Micronutrients: Vitamins and Minerals
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals and are so called because we don’t need them in big amounts like macronutrients which are protein, carbohydrates and fats – which we need in big amounts.
They enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances which are essential for proper growth and development.
Micronutrients are essential to life – so essential that people in the know have formulated recommended consumption levels called recommended daily allowances (RDAs).
These allowances are not the amount needed for optimum health but rather the levels needed to prevent deficiency diseases. Therefore the average adult should obtain more than the RDA from food and supplements.
Even though Micronutrients are only needed in tiny amounts, the consequences of having a deficiency of one or more of the micronutrients are severe. Iodine, Iron and Vitamin A are so important that having a lack of them in the body represents a major threat to the health and develpment of the world's population. This is especially true in pregnant women and children in low-income countries.
Deficiencies of micronutrients are commonly associated with chronic hunger. A lack of iodine, iron and vitamin A have a negative effect on children's physical and mental develpment leading to stunted growth, poor cognitive function and poor school performance. Children are also more susceptable to infection because their immune system is impaired. Severe deficiencies of micronutrients can lead to retardation, blindness and even death.
Requirements for micronutrients supplements are raised by:
- Being physically active
- Being under stress
- On Medication
- Recovering from surgery
- Consuming alcohol
- Woman taking oral contraceptives
These instances above mean that you’ll need a higher than normal amount of micronutrients and should consider taking vitamin supplements. A good multivitamin contains all the essential micronutrients needed by the body.
are micronutrients which help to sustain life. There are 2 types of vitamins: water-soluble and fat-soluble.
Water-soluble vitamins need to be replenished constantly as they are excreted and can not be stored. Thay are Vit C and B-complex vitamins.
Fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the fatty tissue and liver, although they also need to be replenished. They are vitamins A,D,E and K.
Minerals are essential micronutrients which originate in the earth and can not be made. Plants get minerals from the soil and most of our minerals comes directly from plants or indirectly from animal sources. We also get minerals from the water we drink.
There are 2 types of these micronutrients: Major and trace minerals. Major minerals are those that we need in greater amounts - such as calcium, magnesium, phospherous and sodium. Trace minerals are required in amaller amounts. They are iron, copper, zinc, selenium and iodine.
Handy Vitamin and Mineral Chart
Here is a handy vitamin and mineral chart which helps explain the importance of the major micronutrients as well as information on dietry sources, signs of deficiency and excess.
|Vitamin||Function||Sources||Deficiency Signs||Requirements Raised By||Signs Of Excess|
|Vitamin A||Essential for eyes, skin and the proper function of the immune system. Helps maintain hair, bones and teeth||liver, fish, oils, dairy products, eggs||Dry eyes, skin & mucous membranes. Poor resistance to disease & infections. Impaired growth or development. Night blindness, progressive eye disease leading to blindness||Malabsorption & drugs||Loss of appetite & sickness, headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, bleeding gums, peeling & redness of the skin, liver damage, joint & bone pain, hair loss, gastro-intestinal disturbance|
|Beta-Carotene||All those of vitamin A, Antioxidant, protects against many forms of cancer||Yellow, orange, red & green veg & fruits - especially carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes and broccoli||Not known||Mineral oil use, fat malabsorption||Yellowing of skin, especially the palms of hands and soles of feet|
|B1 Thiamine||Metabolism of carbohydrates, healthy nerves & brain cells, muscle coordination, release of energy from glucose||Sunflower seeds, cereal germ & husks, yeast, vegetables, peas, beans, nuts, eggs||Anxiety, hysteria, depression, muscle cramps, appetite loss||Illness, burns, surgery, chronic infection, alcohol, smoking, pregnancy, the pill, aspirin & refined carbohydrates||Hypersensitivity of nerves|
|B2 Riboflavin||Helps release energy from foods & maintain healthy skin||Fish, eggs, liver, peanuts, lentils, meat, vegetables, wheat germ, milk||Cracks & sores around the mouth & nose, visual problems||Burns, pregnancy, breastfeeding, imbalanced vegan diets & certain drugs||Bright yellow discolouration of urine|
|B3 Niacin||Needed in many enzymes that convert food to energy. Helps maintain a healthy digestive tract and nervous system. In very large doses, lower cholesterol||Liver, nuts, tuna, yeast, avocado, dates, prunes, whole grain cereals & legumes||Mouth swelling, diarrhoea & mental confusion||Pregnancy, breastfeeding, intestinal disease & chronic infection||Hot flushes, liver toxicity, cardiac arrhythmias, dry skin rashes, high blood sugar & uric acid|
|B5 Pantothenic Acid||Plays a role in metabolism of fatty acids, glucose & proteins for energy production. helps maintain healthy skin & mucous membranes, promotes nerve function||Most foods - especially animal tissues, fish, poultry, whole grain cereals & legumes||Not known||Not known||Not known|
|B6 Pyridoxine||Energy release, protein metabolism, helps maintain healthy skin, helps form red blood cells, helps nerve & brain function||Animal protein, egg yolk, peanuts, green veg, bananas, whole grains, milk||Patches if itchy, scaling skin, anaemia, irritability, kidney stones, depression & confusion||Pregnancy, breastfeeding, the pill, alcohol, hyperthyroidism, congestive heart failure & many therapeutic drugs||Nerve Damage|
|B12 Cyanocobalamin||Helps form red blood cells, builds genetic material, maintains healthy nervous system||Meat, liver, kidney, egg yolk, spirulina, yeast, soya, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, kelp||Numbness, muscle weakness, stunted growth in children||Smoking, alcohol, vegan diets & malabsorption||Not known|
|Biotin||Metabolism of carbohydrates & formation of certain fatty acids, healthy skin & hair||Yeast, liver, soya, flour, carrots, cauliflower||Dermatitis alopecia||Excessive consumption of egg whites||Not Known|
|Folic Acid||Metabolism of cell division, protein metabolism & red blood formation||Green leafy veg, liver, pulses, wheat, bran, fruit, yeast||Anaemia, miscarriage & malformation of foetus||Alcohol, the pill, pregnancy, breastfeeding & many therapeutic drugs||Loss of appetite & nausea. May mask deficiency of B12|
|Vitamin C||Maintains healthy gums, skin & connective tissue, antioxidant keeping cells healthy, aids in iron absorption||Fresh fruit especially citrus, sea food, wheat germ, brown rice, barley, nuts, potatoes, tomatoes||Fatigue, irritability, loss of appetite, weight loss, bleeding gums, easy bruising, scurvy||Smoking the pill, pregnancy, breastfeeding, alcohol, burns, chronic infection & age||Diarrhoea & gastro intestinal disturbance|
|Vitamin D||Helps calcium absorption for strong bones & teeth||Sunlight on skin, fish, fish oils, liver, dairy products, egg yolk||Rickets in children, loss of bone density in adults & osteoporosis||Inadequate exposure to sunshine, liquid paraffin||Loss of appetite, weakness & constipation, calcium deposits in organs|
|Vitamin E||Antioxidant. Preserves fatty acids, helps form red blood cells, muscles & other tissue||Cereal germ, nuts, seed & veg oils, dairy products, green leafy veg||Very rare - disorders of spinal cord & nervous system||High intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids||Gastro intestinal disturbance, fatigue & weakness|
|Vitamin K||Aids blood clotting, bone health||Green veg, liver||Defective blood coagulation||Not known||Jaundice in infants|
|Mineral||Function||Sources||Deficiency Signs||Requirements Raised By||Signs Of Excess|
|Calcium||Bone, tooth & nail formation, promotes muscle & nerve function, clotting of blood, helps absorption of B12||Diary products, sardines, salmon, oysters, nuts, molasses, dried figs, spinach, broccoli||Rickets in children, poor muscle tone, osteoporosis in adults||Smoking, alcohol, certain diseases||Constipation, calckum deposits in body tissue, kidney stones. Hinders iron absorption|
|Magnesium||Helps maintain healthy nervous system & metabolism, helps with energy release||Green leafy veg, nuts, legumes, popcorn, wheat germ & cereal grains||Muscle weakness, cramps, twitching, irritability, cardiac arrhythmias||Smoking, drugs, alcohol, chronic diarrhoea||Diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure|
|Phosphorus||Helps maintain healthy bones, metabolism, nerve & muscle function||Meat, dairy products, poultry, fish, nuts, lentils, egg yolk, cereal products||Rare||Alcohol, Vit D deficiency & certain drugs||Hinders calcium absorption, diarrhoea, tiredness, headache, dizziness, increased thirst, tingling around lips, hands & feet|
|Potassium||Electrolyte, needed for cellular metabolic processes, helps maintain regular fluid balance||Peanuts, bananas, potato, pulses, orange juice, broccoli, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, green beans, watermelon||Muscle weakness, mood & mental changes, nausea||Excessive diarrhoea, excessive vomiting||Rare|
|Iron||Essential for making haemoglobin which transports oxygen in the blood to produce energy||Red meat, fish, beans, raisins, lentils, peas, spinach, wheat germ, bran & oats||Chronic fatigue, weakness, anaemia, learning problems in children, shortness of breath, headaches, skin pallor||Pregnancy, breastfeeding, coffee, tea, antacids, diarrhoea, shortage of zinc & calcium||Stomach pain, cramps, constipation, nausea & vomiting|
|Zinc||Cell division, protein synthesis, growth, virtually all enzyme activity, immune system, metabolism of Vit A, B Complex & fatty acids, all aspects of reproduction, energy production, condition of skin, hair & nails||Oysters, liver, shrimp, crab, beef, sardines, whole grains, legumes, eggs, cheese||White spots on nails, poor condition of hair & skin, delayed wound healing, slow healing of wounds, loss of taste, smell & appetite, retarded growth, slow mental development||Pregnancy, breastfeeding, alcohol, smoking, burns||Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, can interfere with copper absorption|
|Selenium||Antioxidant. Works with Vit E to prevent breakdown of fats & body chemicals||Grains, seafood, liver, lean red meat||Lightness of colour of the fingernail beds, muscle discomfort or weakness||Smoking||Finger nail changes, hair loss|
|Manganese||Needed for tendon & bone structure, an activator for enzymes, co-factor in lipid, protein & carbohydrate metabolism||Whole grains, cereal products, tea, fruits & veg||Not known||Not known||Not known|
|Copper||Needed to make skin, hair & other pigments, helps with iron absorption, needed to make red blood cells, connective tissue & nerve fibres||Liver, seafood, nuts & seeds||Rare||Excessive zinc intake||Vomiting, diarrhoea, liver disease|
|Sodium||Electrolyte||Salt, oysters, mussels, tuna, milk, bananas, mushrooms, meat||Not Known||Excessive diarrhoea & vomiting||Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, cramps, thirst, sweating, fever, fast heartbeat, hypertension, reduced salivation|
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