What are Micronutrients?
Micronutrients, commonly known as vitamins and minerals are the essential nutrients required by the body to perform normal functions. Micronutrients are dietary components, consisting of vitamins and minerals which are required in trace amounts for the optimum physical growth and development of the human body. They are required for enzyme production, hormone secretion, growth and development of the body. Except for vitamin D, all other micronutrients have to be consumed through diet as the body doesn't produce them. Although they are needed in smaller amounts, consuming the right proportion is necessary or it can lead to deficiencies and devastating health consequences. Its deficiency has severe adverse effects on health causing vicious cycle of malnutrition, underdevelopment as well as poverty.
Meeting the Micronutrient Need!
National Nutrition Week celebrated from 1st to 7th September, highlights the importance of proper nutrition in the health and well-being of a person. 'You are what you eat' holds relevance even today because the kind of food one consumes defines how the mental, physical, intellectual, and emotional fabric is constructed. So, it is important to know the benefits of micronutrients in one's diet and how it impacts the overall development of a person.
Malnutrition is a major underlying cause for a significant proportion of under-five death. Micronutrient malnutrition (Micronutrient deficiency or "Hidden Hunger") is a public health problem which affects more than onefourth of the global population. Deficiencies of essential micronutrients are preventable sources of malnutrition that can directly affect an individual's health, their mental and physical development. These deficiencies are not recognized easily as they mimic many diseases, have fewer signs but a range of symptoms, and can involve multiple system. Therefore, they need high index of suspicion and a detailed dietary history for diagnosis.
Although, these deficiencies occur in all age groups of both sexes, but, children under five years of age are at the highest risk of deficiency. The most common form of micronutrient deficiency is Anemia, affecting almost 50-60% preschool children and women, while Vitamin A deficiency and lodine-Deficiency Disorders (IDD) have showed improvement over the years. Iron, Zinc and Vitamin A deficiency together constitute the second largest risk factor in the global burden of diseases.
What are the Causes of Micronutrient Malnutrition?
Consuming insufficient essential micronutrients
Diseases decrease the body's ability to absorb and retain micronutrients which may lead to micronutrient loss. These deficiencies leave the individuals more vulnerable to further illness and less able to absorb micronutrients
Insufficient access to food and water
Lack of proper health care and sanitation services
Primarily four kinds of micronutrients are required by the body:
Water-soluble vitamins: As the name suggests, these vitamins (B and C) easily dissolve in water and help in providing energy, regulating brain function, essential antioxidants to neutralize harmful free radicals, strengthening the cells especially red blood cells (RBCs).
Fat-soluble vitamins: These vitamins (A, D, E, and K) dissolve in fats and are stored in the liver and fatty tissues for later use. They are helpful for the development of the immune system, healing injuries, and eye development.
Why to Add Micronutrients in the Diet?
Micronutrients are usually not produced in the body (except vitamin D) and reports estimate the number to be around 30.4 Additionally, excess water-soluble vitamins get easily removed from the body hence, they have to be replenished through diet." Inadequate consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy products which are rich sources of vitamins and minerals can lead to vitamin deficiencies, reduction in energy levels, hamper mental development, and cause diseases
Functions of Micronutrients By now it has become evident that micronutrients are a must-have in the diet to maintain overall health and well-being. But it is equally important to have these in right quantities. Knowledge about their functions and recommended intake would be helpful to plan one's diet accordingly.
1.Water-soluble vitamins: B Vitamins consist of eight components like B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, and vitamin b12 that majorly act as coenzymes in chemical reactions involved in energy production. Thus, it is important for cell metabolism, cell division, formation, and proper brain and nervous system function.
vitamin C helps in production of collagen and neurotransmitters in the body
2. fat soluble vitamins: Vitamin A maintains vision and proper organ function.
Vitamin D helps in immune function and bone development via calcium absorption.
vitamin E plays a major role as an antioxidant; thereby protecting cells from damage and helping the immune system.
vitamin k is highly crucial for blood clotting and bone development.
3. Macrominerals Calcium undoubtedly helps in bone and teeth formation, but it also assists in blood vessel contraction and muscle function.
Magnesium is used for more than 300 enzymatic reactions.
Sodium helps in maintaining fluid balance and blood pressure.
Potassium is also involved in fluid maintenance and transmiting signals via nerves.
4. Trace minerals Iron is responsible for oxygen transfer and secretion of certain hormones.
Zinc is essential for healing wounds and normal growth.
Copper helps in the formation of connective tissues as well as brain and nervous system functioning.
Selenium promotes thyroid health, assists in reproduction, and provides protection against oxidative damage.
Apart from these, other micronutrients are also essential and to maintain their proper intake, it is recommended to consume 3 cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruits, 3 cups of dairy products, 6 ounces of protein, and 29 grams of oil daily. This would ensure an intake of 2,200 calories per day.
Deficiency Hallmarks Insufficient micronutrients in one's diet are easily visible and clinically identifiable by observing a reduction in brain function, mental ability, energy levels, fatigue, reduced bone and muscle development, and overall growth of the individual. These often lead to low productivity in education or work, and less enthusiasm in outdoor physical activities. However, these symptoms and signs if not rectified, can lead to a series of ailments and health conditions.
Diseases Associated WHO estimates that 45% of child death globally is due to undernutrition and 42% children below 5 years of age and 40% pregnant women in the world suffer from anemia. Anemia is caused due to deficiency of vitamin A, B9, B12, and iron. It leads to a reduction in haemoglobin formation causing weakness, shortness of breath, and dizziness. vitamin C deficiency is prominent in cases of scurvy disease and bleeding gums. Severe iodine deficiency has a major role in brain damage and in pregnant women, it can cause serious issues like stillbirth, congenital anomalies, and abortion. Similarly, Vitamin A deficiency is responsible for blindness in children and higher death rate due to infections like diarrhea and measles.
Maintaining the Right Balance Dieticians and nutritionists often advise taking vitamin and mineral supplements in serious cases. But, supplements have higher amounts compared to the daily recommended dose. Thus, for normal people, it is easier to maintain a balance of these nutrients through adequate consumption of fresh leafy green, red, orange, and starchy vegetables, bright-colored fruits, legumes, whole grains, natural oils, and dairy products.
How can micronutrient malnutrition be prevented?
Main strategies for treating micronutrient malnutrition are as follows
Combining different types of healthy food to fulfill body's nutritional needs
Adding trace amount of micronutrients to food during processing to improve food quality
Improving nutritional value of food crops by agronomic or genetic methods
Taking micronutrient supplements
Promoting breastfeeding practices The first 1000 days of life is a critical period for growth and development, yet little is known about the occurrence of micronutrient deficiencies in children, particularly less than six months of age. Preventive strategies such as balanced diet and nutrition needs to be implemented to lessen the risk of developing a micronutrient deficiency and preventing the associated disorders.