What are vitamins?
Since childhood, we have been told to consume vitamins to maintain a healthy body and mind. Vitamins are nutrient compounds that our body needs to function optimally and develop properly. There are 13 kinds of essential vitamins that include fat-soluble vitamins i.e. the ones that are stored in the fatty tissues like vitamins A, D, E, and K.
The remaining nine water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body and leave the body through the urine. These include vitamins C, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B7 (biotin), B6, B12 (cyanocobalamin), and B9 (folate).
Which are the best sources of vitamins?
Out of all the types of vitamins, our body can produce or synthesize only a few like vitamins D, K, niacin, and biotin. For the rest, we depend on our diet. Here are some of the best food sources of vitamins:
- Whole grains
- Bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
What are the signs that you are deficient in vitamins?
Vitamin deficiency is a condition when your body has lacked vitamins for a long period. Lack of vitamins occurs when their intake through your diet is insufficient or when due to some metabolic disorders or genetic defects, the body is unable to synthesise them.
Here are some signs that you are suffering from a vitamin deficiency:
- Dry skin and hair
- Red or white acne-like bumps on the cheeks, arms, thighs, etc.
- Infected eyes
- Macular degeneration
- Swollen tongue
- Frequent episodes of diarrhea
- Numbness in legs, hands, and feet
- Short-term memory loss
- Vision loss
- Dry skin
- Splitting hair
- Bleeding gums
- Low immunity
- Brittle bones
- Muscular weakness
- Acne, blisters, stretch marks, etc.
- Reduced cognitive functioning
- Blood in urine or stool
- Easy bruising
- Brittle bones
What is the cause of vitamin deficiency?
A Vitamin deficiency is caused by reasons like:
- Low vitamin levels in your diet.
- If you are a vegetarian, your choice of vitamin-rich foods is intrinsically narrow.
- Low bioavailability of vitamins where you live.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol.
- Long-term dependence on some medications like antacids and corticosteroids and antibiotics.
- Gut malabsorption conditions like Crohn’s diseases, colitis, celiac disease, etc.
- Liver disease.
- Inadequate exposure to sunlight.
- Renal diseases.
- Age factor.
- Pregnancy, etc.
How does vitamin deficiency affect your health?
Lack of vitamin levels in your body due to any of the above-mentioned reasons results in vitamin deficiency diseases.
Here are some of the most common vitamin deficiency diseases:
- Vitamin A: Night blindness, Keratomalacia
- Vitamin C: Scurvy, hemorrhages, anaemia
- Vitamin D: Rickets, Osteomalacia, osteoporosis, colorectal cancer
- B vitamins: Beriberi, Ariboflavinosis, Pellagra, Paresthesia, Anaemia, Enteritis, Dermatitis, impaired cognitive functioning, depression, heart diseases, convulsions.
- Vitamin E: Low fertility levels
- Vitamin K: Non-clotting of blood
When should you get a vitamin test done?
You need to take a vitamin deficiency test when:
- You show any of the above-mentioned symptoms and are advised a vitamin profile test.
- When you have been diagnosed with any of the vitamin deficiency diseases and need a follow-up test to check for the efficacy of the treatment.
- If you suffer from obesity, in which body fats bind themselves to the available vitamins resulting in vitamin deficiency.
- If you are a senior citizen and have health conditions that might be interfering with your body’s ability to absorb vitamins.
- If you are pregnant, vitamin deficiency tests are strongly advised for a healthy pregnancy and proper growth of the foetus.
- If you’ve undergone weight loss surgery.
- If you are taking antifungal, anticholesterol, and antiviral drugs.
- When you suffer from disorders of the kidney, pancreas, liver, thyroid, or digestive system that may be causing low vitamin levels in your body.
How is vitamin deficiency diagnosed?
Your doctor may suspect vitamin deficiency based on your symptoms during a routine health checkup or low vitamin levels may show up coincidentally during other routine tests. In either of these cases, your doctor will advise any of these tests to confirm or rule out vitamin deficiency.
- CBC Test: A complete blood count test is done to assess the levels of vitamins and their deficiency. When there are low vitamin B12, C, and folate levels, your red blood cells will appear underdeveloped and larger than normal. The blood test will show decreased levels of abnormal-looking white blood cells. Generally, this test is done along with a ferritin test to rule out iron deficiency and anaemia, the symptoms of which are similar to a vitamin deficiency. Similarly, you may also be advised an immunity test that will check for the level of your antibodies to intrinsic factor. This is also done to rule out anaemia and other disorders that may have similar symptoms as vitamin deficiency diseases.
- Comprehensive vitamin panel tests: These tests are designed to test the blood for all the 13 vitamins. Their results help in diagnosing the levels of vitamins and their deficiencies.
- Antibodies test: This test is done to check for B12 deficiency.
- Methylmalonic acid test: This test is done to check for the levels of methylmalonic acid. Higher than normal levels of this substance indicates the existence of vitamin B12 deficiency.
How can you reverse vitamin deficiency?
Vitamin deficiency can cause several problems, ranging from mild to severe. It is important to improve our vitamin levels to improve our quality of life and prevent other comorbid conditions. Here are some ways in which you can reduce and treat your vitamin deficiency:
- It is good to know the symptoms of vitamin deficiency. This helps in taking corrective action at the right time.
- Make sure that there is no lack of vitamins in your diet. Include a variety of food groups in your diet to get all the vitamins in the spectrum.
- Get plenty of sunshine.
- You can take vitamin supplements, especially when you are a vegetarian. However, this should be done only after your doctor’s approval.
- Get vitamin profile tests done regularly to assess if these deficiencies are starting to build up.