From poor appetite to muscle cramps – signs you may be suffering from a mineral deficiency

Doctor advises what to eat to help an iron deficiency

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While clinical deficiencies are not that common amongst the UK population, a significant number of adults have been shown to have inadequate intakes of certain minerals and could be suffering the effects of a low intake. So what are the signs of a mineral deficiency to look out for? Rob Hobson, Registered Nutritionist, outlined 10 signs.

He explained: “Many of these symptoms could be the result of other things related to your health but they may signal a lack of a certain nutrient in the diet.”

The symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain, constipation, bloating
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle cramps
  • Difficult concentrating
  • Low energy/fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Numbness or tingling in the extremities
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety/low mood

Who is at greater risk of a mineral deficiency?

Anyone eating a poor diet that relies heavily on junk food while also lacking fruits and vegetables could be at risk of mineral insufficiencies, said Rob.

He continued: “Weight loss regimes that require a very low intake of calories could also put you at risk of deficiency and this is also true of those with eating disorders, as well as older adults with poor appetites.

“Restrictive diets that cut out food groups such as veganism could also increase the risk of mineral insufficiencies, although there is no reason anyone following this way of eating shouldn’t be able to get everything they need from a well-planned diet.

“Mineral deficiencies could also occur because of an increased need for a certain nutrient. A good example here is women and iron, as they may experience a greater loss because of their monthly cycle or during pregnancy.”

Traditionally to detect a deficiency, painful, invasive, and often costly blood tests are needed, but technology and testing in this area is constantly evolving and there are some exciting innovations which will transform the way we measure and monitor our vitamin and mineral levels.

Rob recommended: “santéPatch ( is a new non-invasive, wearable micro-patch which is placed directly onto the skin to measure and monitor your vitamin and mineral levels, on-the-go and in just 15 minutes.

“Its unique patented technology draws sweat and interstitial bodily fluids to the surface and into the patch which can then accurately determine your vitamin and mineral levels, identifying if the levels are high, low, or within a normal range.

“The data obtained is then wirelessly transmitted to an AI-powered app on your smartphone or smartwatch, explaining the findings in a simple, bite-size format.”

What about absorption in the body?

The ability of your body to absorb minerals will also influence the risk of deficiency.

Rob explained: “Certain health conditions (coeliac, pernicious anaemia, alcoholism), medications or surgery of the digestive tract can impact on how well the body absorbs nutrients from food.

“Age also impacts on the amount of gastric acid the body produces which could also impact on nutrient absorption especially in older adults.”

What are the symptoms of specific mineral deficiencies? Rob outlines the details below.


7 percent UK adults do not get enough from their diet (9 percent women, 4 percent men)

Average intake as a percentage of the RNI: 105 percent (109 percent women, 100 percent men)

Why do you need it?

Calcium helps your body develop strong bones and teeth. It also helps your heart, nerves, and muscles work the way they should.

What are the symptoms of deficiency?

There are no serious short-term symptoms of calcium deficiency as the body carefully regulates blood levels. If left then a lack of calcium in the diet may impact on bone density increasing the risk of fractures. Severe deficiency which is most likely the result of a medical condition or surgery can cause cramping, numbness, tingling in the fingers, fatigue and irregular heartbeat.

How can you increase your intake?

The best sources of calcium can be found in dairy foods but you can also get this mineral from dark green leafy vegetables, tofu, legumes, fortified cereals, dried fruit and canned fish with bones such as salmon.


14 percent UK adults do not get enough from their diet (25 percent women, 2 percent men)

Average intake as a percentage of the RNI: 105 percent (76 percent women, 134 percent men)

Why do you need it?

Iron is needed to make healthy red blood cells and is also involved in immunity.

What are the symptoms of deficiency?

Iron is the most common mineral deficiency around the globe. When levels drop too low then there is a risk of iron deficiency anaemia and if left untreated the symptoms can increase in their severity and have serious implications for your health. Symptoms of iron deficiency include tiredness and fatigue, recurrent infections, shortness of breath, hair loss, always feeling cold, low mood and poor sleep.

How can you increase your intake?

You can boost your intake of iron by eating foods such as red meat and offal as well as plant foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, oats, tofu, nuts, dried spices, and fortified breakfast cereals.


12 percent UK adults do not get enough from their diet (11 percent women, 12 percent men)

Average intake as a percentage of the RNI: 95 percent (90 percent women, 100 percent men)

Why do you need it?

Magnesium is involved in hundreds of processes within the body including the proper function of nerves and muscle, brain, energy metabolism, blood pressure and blood glucose control.

What are the symptoms of deficiency?

Deficiency is not common in healthy people but low intakes may still lead to symptoms such as fatigue, nausea and anxiety which could impact on how you feel day-to-day. Stress can encourage the body to excrete magnesium from the body at a higher rate than normal, increasing the risk of deficiency. In more severe cases of magnesium deficiency someone may experience symptoms such as loss of appetite, tingling, numbness, muscle cramps and irregular heartbeat.

How can you increase your intake?

Including more wholefoods in your diet is a good approach as magnesium is found in foods such as nuts, seeds, legumes, wholegrains, and dark green leafy vegetables.


17 percent UK adults do not get enough from their diet (24 percent women, 10 percent men)

Average intake as a percentage of the RNI: 81 percent (73 percent women, 89 percent men)

Why do you need it?

Potassium functions as an electrolyte in the body helping to maintain fluid balance. This mineral is required for muscle contraction, proper heart function and nerve transmission.

What are the symptoms of deficiency?

This is most likely to occur if someone is losing a lot of water from their body which may be the result of prolonged vomiting, kidney disease or the extended use of laxatives and diuretics. Symptoms may include muscle cramping, weakness, constipation, bloating and abdominal pain.

How can you increase your intake?

You can ensure a good intake of potassium by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables especially bananas, avocado, dark leafy greens, beetroot, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, and squash.

According to a secondary analysis of the National Diet and Nutrition Survey it was found that UK females and younger adults are particularly vulnerable to micronutrient shortfalls from the food they eat1. The authors of this study suggested that supplementation strategies may be considered to help adults achieve their dietary targets. If you feel your diet is not quite up to scratch or fall into one of the groups at greater risk of deficiency then an age-specific multivitamin and mineral supplement may be a good option while you get your diet back on track (try Healthspan Multivitality Gold, £12.45 for 180 tablets).

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