Basic nutrition series, part 3 – What are Micronutrients?

Kirjoittaja: Turun Kiropraktikkokeskus

Part 3: Next to the macronutrients that we use as fuel sources, micronutrients play a functional role in our overall physiology. Let’s make sure we identify some of the most important of them and their characteristics.

What are micronutrients?

It is time we move away from our macronutrient triad and start addressing another critical component of our diet: micronutrients. Vitamins and minerals are described as essential micronutrients as they are vital for proper bodily function and can only be obtained through our diet.

What are minerals?

Minerals are inorganic substances that our body requires to carry out different functions. You may for example have heard of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and zinc, which are only a few of the many minerals we need to keep our bodies healthy. Let’s have a closer look at the role they play in our health.

  • Calcium is found in dairy products, bone-in fish, dark leafy greens, some seeds like sesame and almonds, and is crucial to build up and maintain healthy bony structure, among other functions such as nerve transmission and muscular contraction. Deficiencies in calcium might result in osteoporosis, a decreased bone density that makes us more susceptible to fractures.
  • Iron is found in organ meat, meat and certain legumes. It is mostly known for the role it plays in red blood cells as it is necessary to convey oxygen and carbon dioxide through the body. A lack of iron can cause anemia, leading to fatigue and weakness.
  • Magnesium is needed by over 300 enzymes involved in gene expression and energy production. It also contributes to proper nerve function. It is found in leafy greens, sea algae, cacao and some nuts like almonds and cashews. Magnesium deficiency is associated with such symptoms as muscle cramps, heart arrhythmias, tremor, headaches and acid reflux. Magnesium deficiencies have been linked to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, migraines, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), asthma and hypothyroidism.
  • Found in bananas, avocado, cherries, kiwis and some other fruits and among its many functions, potassium contributes to proper neurological activity, normal muscular function and blood pressure regulation.
  • Nowadays known as salt, sodium is a major component of extracellular fluid and regulates the volume of blood plasma, to best serve appropriate tissue perfusion and normal cellular metabolism. A sodium deficiency might lead to hyponatremia. Together with potassium, sodium is essential for appropriate nerve transmission.
  • Zinc is found in meat, seafood and fish. It has a big range of functions in the body. It supports the immune system by promoting the production of leukocytes. It also acts as an antioxidant, aids in DNA synthesis, vital for the production of some hormones and is a cofactor to many enzymatic reactions. Its deficiencies can lead to a range of symptoms among hormonal imbalances, inflammation and slowed down scarring.

What are vitamins?

Vitamins are essential organic compounds that the body requires in small amounts to function properly. They act as coenzymes or cofactors in various metabolic processes and have a big range of specific roles in the body. While bacteria, fungi, and plants can produce their own vitamins, our bodies cannot, so we need to obtain them from our diet and in some cases, with the help of supplements.

Vitamins come in two types: fat-soluble and water-soluble:

  • Water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C or the B complex vitamins are found in fruits, vegetables, and grains and dissolve in the watery parts of these foods. They are absorbed directly into the bloodstream and circulate easily in the body. Those are the vitamins that should be replenished regularly as they are eliminated on a daily basis.
  • Fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K on the other hand, are found in foods such as dairy, butter, and oils and dissolve in fat. Fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the liver and fat cells and are rationed out by the body when needed.

The body uses different vitamins in different ways and each vitamin may be involved in a vast range of functions. Here is a glimpse at the many different roles vitamins play in our bodies.

B complex vitamins can help enzymes release and metabolize energy from food, while vitamin C acts as an antioxidant and helps make collagen. Vitamin A is key to the production of white blood cells, it also influences the structure of bones, and helps maintain good vision. Vitamin D helps absorb calcium and phosphorus to build up and maintain healthy bones. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant and eliminates damaging elements in the body, and vitamin K helps make proteins that are essential for the process of blood clotting, which ensure proper wound healing.

To sum it up:

Deficiencies in micronutrients can cause a wide range of problems as previously discussed. It is therefore important to gather a balanced diversified collection of these many micronutrients. Some people may even benefit from additional supplementation to ensure adequate intake of certain micronutrients. Still, note that relying solely on supplements for vitamins and minerals is not recommended. The human body’s absorption and utilization of micronutrients typically depend on other nutrients present in the same nutrient dense foods where the micronutrients are found. Overconsumption of supplements can result in toxicity and disrupt normal physiological processes. Therefore, a balanced diet consisting of diverse nutrient-rich foods is the optimal way to meet the body’s micronutrient requirements, unless relying on supplementation is an absolute necessity.