These 8 Nutrient Deficiencies Can Cause Fatigue, Experts Say

by Carina Wolff
BDG Media, Inc.

If you've been feeling sluggish or low-energy recently, you may want to take a look at what you're eating. What we eat can play a role in how tired or alert we feel, and if you're getting enough nutrients, it can zap your energy levels. There are a number of nutrient deficiencies that can cause fatigue, so before you go loading up on that extra cup of coffee, you might want to see if there are any important vitamins and minerals missing from your lifestyle.

"Foods that are nutrient-dense, such as healthy fats, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates, are what provide our bodies with the most beneficial energy," dietitian Haley Hughes MS, RD, CDE, CF-L1, tells Bustle. "These foods typically have more antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals compared to processed foods and beverages, which most of the Western diet has too much of, making deficiencies a concern. The key is having a balanced diet to make sure you are consuming optimal amounts so you can avoid feeling sleepy and sluggish."

Nutrient deficiencies can occur when when people cut out major food groups, which can cause fatigue, says Hughes. This also applies to individuals consuming too much food with very little nutritional value, such as processed foods, soda, etc.

If you've been feeling tired lately and aren't sure what's going on, you might want to take a look at what you're eating. Here are eight nutrient deficiencies that can cause fatigue, according to experts.




Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body. "Without enough iron in the diet, your body can’t make enough hemoglobin to transport oxygen throughout the body," dietitian Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD tells Bustle. "This can lead to fatigue. The most absorbable form of iron (heme) comes from meat, while the lesser bioavailable iron (non-heme) is in certain plant foods, like spinach, oats, and lentils."




Vitamin B12 is one of the most important nutrients for energy, since it contributes to the health of our blood, digestive system, brain and nervous system. "A lack of Vitamin B12 in the diet can cause fatigue, but luckily most people get plenty of B12 from meat and eggs," says Rizzo. "Vegans can also get it from nutritional yeast and algae, but they may have to take a supplement if their diet is lacking."


Other B Vitamins


Deficiencies in other B vitamins, such as thiamine, folate and niacin, can also cause fatigue. "Plus, certain genetic mutations such as MTHFR can affect how the body utilizes B vitamins," dietitian Jillian Kubala, MS, RD tells Bustle. "Because B vitamins are directly involved with energy production, taking a B-complex vitamin is a good idea for those with low intake or impaired absorption of B vitamins, especially people who are fatigued."




Low magnesium can also cause fatigue, and it can be a result of low dietary intake, malabsorption issues, excessive loss of magnesium, or the presence of other chronic conditions such as Celiac’s disease, Crohn’s disease, and chronic diarrhea, says Huges. "Magnesium plays a role in muscle function and is a component to energy production," she says.


Vitamin D


Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to fatigue. "Vitamin D has various functions in the body and is necessary for bone health, calcium absorption, immune function and reduction of inflammation," says Kubala. "This fat-soluble vitamin is found in few foods (egg yolks, fatty fish, beef liver) but is naturally produced by the body from sunlight." Vitamin D deficiency is common, Kubala says, especially in older adults, people who have limited sun exposure, people with Crohn’s disease, and more.


Omega-3 Fatty Acids


A deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids can lead to mood and/or cognitive deficits. "These are found in the most absorbable form (EPA which gets converted to DHA) in small, fatty fish like wild salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring," Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition tells Bustle. "Unfortunately, though salmon is commonly consumed, the others tend to be 'culturally' rejected by many Americans."

There are also some omega-3s found in flaxseed, hemp seeds, marine algae, and chia seeds, but they are not as well absorbed by the body, according to Auslander.




Your lack of energy can also come from a potassium deficiency. "A low potassium level has many causes, but it usually results from vomiting, diarrhea, adrenal gland disorders, or use of diuretics," says Hughes. "Drinking too much alcohol and excessive sweating are other causes. Low potassium due to diet isn’t as common, but studies show most Americans are not meeting the recommended daily values. A low potassium level can make muscles feel weak and fatigued."




"Carbs are the main fuel source for exercise, and they feed the brain," says Rizzo. "Without the proper amount of carbs in the diet ... the body works harder to convert other fuel sources to carbs for energy. This can cause fatigue, especially during exercise. Carbs come from grains, but they are also prevalent in fruits, veggies, and dairy."

If you're feeling sluggish lately, talk to your doctor and see if there are any nutrients missing from your lifestyle and the best way to make adjustments.