The ABCs of Vitamin Deficiency: Symptoms You Can Treat Yourself

Could better health be just a supplement away?

vitamin deficiency symptoms example of vitamin supplements

Fortunately, vitamin deficiency symptoms are often very easy to fix.

© Elena Elisseeva |

Vitamin A  | Vitamin B  | Vitamin C | Vitamin Deficiency Chart

Vitamin deficiency symptoms are as varied as they are common. They’ve been linked to depression and anxiety, fatigue, cognitive decline, and much more. While vitamins, or micronutrients, are important for a well functioning body, Vitamins A, C, D, and E intakes are inadequate in Americans. About 6% of adults have a B12 deficiency, which is more uncommon than other vitamin deficiencies.

Fortunately, vitamin deficiency symptoms are often very easy to fix. Here’s a look at what you might experience if you’re deficient in vitamin A, B, or C—plus advice on what to do about it.

Vitamin Deficiency Symptoms Chart
Vitamin Deficiency Symptoms Where to Find It
A Dry eyes and skin; increased infections; issues with sight, dry hair; broken fingernails; pruritus (itchy skin) Beef liver and other organ meats; salmon; green, leafy vegetables; orange and yellow vegetables; fruits, including cantaloupe, apricots, and mangos; dairy products
B1 (thiamine) Fatigue; irritability; beriberi (heart and circulatory issues) Whole grains; meat (especially pork); fish; legumes; seeds; nuts
B2 (riboflavin) Cracks in corners of the mouth; dry patches on the head Cheese; almonds; beef and lamb; mackerel; eggs; pork; mushrooms; sesame   seeds; spinach
B2 (niacin) Mental confusion and dementia; scaly skin; muscle weakness; diarrhea;   memory impairment; disorientation; depression; delirium, mania, or paranoia Dairy; eggs; enriched bread and cereal; fish; lean meat; legumes; nuts
B5 Seizures; scaly rash; red tongue; cracks in corner of mouth;   pins-and-needles sensation in hands and feet Avocado; broccoli; kale; cabbage; eggs, legumes; milk; mushrooms; organ   meat; poultry; potatoes; yeast
B12 Fatigue; anemia; paleness; weakness; shortness of breath; dizziness;  tingling or loss of sensation in hands and feet; confusion and dementia Clams; liver; fortified breakfast cereal; trout; salmon; tuna; haddock; beef; milk
Folate Fatigue; anemia; paleness; shortness of breath and dizziness; red and sore tongue; reduced sense of taste; weight loss; depression Beans; lentils; spinach; asparagus; lettuce; avocado; broccoli; mango; oranges
C Bleeding gums; infection; dry hair and skin; gingivitis; nosebleeds; weight gain, painful joints; weakened tooth enamel Citrus fruits; peppers; guava; kale; broccoli; tomatoes; peas
D Weak and brittle bones; bone pain; muscle weakness Cod liver oil; swordfish; salmon; tuna; orange juice; milk; yogurt; sardines; liver; eggs

Download Vitamin Deficiency Symptoms Chart.

Vitamin A Deficiency Symptoms

Vitamin A really does play a role in improving your vision—it’s a key element in night vision. But that’s not all: research suggests that it also plays a role in healthy skin, lungs, intestines, and the respiratory tract, and protects against infections.

In developed countries, deficiency is rare, but it is common among people who rely on rice as a staple food. It can also result from chronic diarrhea, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, pancreatic disorders, or liver damage.

Vitamin A deficiency symptoms include:

  • Night blindness (early) leading to full blindness
  • Dry eyes, skin, and other tissues
  • Increased infections
  • Thinning and ulceration of the cornea
  • Oval, triangular, or irregular foamy patches on the white of the eye
  • Dry hair
  • Pruritis
  • Broken fingernails

To treat vitamin A deficiency, a doctor may prescribe high doses of vitamin A, followed by lower doses until symptoms improve. It’s important to work with a physician if you suspect vitamin A deficiency, as high doses of vitamin A can be toxic.

The recommended daily allowance for vitamin A is 700 micrograms (mcg) for healthy women and 900 mcg for men. The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) is 3000 mcg. The UTL is the highest amount of a nutrient that can be taken daily before adverse effects may occur.

Food sources of vitamin A include:

  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrots
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Mango
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tuna

Vitamin B Deficiency Symptoms

Vitamin B refers to a collection of vitamins with different uses and deficiency symptoms. They include B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6, B12, folic acid, and biotin. While each B vitamin has specific effects, they work synergistically.

Vitamin B deficiency symptoms include:

  • B1 (thiamine): fatigue and irritability. Beriberi results from severe deficiency and can affect the nerves, muscles, heart, and brain.
  • B2 (riboflavin): cracks in the corners of the mouth, scaly patches on the head
  • B3 (niacin): mental confusion and dementia, along with scaly skin, muscle weakness, and diarrhea, memory impairment, disorientation, depression, mania, delirium, or paranoia
  • B5 (pantothenic acid): seizures, scaly rash, red tongue, cracks in the corners of the mouth, or a pins-and-needles sensation in the hands and feet
  • B12: Fatigue, anemia, paleness, weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, tingling or loss of sensation in the hands and feet, muscle weakness, loss of reflexes, difficulty walking, confusion, and dementia
  • Folate/folic acid: fatigue, anemia, paleness, irritability, shortness of breath, and dizziness, red and sore tongue, a reduced sense of taste, weight loss, depression, neural tube defect in infants of folate-deficient mothers
  • Panic attacks, anxiety and depression. (Read more about vitamin B and depression here.)

Consult with your physician to discuss possible options to treat a vitamin B deficiency.

The recommended daily allowances for healthy adults for the various vitamin Bs are as follows:

  • B1 Thiamine: 1.2 mg for men, 1.1 mg for women, no UTL
  • B2 (riboflavin): 1.3 mg for men, 1.1 mg for women, no UTL
  • B3 (niacin): 16 mg men, 14 mg women, UTL 35 mg/day
  • B5 (pantothenic acid): 5 mg men and women, no UTL
  • B6: 1.3 mg men and women, no UTL
  • B12. 2.4 mcg men and women, no UTL
  • Folic acid: 400 mcg men and women, 1000 mcg/day
  • Biotin: There is no RDA for biotin, but the adequate intake is 30 mcg

The recommended Daily Values (DV) found on FDA food labels DVs are the recommended amounts of nutrients to consume or not to exceed each day. For example, the recommended daily allowance of folic acid for a woman is 1000 mcg. If a product has 500 mcg, that would be 50% DV.

For food sources of the different members of the vitamin B family, see the vitamin deficiency symptoms chart.

Vitamin C Deficiency

Vitamin C is water-soluble, so any extra in the body is excreted in urine. Vitamin C is credited with boosting immunity, but that’s not all it does. It helps heal wounds; repairs cartilage, bones, and teeth; and is an antioxidant.

Signs of vitamin C deficiency may include:

  • Bleeding gums
  • Lowered resistance to infection
  • Slowed wound healing
  • Dry, splitting hair
  • Gingivitis
  • Nosebleeds
  • Weight gain
  • Dry skin
  • Painful joints
  • Weakened tooth enamel
  • Scurvy
    sources of essential vitamins

    Click to enlarge – Food sources for essential vitamins.


It is recommended that healthy men consume about 90 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C per day, while women need about 75 mg. If you smoke, add 35 mg per day due to increased oxidative stress.

Good food sources of vitamin C include:

  • Broccoli
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Leafy greens
  • Mango
  • Papaya
  • Peppers, green and red
  • Pineapple
  • Potatoes (sweet and white)
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon.

More Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency Symptoms

This is just a brief look at some commonly known vitamin deficiencies. The following blogs take a look into a range of other deficiencies that can cause a host of problems.

10 Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms

21 Calcium Deficiency Symptoms That Will Surprise You

Do You Have Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms?

9 Iron Deficiency Symptoms You Can Identify Yourself

Vitamins and Cancer

Some studies allege that taking vitamins can cause cancer. The most oft-cited study looked at vitamin E and prostate cancer. Conversely, there have also been claims that certain vitamins can prevent or even treat cancer. But when you look at the research as a whole, there just isn’t enough evidence to defend either of these positions.

The confusion comes from a misunderstanding between nutrients and supplements. People who naturally eat a lot of foods that contain certain vitamins may demonstrate lower rates of certain types of cancer.

But taking very high doses of a single supplement doesn’t mean that the same results will be achieved. That’s why it’s always best to get your vitamins and minerals from food first.

Vitamins are an excellent way to augment—but never to replace—a healthy diet. The studies that have found higher rates of cancer with vitamin consumption are often using very high doses that are not recommended in the general population.

A good rule of thumb is to work closely with an integrative physician who can tailor a plan specifically for you.

Where to Start

For many people, a simple multivitamin is a great first step. Look for one that meets the recommended daily allowance of the vitamins listed in the vitamin deficiency chart.

Different brands have different levels of tolerability, so you may have to experiment to find one that you like. Some supplements may cause nausea and other reactions, so it’s important to find the one that works best for you. If you still suspect that you have specific deficiencies, then add individual supplements to your multivitamin.

This article, originally published in 2015, is regularly updated. 

As a service to our readers, University Health News offers a vast archive of free digital content. Please note the date published or last update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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Carrie Adkins-Ali

Carrie Adkins-Ali is executive editor of the monthly publication Health News, produced by Belvoir Media Group with Duke Health. She's also a contributor to University Health News and former Daily … Read More

View all posts by Carrie Adkins-Ali

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