Under Eye Circles: What Could be the Cause?

If you suffer from dark circles under your eyes and topical treatment has failed, poor nutrition may be the culprit. There are nutritional factors such as vitamin deficiencies, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and even food allergies that may result in the formation of these dark circles. When determining what might be causing your under-eye coloring, initially alter only one aspect of your diet. Allow your body a few days to adjust to the dietary change before making any conclusions or attempting another nutritional alteration.

Dieting and Nutritional Deficiencies

A special diet such as a vegetarian, vegan, low-calorie or low-fat regimen may result in the formation of dark eye circles. Individuals who do not consume meat, such as vegetarians and vegans, are often lacking in vitamins and minerals, specifically vitamin B12 and iron. Iron is important for carrying oxygen in your blood and distributing it to your muscles. Iron comes primarily from meat sources, but also from oysters, beans, and spinach. Unfortunately, the bio-availability of iron found in vegetable sources (non-heme iron) is not as high as that from meat (heme iron), so an individual who eats iron-rich vegetables may still develop the deficiency. Iron deficiency, or anemia, can cause pale, easily bruising skin, along with dark circles under the eyes.

Over-Exercise and Energy Depletion

Excessive exercise without proper caloric consumption may lead to overall energy depletion, weakness and fatigue. Even if weight loss is your goal, fueling your body is essential. Energy depletion will not only decrease your ability to exercise successfully, but will also negatively affect your overall health, oftentimes resulting in weak nails, brittle hair, or dark eye circles. Consuming healthy amounts and types of fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fats, and monounsaturated fats should aid in preventing energy depletion and vitamin deficiencies that may lead to dark eye circles. Individuals who consume little to no fat may not absorb essential fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K. It is best to consume a diet comprised primarily of fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, low-fat dairy, nuts, fatty fish, and olive oils. Also, try not to depend solely upon a multi-vitamin to meet your nutritional needs. Obtaining your vitamins and minerals from whole food sources is ideal.

Hydration and Electrolyte Balance

Proper hydration and electrolyte balance are imperative to a healthy appearance. Although over-consumption of sodium is common, if you avoid salt and/or exercise and sweat excessively you may need to reconsider your intake. Sodium, along with potassium and magnesium concentrations, determine the condition of your electrolyte and hydration status. Also, if you do not drink much water, dehydration could be a significant factor influencing your weary appearance. The average adult loses approximately 10.5 cups of water each day (6.3 cups as urine output, 4 cups through breathing, sweating, and bowel movements). The Institute of Medicine recommends men drink 13 cups of fluids each day and women drink 9 cups. If you exercise, you need even more fluids. If you are exercising intensely for more than one hour, consider drinking a sports drink that contains the necessary electrolytes. Your skin, muscles, heart, and other organs need water and electrolytes to function properly.


The influence of caffeine on health remains a controversial topic. Some research supports the theory that caffeine is a protective health substance, while other evidence suggests it is a harmful product. Science has determined, and many of us have personally experienced, that caffeine does play a role in preventing and/or reducing fatigue, however, researchers have yet to elucidate how caffeine really does affect us. If you are drinking a lot of caffeine each day, try to cut your consumption back to a low to moderate level; over-consumption of caffeine may lead to dark eye circles in some individuals. However, if you recently quit consuming caffeine, associated fatigue and adjustment to this dietary change may have initiated yours.

Allergic Shiners

Dark semi circles under the eyes, also known as “allergic shiners” can be indicative of a food allergy. These circles are thought to be due to sinus pressure and increased blood flow near the area. If you are your child has sinus problems accompanied with dark eye circles, food or other allergies such as hay fever, eczema, and asthma could be the cause.