 1 in 3 pre-school aged children and 1 in 6 pregnant women are vitamin A deficient.
Sources of vitamin A: sweet potatoes, cantaloupe
Sources of zinc: poultry, hummus, pumpkin seeds