What Happens When You Don't Eat Enough Vitamins & Minerals?

Basket of oranges on chair
Vitamin C-rich foods like oranges support healthy teeth and gums. (Image: Jupiterimages  /Polka Dot/Getty Images)

A child dies of malnutrition every six seconds, according to the World Food Program USA. Although most of these deaths occur in developing countries, the truth is that malnutrition occurs within the United States as well. Malnutrition, especially in developed countries, doesn’t always equate to starvation. Being overweight and eating a diet lacking important vitamins and minerals is also a form of malnourishment. Not getting an adequate intake of nutrients can have a major impact on your body, regardless of your size.

Physical and Mental Function

The purpose of food is to provide your body with the nutrients needed to function. Not eating enough or eating too many empty calories means you’re not giving your body the fuel it needs to perform mentally or physically. A low intake of the mineral iron, for instance, causes fatigue, weakness and may affect work performance. Vitamin B12 deficiency affects one in 31 U.S. adults 51 years of age and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Not getting enough of this vitamin causes similar symptoms in addition to memory problems and personality changes.

Low Immunity

Vegetables and fruits, including tomatoes, oranges, leafy greens, peaches and beans, all are excellent sources of antioxidants, which are nutrients that prevent cell damage. Nuts, seeds, poultry, shellfish, red meat and whole grains are also good sources. These foods contain antioxidants such as selenium and vitamins A, C and E. Not getting enough of these nutrients in your diet may impact your immune function. Vitamin C, for example, is a key player in the immune system and keeping your body’s tissues healthy, according to registered dieticians Dr. Linda B Bobroff and Isabel Valentin-Oguendo. It’s also involved in the process of healing wounds.

Brittle Bones

As the main component of bones, your body has more calcium than any other mineral. Not enough calcium, even in your younger years, can have a substantial impact on your bones. Inadequate intake of calcium over time contributes to bone mineral loss. The combination of the aging process and lack of nutrition eventually can lead to osteoporosis development. Increased risk for bone fractures, poor posture and a change in height are some of the primary repercussions of this disease.

Oral Health

Not getting enough nutrients can also affect oral health. The Academy of General Dentistry reports that inadequate intake of vitamins and minerals puts you at higher risk for oral diseases. Like bones, teeth and jaws are primarily made up of calcium, and poor intake contributes to both decay and gum disease. Low levels of niacin, vitamin B12 and iron put you at risk for mouth sores, while vitamin C deficiency contributes to tooth loss and gum problems.

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