Nutrient Deficiency Facts

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Nutrient Deficiency Facts
Infographic © – photos lic under Creative Commons; see foot of article

When Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”, he was absolutely right. This statement still rings true today: It is important to remember that food is not only a source of energy, but also a source of needed nutrients like vitamins and minerals needed by the body to function. When a person is malnourished or experiences nutrient deficiency, he or she can become sick.

Deficient Nutrients And Resulting Diseases

1. Deficient caloric intake causes Marasmus, characterized by severe weight loss and energy loss. [2]

2. Deficient protein intake (basic malnutrition) is typically caused by famine and causes a condition called Kwashiorkor, characterized by severe weight loss and a protruding abdomen. The fluid build-up in the abdomen is caused by deficient albumin, a protein that is responsible for maintaining capillary integrity. Without it, fluid leaks out of the blood vessels, causing the abdomen to enlarge. [3]

3. Vitamin A deficiency causes Xerophthalmia, a disease that affects the eyes and is characterized by night blindness, Bitot’s spots (dryness of the eyes and foamy accumulations on the inner lids), and damage to the cornea, either Corneal xerosis (corneal clouding) or Keratomalacia (softening and ulceration of the cornea). [4]

4. Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency causes Beriberi disease, which is categorized into wet or dry. Dry beriberi is characterized by difficulty walking and decreased sensation and loss of function of the arms and legs. Wet beriberi is characterized by shortness of breath while sleeping, tachycardia or heart rate faster than 100 beats per minutes, and edema of the legs. [5]

5. Vitamin B12 deficiency causes a form of anemia called pernicious anemia. Vitamin B12 contributes to red blood cell production in the body and a lack of it can cause a decrease in RBC, leading to anemia. Because pernicious anemia is also characterized by destruction of the stomach cells, it is even harder for the body to absorb Vitamin B12. [6]

6. Vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy, which is characterized by collagen deficiency. The symptoms of scurvy include gum bleeding and swelling, joint and muscle pain, easily fatiguability, and red dots on the skin. [7]

7. Calcium deficiency can cause osteoporosis. Without enough calcium in our diet, our bones become very weak and brittle, making them prone to damage. A simple fall can cause a fracture if our bones aren’t strong enough. [8]

8. Potassium deficiency can cause cardiac arrhythmias, because potassium is an electrolyte responsible for regulating the heart rhythm. Hypokalemia or low serum potassium can cause the heart to slow and beat irregularly. [9]

Deaths Due To Malnutrition

Children are the most prevalent victims of nutrient deficiency. In the population of children under five years old, almost half of the deaths can be attributed to poor nutrition. That roughly amounts to 3 million children each year dying because of nutrient deficiencies. A child who is malnourished is extremely immunocompromised, making him or her prone to infections and inability to get well from a mild illness like a cold. [1] But malnutrition doesn’t only affect children. Excess and deficiency in nutrients can also cause illness in adults – from chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease to fluid and electrolyte imbalances.


[1] UNICEF. Undernutrition contributes to half of all deaths in children under 5 and is widespread in Asia and Africa.

[2] Rabinowitz, S. (2014). Marasmus.

[3] Scheinfeld, N. (2015). Protein-Energy Malnutrition.

[4] UNICEF. Vitamin A deficiency: Xerophthalmia.

[5] National Institutes of Health (2012). Beriberi.

[6] WebMD (2014). Vitamin B12 Deficiency Anemia.

[7] National Health Services (2013). Scurvy.

[8] Mayo Clinic (2014). Osteoporosis.

[9] National Institutes of Health (2013). Low potassium level.

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