Getting the right vitamins and minerals to function? Your body could be giving you obvious signals you’re falling way short. Caitlyn Davey finds out more.
Feel like something’s not quite right with your health, but not sure what it could be? Dr Marwa El Badawi of Kaya Skin Clinic says that often vitamin and nutrient shortages reveal themselves in your physical appearance. More importantly, Marwa claims they can be reversed by eating the right foods. ‘Most vitamin deficiencies are signalled by cracking or brittle fingernails and hair fall,’ she says. ‘We always evaluate this first and then look to other symptoms to piece together what vitamin or mineral deficiency the patient may be suffering. Hair fall can indicate a need for copper or zinc supplements especially, but most deficiencies exhibit hair fall and cracked nails,’ she adds. Want in on what the tell-tail signs are and where you should be checking for them? Here are some of the most common deficiencies – and what you should be eating to prevent them.
Dark circles near eyes
Dr Marwa says dark circles around the eyes can signal iron deficiency, known as anaemia – ‘particularly if the inner corners of skin around the eyes are pale’, she says. Dietitian at Right Bite, Riham Shamsseddine, says to compensate, sufferers should eat more iron-rich foods. ‘Iron is found in red meat, egg yolks, dried fruit, iron-enriched cereals and grains, beans, lentils, chickpeas, soy beans, liver, artichokes, dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale and molluscs such as oysters, clams and scallops.’ Though, iron from animal sources is best absorbed by the body.
White spots under the fingernails
A common symptom of a calcium or protein deficiency is white spots under the fingernails. Dr Marwa explains: ‘This can be symptomatic of different deficiencies – generally it’s a lack of calcium or protein in the diet.’ Lean chicken and beef, eggs and kidney beans are a good source of protein, while you can up your calcium intake with low fat yoghurt.
Riham says cramps can be one of two deficiencies: ‘The main causes for cramps are a lack of calcium or magnesium – these can be resolved by boosting your intake of almonds, sesame seeds, sardines, salmon, broccoli, dairy products and dark green leafy vegetables. Good magnesium sources include pumpkin seeds, spinach, walnuts, quinoa, dark green leafy vegetables, soybeans, cashew nuts and black beans.’
Oral sores and bleeding gums
Often these indicate a severe lack of vitamin C. Dr Marwa says: ‘Fragility of the mouth, including traumatic ulcers and bleeding gums after brushing your teeth, generally indicate a lack of vitamin C, which can also lead to viral infections. However, the symptoms can also indicate a viral infection separate from deficiency. Citrus fruits and strawberries are great sources of vitamin C.’
Dr Marwa says: ‘When the corners of the mouth are cracked and painful, this is a giveaway of low vitamin B levels, especially B2.’
Riham says that this can be combatted by simply improving your vitamin B intake: ‘Eat wholegrains, pulses, red meat, salmon and eggs. Your body is also likely to be dehydrated. You may want to also increase your water intake to six to eight glasses daily or as recommended by your doctor.’
She adds: ‘Vitamin B12 is only found in animal source foods, it is not found naturally in plants. So you should get it from shellfish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk and other dairy foods, and in some fortified breakfast cereals.’
Riham says: ‘This is most likely caused by a lack of fibre. The recommendations are 25 to 35g of fibre daily, which we can find in fruits and vegetables with edible skin, wholegrains and pulses. A sprinkle of ground flaxseed on your salads or meals can be helpful as well.’
Dr Marwa says a deficiency or lack of calcium can contribute to paleness in the skin – where it lacks any glow. ‘Vitamin D deficiency is due to a lack of exposure to sunlight, which is common in local ladies, and this can lead to a dull skin, hair fall and brittle fingernails. It can also mean calcium deficiency, as calcium needs vitamin D to be absorbed into the body. I recommend a vitamin D supplement for people with these symptoms – otherwise a diet rich in tuna, mackerel and other seafood is recommended.’
If you’re suffering from any of the above symptoms, it’s always best to consult a doctor before making dietary changes. Riham warns, ‘Balanced diets should meet all your essential vitamin and mineral needs. Food supplements are only to be taken after consulting a doctor.’ Dr Marwa agrees: ‘It’s not about what the pharmacist recommends, or what is in vogue – it’s what vitamins your body is lacking. Consult a doctor so you can make the decision on what is best.’
Kaya Skin Clinic. Various locations including Mirdif City Centre, Mirdif (04 283 9200). Right Bite. Contact for location. www.right-bite.com (04 338 8763).