Crack your body’s secret code

Crack your body’s secret code

by Bianca Castro |

Unlock your body’s telltale signs to discover which vitamins and minerals you may need more of

Would you know if you were deficient in certain vitamins and minerals? Most of us wouldn’t have a clue. Here, Dr Carrie Ruxton, a dietitian from the Health and Food Supplements Information Service, explains some of the common signs to look out for and what we can do to give our levels a boost.

The sign: Bone and back pain

The secret: More vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for the healthy functioning of our immune system and for helping us to maintain strong and healthy bones. Yet around a quarter of adults are deficient. Symptoms can include fatigue, depression, and bone and back pain, but some won’t feel any symptoms until actual damage has been done to the bones.

Boost it by: Most of the vitamin D in our blood comes from exposure to summer sunlight. However, during the winter we need to rely on dietary sources, such as oily fish and fortified foods like fromage frais to keep our stores topped up. The government also strongly recommends that everyone take a year-round 10-microgram vitamin D daily supplement.

The sign: Brain fog

The secret: More iron

Around a third of women have too little iron in their diet. Iron’s important for transporting oxygen in our blood, and for supporting cognitive function, which is why low levels can lead to tiredness, shortness of breath, brain fog and pale skin.

Boost it by: Fortified breakfast cereal, beans and pulses are all good sources. Iron tends to be easily absorbed from animal sources, such as red meat, but vitamin C can help improve absorption from plant sources too. A multivitamin supplement will bridge iron gaps.

The sign: Bleeding gums

The secret: More vitamin C

If your teeth are otherwise healthy, bleeding gums might be a sign that your diet is lacking in vitamin C. You might also notice that you take longer to recover from colds and wounds take longer to heal. A severe deficiency can also lead to scurvy.

Boost it by: An optimal vitamin C intake is 80mg a day, but it can’t be stored in the body, so you need to make sure you’re consuming enough each day. Particularly rich sources of vitamin C include orange juice (one small glass contains more than 80 per cent of the recommended amount), peppers and berries.

The sign: Brittle hair and nails

The secret: More vitamin B7

Vitamin B7, or biotin, helps the body convert food into energy and plays a key role in the health of our hair, skin and nails. That’s why if levels are low, we might notice weakening and splitting of our nails and hair.

Boost it by: We need around 50 micrograms of B7 a day, but the good news is that it’s present in a wide range of foods that most of us eat regularly, such as milk, cereals, bananas and wholegrain bread.

The sign: Wounds not healing

The secret: More zinc

Around one in 10 adults has insufficient zinc levels in their diet. Zinc supports our immunity, helps us to fight off viruses, and is important for wound healing. Symptoms of a deficiency can include mental lethargy, and impaired sense of taste and smell.

Boost it by: Adults need around 10mg of zinc a day. The best sources are protein-rich foods, like fish, oysters, poultry and meat. Vegan sources include chickpeas, lentils, seeds and nuts.

The sign: Muscle cramps

The secret: More magnesium

Magnesium is important for muscle and nerve function. However, nearly a fifth of adult women aren’t getting enough. The main sign of low magnesium levels is muscle cramps, and sometimes low mood.

Boost it by: Good sources are wholegrains, oily fish and green leafy vegetables. Older women can benefit from a bone health supplement which combines calcium, magnesium and vitamin D.

The sign: Mouth ulcers

The secret: More vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 plays an important role in keeping our nervous system healthy. However, a B12 deficiency affects one in 20 people aged 65 to 74. Symptoms of a deficiency can include pins and needles, mouth ulcers, a lack of energy or extreme tiredness.

Boost it by: Vitamin B12 can be found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy foods and some cereals. Adults need around 2.5 micrograms of vitamin B12 a day. Those over 50 may wish to take a supplement.

Edited by Stephanie May

Always contact your GP if you’re experiencing any symptoms you’re worried about. For more information, visit

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