If you have ever wondered about the nutritional content in your meals, it’s very likely that you know something about micronutrients. This dietary group contains many substances, such as vitamins and minerals, which your body needs in order to stay healthy and function properly on a day-to-day basis.
Micronutrients play different roles in human health, from boosting energy levels to regulating bone metabolism. Each micronutrient is different, and they can be found in a variety of food sources.
Keep reading to learn more about micronutrients, their benefits, types and much more.
What are micronutrients?
Let’s start with the basics: what are micronutrients, exactly?
The World Health Organization defines micronutrients as substances that your body needs in very small amounts, such as vitamins and minerals.
Micronutrient deficiency can lead to a range of health problems, which can range from mild symptoms to life-threatening complications. Consuming a healthy amount of micronutrients enables your organism to carry out many physiological functions which are vital to your well-being.
But just as it’s necessary to consume enough of all micronutrients to fulfill your daily requirements, it’s also important to keep in mind that excess micronutrients can cause toxicities in some instances.
Types of micronutrients
There are four main types of micronutrients that are necessary for human health, which include:
- Water-soluble vitamins
- Fat-soluble vitamins
- Trace minerals
As their name suggests, water-soluble vitamins are vitamins that can be dissolved in water. This means that they can be excreted through your urine, which makes it difficult for your body to store large amounts of these vitamins. Water-soluble vitamins include:
- Vitamin B1 or thiamine
- Vitamin B2 or riboflavin
- Vitamin B3 or niacin
- Vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid
- Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine
- Vitamin B7 or biotin
- Vitamin B9 or folic acid/folate
- Vitamin B12 or cobalamin
- Vitamin C or ascorbic acid
Fat-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, can be stored in fatty tissue or the liver, since they can’t be dissolved in water. Fat-soluble vitamins include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
According to MedlinePlus, macrominerals are minerals that you need to consume in high amounts to stay healthy. Macrominerals include:
Meanwhile, you only need very small amounts of trace minerals — hence their name. Trace minerals include:
Functions of micronutrients
Each micronutrient plays a distinct and important role in your health. Some of the most important functions of different micronutrients include:
- Maintaining bone health and cell structure
- Boosting energy levels
- Regulating blood pressure
- Contracting your muscles
- Assisting enzymatic reactions
- Sustaining fluid balance
- Aiding nerve transmission
- Keeping up normal organ functions
- Acting as antioxidants
- Regulating blood clotting
The benefits of micronutrients
Since vitamins and minerals are micronutrients that play such an important role in human health, it’s important to get enough of them to cover your daily requirements.
Micronutrient deficiencies can lead to severe health issues. For example, a deficiency of vitamins B9 (folic acid) and B12 can contribute to the development of anemia. This is a condition in which your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells to carry enough oxygen to your tissues.
Folic acid deficiency can also cause neural tube defects during pregnancy, which can result in severe birth defects. This is the reason why the CDC recommends daily folic acid supplementation to anyone who is capable of getting pregnant.
In recent decades, there has been a growing interest in understanding the importance of micronutrients for human health. But according to a study published in the Postgraduate Medical Journal, this increased interest has also had some downsides.
Many micronutrient supplements have become available commercially — but that doesn’t mean that they’re all properly regulated, or that everyone needs to take many supplements at once in order to stay healthy.
In most cases, you can get all the micronutrients you need from eating a balanced and varied diet. Some people may need supplements due to dietary deficiencies or illnesses. In these cases, your doctor may order tests to confirm the deficiency before prescribing treatment.
There are some exceptions, though. As we mentioned above, anyone who can get pregnant should take folic acid in order to prevent possible malformations. Likewise, people who don’t get enough sunlight may benefit from a vitamin D supplement — especially during the winter months.
Additionally, people who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet usually require certain supplements, since some micronutrients are found mostly in animal food sources. These supplements can include vitamin B12, iron, calcium, zinc, and iodine.
Most cases of micronutrient toxicity happen as a result of taking high doses of supplements. The signs of vitamin or mineral toxicity will vary depending on the cause of the problem. You’re more likely to develop toxicity from fat-soluble vitamins and many minerals, since they can be stored in the body for long periods of time. However, you can also get toxicity from water-soluble vitamins if you consume excessively high doses.
Getting a micronutrient toxicity simply from the foods you eat is uncommon. However, some medical conditions can increase your risk of certain toxicities. In these cases, your physician will probably recommend reducing your intake of specific micronutrients. For example, people with chronic kidney disease typically need to reduce their sodium intake, since it can lead to hypernatremia.
You should seek professional guidance before starting any new supplements or diets in order to avoid micronutrient deficiency or toxicity. Learn more about other health topics at STDWatch.com and find the best providers for at-home STD tests.
Micronutrients - who.int
Minerals - medlineplus.gov
Micronutrients in health and disease - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov