Vitamin Deficiency



  • Vitamins are essential micronutrients required for normal metabolism, growth, and development.
  • Vitamin supplementation in food products, adequate food security, and availability of supplements make vitamin deficiencies less common in developed countries. Certain populations are at increased risk.
  • Toxicity is rare for water-soluble vitamins. It is possible for fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K).



  • Higher incidence seen in geriatric patients, pregnant women, exclusively breastfed infants, individuals with highly restricted diets or certain chronic disease states
  • True incidence is unknown because most vitamin deficiencies are asymptomatic.


  • Varies by age groups, comorbid conditions, geography, and setting (i.e., urban, rural)
  • The prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiency is ~6% in patients <60 years old and increases to ~20% after the age of 60 years (1).
  • Vitamin D deficiency prevalence is increased in individuals with darker skin pigmentation, obesity, low dietary intake of vitamin D, or low sunlight exposure. This deficiency is seen in ~5% of the general population, with non-Hispanic Blacks having the highest prevalence.

Etiology and Pathophysiology

  • Deficiency usually develops from one of five mechanisms: reduced intake, diminished absorption, increased use, increased demand, increased demand or increased excretion
  • Chronic disease states: HIV, malabsorption (i.e., celiac sprue, short bowel syndrome), chronic liver and kidney disease, alcoholism, malignancies, pernicious anemia, inborn errors of metabolism
  • Bariatric surgeries: gastric bypass, gastrectomy, small or large bowel resection
  • Certain drugs predispose to vitamin deficiencies: prednisone, phenytoin, isoniazid, protease inhibitors, methotrexate, phenobarbital, alcohol, nitrous oxide, H2 receptor antagonists, metformin, colchicine, cholestyramine, 5-fluorouracil, 6-mercaptopurine, azathioprine, chloramphenicol, proton pump inhibitors, chronically used antibiotics, penicillamine, hydralazine
  • Malnutrition, imbalanced nutrition, obesity, fad diets, extreme vegetarianism, total parenteral nutrition, bulimia/anorexia, other eating disorders, parasitic infection


  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Hartnup disease, A-β-lipoproteinemia
  • Rare genetic predisposition
    • Autoimmune disease (i.e., pernicious anemia)
    • Congenital enzyme deficiencies (i.e., biotinidase or holocarboxylase synthetase deficiency)
    • Transcobalamin II deficiency
    • Ataxia with vitamin E deficiency (AVED)

Risk Factors

Poverty, malnutrition, chronic excessive alcohol intake, chronic disease states, advanced age, dietary restrictions, bariatric surgery, certain medications, and exclusively breastfed infants

General Prevention

  • Ingesting large and varied amounts of vitamin supplements increases risk of toxicity and drug–drug interactions and is not recommended.
  • Antioxidant supplements have not been shown to impact cancer incidence; increased mortality risk seen in some studies
  • Avoid restrictive diets.
  • USPSTF recommends against low-dose supplementation with vitamin D (<400 IU) and calcium (<1,000 mg) to reduce fracture risk in community-dwelling postmenopausal women.
  • USPSTF concludes current evidence is insufficient to assess benefits and harms of daily supplementation with doses >400 IU of vitamin D and >1000 mg of calcium for primary prevention of fractures in:
    • Community-dwelling, postmenopausal women
    • Men and premenopausal women
    • Note: The above recommendations are not applicable if there is a history of osteoporotic fractures, increased risk for falls or diagnosis of osteoporosis, or vitamin D deficiency.
  • USPSTF recommends all women planning or capable of pregnancy take a daily supplement containing 0.4 to 0.8 mg of folic acid (2)[A].
  • USPSTF recommends against using β-carotene or vitamin E supplements for the prevention of cardiovascular disease or cancer.
  • Adults without regular, effective sun exposure year round should consume 600 to 800 IU/day of vitamin D3. Elderly confined indoors and other high-risk groups may require higher doses (800 to 1,000 IU/day).
  • All infants should receive 400 IU/day of vitamin D soon after birth if exclusively or partially breastfed.

Commonly Associated Conditions

Anemia, neuropathies, dermatitis, visual disturbances

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