By Joseph Raccuglia, MD
Your body has a unique way of signaling when it isn’t getting the nutrients that it needs. Do you know how to read the signs? Here are a few ways that your body is letting you know that
it’s not getting what it needs.
1. Cracked Lips or Mouth: Sometimes cracked lips are just a side effect of cold weather or herpes simplex, but other times it’s a simple vitamin B deficiency. Take a B complex vitamin for a few days and you should see an improvement.
2. Tingling of the Hands and Feet: Limb tingling can be the sign of a serious neurological
condition, or something less sinister, like a B12 deficiency. Other signs of a B12 deficien-
cy include a swollen or inflamed tongue, jaundice, weakness, fatigue or loss of vision.
One of my patients suffers from ongoing B12 issues that cause numbness in her hands
and feet. While she tried to incorporate more B12-rich foods in her diet, like beef, liver, shellfish, cheese, eggs and poultry, periodic B12 injections seem to work best for her. Your doctor can order a blood test to determine if you have a deficiency.
3. Asymmetrical Foot Pain: Having asymmetrical pain, or pain in just one foot, is more likely to be due to an injury or muscle condition. However, in an unusual presentation, we found a vitamin B6 deficiency in a patient who came to my office with pain in one foot. We took X-rays to rule out a bone deformity, then ordered a blood test. We found that he suffered from low vitamin B6 levels, also known as pyridoxine. He altered his diet by eating more poultry, fish, and whole grain cereals, and the pain went away.
4. Night blindness or Colorblindness: While there are a variety of factors that could result in night blindness or colorblindness, either of these con- ditions also can be caused by a lack of Vitamin A. Try eating more sweet potatoes, carrots, and dark green leafy vegetables to boost your eye health.
5. Muscle Cramps: If you suffer from muscle cramps, you could be dehydrated or deficient in potassium. Reach for a sports drink to help with the deficiency but you can work to prevent it from recurring by adding a citrus fruit or a banana to your daily meal plan.
6. Ridged or Spoon-Shaped Nails: Misshapen nails aren’t just a challenge for your nail technician; they can be an early warning sign of an insufficient diet. A spoon-shaped nail, known as koilonychia, occurs when the nail curves up from the nail bed like a spoon. This can be a red flag for iron-de- ficiency anemia. If you’re diagnosed with the condition, your doctor may recommend that you take iron pills and include more iron-rich foods in your diet, such as liver and shellfish like clams, oysters, and mussels.
7. Bleeding Gums or Gingivitis: When we don’t get enough vitamin C, our body can signal a deficiency through bleeding gums or gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease that causes irritation, redness, and swelling at the base of the gums. You probably know that citrus fruits—oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit—include vitamin C, but so does guava fruit, kiwi fruit, broccoli, spinach, lettuce, kale, berries, tomatoes, cabbage and its cousins, brussels sprouts.
8. Eczema: Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema is a condition marked by red, itchy skin. If you suffer from this condition, a lack of omega-3 fatty acids may be the culprit. Other symptoms of an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include cracking or peeling of fingertips or skin; small red bumps on back of upper arms; and mixed oily and dry skin. To soothe your skin, aim to add more of the following to your diet: oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel, tuna, salmon, and swordfish; egg yolks; flaxseeds; chia seeds; and walnuts.
Choose Whole Foods over Multivitamins
The best way to avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies is to strive to eat a well-rounded, whole-food diet. I urge my patients to engage in meal planning activities to ensure that they get the nutrition they need to remain healthy. It’s also important to eat unhealthy items, like foods that are bleached, processed or fried, only in moderation.
If you can’t tolerate a particular food, over-the-counter supplements or a multivitamin is a good second option. Juicing also is a popular way to drink your vitamins. Just be sure to juice fruit and vegetables with their skins when appropriate to gain the added benefits of fiber.
It’s important also to note that not all symptoms are due strictly to deficiencies in vitamins; therefore it is always best to consult with your family physician first before introducing any new supplement into your diet.
The old adage is true: failing to plan is planning to fail, especially when it comes to your diet.