A whole host of health niggles and full-blown medical conditions can be caused by low levels of vitamins and minerals. Lisa Salmon asks the experts about deficiency warning signs and how to combat them

Everyday symptoms like cracked lips, headaches, dandruff and bad breath, could just be one of those things - or they might be signs of a vitamin or mineral deficiency.

Itchy or dry skin, low mood, thinning hair, low libido, tiredness and even stress could all also indicate you need more of a certain nutrient.

Most of the 'symptoms' are niggles that'd be great to wipe out with a simple change of diet, yet recent research suggests up to six in 10 of us have no idea what health complaints might have a vitamin or mineral deficiency at their root. Despite this, a fifth of people have suffered from a symptom or health condition caused by a vitamin or mineral deficiency.

The research, by supplement retailer Healthspan (www.healthspan.co.uk), also found 36% of those polled have made a conscious effort to boost their intake of certain vitamins and minerals because they felt they were lacking in them, while 28% have even sought professional help over the issue.


Dr Carrie Ruxton, a dietician at the Health Supplements Information Service, says clinical deficiency in vitamins and minerals leading to full-blown medical symptoms is rare.

However, a high proportion of Brits have low blood levels of key nutrients, such as vitamin D, which affects up to four in 10 adults and teenagers.

Other examples of nutrients commonly at low levels include iron (it's believed one in 10 women and girls are anaemic as a result), folate (which is in the spotlight for increasing the risk of birth defects) and iodine, where low blood levels are seen in half of young women.

"These sub-optimal nutrient levels can create long-term health problems, such as osteoporosis or fatigue, as well as putting the next generation at risk," says Ruxton.


As well as this, Ruxton says a significant proportion of people don't achieve recommended intakes of minerals and vitamins, including selenium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, riboflavin and vitamin A. But while symptoms such as lacklustre hair, brittle nails and tiredness could well be due to a vitamin or mineral deficiency, it's hard to be sure without taking a blood test.

"Many other lifestyle issues impact on health, libido and mood, such as sleep quality, alcohol consumption, smoking, stress, a sedentary indoor lifestyle and lack of physical activity," Ruxton points out. "The best way to improve your health is to make a holistic change, involving a balanced diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, limited alcohol consumption, no smoking, and at least 60 minutes daily of outdoor physical activity.

"Adding a vitamin and mineral supplement, plus a fish oil if you don't eat much fish, is a useful way to ensure you meet dietary recommendations".


The Healthspan survey also found almost half of Brits are unaware that taking medications, antibiotics and even drinking tea and coffee, may affect how you absorb vitamins and minerals.

GP and Healthspan expert Dr Sarah Brewer says an estimated 40% of UK adults take at least one dietary supplement, and many of them are also taking one or more prescribed drugs.

"Although the risk of serious interactions between vitamins, minerals and prescribed drugs is low, many drugs appear to deplete body stores of vitamins and minerals," she says. "Many popular dietary ingredients also deplete levels of certain vitamins and minerals and can interfere with the absorption of food supplements."


Here are some common complaints that may be linked to low vitamin and mineral levels - and the foods to help you top up...

Symptoms: Persistent dandruff

Could be low: Biotin or vitamin B7, essential fatty acids

Find it in: Fresh salmon, almonds, peanut butter, sunflower seeds

Symptoms: Cracked lips, thinning hair, split and brittle nails plus white spots on nails, tiredness, cold hands and feet

Could be low: Iron

Find it in: Red meat, red peppers, kale, tofu, strawberries, red kidney beans, kiwis, lemons, flaxseed, chicken liver

Symptoms: Psoriasis

Could be low: Vitamin D, plus mixed vitamin B, zinc and essential fatty acids

Find it in: Eggs, prawns, fresh tuna, mushrooms

Symptoms: Restless legs

Could be low: Magnesium, iron or folate

Find it in: Avocado, dried oregano, bulgur wheat, dark chocolate

Symptoms: Low mood

Could be low: Vitamin D, B vitamins, magnesium

Find it in: Quinoa, salmon, avocado, French beans