Everything you eat and drink has a function in your body; including micronutrients. These small substances are essential to our health and we could not live without them. But what exactly are micronutrients?
In this article, we will look at what micronutrients are, where you can find them, what they do in your body and what happens when you are deficient in one of these substances.
What are Micronutrients?
Micronutrients are slightly more complicated. These are all vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. You generally get less than one gram of these substances per day. That is why they are called “micros”. Micro, therefore, stands for ‘small’ and nutrients for ‘nutrients’. So it means “small nutrients”.
Since your body can produce little to no micronutrients on its own, you must get them from your diet. Think of micros such as vitamin B12, vitamin E or iron. In some cases, you can also take supplements to get enough of these nutrients.
Where do you get these nutrients from?
It used to be difficult for vegetarians and vegans to get enough iron and vitamin B12 because these substances are mainly found in meat products. Today, however, many nutrients are added to products, such as plant-based milk or butter. In this way, you run less risk of a shortage of nutrients.
If you do not get enough micronutrients, you can also support your intake with micronutrient supplements or medication. This is often recommended by a general practitioner when he or she notices a deficiency.
What do micronutrients do in your body?
We divide the micronutrient list into three groups: vitamins, minerals, and trace elements.
First of all, we will discuss vitamins as micronutrients. There are 13 in total. We explain each vitamin that functions as a microbe below.
Vitamin A contributes to improving your vision and keeps your organs working. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to night blindness, dry skin, and even infertility. Fortunately, a deficiency of vitamin A is rare, because your body can make vitamin A itself from beta-carotene.
Vitamin B1 ensures that you can get energy from your macronutrients. A deficiency of B1 can lead to mood swings, fatigue, and other mental complaints.
Vitamin B2 helps to process fat in your body and gives your body enough energy to function. The deficiency of vitamin B2 can cause problems in the growth of the fetus and can lead to hair loss, thyroid problems, and swollen mucous membranes.
Vitamin B3, like vitamin B1, helps to get energy from the macronutrients. These micronutrients drive this process. A deficiency of vitamin B3 can lead to diarrhea, skin problems, memory loss, and depression.
Vitamin B5 ensures that the fatty acids from your body can be properly processed so that you get the most benefits. It also makes red blood cells, which are important for transporting oxygen throughout your body. A vitamin B5 deficiency is rare but can lead to intestinal complaints, irritability, and headaches.
Vitamin B6 extracts the sugars from carbohydrates and makes neurotransmitters that give you a cheerful feeling. It also aids in the production of “hemoglobin”; a substance that causes the red color of your blood. If you don’t have enough vitamin B6 in your body, your immune system can weaken and you may feel less cheerful and energetic.
Vitamin B8 supports the growth of the embryo in pregnant women and also keeps your nervous system, hair, skin, and liver healthy. Vitamin B8 (biotin) is also linked to beautiful nails. Although a deficiency of vitamin B8 is rare, it can lead to hair loss, skin rashes, and brittle nails.
Vitamin B11 is also called folic acid. It contributes to the development of your unborn child. It also contributes to the development of your DNA and your cell growth. The deficiency of folic acid can lead to anemia, fatigue, intestinal disorders, and even birth defects.
Vitamin B12 is very important for your brain. B12 also plays a major role in the health of your nervous tissue and the production of red blood cells. When you suffer from a vitamin B12 deficiency, it can lead to depression, memory problems, weight loss, menstrual complaints, and tingling in the extremities.
Vitamin C is the most well-known vitamin and contributes to the production of collagen and various neurotransmitters in your body. If you have too little vitamin C in your body, it can cause minor bruises, bruises, and weak nails.
Vitamin D contributes to the proper functioning of your immune system and helps your body to absorb calcium. The deficiency of this vitamin can result in fatigue, bone pain, hair loss, and muscle aches.
Vitamin E functions as an antioxidant to protect cells from outside damage. It also helps to maintain your immune system. When you get too little vitamin E, it makes you more susceptible to disease. Think of the flu or a cold. You can also suffer from vision and muscles. However, a vitamin E deficiency is rare in the Netherlands, so there is little chance that you will suffer from this.
Vitamin K ensures that your blood clots when you have a wound and helps with this as well as in the development of your bones. Here too, a deficiency is rare, but when you do have a deficiency of vitamin K, you can recognize this by the formation of small wounds and bruises and a darker stool.
In addition to vitamins, some minerals serve as a micronutrient. Below we describe 7 minerals that can be classified as micronutrients. This makes it easier to buy supplements with minerals.
Calcium helps strengthen and grow your bones. It also supports the functioning of your muscles and the contraction of your blood vessels. You can recognize a calcium deficiency by brittle nails and hair, tooth decay, and weak muscles and bones.
Phosphate contributes to the maintenance of cell membranes and the structure of your bones. A shortage of phosphate is rare but can be recognized by painful bones, weight loss, and concentration problems.
Magnesium helps with more than 300 enzyme functions in your body and is, therefore, a very important mineral. It also supports your blood pressure and makes it easier for you to fall asleep. You can recognize a magnesium deficiency by muscle cramps, listlessness, and sleeping problems.
Sodium maintains your moisture level and helps to conduct stimuli through your nerves. Because sodium occurs a lot in salt, you will rarely suffer from a sodium deficiency. If this is the case, you can recognize this by headache, nausea, muscle cramps, and drowsiness.
Chloride is also common in salty products. This mineral also contributes to your fluid balance and helps to create digestive fluids. Since a chloride deficiency is virtually non-existent, there are no known symptoms.
Potassium, together with sodium and chloride, ensures that your fluid balance is maintained. It also helps to conduct nerve impulses. A deficiency of these types of micronutrients can only occur with severe vomiting or the use of water pills, but even then the chance of this is very small. A potassium deficiency can be recognized by a decreased appetite, nausea, and weakened muscles.
Sulfur is part of every living tissue and is mainly found in various amino acids. A sulfur deficiency is not common, but you can recognize it by tired muscles, joint pain, and brittle nails.
3. Trace Elements
Trace elements can also be seen as micronutrients. These nutrients are often confused with minerals. However, trace elements are not the same as minerals. That is why we explain these micronutrients separately. Read on to find out what these nutrients are good for.
Iron ensures that your blood carries enough oxygen to your muscles and organs. Iron also contributes to the development of certain hormones. An iron deficiency can arise when you have a predisposition to it, or when you consume little iron-rich food. This can lead to fatigue, pale skin, restless legs, and shortness of breath.
Manganese helps to process carbohydrates, amino acids, and cholesterol. In addition, manganese helps regulate blood sugar levels. A manganese deficiency changes the way you process carbohydrates, cholesterol, and amino acids, but how this manifests itself is still unclear.
Copper is important for the production of connective tissue and it helps your brain to function better. If you have a copper deficiency, this can lead to anemia, reduced resistance, growth retardation, and heart rhythm disorders.
Zinc contributes to wound healing, the growth of the child, and a well-functioning immune system. A zinc deficiency is not common but can be recognized by a decreased appetite, growth retardation, anemia, and night blindness.
Iodine is one of the essential micronutrients for the functioning of your thyroid. You need this substance to grow well and to keep your nervous system healthy. An iodine deficiency is rare because your thyroid stores a large supply itself. If you do have a deficiency, you can recognize this by weight gain, constipation, and feeling cold quickly.
Fluoride (or fluorine) contributes to the development of your teeth and bones. For that reason, it is often added to toothpaste. A lack of fluoride can lead to tooth decay, but when you use fluoride toothpaste, the chance of this is very small.
Selenium (or selenium) protects your red blood cells from damage and keeps your thyroid healthy. It also ensures that possible heavy metals in your diet are made less harmful. Selenium deficiency rarely occurs again. In extreme cases, it can lead to muscle weakness and heart failure.
How do you know if you’re getting enough micronutrients?
It, therefore, does not hurt to have your blood tested once a year. Your doctor will then show you whether you have enough nutrients in your body. If you are deficient in something, you can take a micronutrient supplement for this.
A study by Unicef in 2004 showed that the European population has the highest risk of being deficient in vitamins A, B2, B12, iron, and folic acid. If you make sure you get enough of these micronutrients, the risk of developing a deficiency is very small.
Summary about micronutrients
Each macronutrient has a different function in your body. One helps get energy from your fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, while the other supports the transport of oxygen. In many cases, the chance of a deficiency is small, but you can still recognize this by various symptoms.
When you follow a balanced diet, there is a good chance that you are getting enough micronutrients. Nevertheless, research has shown that vitamins A, B2, B12, folic acid, and iron are often found in too small numbers in the Western world.
It is therefore wise to have your blood tested at the doctor once in a while. He or she can tell you what you are deficient in and how you can best counteract it.