What are Micronutrients and their Role in the Body

by | Aug 31, 2020 | Nutrition

Highlights

  • Micronutrients are essential for all functions in the body
  • Micronutrients fall in four categories: fat-soluble vitamins, water-soluble vitamins, macrominerals, and trace minerals
  • Multiple factors can affect the daily intake
  • Most people are often deficient in iron, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin B12

What Are Micronutrients?

We have already discussed the role macronutrients – the larger molecules – play in health. Now, we are diving deeper into the smaller, unseen, molecules that do major work.

Micronutrients are the nutrients known as vitamins and minerals. They are responsible for maintaining homeostasis in the cells and the organ systems, which directly affects how other systems function. Either your goal is to get healthy or lose weight, the micronutrients play a key role.

Deficiency of micronutrients leads to various ailments and imbalances. Sometimes, the simplest thing you can do to get healthy is to maintain a lifestyle that supports optimal levels of micronutrients in the body. Notice, I said optimal which is different than average.

Recommended dietary allowance (RDA) are a great start and for some may be optimal, however, it is important to note that those reference ranges are an average intake and for some others those average may be less for optimal health. To reach an optimal state of health it is important to dig deeper and find values that are personalized to your body’s needs, for which lab tests are available.

Four Categories of Micronutrients

  1. Fat-soluble vitamins
  2. Water-soluble vitamins
  3. Macrominerals
  4. Trace minerals.

Fat-Soluble Vitamins

These can be stored in the body (liver and the fat tissues) and are not lost via excretions.  

  • Vitamin A: Essential for adequate organ function and vision. Top retinol sources include liver, fish, dairy; top carotenoids sources include sweet potatoes, carrots, and spinach.
  • Vitamin D:  Promotes adequate bone growth by causing calcium to be absorbed into the body through the digestive tract, and mediates immune functions. Vitamin D functions more like a hormone than a vitamin.
  • Vitamin E: Vital for immune function and works as an antioxidant to prevents cell damage. Top foods include Sunflower seeds, almond, and wheat germ.
  • Vitamin K: Responsible for both bone formation and blood clots, as it prevents excess bleeding. Top foods include leafy greens, soybeans, pumpkin.
  • Vitamin K2: Responsible for regulating calcium deposition. If you are taking vitamin D supplement then it is recommended to take K2 as well. Together with D & K2 they direct the proper calcium metabolism. Contains two subtypes – MK-4 & MK-7. Top foods include meats, eggs, and fermented foods.

Water-Soluble Vitamins

Your body can’t store it when taken in large quantities and the body excrete excess via urine.

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine): Plays a big role in Krebs cycle to help you convert macronutrients into usable energy. Top foods include meat, fish, eggs, and nuts.  
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): Serves a critical role in cell function, energy production and fat metabolism. Top foods include organ meats, eggs, milk. It is critical in cell function, energy production and fat metabolism.
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin): Assist in energy extraction from fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Also, may play a role in regulating fat in the liver.  An important nutrient to keep you skin, digestive system and your nervous system healthy. Top foods include meat, beans, salmon, and leafy greens.
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): Necessary for triglyceride synthesis and lipoprotein metabolism. Top foods include beef, chicken, organ meats, mushrooms, tuna, and avocado.
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): An important nutrient needed for macronutrient metabolism and the production of in red blood cells and neurotransmitters. Top foods include fish, carrots, milk, and potatoes.
  • Vitamin B7 (biotin): Functions in fatty acid, glucose, and amino acid metabolism. Responsible for hair, nails, and skin health. Also known as Vitamin H. Top foods include eggs, almonds, spinach, and sweet potatoes.
  • Vitamin B9 (folate): A vitamin with many cellular functions, tissue growth, protein production. Can also be synthesized by microbiota. Those with methylation problems, in which the folate can’t be converted to its active form, may need to take a bioactive form of the vitamin. Deficiency can lead to megaloblastic anemia and it plays an important role during pregnancy for proper fetal development. Top foods include beef, spinach, liver, black-eyed peas, and asparagus.
  • Vitamin B12 (cobalamin): Keeps the nervous system healthy, responsible for DNA production, and assists red blood cells formation. Top foods include fish, clams, and meat.
  • Vitamin C (ascorbic acid): Repairs tissues in the body such as wound and scars. Responsible for tissue growth, synthesizes collagen for a strong matrix in the body, and gives you beautiful skin.  It is also an antioxidant that reduces oxidative stress in the body and also protects the immune system. Top foods include citrus fruits, bell peppers, brussels sprouts.

Macrominerals

These are needed in larger amounts than trace minerals in order to perform their specific roles in your body [14].

  • Calcium: Important for bone formation and other functions of the blood vessels and muscles. Top foods include dairy products, sardines, dark leafy greens, and soybeans.
  • Phosphorus: Forms part of the cell membrane and bone. Top foods include organ meats, seafood, yogurt, and sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
  • Magnesium: One of the abundant minerals in the body responsible for over 600 cellular reactions in the body. Found in almonds, cashews, black beans and has 310-420mg as its RDA.
  • Sodium: Electrolyte that aids fluid balance and maintenance of blood pressure. Sodium is found in everything. I recommend focusing in getting sodium from unprocessed foods such as Himalayan salt, sea salt, and naturally rich foods – beets, celery, and carrots.
  • Chloride: Maintains body fluid balance and key ion in digestive juices. Top foods include seaweed, salt, olives, and celery.
  • Potassium: Potentiates transmission in the nerves and muscles. Top foods include bananas, spinach, potatoes, and peas.
  • Sulfur: Forms virtually every part of our body tissue as it forms part of the amino acids basically cysteine and methionine. Top foods include onions, garlic, eggs, Brussels sprouts, mineral water.

Trace Minerals

The essential minerals for the human body needed in the smallest amount however, has plays a major role in health [15].

  • Iron: is vital in making oxygen available to muscles as well as in the synthesis of hormones. The leading cause of anemia is due to iron deficiency. Top foods include oysters, white beans, dark leafy greens and spinach.
  • Manganese: It’s useful in cholesterol, carbohydrate, and amino acid metabolism. Top foods include peanuts, pineapple, and pecans.
  • Copper: Mediates the formation of connective tissue and brain and nerve functions. Top foods include Liver, crabs, and cashews.
  • Zinc: Mediates normal growth, healing of wound, and immune function. Top foods include meats, shellfish, nuts and seeds, and legumes.
  • Iodine: Responsible for proper thyroid functions. Top foods include seafoods, seaweed, prunes, and dairy products.
  • Fluoride: Seen in bones and teeth formation. A naturally occurring mineral added to our drinking water and toothpaste. Generally, not one we need to replenish since we are exposed to a high amount of it daily.
  • Selenium: Has oxidative, reproductive, and thyroid functions. Top foods include brazil nuts, sardines, and ham.
  • Chromium: plays an important role in insulin activity and may improve blood sugar metabolism. Highly beneficial for those with diabetes and it may help keep those monster cravings at bay. Top foods include
  • Molybdenum: responsible for activating various enzymes such as sulfite oxidase, aldehyde oxidase, xanthine oxidase, and mitochondrial amidoxime reducing component (mARC) in the body that drive chemical reactions in the body. This is the main player in reducing those excess sulfites in the body that can build up and cause allergic reactions in the body. Top foods include nuts, beef liver, leafy veggies, and legumes.

Common Micronutrients Deficiencies

  • Vitamin D: Less than 77% of Americans suffer from vitamin D deficiency and this is attributed to inadequate exposure to the sun. Top foods include salmon, cod liver, tuna, egg yolks, and fortified foods.
  • Vitamin B12: Vegetarians are the more susceptible to vitamin B12 deficiency due to abstinence from animal products. The older population is predisposed to deficiency due to insufficient absorption due to low HCL and intake. Top foods tuna, nutritional yeast, salon, fortified non-dairy products, eggs, and meats.
  • Vitamin A: This deficiency is common in women and kids found in developing countries. Tops foods beef liver, cod liver, sweet potatoes, and carrots.
  • Magnesium: 68% of Americans are found to be deficient in this micromineral. Top foods include: pumpkin seeds, almonds, spinach, avocados, and my favorite dark chocolate.

Recommendations

  1. Eat the rainbow – refers to eating a colorful food so that you are receiving a variety of nutrients from different foods.
  2. Use an app to track intake such as My fitness pal until you adapt a habit of eating healthy balanced meals.
  3. Take a high-quality vitamin supplement that serves as an insurance so that you meet your intake; however, a word of caution here. Some vitamin supplement can be too high in certain vitamins and may not be age appropriate. So, it is advised always to consult a medical professional before making the best option.
  4. Spend time in the sun for at least 30 minutes a day.
References

1. “Phytonutrients as therapeutic agents. – PubMed – NCBI” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25051278

2 “Phytonutrients – Nature’s Natural Defense – Unlock Food” https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Vitamins-and-Minerals/Phytonutrients-%E2%80%93-Nature%E2%80%99s-Natural-Defense.aspx

 3https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/phytonutrients/

4.”Micronutrients: Types, Functions, Benefits and More” https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/micronutrients#types-and-functions

 5 “Riboflavin — Health Professional Fact Sheet” https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Riboflavin-HealthProfessional/

6 “Vitamin B3 Intake Recommendations – Nutri-Facts” https://www.nutri-facts.org/en_US/nutrients/vitamins/b3/intake-recommendations.html 

7 “Thiamin — Health Professional Fact Sheet” https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Thiamin-HealthProfessional/

 8 “Pantothenic Acid — Health Professional Fact Sheet” https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/PantothenicAcid-HealthProfessional/

9 “Vitamin B6 — Health Professional Fact Sheet” https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB6-HealthProfessional/

10 “Biotin — Health Professional Fact Sheet” https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Biotin-HealthProfessional/ 

11 “Folate — Health Professional Fact Sheet” https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/

 12 “Vitamin C — Health Professional Fact Sheet” https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/

13 “Vitamin B12 — Health Professional Fact Sheet” https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/

14 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.pmc.articles/pmc3656646/3447083/

15(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18498676

16https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11146445

17https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/511044650

18https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.pmc.articles/pmc3656646/

19https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22543848

20.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17023702

21https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25912278

22https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16376462/

23https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23356638

24https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17016949

25.https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/nutritional-disorders/mineral-deficiency-and-toxicity/overview-of-minerals

About Me

Hi, I’m a registered dietitian. It’s my personal mission to offer clear and easy to understand information and actions that will increase your depth of knowledge and make optimizing your health a breeze. Happy reading!

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