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UK Statistics On Vitamin & Mineral Deficiency 2021

In 2021 we conducted a study to determine how many people in the UK have nutritional and vitamin deficiencies. We used data from our own range of health tests to explore Vitamin D, B9, B12, Calcium and Iron deficiencies. Explore the latest scientific data for the best ways to combat deficiencies and optimise your health.

Most people recognise that vitamins are vital for a healthy life. They are required by our bodies for many essential functions and biological processes.  

But we are all prone to deficiencies, whether it is because of our genetics or our environment and lifestyle. For example, in the UK, you will have less hours of sunlight than say a country along the equator. With long winters, you won’t be receiving enough sunlight, which can cause a vitamin D deficiency. 

Equally, many other vitamins can only be obtained through the correct diet, the makeup of which can be difficult to quantify exactly.  It is important to know if you are at a greater risk of having vitamin deficiencies, which is why many people regularly take vitamin and minerals blood tests.

Let’s review each of the most important vitamins and mineral deficiencies in turn:


Vitamin D

It has been established that almost one billion people worldwide have low levels of vitamin D and approximately 20% of the population in the UK have a vitamin D deficiency. 60% of the population are considered as having insufficient levels of vitamin D.

Customers testing for Vitamin D with Vitall show that the UK average Vitamin D level is 76.8 nmol/L. This is inline with previous estimations, with as many as 21.9% of people having results indicating a deficiency.

We also found that this is slightly worse for men, with as many as one in five men tested having low levels of Vitamin D.

 

About Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that your body produces when exposed to ultraviolet rays from sunlight. Vitamin D can also be found in a variety of foods and dietary supplements, but in order to be biologically active, it has to undergo two structural modifications known as hydroxylation in the liver and the kidney. Vitamin D plays different important roles in your body. It promotes calcium absorption in the gastrointestinal tract, regulates your calcium and phosphate blood levels, acts on bone mineralization, growth, and remodelling, reduces inflammation, and modulates cell growth, neuromuscular function, and immunity. 

Vitamin D deficiency can occur due to a low intake of vitamin D, reduced digestive absorption, not enough exposure to sunlight, or when your body cannot convert the inactive form of vitamin D to the biologically active one.

Studies have shown that the people most at risk of developing vitamin D deficiency are children below 5 years old, pregnant, and breastfeeding women, overweight people, people over 65 years old, people with darker skin tones, people with a milk allergy or lactose intolerance, and people who follow vegetarian or vegan diets. You can learn more about Vitamin D here. [1,2]

Private Online Testing - UK Statistics On Vitamin & Mineral Deficiency 2021

 

How To Prevent and Resolve Vitamin D Deficiencies 

UK guidelines define Vitamin D deficiency as having a serum level below 30 ng/ml.

Vitamin D deficiency can lead to serious complications: rickets is a childhood condition where bones can become deformed overtime, osteomalacia is a condition where your bones become too thin, osteoporosis is when your bones lose their density and become more prone to fractures, muscles weaknesses and aches, periodontitis which is an inflammation of your tooth, respiratory infections, schizophrenia, and pre-eclampsia which is high blood pressure during pregnancy. 

Children above the age of one and adults need a daily vitamin D dose of 10 micrograms. The easiest and most cost-effective way to get the required dose of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight. Daily exposures of 20 to 30 minutes are usually enough, but the darker your skin tone, the longer the exposure times will have to be. In the UK, the sunlight from October to March is not enough for your body to produce the needed amount of vitamin D, so during this time period, a higher intake of vitamin D is required, either through vitamin D-rich foods, or food supplements.

Examples of vitamin-D rich foods include red meat, liver, oily fish such as salmon and sardines, and fortified foods such as cereals. Cow’s milk is also a source of vitamin D but doesn’t have enough of it because in the UK milk is not fortified. 

Blood tests are the only way to diagnose a vitamin-D deficiency. Talk to your GP if you think if you have vitamin-D deficiency symptoms such as bone density loss, bone and joint pain, muscle weakness, and frequent mood swings. If your GP diagnoses you with a vitamin-D deficiency, you might be prescribed with higher doses of vitamin-D supplements. [3-5]

 

Vitamin B12

In the UK, over 10 % of adults over 75 years old have vitamin B12 deficiency while over 5% of adults aged 65-74 have vitamin B-12 deficiency. Prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiency tends to decrease with younger populations with the exception of people who follow vegetarian diets where up to 11% of this population are deficient.  Vitamin B12 deficiency is largely dependent on ethnicity with people who are of North European descent having a significantly higher prevalence. [6]

Our Vitamin B12 statistics show that the UK average Vitamin B12 level is 116.3 pmol/L, so just 2.3% of people tested have levels that are too low.

In fact we found that as many as one in four men tested have high levels of Vitamin B12 instead. This is likely due to over-supplementation

Private Online Testing - UK Statistics On Vitamin & Mineral Deficiency 2021

 

About Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that can be found in a variety of different foods. Vitamin B12 plays important roles in the growth, development and function of your central nervous system, DNA synthesis, formation of red blood cells, synthesis of the essential amino acid methionine and of some fatty acids. 

In food, vitamin B12 is bound to proteins. Once you begin to chew the food, saliva in your mouth releases the vitamin B12 from the proteins, and then the vitamin is transported to your digestive tract through a complex biological process where it binds to another protein called the intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factors are very important because they transport vitamin B12 from your intestine to your bloodstream. People that cannot produce intrinsic factors will be vitamin B12 deficient. This can be caused by some autoimmune diseases, chronic gastritis, or by surgeries that remove parts of the stomach. 

Intestinal removal surgeries, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, Crohn’s disease, HIV, vegetarian diets, family history and age are all risk factors that can increase the risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency. Medicines like omeprazole, pantoprazole, esomeprazole, cimetidine, and metformin can also lower the blood levels of vitamin B12 and cause deficiencies. [7,8]

 

How To Prevent and Resolve Vitamin B12 Deficiencies

UK guidelines define Vitamin B12 deficiency as having a serum level below 150 pg/ml.

Vitamin B12 deficiencies can cause weakness, fatigue, pale skin, constipation, diarrhoea, gas, and smooth tongue as well as more serious complications like heart palpitations, shortness of breath, muscle weakness, problems walking, vision loss, and mental problems like depression and memory loss. In pregnant and breastfeeding women, vitamin B12 deficiency can cause serious problems in the offspring, ranging from neural tube malformations to an increased risk of anaemia.

Adults over 19 years old need a daily vitamin B12 dose of 1.5 micrograms.

The large majority of the population can be prevented from becoming vitamin B12 deficient by following a diet with enough poultry meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products. If they don’t eat animal products, they should compensate the deficit by having vitamin B12 supplements or fortified foods.

If you have an autoimmune disease like pernicious anaemia that prevents your body from producing intrinsic factors or any other condition that is preventing your digestive system from properly absorbing vitamin B12, you will most probably need vitamin shots to compensate for the deficit. Depending on the case and on the vitamin B12 serum levels, you may need to continue getting injections, take high-dose oral supplements, or receiving the required dose nasally. 

If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet and are vitamin B12-deficient, you will have to include vitamin-fortified grains in your regimen, but you can also get vitamin B12 injections or high-dose oral supplements.

Older adults who have vitamin B12 deficiency usually only require oral supplements if they don’t suffer from any medical conditions that affect the absorption of the vitamin. [9,10]
 

Vitamin B9

A UK-based study showed that less than 3% of children aged 4-10 years had vitamin B9 deficiency, as well as 16.9 % of adolescent boys and 21.8% of adolescent girls. The study also showed that 15.5% of men and 13.9% of man aged 19-64 and 8.5% of men and 12.4% of women over 65 were vitamin B9-deficient. The statistics show an increased risk of developing vitamin B9 deficiency in women of childbearing age, especially in the 16-24 years age bracket. [11]

Our Vitamin B9 statistics as analysed by Vitall show that the UK average Vitamin B9 level is 9.8 ug/L.

 

As many 4.0% of people tested have Vitamin B9 levels which are too low.

Private Online Testing - UK Statistics On Vitamin & Mineral Deficiency 2021

 

About Vitamin B9

Vitamin B9, also known as folate or folic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that can be found in a variety of different natural foods. Vitamin B9 plays a very important role in the synthesis of DNA and RNA, the metabolism of amino acids (especially methionine), and cell division.

Vitamin B9 (folate) is not biologically active and is converted by your body to the active form 5-MTHF (5-methyltetrahydrofolate).

People that have absorption disorders such as celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease or those with a reduced secretion of gastric acid that is caused by surgery or atrophic gastritis tend to absorb a significantly lower percentage of vitamin B9 in comparison to healthy people and thus have a higher risk of becoming vitamin B9 deficient.

MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) polymorphism is a genetic condition in which vitamin B9 is not converted into 5-MTHF, the active form. People who have this condition tend to be deficient in vitamin B9. 

Pregnant women are likely to be vitamin B9-deficient because their body requires a higher amount to accommodate her and the foetus’ needs. 
People who have alcohol use disorder tend to have vitamin B9 deficiency because high amounts of alcohol interfere with the absorption of folate and accelerates its elimination.

Vitamin B9 deficiency can also be caused by some medicines like methotrexate, phenytoin, sulfasalazine, and trimethoprim. [12,13]

 

How To Prevent and Resolve Vitamin B9 Deficiencies

UK guidelines define Vitamin B9 deficiency as having a serum level below 4 ng/ml.

A vitamin B9 deficiency is most of the time associated to other deficiencies. The primary clinical manifestation of vitamin B9 deficiency is a condition called megaloblastic anaemia in which blood red cells have abnormal nuclei. This condition is characterized by weakness, fatigue, irritability, headaches, difficulties concentrating, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath. Vitamin B9 deficiencies can also cause tongue and mouth ulcers and lesions, digestive symptoms, high blood levels of cysteine, and changes in skin tone, hair colour, and nail pigmentation. Pregnant women with vitamin B9 deficiency have a high risk of giving birth to infants with malformations.

Adults need a daily vitamin B9 dose of 200 micrograms. Women who are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant need a daily vitamin B9 dose of 400 micrograms. Vitamin B9 is found in a lot of natural foods, from spinach to romaine lettuce, brussels sprouts, asparagus, avocado, and beans. Vitamin B9 is also present in some vitamin-enriched foods like flours, bread and cereals. People who are at a higher risk of developing a vitamin B9 deficiency should consider supplements as a way to increase their daily intake.

If you have vitamin B9 deficiency, you will usually have to take supplements as directed by your GP as well as increasing your intake in vitamin B9-rich foods. These supplements can be oral supplements or injectables depending on the serum levels and the cause of the deficiency. You should always discuss with your GP the right dose of supplement to take as vitamin B9 can interfere with other treatments or even mask a vitamin B12 deficiency at high doses (over 1000 mcg). [14,15]


 

Calcium

Studies show that over 3.5 billion people are at risk of calcium deficiency due to an unbalanced diet. The numbers show that the groups the most at risk are adolescent females and males aged 9-18 years or those older than 51 years old. Studies in the UK have shown that a high percentage of chronically ill people have calcium deficiency, with numbers as high as 55% in critically ill patients. It has been established that females are more prone to becoming calcium-deficient due to the hormonal changes they undergo, especially during menopause. [16]

11.1% of people tested have Calcium levels which are too high. And 3.9% have levels that are too low. The average Calcium result is 2.4 mmol/L
Women tend to report higher calcium blood levels in their blood than men. As many as one in eight women tested have high levels of Calcium

 

About Calcium

Calcium is a mineral; it is the most abundant one in your body. It is the main component of bones and teeth. Over 98% of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones. The bones serve as a calcium reservoir that your body can use when calcium is required for biological processes. Bones undergo remodelling based on your body’s calcium needs. Calcium plays an important role in muscle and nerve function, blood clotting, hormone secretion, blood vessel dilation and contraction, and in maintaining tissues both flexible and rigid.

The reduction in oestrogen production in postmenopausal women decreases the absorption of calcium and increases the urinary elimination of calcium and its resorption from bones. This process leads to important losses in bone density over time which can lead to fractures.

Postmenopausal women require a significantly greater calcium intake than younger women. 

People who don’t consume dairy products, either by choice or because they are allergic to milk or are lactose intolerant are also at a higher risk of becoming calcium deficient because dairy products are one of the main natural sources of calcium.

A calcium deficit can also be caused by low levels of the parathyroid hormone, low levels of magnesium or vitamin D, pancreatitis, or kidney problems.

Certain medications like rifampicin, phenytoin, calcitonin, bisphosphonates, corticosteroids, chloroquine and plicamycin can also considerably decrease calcium levels. You can learn more about calcium testing here [17,18]

 

 
How To Prevent and Resolve Calcium Deficiencies

UK guidelines define calcium deficiency as having a serum level below 8.8 mg/dL.

Calcium can cause muscle spasms and cramps, numbness and tingling in the hands, feet, and face, bone fractures, weak nails, thin skin, slow hair growth, seizures, memory loss, depression, and hallucinations. Calcium deficiency can become fatal if left untreated over long periods of time.

Adults aged 19 to 64 need a daily calcium dose of 700mg. 

Treatment options for calcium deficiency will largely depend on the cause of the deficiency – whether it is malnutrition, malabsorption, or conditions linked to the parathyroid gland – as well as vitamin D and calcium levels, family history and other underlying conditions.  
Therapeutic options range from increasing the intake of calcium-rich foods and calcium supplements to having calcium injections and infusions in more serious cases. 

Calcium is found in foods like dairy products, green leafy vegetables like curly kale and okra, soya drinks, fish like sardines and pilchards, and fortified bread and grains.

If you don’t have a calcium deficiency, you should mainly rely on your diet to get the required daily dose of calcium.
You should always consult with your GP before taking calcium supplements as overly high levels of calcium can cause kidney stones as well as diarrhoea and stomach aches.

Calcium supplements can also cause negative health effects by interacting with some drugs such as beta-blockers like atenolol, aluminium-antacids, oestrogen, certain diuretics, and antibiotics. [19,20]


 

Ferritin (Iron)

Over 30% of the global population is deficient in iron. Iron deficiency is the most widespread nutrient deficiency worldwide. Over half of anaemia cases are caused by a deficiency in iron. UK Studies show that 1% of males aged 4-10, 3% of females aged 4-10, 9% of males aged 11-18, and 48% of females aged 11-18 are iron deficient. The numbers also showed that around 5% of adults aged 19-64 are ferritin deficient and that around 10% of adults over 65 are ferritin deficient. [21]

10.9% of people tested have Ferritin (Iron) levels which are too high. And 2.7% have levels that are too low. The average Ferritin (Iron) result is 129.7 ug/L

 

About Ferritin 

Ferritin is a protein that stores iron inside of cells and releases it when your body needs it. Red blood cells require iron in order to be produced and to carry oxygen in the bloodstream. Iron also plays an important role in maintaining the liver, bone marrow and muscles healthy and functional. Having low levels of ferritin causes low levels of iron which can lead to iron-deficiency anaemia. Iron-deficiency anaemia is characterised by not having enough red blood cells to transport oxygen to your tissues. 

Infants are at risk of becoming iron-deficient, especially if the breast milk or formula they are taking does not contain enough iron. Infants who are born prematurely or have low weight at birth are also at a higher risk of developing iron deficiency. Children are also subject to a high risk of becoming iron-deficient because they grow most during this period. People who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet are more prone to being deficient in iron because they don’t eat meat. Women lose a lot of blood during menstruation which makes them particularly vulnerable to developing an iron deficiency. People who donate blood on a frequent basis have an increased risk of iron-deficiency. [22,23]

 

How To Prevent and Resolve Iron Deficiencies

UK guidelines define an iron deficiency as having ferritin levels below 15 ng/mL.

An iron deficiency can cause fatigue and weakness, pale skin, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations. If left untreated, iron deficiency can lead to weaker immunity, tachycardia (abnormally fast heartbeat), and cause complications during birth.

Men over 18 years old need a daily iron intake of 8.7mg, women aged 19-50 need 14.8mg and women over 50 years old need a daily intake of 8.7mg.

Iron deficiency can be caused by an inadequate diet, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin, stomach ulcers, and inflammation of the digestive tract. Pregnancies and menstruations can also be causes of iron deficiency.

In most cases, having a healthy and balanced diet is the best way to prevent iron deficiency. Examples of iron-rich foods are red meat, poultry, pork, beans, lentils, peas, seafood, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits like raisins and apricots, and fortified bread and cereals.
If you have an iron deficiency or are at risk, you should decrease your intake of tea, coffee, dairy products, and wholegrains. These foods can negatively impact the absorption of iron.

If you are iron-deficient, your GP can prescribe you iron tablets. These prescription iron tablets are usually more highly dosed than traditional supplements. The treatment regimen usually lasts 6 months. It is recommended to take the iron tablets with orange juice directly after eating. [24,25]

 

Nutritional Deficiency Summary

  • The most likely deficiency in the UK is Vitamin D deficiency, especially if you are male.

  • As such Vitamin D supplementation is recommended for everyone.

  • Vegans and vegetarians have the highest rates of vitamin B12 deficiency.

  • However vegans and vegetarians are less likely to have a B9 deficiency.

  • Pregnant women, or those looking to conceive, should take a folic acid supplement daily.

  • Low iron and the risk from anaemia is prevalent. Iron supplementation should be considered by your doctor.

 

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Article Reviewed By

Doctors, Scientists & Experts Delivering Private Blood Testing Online

Ben Starling MSc. |Chief Executive


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UK Statistics On Vitamin & Mineral Deficiency 2021: References & Citations

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  7. Office of Dietary Supplements - Vitamin B12 [Internet]. Ods.od.nih.gov. 2021 [cited 23 August 2021]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/
  8. Stabler S. Vitamin B12Deficiency. New England Journal of Medicine. 2013;368(2):149-160.
  9. Shipton M, Thachil J. Vitamin B12 deficiency – A 21st century perspective. Clinical Medicine. 2015;15(2):145-150.
  10. Vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia - Treatment [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2021 [cited 23 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamin-b12-or-folate-deficiency-anaemia/treatment/
  11. NDNS Supplementary Folate Report - a summary of findings - British Nutrition Foundation [Internet]. Nutrition.org.uk. 2021 [cited 23 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritioninthenews/reports/ndnsfolatereport.html
  12. Office of Dietary Supplements - Folate [Internet]. Ods.od.nih.gov. 2021 [cited 23 August 2021]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/
  13. Scaglione F, Panzavolta G. Folate, folic acid and 5-methyltetrahydrofolate are not the same thing. Xenobiotica. 2014;44(5):480-488.
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  15. Allen L. Causes of Vitamin B12 and Folate Deficiency. Food and Nutrition Bulletin. 2008;29(2_suppl1):S20-S34.
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  17. Office of Dietary Supplements - Calcium [Internet]. Ods.od.nih.gov. 2021 [cited 23 August 2021]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/
  18. Reid I, Bristow S, Bolland M. Calcium supplements: benefits and risks. Journal of Internal Medicine. 2015;278(4):354-368.
  19. Calcium [Internet]. Bda.uk.com. 2021 [cited 23 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/calcium.html
  20. Food for healthy bones [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2021 [cited 23 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/food-for-strong-bones/
  21. [Internet]. Nutrition.org.uk. 2021 [cited 23 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/attachments/article/546/Iron%20deficiency%20anaemia%20and%20school%20children%20(2).pdf
  22. Office of Dietary Supplements - Iron [Internet]. Ods.od.nih.gov. 2021 [cited 23 August 2021]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/
  23. Ferritin (Blood) - Health Encyclopedia - University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Urmc.rochester.edu. 2021 [cited 23 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=167&contentid=ferritin_blood
  24. Pavord S, Daru J, Prasannan N, Robinson S, Stanworth S, Girling J. UK guidelines on the management of iron deficiency in pregnancy. British Journal of Haematology. 2019;188(6):819-830.
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