Your body requires many different vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients for body development and to prevent the onset of disease. Vitamins and minerals are commonly referred to as micronutrients. As micronutrients are not naturally produced by the body, it is important that we obtain them from our diets.
A diet which lacks in nutrients can lead to numerous unpleasant symptoms (problems with digestion, skin problems, stunted physical growth and even mental health disorders), as these are your body’s only way of communicating potential deficiencies. By recognising symptoms early on, you can adjust your diet accordingly.
Many different factors can cause brittle hair and nails. Biotin, which is also known as vitamin B7, helps to convert the food we consume into energy. Although biotin deficiencies are rare, thinning and splitting hair and nails are one of the most noticeable symptoms, along with fatigue and muscle pain (1). Research suggests that supplementing with biotin is not as effective as previously thought, and following a biotin-rich diet to tackle a biotin deficiency is preferred (3, 4). Biotin rich foods include; liver, almonds, eggs (yolks), salmon, dairy, avocados, sweet potatoes and cauliflower.
Lesions in and around the mouth area have been linked to insufficient intake of vitamins and minerals. A small study found that patients who suffer from mouth ulcers were twice as likely to be suffering from low iron levels (5). Angular cheilitis is a condition in which patients can present with excess saliva or dehydration, both causing the corners of the mouth to crack and even bleed. This condition has been linked to low levels of iron and vitamin B intake (6, 7). If you find yourself with mouth ulcers or cracks in the corners of your mouth, try adding iron and vitamin B rich foods such as whole grains, poultry, green vegetables and nuts and seeds to your diet to improve symptoms (8, 9).
If you consume low levels of vitamin C over a long period of time, you can bring on the symptoms of vitamin C deficiency. Symptoms can include bleeding gums and even loss of teeth (10). Further common symptoms include easy bruising, slow healing of wounds and frequent nosebleeds (11). You can ensure that you are consuming enough vitamin C by eating fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis.
Hair loss is something that all of us deal with at some point in our lives, in fact up to fifty percent of both men and women report suffering from hair loss by the time they reach fifty years old (12). To prevent and slow down hair loss, ensure that you are getting enough iron, zinc, linoleic acid (LA) (omega 6), alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) (omega 3), vitamin B3 (niacin) and B7 (biotin) (13). Surprisingly, a study found that taking vitamin and mineral supplements can actually worsen hair loss (13), therefore unless your deficiency is confirmed by a healthcare provider, its best to opt for a nutrient rich diet.
Keratosis pilaris is the condition in which small bumps that resemble goose bumps appear on the cheeks, arms, thighs and buttocks. This condition is more commonly seen in childhood and is often outgrown by adulthood however it has been observed in people who have low levels of vitamins A and C (14). Therefore along with traditional treatments for these red and white bumps on the skin such as medicated creams, adding foods which are rich in vitamin A and C is also suggested. These foods include organ meats, dairy, eggs and dark leafy greens (15).
If you find that you’re suffering from any of the above symptoms, then take a look at your diet or speak to a health specialist to ensure that you are following a well-balanced diet. For more information on vitamin and other nutrient deficiencies, see our nutrition and weight management course.
1. "11 Biotin." Institute of Medicine. 1998. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6015.
2. Baugh, C.M., Malone, J.H. and Butterworth, C.E., 1968. Human biotin deficiency A case history of biotin deficiency induced by raw egg consumption in a cirrhotic patient. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 21(2), pp.173-182.
3. Colombo, V.E., Gerber, F., Bronhofer, M. and Floersheim, G.L., 1990. Treatment of brittle fingernails and onychoschizia with biotin: scanning electron microscopy. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 23(6), pp.1127-1132.
4. Hochman, L.G., Scher, R.K. and Meyerson, M.S., 1993. Brittle nails: response to daily biotin supplementation. Cutis, 51(4), pp.303-305.
5. Porter, S.R., Scully, C. and Flint, S., 1988. Hematologic status in recurrent aphthous stomatitis compared with other oral disease. Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology, 66(1), pp.41-44.
6. Nolan, A., McIntosh, W.B., Allam, B.F. and Lamey, P.J., 1991. Recurrent aphthous ulceration: vitamin B1, B2 and B6 status and response to replacement therapy. Journal of oral pathology & medicine, 20(8), pp.389-391.
7. Sheetal, A., Hiremath, V.K., Patil, A.G., Sajjansetty, S. and Kumar, S.R., 2013. Malnutrition and its oral outcome–a review. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR, 7(1), p.178.
10. Lee, L.W. and Yan, A.C., 2012. Skin manifestations of nutritional deficiency disease in children: modern day contexts. International journal of dermatology, 51(12), pp.1407-1418.
11. "5 Vitamin C." Institute of Medicine. 2000. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9810.
12. Rogers, N.E. and Avram, M.R., 2008. Medical treatments for male and female pattern hair loss. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 59(4), pp.547-566.
13. Guo, E.L. and Katta, R., 2017. Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use. Dermatology practical & conceptual, 7(1), p.1.
14. :"4 Vitamin A." Institute of Medicine. 2001. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10026.