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Micronutrients Guide

Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team

Updated on

Micronutrients are chemical substances that support growth and development in your body. You only need small amounts of micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals, but they have a big impact on your body.

You should get the right amount of these vitamins and minerals from a healthy and varied diet. Although you only need a small amount of micronutrients, there are many people around the world who suffer from deficiencies.

As these substances have important roles like supporting the immune system, metabolism and DNA repair, micronutrient deficiencies can have an impact on your health. They can cause conditions ranging from blindness to slowed growth and lower our defenses against viruses and bacteria.

What are micronutrients?

Micronutrients are a group of vitamins and minerals that are essential to the body. They play a vital part in important bodily functions such as the production of hormones and enzymes, the support of our immune system, and important processes such as blood clotting. This makes them crucial for our health, growth and normal development. 1

Micronutrients can be divided into three main types. Firstly, vitamins are organic substances made by animals or plants. Some examples of vitamins are vitamin E, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.

Minerals such as magnesium, calcium and zinc are also considered micronutrients. Minerals are found in soil and water which plants or animals absorb.

Trace minerals are the third type of micronutrient. The body needs trace minerals too, but in smaller doses. Trace minerals are those like selenium, iron, and copper. Although trace minerals are very small substances, they support the body in numerous ways. Some trace mineral benefits include protection from cell-damage, proper development of neurological functions, and support of the blood system. 2 3 4

We get our micronutrients from the food that we eat, so maintaining a healthy diet with a lot of variety is crucial to getting the right intake of all the micronutrients you need. The only exception to this is vitamin D. Vitamin D is present in some foods, but it’s mostly made by the body itself. Vitamin D is created by the body as rays of sunlight trigger a chemical reaction in the skin which produces the vitamin. 2 3 4

Each micronutrient has its own specific properties and can cause different symptoms when there’s a deficiency. Some of the most crucial vitamins in the human body are:

  • Vitamin A or retinol is important for your eyes, immune system and cell development.
  • Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B7 are important for your metabolism.
  • Vitamin B9 or folate is crucial during pregnancy as it’s involved in neurological development, red blood cell production, and DNA synthesis.
  • Vitamin B12 assists nerve function, metabolism and the blood system.
  • Vitamin C supports hormone production and the immune system.
  • Vitamin D keeps bones healthy and supports the immune system.
  • Vitamin E supports the immune system and nerve function.
  • Vitamin K is important for blood clotting.

Some important minerals that sometimes may need to be checked are:

  • Calcium for bones, nervous system and blood pressure regulation.
  • Chromium, which is vital for metabolism.
  • Copper for cell energy and the nervous system.
  • Fluoride is important for healthy bones and teeth.
  • Iodine is crucial for the production of thyroid hormones.
  • Iron for metabolism, the blood system, and the immune system.
  • Magnesium for bones, metabolism, and nervous system.
  • Phosphorus plays an important part in cell structure and energy production.
  • Potassium helps with blood pressure regulation and supports the nervous system.
  • Selenium supports proper function of the thyroid.
  • Sodium regulates blood pressure and supports the nervous system.
  • Zinc supports the immune system and blood system.

Besides the micronutrients listed above, there are others such as vitamin B4 and B8. Many of these vitamins and minerals have additional functions to the ones listed. For more detailed information on each micronutrient, have a look at their dedicated pages. 5 6 7

Why are micronutrients important?

Micronutrients are involved in a number of crucial processes in the body. They play a vital role in our metabolism as they modulate enzyme activity and help the body maintain healthy tissues. 8

Micronutrients also reduce the amount of free radicals in the body. Free radicals are a normal by-product of metabolic processes, also caused by pollution, chemicals, and X-rays. Normally, there should be a balance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. If the free radicals take the upper hand, they may alter our DNA and trigger a variety of diseases, as well as cell-aging and damage. Many micronutrients have antioxidant properties, which help neutralize these free radicals. 8 9

Micronutrients like vitamins B6, C, and E, as well as magnesium and zinc support our immune system. They help support the skin barrier and cell membranes, making it more difficult for viruses and bacteria to enter cells. They also support infection-fighting processes in the body, for example by aiding antimicrobial proteins and neutrophils, which are a type of white blood cells that neutralize harmful microorganisms. 10 11

Micronutrients also modulate gene transcription. Zinc especially plays an important part here. Because of its modulating function, zinc can be involved in the activation of certain genes, as well as in the repair and replication of DNA, which can influence whether cancer develops. 8 12 13

What symptoms can a deficiency of micronutrients cause?

Micronutrient deficiencies present in a variety of different ways. You may only need small amounts of micronutrients, but a deficiency can result in serious conditions. As diet is responsible for many deficiencies, they tend to be more present in underdeveloped countries. Some of the most common deficiencies in the world are:

  • Iron deficiency can cause anemia with symptoms like tiredness, fatigue, breathlessness, feeling faint, and headaches.
  • Vitamin A deficiency can cause eyesight problems and reduce immune response making people more susceptible to viruses and bacteria.
  • Vitamin D deficiency can cause bone problems like osteoporosis and osteomalacia. Vitamin D is also important for the immune system and muscle and nerve functions.
  • Iodine deficiency can cause thyroid problems, leading to hypothyroidism. Symptoms may include tiredness, constipation, brittle nails, dry hair and feeling cold.
  • Folate or vitamin B12 deficiency can cause tiredness, disturbed vision, muscle weakness and problems with memory, as B12 is crucial to keeping the nervous system healthy. 2 14
  • Zinc deficiency can cause a wide array of symptoms, including slowed growth, weight loss, and immune problems. 15

When should you test your blood for micronutrients?

If you think you have symptoms of micronutrient deficiency, you should consider testing your blood for micronutrients. Your doctor can interpret your symptoms and confirm the diagnosis with a blood test.

Micronutrient FAQs

Q: What are macronutrients and micronutrients?

Macronutrients are fats, proteins and carbohydrates. The body uses them in large amounts. Micronutrients, on the other hand, are vitamins and minerals which are only necessary in smaller amounts.

Q: Why are vitamins and minerals called micronutrients?

Vitamins and minerals are called micronutrients because we only need a very small dose of them to keep our body healthy.

Q: Is water a micronutrient?

Water is seen as a macronutrient, together with fats, proteins and carbohydrates. However, some micronutrients are soluble in water.