Nutrient Deficiencies: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson, we will explain what nutrient deficiencies are, and how deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals occur. Next, we will review what problems are associated with these deficiencies.

What Are Nutrient Deficiencies?

Pause what you're doing for a minute and check in with your body. Notice how your muscles feel and observe your heart beating in your chest. Notice your lungs expanding, causing your chest to rise and fall. Have you ever stopped to think how your body is maintaining this balance?

Well, your entire body is made of cells. Inside your cells are tiny proteins called enzymes that keep your body working. They make energy, build parts for the cell, cause your muscles to contract, and allow your immune system to attack invaders. But, these enzymes can't do their job alone. Many enzymes in your body need vitamins, small organic compounds that your body cannot make, in order to function. Your body also needs minerals, inorganic compounds like sodium, potassium or calcium.

Your body needs just the right amount of these nutrients to maintain homeostasis, or a balance. When a person is lacking an important nutrient, like vitamins or minerals, they have a nutrient deficiency. Today, we're going to look at what happens when a person is deficient in some common vitamins and minerals.


Vitamins are organic compounds that the body needs for growth, repair, and normal functions. Your body can't make vitamins on its own, so you must consume them in your food. If a person has a limited diet, they may not be getting all the vitamins they need. Let's look at some common examples of vitamin deficiencies.

Vitamin D

If you drink milk, chances are you'll see it may be fortified with extra vitamin D. This vitamin is essential for proper bone development. Vitamin D is found naturally in milk and our bodies will also synthesize vitamin D when we are exposed to sunlight. People who live in colder climates often don't get enough sunlight to synthesize vitamin D, and if they don't eat foods with vitamin D, they can develop a deficiency. In children, vitamin D deficiency manifests as rickets, or a condition where the legs bow out due to skeletal malformations. Adults can experience decreased bone mass and chronic muscle fatigue.

Milk is a good source of vitamin D and calcium

Vitamin C

Orange juice naturally boasts a large amount of vitamin C. Vitamin C is in most fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits. Deficiency in vitamin C causes problems in tissues that contain the protein collagen. Collagen is an important connective tissue, meaning it helps hold other tissues together, like your skin. People with a vitamin C deficiency have poor wound healing, hemorrhaging gums, and can even lose their teeth.

Vitamin K

What happens when you get a paper cut? It probably bleeds fiercely at first, but then eventually your blood clots and you form a scab. You have vitamin K to thank for this process. This vitamin is essential for forming blood clotting proteins that prevent you from bleeding out. Found in green vegetables, vitamin K deficiency is rare in adults, but is more common in infants, causing hemorrhagic disease.

Vitamin E

You might find ads for products boasting fortified vitamin E for shiny hair and skin. Although vitamin E is important for these features, it plays a more important role in the nervous system. Vitamin E deficiency is common in developing countries, with patients developing neurological problems and problems with vision.

Vitamin A

Delicious, orange carrots can be a nice side with dinner. These carrots serve an important function in your body, which is acting as a supply of vitamin A. Vitamin A is important in synthesizing proteins that are needed for retinal health, as well as the resilience of skin, nails, and the immune system. Vitamin A deficiencies are only usually found in populations of sick or elderly people, but are much more common in developing countries. It was such a problem that scientists engineered a type of rice called Golden Rice that contains vitamin A. This orange rice is widely eaten in poor, developing countries to combat vitamin A deficiencies.

Golden Rice is engineered to express vitamin A
golden rice

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