Using the word “Micro” to describe anything may mean that what is being described is of little importance, but this is not the case when it comes to micronutrients.
A nutrient may be described as a substance, usually found in food, which performs a useful function in biological systems (including plants and animals). They are classified in terms of the amount in which they are required in the body – macronutrients and micronutrients. Nutrients are also grouped as proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, vitamins and water. Various nutrients differ in the function they perform and work synchronously with others for the optimal functioning of the body. Macronutrients are required in large quantities by the body while micronutrients are required only in small amounts, hence their name.
Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals, which are substances that are vital in enabling the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances crucial for adequate growth and development. Although the amounts required are tiny, the consequences of their absence may be profound. Iodine, vitamin A and iron are some very important micronutrients in global public health view, although all are considered important. Vitamins could be fat- soluble ( A,D,E and K) or water- soluble(B and C) and minerals(which could be macrominerals or trace minerals).
Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water, they are not easily stored in the body and gets excreted in urine when consumed in excess. They include Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12 and C. The B- vitamins help a variety of enzymes function properly, which includes releasing energy from carbohydrates and fat, breaking down amino acids and transporting oxygen and energy-containing nutrients throughout the body. They are also necessary for forming red blood cells as well as ensure proper nervous system and brain function Furthermore, they help convert nutrients into energy. As a result of the fact that they are not stored in the body, it is very important that one gets them from food consumed. Some common sources include whole grains, meat, fish, organ meats, eggs, milk, salmon, dark leafy green vegetables, mushrooms, tuna, avocado, carrots, potatoes, almonds, spinach, beef, liver, black-eyed peas, spinach, asparagus, citrus fruits, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, brown rice, barley, millet, poultry, dairy products(milk, cheese), legumes (beans, lentils), sunflower seeds, broccoli, bananas amongst many others. Individuals may experience certain symptoms when their intake of the vitamins is inadequate and severity of symptoms may depend on the level of deficiency. Such symptoms include weakness, tiredness, or light-headedness, palpitations, shortness of breath, pale skin, smooth tongue, constipation, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, bloating, numbness or tingling, muscle weakness, depression, confusion, nausea, anaemia, susceptibility to infections, skin rashes, birth defects in babies (especially those whose mothers had folate deficiency) among others.
Vitamin C also known as ascorbic acid and it is required to produce neurotransmitters and collagen. It promotes wound healing (helps with tissue repair), boosts immunity and helps the body to absorb iron. It also has some antioxidant properties. Sources of vitamin C includes fruits and vegetables such as oranges, grapes, lemons, bell peppers, broccoli, kiwi, strawberries, cantaloupe, potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower, papaya, Brussels sprouts, blueberries, raspberries, kale, parsley, spinach, blackcurrants, guavas and cherries to mention a few. Some common symptoms of vitamin C deficiency include bleeding gums, easy bruising and recurrent infections, poor(slow) wound healing, dry skin, weight gain, tiredness, scurvy and anaemia among others.
Fat soluble vitamins do not dissolve in water and are stored in fatty tissues as well as in the liver. They include vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K.
Vitamin A consists of a group of organic compounds which includes retinol, retinal, retinoic acid, beta-carotene amongst others. It is very essential for optimal growth and development, maintaining a strong immune system (helps the body fight infections), as well as for good vision (with night vision). It also helps in keeping the skin and linings of some parts of the body healthy. Vitamin A also assists in cell growth and differentiation, as it plays a crucial role in the normal formation and maintenance of the vital organs in the body like the heart, lungs, kidneys, among other organs. As with other nutrients, it has its recommended daily intake value to avoid deficient or excessive intake which both have consequences on the health of an individual. Sources of vitamin A include Cod liver oil, eggs(hard boiled), dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, carrots, fortified breakfast cereals and milk, beef liver, lamb liver, liver sausage, goat cheese, butter, cheddar, feta cheese, sweet potatoes, kale, sweet red pepper, lettuce, mango, cantaloupe, watermelon, papaya, apricot tangerine, guava, passion fruit, tuna, yogurt and tomatoes to mention a few. Deficiency of vitamin A could lead to night blindness, Xerophthalmia (from keratinization of the eyes-involves drying and thickening of the conjunctivae and corneas), keratomalacia (in advanced cases). Drying, scaling, and thickening of the skin and respiratory infections may also occur. Immunity is usually generally impaired in vitamin A deficiency. Growth retardation and infections are common findings in children and death may be a complication of vitamin deficiency.
Health quote of the week “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”–Benjamin Franklin