A nutrient is a catch-all term for any substance that provides the building blocks for replenishment of an organism (so it includes vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, essential amino acids, and also macronutrients, such as carbs, protein, and fats).
Vitamins and minerals (those nutrients normally found in a multivitamin) are distinct from macronutrients in that they don’t provide energy; they help the body carry out some of its vital functions (hence the prefix vita-, as in vitality). A vitamin is a more complex molecule, while a mineral is a single element in the periodic table (though it’s almost always bound to something else for the purpose of delivery, and so forms a compound. What it’s bound to makes a difference in terms of absorbability.)
Here are some visible signs that you might be deficient in particular vitamins or minerals. The point here is to get you to recognize that vitamins and minerals are important, and that’s why a multivitamin is a good idea. Do not supplement an individual vitamin or mineral without the advice of a nutritionist or naturopathic physician, because overdose or imbalance is possible for some of them, and also because some of these symptoms may be indicative of an underlying condition.
Nails and Hair:
- Ridges: often a zinc deficiency
- White spots: often a zinc deficiency
- Hang nails: often a zinc deficiency
- Soft or brittle nails: may be a magnesium deficiency
- Hair loss: can be a lot of things, but biotin or zinc deficiency are possible
Skin: usually skin stuff requires the gut and/or the liver to be addressed, and there are often food intolerances involved. That said, it may also indicate the following deficiencies:
- Dermatitis (inflamed skin): related to deficiency in Vitamins B2, B3, B6, C, E, A, zinc, and biotin
- Follicular Hyperkeratosis (plugged pores on the backs of the arms): Vitamin A deficiency
- Seborrheic Dermatitis (flaky, oily skin): could be a biotin deficiency
- Eczema: potentially Vitamin B2 or Vitamin E deficiency.
- Psoriasis: associated with low Vitamin A, D, E, C, and zinc.
- Acne Vulgaris: associated with deficiency in Vitamins A, B5, B6, E, and zinc
- Acne Rosacea: associated with deficiency in Vitamins C and B2
- Night blindness: vitamin A deficiency
- Dark circles: sometimes called “allergic shiners”; often a sign of food intolerance
- Epistaxis (nose bleeds): may be a folate or Vitamin B12 deficiency, Vitamin K deficiency, or a lack of antioxidants. Get this worked up if it’s frequent.
- Swollen or fissured tongue: may be iron deficiency, or lack of vitamins B2, B3, B6, or B12
- Cracked, peeling lips or edges of the mouth: may be a vitamin B2 deficiency
- Bleeding gums: vitamin C deficiency
- Gum disease: folic acid, CoQ10, or Vitamin C deficiency
- Loss of taste: may be a B12 or zinc deficiency
- Canker sores: may be a B12 or folate deficiency
- Tinnitus: may be caused by a lot of things, but could be a Vitamin B3, B12 or Vitamin E deficiency. Get this worked up.
- Frequent soreness or spasm: may be a magnesium deficiency or electrolyte imbalance
- Restless Leg Syndrome: may be caused by a number of things, but can be an electrolyte imbalance, or deficiency in iron, calcium, Vitamin E or folate.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it might be a good idea to: 1) increase your fruit and veggie intake, 2) find a good, absorbable multivitamin and 3) find out if you have an underlying condition that is preventing absorption of nutrients, or are taking prescription meds that inhibit absorption. (And for the noted conditions, consider getting a thorough workup.)
It is always best to see a naturopathic doctor to coordinate your care if you have the ability to do so. However, here are three of my favorite multivitamins — choose Basic Nutrients V if you are trying to avoid iodine; choose Basic Nutrients III if you are post-menopausal and avoiding iron. Otherwise I recommend Polyphenol Nutrients as a good general multi. (Bonus: FREE Shipping!)