At times like these, individuals and families want to make sure they maintain the best possible state of health and ensuring a healthy immune system can be a way to achieve that goal. Micronutrients have been identified as being very valuable in maintaining a robust immune system. Consuming the right amounts of micronutrients can give the immune system a boost as well as help to prevent viral infections or aid in rapid recovery if one is already infected. Micronutrients play a vital role in the normal functioning of the body.
Vitamin D sometimes referred to as the sun vitamin is important for strong healthy bones, optimal muscle and nerve function as well as improving the immune system. Vitamin D is usually produced by the body following response from exposure of skin to sunlight and it helps to increase the amount of calcium and phosphate absorbed by the body. It also occurs naturally in certain foods like oily fish(for example salmon, mackerel, sardines), egg yolk, dairy, spinach, soybeans among others. It could also be obtained from foods which have been fortified like cereals and others. Vitamin D supplement is another source (which should be used with a Physicians’ guidance). In levels lower than required, vitamin D deficiency results which may be symptomatic, although symptoms may vary according to the severity of the deficiency. Some symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include excessive fatigue, brittle bones, muscle and back pain, bone loss, excessive/increased hair loss. Some recent studies have suggested that there might be an association between vitamin D deficiency and development of depressive symptoms although more researches may be required to determine if association is causal(Anglin , Saaman et al 2013). According to the third National Health and Nutrition Survey done in the US( Ganji V, Milone C et al 2010), the chances of developing depression in people that have vitamin D deficiency was found to be significantly more in comparison to those who had normal levels of vitamin D. One may become vitamin D deficient if the person doesn’t have adequate exposure to sunlight, doesn’t consume enough vitamin D in the diet, doesn’t produce sufficient vitamin D in the body or have other medical conditions that can affect vitamin D levels in the body among others. Severe vitamin D deficiency can cause rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. It should be noted that exposure to sunlight should be done with caution especially in children due to risk of skin cancers from ultraviolet radiation( Kindly contact Primary care provider or Paediatrician for further clarification if required).
Vitamin E is another fat soluble vitamin. It is very essential in the body as it functions as an antioxidant scavenging free radicals which can damage cells and cause diseases. It improves immune function, prevents the formation of clots within heart arteries and helps to maintain healthy skin and eyes. Common sources of vitamin E include mainly oils from plants(sunflower, safflower, corn flower, soybean oils), nuts (almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts), seeds, fruits, and vegetables( spinach, broccoli, asparagus) among many others. The recommended dietary allowance varies according to the age of an individual or physiological state (for instance, lactating women may require more if recommended by their Primary care physician). Although many people get their required amount from diet, deficiency may occur in certain conditions. Vitamin E deficiency may cause reduced immune function, loss of control of body movements, damage to the peripheral nerves causing weakness or pain, damage to the retina of the eyes that can impair vision, abnormal sensations on the body.
Vitamin K is another fat soluble vitamin that helps in making various proteins that are needed for blood clotting and the building of bones. Vitamin K is found throughout the body including the liver, brain, heart, pancreas, and bone. Common sources of vitamin K include kale, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, lettuce, avocadoes, blueberries, blackberries, pomegranate, tomatoes, canola oil, soy oil, cauliflower, fish, liver, meat, eggs, and cereals( in small amounts) among others. Symptoms of vitamin K deficiency include easy bruising, poor clotting, bleeding from nose or gums, increased bleeding from wounds, punctures, and injection or surgical sites, gastrointestinal (GI) tract bleeding, presence of blood in the urine and/or stool among others.
Another group of micronutrients are the minerals which may be classified as macrominerals present in the body include Calcium, Potassium, Iron, Sodium and Magnesium which are required in larger amounts and microminerals like Copper, Zinc, Cobalt, Chromium and Fluoride which are required in smaller quantities.
Calcium is a very abundant mineral in the body, and it is vital for bone health. Calcium is required for proper functioning nerves, blood vessels, hormones and enzymes among others. The sources of calcium are milk, yogurt, cheese, kale, broccoli among many others. Deficiency of calcium may present as numbness and tingling of fingers, muscle cramps, confusion, lethargy, weak or brittle fingernails, difficulty swallowing, fainting.
Potassium contributes to good health as it helps to regulate the amount of fluid in the body amongst its other functions and common sources of potassium include bananas, oranges, cantaloupe, grapefruit (some dried fruits, such as prunes, dates, spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, peas, cucumbers, eggplant, pumpkins, milk, cheese. Natural fruit juices like orange juice, tomato juice, grape fruit juice among others are also good sources. Weakness, muscle cramps/spasms, digestive difficulties, palpitations, abnormal sensation (tingling and numbness) are among features that could be experienced when there is an imbalance of potassium in the body.
Iron is another micronutrient and is a very essential component of the substance (haemoglobin) in red blood cells which carries oxygen throughout the body. Iron is also required to maintain healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails and overall optimal health. Women need more iron than men. Sources of iron include Beans and lentils, Tofu, Baked potatoes, Cashews, Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, Fortified breakfast cereals, Whole-grain and enriched breads, beef or chicken liver, turkey, chicken, ham, salmon among many others. Some symptoms of iron deficiency include moderate to severe fatigue, body weakness, pale skin, fast heartbeat or shortness of breath, headache, dizziness or lightheadedness, cold hands and feet, brittle nails among others. Low levels of iron may lead to low levels of red blood cells with resultant iron deficiency anaemia. Iron requirements in the body vary according to age, gender or even due to physiological states (like menstruation, pregnancy) or presence of certain medical conditions.
It is recommended for individuals to review with their Primary care physician if there are concerns or for further evaluation. Although certain symptoms and signs have been associated with micronutrient deficiencies, symptoms/signs may also be caused by other medical conditions. Hence, it is advised and recommended that people review with their physician before using supplements. Information provided here should NOT replace doctor’s advice.
…To be continued
Health quote of the week “Remember, hand washing is a very important tool in preventing COVID-19”