Why We Need Different Micronutrients

Many micronutrients are considered “essential nutrients,” which means they are not made in the body.


Many micronutrients are considered “essential nutrients,” which means they are not made in the body. We must get these micronutrients from foods, otherwise we risk micronutrient deficiencies, such as iron deficiency (causing anaemia or weakness), low potassium (contributing to high blood pressure), low vitamin B12 (tried to problems with cognitive functioning, especially in children) or magnesium deficiency (which can cause muscle spasms and trouble sleeping).

Today, researchers have classified 13 different types of vitamins, all of which have their own important roles in body, especially protecting us from oxidative stress, slowing the aging process and preventing cancer. Some of these vitamins include vitamin A, provitamin A (Beta‐carotene), vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin E, etc.

Vitamin micronutrients can either be water-soluble or fat-soluble, which affects how we absorb them and how quickly we can hold on to them. Water-soluble vitamins include the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C, which are lost more easily through urine and bodily fluids and therefore are very important to replace each day.

Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamin A, D, E and K, which are best eaten with a source of fat (such as the fat naturally found in animal products, coconut or olive oil), which helps the body absorb them better. These micronutrients can accumulate within bodily tissue more easily so we need to replenish them less often.

Besides vitamins, minerals are other nutrients that we must acquire from the diet. Minerals play a big role in bone development, brain health, cellular functions and supporting the metabolism. Humans need at least 18 different minerals to function properly. They include macro-minerals that we usually think of as “electrolytes,” such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium, plus other trace minerals that we need in smaller quantities like copper, iodine, iron, manganese, selenium and zinc.

Macro-minerals are especially crucial for heart health, blood pressure regulation, nerve functioning, muscle movement and digestion. We need higher levels of macro-mineral nutrients (such as calcium or magnesium) compared to the trace amounts of some micronutrients like zinc or selenium.

Micronutrients of all kinds are important cofactors in DNA synthesizing and metabolism, as they are frequently involved in modulating enzymes that help us absorb other nutrients and turn them into useable fuel. An example could be zinc, which is a cofactor for over 100 enzymes! Selenium is another mineral important for metabolism since it’s involved in the production of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, known as a master antioxidant.

Other micro complex biochemical reactions of micronutrients include B vitamins helping to transport electrons throughout the body, which supply energy; folic acid transferring methyl’s, which is needed for metabolic functions; and other minerals helping to form nucleic acids from proteins.

A diet high in micronutrients also protects us from early signs of aging or disease and is paramount to strong immunity. Select micronutrients like vitamin C, vitamin A, zinc and copper play an important role in alteration of oxidant-mediated tissue injury.

In other words, our cells naturally produce reactive oxidants as part of the defence against infectious agents, bacteria and pollution, but consuming enough micronutrients prevents damage of cells and helps the immune system work properly.

No single type of food contains all the micronutrients we need, which is why variety is key. The focus should be on anti-inflammatory foods, meaning those that are fresh and found in nature — including all types of colourful vegetables, fruits, beans nuts, whole grains, and quality animal foods like seafood and eggs — which ensures you cover your bases and obtain the micronutrients your body needs.

Real, whole foods not only give us the nutrients we need to remain healthy, but they also tend to be filling, which can help us maintain a healthy weight. Many micronutrient-rich foods tend to full us up since they’re high in water and fibre (especially plant foods). High-fibre foods do a great job of not leaving us hungry and wanting to overeat, so we get enough calories and nutrients overall without consuming too many.

While the list of all micronutrients would be too long to even include here, below are some examples of the crucial roles that various common micronutrients play in the body:

  • Fibre: lowers cholesterol, helps control blood sugar, helps with that “full” feeling and with digestion
  • Potassium: lowers blood pressure, helps combat heart disease
  • Vitamin A: antioxidant that fights free radicals, help with skin and eye health, fights cancer by stopping DNA mutations in cancerous cells
  • Vitamin B12: helps produce haemoglobin which carries oxygen throughout the body, fights fatigue
  • Vitamin C: improves immune function, prevents oxidative stress, fights cancer and common illnesses of the skin, eyes, etc.
  • Vitamin D: promotes healthy bone metabolism, helps prevent depression, might help fight cancer
  • Vitamin E: has antioxidant properties, protects cell membranes, protects heart
  • Vitamin K: critical in blood clotting, works with vitamin D, protects against heart disease, osteoporosis, and other types of cancer
  • Zinc: boosts the immune system, supports brain functioning, improves cardiovascular health
  • Iodine: important for fetal development and thyroid health
  • Beta-carotene: turns into antioxidant vitamin A in the body, helps with strengthening the immune system and mucous membranes
  • Calcium: maintains bone strength, helpful antacid, regulates high blood pressure
  • Choline: prevents fat accumulation in the liver, promotes brain development, helps prevent liver damage
  • Chromium: removes sugar from the bloodstream and converts into energy, helps control blood sugar in individuals with type 2 diabetes
  • Copper: anti-inflammatory, helps combat arthritis, known as a brain stimulant
  • Flavonoid (antioxidants): reduce the risk of cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, help fight free radical damage, protect brain health
  • Carotenoid (antioxidants): help protect eye health, fight macular degeneration and cataracts
  • Folate: role in foetus development, cervical cancer prevention, antidepressant properties
  • Iron: helps transport oxygen to the entire body, prevents anaemia and low energy
  • Manganese: improves bone density, helps combat free radicals, regulates blood sugar, plays role in metabolism and inflammation
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2): helps prevent cervical cancer, fights headaches and migraines, can help with acne, muscle cramps, carpal tunnel and fatigue
  • Selenium: has antioxidant properties, reduces the chances of prostate cancer, helps with asthma, arthritis and infertility

Among these micronutrients, several seem to be especially important to focus on since they’re some of the leading deficiencies worldwide. These include a vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc, iron, folate and magnesium deficiency