Getting Tested for Vitamin Deficiencies Could Be A Gamechanger for Your Health

Approximately one-third of the American population is at risk for vitamin deficiencies or anemia, also known as iron deficiency. People are starting to become aware of more common nutrient deficiencies, such as vitamin D and magnesium, which is good news. Yet many don’t know whether they themselves have a deficiency, or how they might go about finding out if they have any.

One big reason is a lack of testing.

Nutrient and vitamin deficiency testing via blood test isn’t a standard part of wellness check-ups. It’s the kind of thing that tends to get investigated only when a person is showing obvious signs of deficiency. The problem is, the symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiency can range from very noticeable to super subtle. Often, they’re on the less-obvious side.

Some of the possible symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiency, she says, include:

  • Thinning, dull, or brittle hair

  • Hair loss

  • Peeling, cracked, or dry nails

  • Spoon-shaped nails

  • Cracked, dry skin

  • Changes in tongue color

  • Eyelid twitches

  • Joint pain or tenderness

  • Headaches

  • Brain fog

  • Feeling cold

  • Fatigue and irritability

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Heart palpitations

Of course, some of these symptoms are more noticeable and troubling than others. If you’re experiencing any of them, it’s important to talk to your health care provider so they can identify what’s going on and treat you accordingly, McHugh says.

But unfortunately, vitamin deficiency testing is also not always readily offered in conventional medicine settings, and this is one of the reasons deficiencies can go on for a long time before being discovered. “If you have a great primary care physician (PCP) and ask them to test you for specific vitamin deficiency, they’d probably hear you out on it,” McHugh says. But that assumes you have a doctor who is open to your suggestions and that you yourself are aware of the signs and symptoms of deficiencies. For most people, that’s just not the case.

What causes vitamin and mineral deficiency?

Diet is one of the biggest contributors. “We have dietary reference intakes, or DRIs, and that’s how much you should be eating of each nutrient,” McHugh explains. “With our Standard American Diet, research shows we do come in quite a bit lower on certain nutrients.”

For both people who do eat enough of each nutrient and those who don’t, absorption issues can also be at play. “Most of our nutrients are absorbed in our small intestine.

If there’s something going on with the small intestine, that can certainly impair nutrient absorption.” So people with conditions that affect the small intestine, like IBD, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease are at a higher risk for deficiencies, McHugh says.

Certain medications can also have this effect, such as methotrexate.

Lastly, aging can affect your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. For instance, as we get older, we have less stomach acid and intrinsic factor, a protein secreted by your stomach, McHugh says. We need intrinsic factor to absorb vitamin B12, so B12 levels often decrease with age.

Why is vitamin deficiency testing so important?

Micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals, are essential for every biochemical reaction in your body, McHugh explains. “That’s what we’re talking about with absorption. There are reactions going on in your intestines as well as throughout your body, and it’s important to have everything up to full speed.”

Think of your body like a house. “Not having enough nutrients is like building a house with poor construction materials. Eventually, things are going to fall apart,” McHugh says. This is why testing for vitamin deficiencies is so important. Without testing, you’re likely to find a band aid solution that only temporarily solves your problems.

For example, if you have eczema, you might be given a steroid cream to treat it. “But it might not actually ever go away completely, because you’re not looking upstream to solve the deficiency that’s causing it,” McHugh explains.

There’s another big reason vitamin deficiency testing is key: Long-term deficiencies can cause long-term problems.

Take vitamin D, for example. “Most people think they need calcium for healthy bones,” McHugh says. But vitamin D (along with vitamin K) is crucial for bone health, as well. Let’s say you don’t get enough vitamin D in your 20s and 30s. By the time you’re 40 or 50, especially if you’re a woman, you would be at a much higher risk for osteoporosis due to that deficiency, aging, and other factors.

“When you get to age 60 and you’ll have low vitamin D and cracked bones, you’re going to be wishing you found that vitamin D deficiency earlier on,” McHugh adds.