What are Micronutrients & Why You Should Care
Let me introduce you to the world of micronutrients, nutrient powerhouses critical to your health.
Most of you are familiar with macronutrients which are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. “Macro” meaning they are necessary in large amounts as they provide energy needed to maintain body functions and carry out the activities of daily life.
Perhaps less familiar are micronutrients: chemicals in foods that are also essential for life and health, yet they’re needed in relatively small amounts, hence “micro.”
Micronutrients are classified into two main categories: vitamins and minerals.
Vitamins include A, C, D, E and K
Some minerals are potassium, riboflavin (B2), iron, magnesium, folate (B9), phosphorus, calcium, selenium, and zinc
Micronutrients support energy levels, immune function, cellular function, bone health, brain health, metabolism, and are necessary for slowing the aging process, preventing cancer, physical and mental wellbeing, and more.
Since micronutrients are not produced in the body, they must be derived from the foods you eat. No single food contains all the micronutrients you need and therefore it’s critical to eat a nutrient-rich and varied diet. Your focus should be on anti-inflammatory foods, which means wholesome foods that are found in nature including vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, whole grains, legumes, high quality animal foods such as grass-fed red meat, wild-caught seafood and pastured eggs.
Consequences of Micronutrient Deficiencies: As tiny as the amounts are, micronutrient deficiencies can result in some serious side effects and consequences. Although micronutrients deficiency symptoms will vary, depending on what vitamin or mineral is out of balance, some common symptoms of deficiency include:
Five Micronutrient Functions, Deficiencies & Food Sources (While all micronutrients have an impact on our health and wellbeing, I selected five to focus on here.)
1) Vitamin A (Retinol)
IMPORTANCE: Vitamin A is essential for vision, bone growth, skin health, organ function, reproduction and immune function. Vitamin A also has antioxidant properties.
DEFICIENCY: Vitamin A deficiency symptoms include dry eyes, dry skin, night blindness, infertility and trouble conceiving, and an increased risk of infection.
SOURCES: Vitamin A rich foods: animal foods including liver, eggs, grass-fed dairy products, and seafood (shrimp, salmon, sardines, and tuna).
IMPORTANCE: Magnesium assists with over 300 enzyme reactions, including regulation of blood pressure. It’s essential for protein synthesis, regulates contractility of heart muscle, enhances control of inflammation and maintains nervous system balance and more.
DEFICIENCY: Magnesium deficiency include fatigue and muscle weakness, mood problems, migraines, PMS, muscle cramps, heart irregularities.
SOURCE: Foods rich in magnesium include green leafy and non-leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, fish, legumes, dark chocolate, and avocados.
3) Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
IMPORTANCE: B6 helps the body turn food into energy. It can also help the body fight infections. B6 is required for the proper growth and development of the brain, nerves, and skin.
DEFICIENCY: Insufficient amounts of B6 can result in skin rashes and cracks around the mouth, anemia, mood changes such as depression and confusion, weakened immune function, and low energy.
SOURCE: Food sources include a wide variety of plant and animal foods, including leafy, cruciferous and root vegetables, fruits such as bananas, red meat, liver, poultry, sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
4) Vitamin D
IMPORTANCE: Vitamin D promotes healthy bone growth, helps prevent depression, may have anti-cancer properties, assists in calcium absorption, proper immune function, facilitates hormone regulation, and in the reduction of inflammation.
DEFICIENCY: If you’re deficient in Vitamin D, you may get sick often, have bone and/or back pain, hair loss, bone loss, depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, high blood pressure, weakness, and trouble sleeping.
SOURCE: Sun exposure, oily fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, sardines), mushrooms, liver, eggs, and raw milk.
IMPORTANCE: Zinc is necessary for normal growth, immune function and wound healing. Zinc is necessary for nearly every cellular function and is a vital nutrient for immune system function. Zinc also plays a vital role in gut health by improving gut barrier integrity (reversing “leaky gut”).
DEFICIENCY: Common zinc deficiency symptoms include: weak immunity, diarrhea, allergies, thinning hair, leaky gut and digestive disorders, acne or skin rashes, reduced sense of taste and smell.
SOURCE: The richest food source is oysters, but other good sources include red meat, poultry, nuts and seeds, and legumes.
Now, before you self-diagnose and run out and buy tons of supplements, please know that supplementation is all about balance; ideally you’re getting your micronutrients (and macronutrients) from real, wholesome foods. Too much of a vitamin or mineral is just as harmful to your health as a deficiency. I recommend working with a healthcare professional, like me :), to properly assess and address your nutritional deficiencies and help bring you and your health back into balance.
Resources: Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, Dr. Axe, Healthline, Nutritional Therapy Association, & my brain.
October 15, 2019