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Vitamin deficiency: these are the signs

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 303 views

vitamin deficiency (hypovitaminosis, avitaminosis) rarely occurs in healthy people in Germany. It is usually illnesses, an unbalanced diet or pregnancy that lead to undersupply. Read here how a vitamin deficiency manifests itself, what helps against it and whether food supplements are necessary.

Vitamin deficiency: How to recognize it!

Vitamins are essential for our body. They support the body in gaining energy from carbohydrates, fats and protein . They also help build blood cells, enzymes and hormones. That means: Without vitamins we would neither be efficient nor could we survive.

You can find out more about vitamins here .

Vitamin deficiency is rare in Germany

There are 13 vitamins in total. The body only produces one of these itself: vitamin D. We have to get the other twelve vitamins through food. According to the German Nutrition Society (DGE), the likelihood of you suffering from a vitamin deficiency with a balanced diet is very low.

However, a vitamin deficiency can occur – for example in the course of a chronic gastrointestinal disease, alcoholism, an unbalanced diet (including eating disorders), during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Even high physical performance in ambitious athletes can drain the vitamin reserves. People who eat a vegan diet must also ensure that they have an adequate supply of vitamin B12 .

Vitamin deficiencies are often difficult to detect

A lack of vitamins is a serious condition. The complete lack of a vitamin over a long period of time often has serious consequences and in some cases is even life-threatening.

Depending on the extent and duration of the deficiency, a vitamin deficiency becomes noticeable through different signs. In general, vitamin deficiencies are relatively difficult to detect, especially in the early stages (latent vitamin deficiency), as they initially cause very unspecific symptoms. Psychological changes such as:

  • fatigue
  • depressed mood
  • emotional lability
  • lack of concentration
  • Impairment of short-term memory

A common symptom of vitamin deficiency is anemia, which can be caused by a lack of vitamin B2, B6, B12 or folic acid.

A weakening of the immune system and an increased susceptibility to infections are also typical vitamin deficiency symptoms and are caused by a lack of folic acid, vitamin A, B6 or C.

Depending on the vitamin deficiency, there are other specific signs. Here is a selection:

Vitamin D Deficiency

Symptoms such as hair loss and muscle pain are typical of a vitamin D deficiency. In addition, bone mineralization is sometimes disrupted. The consequences are diseases such as rickets and osteomalacia.

Learn more about vitamin D deficiency here .

Vitamin K Deficiency

An increased tendency to bleed is a typical symptom of a vitamin K deficiency. This is shown, for example, by nosebleeds. Fatigue, headaches and muscle pain are also possible.

Learn more about vitamin K deficiency here .

Vitamin A Deficiency

Too little vitamin A is noticeable through dry skin and brittle fingernails. In addition, those affected often see worse in dim light or suffer from night blindness.

Learn more about vitamin A deficiency here .

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Vegans in particular are affected by a vitamin B12 deficiency. It shows itself, among other things, in tiredness, paleness and tingling in the hands and feet. Anemia and hair loss are also typical.

You can find out more about vitamin B12 deficiency here .


Symptoms of a vitamin B6 deficiency include scaly skin rashes, numbness in the limbs and inflamed lips. Sensitivity to light also sometimes occurs.

You can find out more about vitamin B6 deficiency here .

Vitamin B1 Deficiency

In the case of a vitamin B1 deficiency, those affected get headaches and/or stomach pains. Difficulty concentrating and beriberi disease with cardiac muscle weakness, skeletal muscle atrophy and fluid retention in the tissue are also characteristic.

Here you can find out more about a vitamin B1 deficiency.

The four stages of vitamin deficiency

With decreasing vitamin intake, four stages are passed through, which flow into each other. This includes:

Stage of Prelatent Deficiency

The body begins to draw on its vitamin stores to meet its needs. This successively empties the memory.

latent deficiency

The vitamin requirement is hardly covered. Cell metabolism decreases.

subclinical deficiency

The activity of vitamin-dependent enzymes and hormones decreases. Deficiency symptoms that occur are non-specific – a drop in performance and fatigue are part of them. The vitamin deficiency is usually only recognized if a specific search is made for it, for example by determining the vitamin concentration in the blood plasma.

clinical deficiency

Metabolic processes are increasingly disturbed. The changes are symptomatic. In the early stages, the symptoms can still be reversed by supplying the missing vitamin.

In the late stages, the vitamin deficiency has already led to serious damage that can be life-threatening and can usually no longer be reversed.

Causes of vitamin deficiency

A lack of vitamins usually has the following causes:

Wrong or one-sided nutrition or zero diet

Diet-related vitamin deficiencies are rare in industrialized countries with adequate food supply. However, a very one-sided diet, eating disorders or radical diets can lead to this.

An example of a vitamin deficiency caused by an inadequate diet is scurvy – a disease that is caused by a chronic lack of vitamin C. Scurvy is characterized by skin lesions, wound healing disorders and gingivitis. In the past, seafarers in particular were affected by this disease.

Vegetarian or vegan diet

With a meatless (vegetarian) diet, there is a risk of an undersupply of vitamin B12, which is contained in almost all animal products but hardly in plant foods.

Vitamin D (in fish, eggs and liver) is also often taken in by vegetarians in insufficient amounts with food. However, since vitamin D is primarily produced by the body itself, deficiency symptoms are rare.

With a purely plant-based (vegan) diet and the complete renunciation of animal products, there is sometimes also an undersupply of vitamin B2, which is contained in milk, meat, fish and eggs.

Deficiencies in these vitamins are particularly dangerous for infants breastfed by vegan mothers. Children may develop developmental and growth delays and neurological disorders.

Improper food preparation or storage

Depending on the duration and type of storage and preparation of food, vitamins are broken down step by step and are thus lost as an important part of the diet. Prompt consumption with short cooking times help to preserve the structure of the vitamins. If you want to store vitamin-rich food for a longer period of time, freezing is recommended.

Insufficient absorption in the intestine

Vitamins are absorbed from food in the intestine (absorption) and fed into the body. If this process is impaired, deficiency symptoms can develop. This is the case for example with:

  • chronic diarrhea
  • inflammatory bowel disease after small bowel resection
  • or due to a destroyed intestinal flora caused by antibiotics

lack of light

Vitamin D has a special status. It forms in the skin under the influence of UV radiation. Vitamin D deficiency symptoms occur when there is insufficient exposure to the sun, for example in winter or when little time is spent outdoors. Often affected are:

  • baby
  • toddlers
  • pregnant women
  • elderly people

Increased vitamin requirement

In certain situations, the body needs larger amounts of vitamins:

  • in case of high fever or diseases with increased metabolism
  • during pregnancy and lactation
  • Children and adolescents in phases of strong growth
  • in stressful situations
  • through smoking


On the one hand, alcohol leads to a disturbance in the liver function, which means that certain vitamins cannot be metabolized sufficiently. On the other hand, alcoholism leads to what is known as nutrient displacement.

The latter is due to the fact that although alcohol helps to meet daily energy requirements due to the large number of calories, it does not itself contain any essential nutrients and vitamins.

High age

Older people generally have reduced energy requirements due to a reduced basal metabolic rate and less physical activity. However, the amount of vitamins they need remains high. The often reduced diet can then result in a vitamin deficiency.

Increased casualties

In the context of certain diseases or therapies, there is an increased loss of vitamins – for example in dialysis procedures or through interactions with certain drugs.

How can a vitamin deficiency be prevented?

Vitamin deficiencies can usually be adequately prevented with a varied diet. The DGE recommends five servings of fruit and vegetables per day, along with milk and whole grain products, fish, nuts and vegetable oils. Also, avoid smoking and include alcohol-free days in the week.

If the vitamin deficiency is caused by a lot of sport, pregnancy or illness, talk to your doctor about what you can do about it and which dietary supplements are suitable for you.

Do dietary supplements help with a vitamin deficiency?

Dietary supplements do not replace a balanced diet. According to the DGE, however, it makes sense to take certain products in the event of a severe deficiency and in exceptional cases. However, not on suspicion, but only in consultation with a doctor.

Because with the fat-soluble vitamins – i.e. vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K – caution is advised: If you take too large amounts of these vitamins, this can also damage your body.

However, after consultation with a doctor you trust, there are situations in which food supplements can make sense:

  • Vitamin K, vitamin D and fluoride in newborns
  • Folic acid in women who want or could become pregnant and in pregnant women in the first trimester
  • Vitamin D in people who spend little or no time outdoors
  • Vitamin B 12 in vegans

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