Do You Have A Nutritional Deficiency? How To Identify The Signs

Tuesday, January 30, 2007 - 4:36pm

By Wendy Hodsdon, ND

Is your body sending you a message? The health of your skin, fingernails, hair, ears and mouth all give signs of the nutritional health of your body. You may know about malnutrition or the signs of severe nutritional deficiencies. For instance, extremely low levels of vitamin C cause scurvy, which shows up as bleeding gums and painful joints due to bleeding. What you may not know is that well before the body develops scurvy, it shows signs of sub-optimal levels of vitamin C.

Recommended Daily Allowance and nutritional deficiencies

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) that the government has set for vitamins and minerals is the guide many vitamin manufacturers use. It is meant to provide a suggested daily intake of the vitamins necessary to prevent severe nutritional deficiencies in 90% of the population. If you are taking a supplement with 100% of the RDA of vitamins and minerals, most likely you will not have problems with serious nutrition-related diseases. However, the RDA does not reflect optimal levels of vitamins and minerals, nor does it take into account varying individual need for increased amounts of vitamins and minerals during stress, sickness or chronic degenerative conditions.

Physical signs of nutritional deficiencies

This chart looks at the signs the body gives of nutritional deficiencies before an overt disease develops. It is useful for identifying early indications of nutritional deficiencies.

Area of the body

Possible nutritional deficiencies


     Dry hair

Essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiency.

     Premature graying

Pantothenic acid (B5) deficiency.

     Hair loss

Folate, B5, B6, B-complex, and EFA deficiencies. Vitamin A toxicity or other environmental toxicity also causes hair loss.


Deficiencies in EFA, antioxidants (selenium especially), B6 or B-complex. May also indicate low stomach acid.


     Skin tags around

     neck, arms and back

Glucose intolerance or reactive insulin levels.  May be one of the first signs of blood sugar regulation problems.



Deficiencies in zinc, EFA and vitamin A. Decreased stomach acid and over consumption of “bad fats” such as trans-fatty acids.


     Excess ear wax

Low essential fatty acids (EFA).


     Tooth decay

Deficiencies in B6, minerals (especially silica, calcium, boron).

     Bleeding gums

Deficiencies in vitamin C and bioflavanoids.

     Cracks at the corners

     of the mouth

Deficiencies in B2 (riboflavin) or B-complex.


    Sore tongue (glossitis)

Deficiencies in B12, folate, zinc or iron.

    Pale tongue

Low iron levels.


     Dark circles under

Low levels of quercetin, vitamin C, and cromolyn for help with allergies.


Deficiencies in vitamin K, vitamin C, and bioflavonoids.


     Flat angle / spooning

Iron deficiency.

     Cuticle inflammation

Zinc deficiency.


Decreased minerals possibly from decreased stomach acid.


     Dry skin

Deficiencies in EFA, vitamin A or vitamin E. 

     Small red bumps on

     back of arms.

Deficiencies in vitamin A, vitamin E, zinc or EFA.  Malabsorption of nutrients may be the cause.

     Slow wound healing

Deficiencies in vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc or EFA.  Diabetes may also be the cause. 

     Easy bruising

Deficiencies in vitamin K, C, E, or bioflavonoids.


     Hang nails

Zinc deficiency.

     Skin cracking at tips

Deficiencies in zinc, vitamin E, or EFA.

     Cold hands

EFA, niacin (B3), vitamin E, B12 or iron. May be from anemia or Raynaud’s syndrome. 

Showing signs of nutritional deficiency: try including the nutrients in your diet

When considering the above-listed physical signs, you may ask, “Isn’t my body just this way?” Genetics and other health factors do play a role in causing some physical symptoms. However, the next question to ask is, “Could this be an indication of a nutritional deficiency?” These physical signs can help you recognize when a nutrient is low before a more serious disease starts. If your body shows any of the symptoms listed above, try adding the suggested nutrients into your diet in the form of food or as a supplement. Sometimes you will see changes in a few weeks; other times it takes a year or more.