Vitamin deficiency - causes, symptoms and therapy

Vitamin deficiency - causes, symptoms and therapy

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White rice and black teeth - lack of vitamins

Vitamin deficiency can have serious health consequences. A very one-sided diet can lead to a deficiency. All kinds of diseases can arise or be favored. The human body only needs very small amounts of some vitamins, but it is often still not clear how it is used. A vitamin deficiency can cause serious medical problems, serious illnesses such as rickets, scurvy or beriberi and death.

Hunger and a handful of rice

Diseases resulting from vitamin deficiency are called hypovitaminoses. There are three main reasons for this: malnutrition, malnutrition and problems with taking in and processing vitamins.

Malnutrition often results in multiple vitamin deficiency. For example, the patient suffers from an inflamed tongue (lack of vitamin B6), anemia (lack of B7) and bleeding gums (lack of vitamin C).

Vitamin deficiency can be easily corrected in industrialized countries. That is why it is difficult to imagine in this country what terrible consequences even the lack of a single vitamin has - rotten gums and a crippled spine, scurvy or rickets still plague countless people today.

Scurvy - The curse of seafaring

The cliché pirate wears an eye patch and a wooden leg, and in fact many privateers of the 18th century lost limbs in battles and accidents. At that time, people who spent most of their time on the seas rarely lacked eyes or legs, but often they had no teeth in their mouths - scurvy caused more victims than the war at sea.

“It is terrible: your gums became so rotten that all the flesh fell to the roots of the teeth and almost all of them fell out. The disease spread with such contagion across our three ships that by mid-February less than ten of the 100 people we were were healthy. ” Jacques Cartier, 1542 on an expedition into the St. Lorenz stream over scurvy

The scurvy, the result of a lack of vitamin C, was already known to the ancient Romans and Egyptians, but its cause remained in the dark for a long time. However, Hippocrates already advised and the emperor Tiberius knew about the positive effects of sauerkraut on health, and Tiberius made it compulsory for his soldiers.

Soybeans for circumnavigators
The cause of scurvy is a vitamin C deficiency. Chinese medicine in the past was also ignorant of vitamins, but took the right measures to prevent them.

In 1405, the Chinese admiral Zhan He started a “circumnavigation” with his “dragon fleet”. It was one of the largest maritime projects of all time: 300 ships, some of them up to 50 times larger than those of Columbus or Vasco da Gama, 120 meters long and 30 meters wide and a total of 28,000 men set sail.

They traveled to India, Arabia and East Africa and some historians speculate whether Zhan We discovered America.

A logistical top performance. The Chinese ensured the health of the seafarers by planting soybeans on extra cultivation ships. When they germinate, they produce vitamin C - the danger was averted.

In Europe, on the other hand, the “seafaring death” took the teams there until the 18th century and mostly began on long journeys across the sea. Those affected felt weak, their muscles ached, and some had dark red spots on their skin.

Scurvy held a rich harvest among seafarers, especially in the age of great discoveries, i.e. since the 15th century: Vasco da Gama, who explored the sea route to India, lost 100 out of 160 men to scurvy on his first voyage. The first voyage by the English East India Company in 1600 cost the lives of every fourth of the 480 men, and in 1741 four out of five sailors who had left with Lord Anson died.

Vitamin deficiency instead of seafaring
But not only seafarers were among the victims. In 1865, Hansa, the “Journal of German Maritime Industry”, discussed: “The disease raged most dangerously when a country was devastated by long wars or in cities that were under siege for a long time. For example, the French during the siege of Alexandria by the Turks and English from May to August 1801 3,500 people with scurvy in the hospitals. Likewise, scorbut was common in prisons and prisons at the beginning of this century. These examples clearly show that scurvy is not a peculiar disease of the reeds, although it used to be the most common fatal course in the past. ”

Symptoms: bumps and tooth loss

The magazine “Hansa” also vividly describes the symptoms: “The first signs of scurvy mostly consist in a change in the color of the face, which loses its healthy appearance and becomes pale and dull. This is accompanied by depression, reluctance to move, rapid fatigue and pain in the thighs and calves caused by overexertion. ”

In this first phase, the symptoms are still non-specific and can also indicate other inflammations or poisoning. An advanced scurvy is unmistakable, according to the German Maritime Industry magazine: "The gums become spongy and swollen, take on a dark red color, especially where they come into contact with the teeth, and bleed at the slightest touch."

Then spots and bumps appear: “Small round red spots appear on the skin, especially on the thighs and hips, sometimes also on the upper body and arms, which gradually increase to the size of a hand and turn green, blue and yellow, too like swelling bumps. "

In addition, the calves swell: “Another sign of scurvy is the swelling of the calf and the buttocks of one or both legs, which results in stiffness of the knee joint. These swollen parts are very painful with every movement and you cannot make an impression with your finger. ”

The skin appears bloodshot, the face turns yellow-brownish, the gums swell and turn black-yellow, black spongy lumps cover the teeth. The teeth shake and fall out.

With the slightest effort, even when sitting down or getting up, the patient suffers from shortness of breath and tremors, often fainting.

Sauerkraut saves lives

The doctors puzzled over the causes of the horror and drew the wrong conclusions from correct observations. Because far fewer seafarers fell ill on tropical trips than in the cold Nordic waters, the climate was seen as the trigger.

It is true that wetness and moisture aggravate the symptoms. But there is a close explanation as to why scurvy hardly spread in the warm countries and the symptoms subsided when the disease broke out: When they went ashore in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, in Mozambique or the Malabar coast, the seamen took oranges and lemons , Mango and papaja to themselves and thus provide the vital vitamin C.

Many doctors believed that wrong nutrition was crucial, but did not think of vitamin C donors, but saw the pickled meat as a disease-causing agent and wanted to replace it with fresh meat.

In 1753 the English naval doctor Dr. James Lind states that sauerkraut heals scurvy. In twelve patients, he examined which foods influence the disease. Among other things, he gave them vinegar, sea water, oranges, lemons, cider and dilute sulfuric acid. He found that the gums were growing again for the sailors who ate citrus fruits. Sauerkraut and potatoes also reduced the symptoms.

Lind was now compiling lists of foods that the navy should carry. James Cook, the discoverer of Australia, followed the advice and took countless barrels of sauerkraut on his third journey in 1776, along with tons of lemons.

From then on, British seafarers were given lemon juice every day, which earned them the nickname “Limey” in America.

The scurvy was under control now, even if no one knew why lemons and sauerkraut helped against the plague.

The letter C

For a long time it remains unknown who braked scurvy. The British Jack drummer referred to this substance in 1919 as C. In 1920, vitamin C was isolated from lemons, a little later from peppers and cabbage.

Vitamin C, ascorbic acid supports the connective tissue. If our organism does not receive vitamin C for a long time, it cannot produce collagen and therefore cannot keep the tissue stable. Because of this, the gums relax, spots appear on the skin, the veins tear open, and the nose bleeds - scurvy. Ship crews now eat fresh fruit, power bars and vitamin C tablets and are thus spared scurvy.

Globally, however, scurvy is not defeated and cannot be defeated as long as people do not have access to vitamin C. Famines in the Sahel or India necessarily lead to scurvy, as do people who only eat husked rice or canned food. There have recently been cases of scurvy in Australia, an industrialized country where an adequate supply of vitamin C is possible at all times. However, the same applies here as in the USA: if you only eat from the deep fryer, you are consuming too little vitamin C even in industrialized countries.

The magazine "Hansa" wrote in 1865: "Sauerkraut, which is well known in Germany, is an excellent food to prevent scurvy and has been introduced under the name" Sour-krout "in the English and American navies."

Treatment for scurvy

Scurvy can easily be cured by receiving vitamin C, either in the form of tablets or with the appropriate food: raw sauerkraut, currants, strawberries, mangoes, passion fruit, limes, limes, oranges, grapefruit, mandarins or papaja, tomatoes, potatoes , green chillies.

If the teeth are broken or painful, it is advisable to squeeze out the fruit in a juicer and give the juice to the sick or mix milk dishes with the vegetables and fruits.

Patients should also consume iron-containing foods and / or iron tablets. Liver is particularly suitable for this. Iron deficiency is part of scurvy because vitamin C helps the body absorb iron. Therefore, internal bleeding caused by iron deficiency is one of the symptoms of advanced scurvy.

What else does vitamin C deficiency do?

Whoever suffers from this deficiency becomes fat. A study by Arizona State University showed that subjects with very little vitamin C burned 25% less fat than those with high levels. Vitamin C is involved in the synthesis of carnitine, which ensures that fatty acids can be oxidized in the body.

Asthma sufferers were found to have the lowest vitamin C levels in a Cambridge study. In this respect, vitamin C also plays a role in asthma.

Rickets - when the bones become soft

Rachitis is a bone disease - caused by a lack of vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus. This deficiency causes the bones to soften and no longer serve as body support. The disease primarily affects children aged 6-24 months.

The body can produce vitamin D itself (that's why vitamin D is not a vitamin in the medical sense), but only if the metabolism works. Vitamin D enables the body to absorb calcium, which is necessary for the bones to grow. A vitamin D deficiency leads to broken bones and deformations.

In rickets, the bones do not calcify, they are soft, malleable and twisted. The body weight causes the ends of long bones to shred and pushes them out like mushroom heads, which is why the knees appear oversized and the joints enlarged.

The knees collapse, the sternum emerges (“chicken breast”), the skull does not close, the forehead bulges forward, and the pelvis warps.

Beriberi - “I can't”

Beriberi denotes a deficit in vitamin B1 and is derived from the Sinhala sentence: "I can not." The sufferers suffer from cramps, weakness attacks, muscle weakness turns into muscle paralysis. Berberi damages the nerves, the heart and the bloodstream. Heart failure can subsequently lead to death. In the past, one in two sufferers died.

The limbs feel numb, hearing is just as disturbed as eyesight. Weight loss is associated with brain damage and an irregular heartbeat.

We take in vitamin B1 from unpeeled legumes, muscle meat, liver and yeast. The term beriberi comes from the Chinese region, in Japan it was known as "yellow rice plague".

Thiamine deficiency

Beriberi became a mass phenomenon when millions of Asians in the late 19th century fed almost exclusively on husked rice and industrial soy products. The Japanese believed moldy rice to be the cause of wet beriberi, and in fact the disease has been virtually non-existent in Japan since moldy rice disappeared from the market.

However, beriberi is caused by a lack of thiamine, and it is possible that certain molds prevent the body from ingesting thiamine. Chistiaan Eijkman discovered Thiamine and saw it as a trigger for Beriberi, which brought him the Nobel Prize in 1929.

By 1900, Beriberi had developed into a global problem: Brazilians suffered as much as people in Indonesia, and millions of people were affected in China alone. Beriberi was never a problem in Europe, and this led to the misconception that it was a tropical disease for a long time.

Death from white rice

The reason for the adequate supply of vitamin B1 and thiamine, however, lay in European eating habits: in Europe, bread is a basis of nutrition. If it is whole grain or bread made from unpeeled grain, a B1 supply is guaranteed. The yeast contained in bread and beer also provides vitamin B1.

This was also evident in Asia: in India, Beriberi never became a “people's epidemic” like in China. Unhulled rice provides the body with B1, and the vitamins are retained in the widespread parboiled rice, while in modern China rice was basically white, i.e. was peeled and lost vitamin B1.

In Europe, alcoholics in particular are exposed to the risk of a thiamine deficiency, because alcohol in the body makes it difficult to store and absorb thiamine.


“Dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia, and death” are the four Ds that characterize this lack of vitamin B3. The cause is a diet that mainly consists of corn. Europeans first noticed the disease in Northern Spain and called it "Asturian leprosy".

However, people in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa suffered from the shortage, where fresh meat was rarely served and the daily diet consisted mainly of corn.

Symptoms of pellagra

The mouth turns red, the tongue swells, the sufferers suffer from diarrhea and lose their memory. The skin becomes susceptible to infections, they have to vomit and the feces are mixed with blood.

They cannot sleep, feel exhausted, and appear apathetic. The apathy develops into severe depression, confusion, and those affected suffer from hallucinations. Then their limbs feel numb and they can no longer control their movements.

Patients need a diet rich in vitamin B3 (niacin), which includes liver, muscle meat, whole grains and bread.

Xerophthalmia - lack of vitamin A

The body needs vitamin A to build the cells. The following foods contain carotenoids that are necessary to absorb vitamin A: green leafy vegetables, carrots, red palm oil, mangoes and papajas. Preformed vitamin A is found in liver, breast milk, fish oil, eggs and dairy products.

A lack of vitamin A leads to eye diseases up to blindness, an increased death rate, especially in young children and pregnant women. Vitamin A deficiency is particularly dangerous for young children because they need vitamin A to grow. Children are also prone to infections and internal diseases, which in turn hinder the absorption of vitamin A.

In xerophthalmos, the tear glands do not produce enough fluid and the eyes dry up. As a result, the eye layers ignite, protecting the iris, pupils and whites in the eye. The eyes swell and those affected become night blind.

Night blindness
Vitamin A plays an essential role in the photoreceptor functions, and therefore poor vision adjustment to the darkness is an early sign of a corresponding deficiency.

Affected children can no longer orient themselves in the dim light. Patients cannot drive a car in low light, and even on a full moon night, they see only objects lit by the headlights.

Even if there are no other symptoms, night blindness is a good indicator to investigate a vitamin A deficiency.

The perishable blood deficiency - megaloblastic anemia

This form, also known as pernicious (malignant) anemia, describes a syndrome that is associated with an impaired intake of folic acid and vitamin B12. This is due, for example, to leukemia as the basic disease or to advanced alcoholism. Vitamin B12 and folic acid intake are also disturbed by the intake of gastric acid blockers and vegetarians / vegans are also at risk.

If vitamin B12 and folic acid are lacking, the red blood cells cannot work effectively, blood circulation stops and the body is not adequately oxygenated.

Anemia and alcoholism

This lack of vitamins and blood is shown by a tingling sensation in the fingers and toes. Patients get tired, suffer from watery diarrhea, headache and loss of appetite.

To detect a deficiency in B12, you need to see a doctor who will take a complete blood count and check how much B12 and folic acid the blood contains. Samples can also be taken from the bone marrow.

If leukemia is the underlying disease, increased doses of folic acid and vitamin B12 supplements are the order of the day. For alcoholics, the first thing is to abstain from alcohol and, associated with it, a balanced diet.

Vitamin B12 is found in meat, fish, eggs and milk. Vitamin B12 deficiency usually arises from a lack of a protein around the stomach, the intrinsic factor. Without this, a person cannot absorb vitamin B12, no matter how much of it is in their food.

Anemia caused by vitamin B12 deficiency can be distinguished from other anemia by the advanced symptoms: those affected suffer from disorders of the peripheral nervous system, balance disorders when walking and dementia. If the deficiency is not remedied early, these disorders can become chronic.

The problem of many patients is that alcohol intoxication and alcoholism also cause dementia and balance problems, even without a lack of vitamin B12.

Problems with blood clotting

Vitamin K deficiency leads to an increased tendency to bleed because certain coagulation factors are dependent on vitamin K. Similar to hemophilia, even minor injuries can be dangerous here.

Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables and olive oil, as well as in soybeans, green peas and beans, cress, asparagus, spinach, broccoli and wheat grains. A deficiency in this vitamin can be due to a gluten allergy or intolerance to gluten (celiac disease), cystic fibrosis, Crohn's disease, blood-thinning drugs or severe burns.

A lack of this substance can lead to blood clots, symptoms include nosebleeds, blood in the urine and feces, black bowel movements or heavy bleeding during the period.

Lack of biotin

Biotin, vitamin B7, supports the nervous system and is necessary for the metabolic processes. Biotin deficiency is very rare and an unusual disturbance in nutrient absorption. Those who eat a balanced diet are hardly affected.

However, certain medications and diets can lead to this deficiency. Initial symptoms are fungal infections, hair loss, dry skin and rash. Loss of appetite, weakness, depressed moods, dandruff, eczema and bad muscle reflexes are added.

If this deficit is left untreated, it can have dire consequences. Muscle pain and numbness in the limbs are physical symptoms. There is also tingling on the skin, hallucinations and hypersensitivity of the skin to stimulations.

The richest sources of biotin are liver, egg yolk and yeast, good suppliers are cheese, legumes, pork, salmon, avocado or raspberries.

Lack of vitamin B2: pink tongue and torn lips

A deficiency in riboflavin, vitamin B2, is shown by torn corners of the mouth and lips, a swollen throat, bloodshot eyes, a tongue in bright pink and insufficient red blood cells.

This disease usually arises from an unbalanced diet, often whole groups of people are affected who permanently eat too little food with vitamin B2. This includes meat, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, green leafy vegetables and whole grains.

Even with a balanced diet, disorders of the liver functions can trigger the symptoms because B2 can no longer be processed.

The poor in developing countries suffer from a deficiency of riboflavin. These do not have access to almost all foods that contain B2.

People who need additional protein, such as competitive athletes and bodybuilders, are also at high risk of suffering from a vitamin B2 deficiency.

B12 deficiency: brain disorder and psychosis

This deficit causes spinal cord damage and brain disorders that lead to involuntary movements. The disease is particularly prevalent in the developing world, with vegans being the main risk group in industrialized countries. The reason: plants do not produce vitamin B12.

All eaters get a deficiency of vitamin B12 mainly due to gastrointestinal diseases.

Symptoms include impaired thinking, depression, confusion, psychoses, altered reflexes, weakened muscles, an inflamed tongue, loss of taste, heart failure and infertility. Autistic and schizophrenic people have extremely low vitamin B 12 values. To what extent these trigger the disturbances has not yet been researched.

Mushrooms for vegans?
Together with vitamin B6 and folic acid, vitamin B12 converts the toxic homocysteine ​​into a non-toxic substance. If vitamin B12 is missing now, the toxin increases in blood and damages the blood vessels, which can lead to diseases of the cardiovascular system.

A lot of B12 contains innards: kidneys, liver and brain. If you don't like this, you can use poultry, red meat, eggs and fish and consume a lot of milk and milk products.

And vegans, the main risk group? In nature, there is no purely vegan diet in mammals. Herbivores inevitably ingest small maggots, larvae, insects, snails and countless microorganisms that are full of vitamin B12.

Very few foods for vegans contain vitamin B 12, especially two mushrooms, namely the real chanterelle and the trumpet, and chanterelles are regularly available commercially. That was it already. Vegans should therefore take a dietary supplement that contains vitamin B 12.

Tingling fingers - vitamin B 5

A lack of vitamin B5 shows up as numbness, tingling or burning in the fingers, toes, hands and feet. These symptoms can appear and disappear spontaneously.

Vitamin B5 is also known under the name “pantothenic acid”. The name comes from the term “pantos”, a Greek word that means “everywhere” and reflects the fact that this vitamin is available in a variety of foods.

The best sources of vitamin B5 are brewing yeast, avocado, legumes, lentils, egg yolk, broccoli, tomatoes, beef, turkey, duck, chicken, sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds, whole grain bread and salmon. The vitamin is damaged during cooking.

The fragile beauty - vitamin E.

Among the 13 vitamins our body needs, vitamin E is one of the most important. The substance slows down the aging process, influences the development of the nerves, strengthens the muscles and supports fertility.

Vitamin E keeps the blood vessels open so that the blood can flow freely and helps the body's cells work together to maintain the body's functions. The substance is necessary for the skeleton and muscles to function.

Vitamin E is the stuff of beauty. It smoothes the connective tissue and slows down cellulite.

A deficiency manifests itself in leg cramps, dry or brittle hair and hair loss, infertility, stomach diseases and pain. Nerve disorders are shown by a lack of control of movements in the hands, legs and feet.

Digestive problems result because the body cannot process nutrients without vitamin E. These in turn lead to liver diseases and diseases of the gallbladder.

The best sources of vitamin E are vegetable oils, especially olive oil, corn and soybean oil, as well as nuts such as walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts and almonds.

Aid to developing countries

For hundreds of millions of people who suffer from a vitamin deficiency between Morocco and Indonesia, Mali and Mongolia, regularly distributed vitamin preparations are just as necessary as vaccinations against the major epidemics.

Every third person worldwide suffers from at least one vitamin deficiency. According to Unicef, around two billion people do not have their full potential for these reasons. The most common consequences are poor mental development and a weak immune system, which in turn leads to complications.

The social and economic development of the countries concerned is considerably disturbed by this deficiency.

Vitamin A supplements alone could save the lives of 600,000 children in the third world every year. According to the WHO, 190 million children suffer from a vitamin A deficiency and are plagued by night blindness, anemia and growth disorders, as well as susceptible to infections. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


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Video: 28 Signs Your Body is Deficient in Vital Nutrients With Solution (August 2022).