Nutritional science has made such wonderful advances in the last 10 years, and we're now able to give people much more power to control their health destiny
William Li, M.D.
Micronutrients, as previously discussed, are chemical elements/substances required in small amounts for normal functioning. Micronutrient deficiencies can manifest in a large array of symptoms and are often attributed to other health issues or even simply lifestyle factors, making it easy for a deficiency to go unnoticed.
The Role of Vitamins in the Body
The role of vitamins in the body is essential to our existence. They are responsible for maintaining a large amount of essential functions from regulating blood pressure, balancing hormones, and maintaining healthy bones, to energy production, DNA repair, and metabolism.
Below, we identify key micronutrients and their critical roles to help you develop an in-depth understanding of them and to showcase just how far-reaching and complex the impact of your dietary choices can be.
Essential Vitamins and Their Role as Key Micronutrients
Symptom of Deficiency
Pellagra (condition that causes):
Vitamin E OVERDOSE:
Vitamin E DEFICIENCY:
This vitamin is fat soluble which means it is absorbed in the small intestines and stored in the liver and the body’s fat deposits. Water soluble vitamins, on the other hand, are easily absorbed into the body and when consumed in excess, will be secreted instead of stored. Vitamin A helps to maintain teeth, skeletal tissue, mucus membranes, and the skin. It also produces pigment in the eye. Night blindness is typically the first symptom of a deficiency.
Also known as thiamine, vitamin B1 supports brain and central nervous functioning. It is also a significant contributor to proper digestion. Loss of reflexes and numbness in the extremities are associated with deficiency.
Referred to as riboflavin, B2 breaks down macronutrients and maintains the body’s energy supply. Deficiencies are characterized by weakness/fatigue, dry skin around the nose and mouth, and skin rashes.
Vitamin B3, or niacin, has two forms: nicotinic acid (used to treat high cholesterol and heart disease), and niacinamide (used to treat type 1 diabetes, skin conditions, and schizophrenia). Symptoms of a deficiency, when severe, can include pellagra, a condition associated with skin inflammation, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, and fatigue.
Pyridoxine, a lesser-known name for vitamin B6, is needed for healthy brain development in children and to support overall function in all individuals. It aids in the production of the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine.
A deficiency can lead to seborrheic dermatitis, cracked or sore lips, sore or glossy tongue, mood changes, weakened immune system, tiredness or low energy levels, tingling and pain in the extremities, and seizures.
An essential nutrient that must be consumed through food sources or supplements, vitamin B12 assists in keeping the nerve and blood cells healthy and contributes to the creation of DNA. B12 is essential in preventing megaloblastic anemia, in which the bone marrow produces abnormal and unusually large red blood cells, causing weakness and tiredness.
B12 requires intrinsic factor, also referred to as gastric intrinsic factor (GIF), a glycoprotein produced in the stomach, to be absorbed. A deficiency can produce a series of significant symptoms, ranging from tiredness, weakness, and constipation, to weight loss, nerve problems, depression, confusion, balance issues, and anemia.
B7 or biotin, like other B vitamins, helps convert food into energy. It is even more important during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as it plays a crucial role in fetal development. Biotin is also known for its ability to support healthy nails, skin, and hair. A deficiency is extremely rare. A deficiency in the enzyme biotinidase is considered a metabolic disorder in which biotin cannot be released from proteins during digestion. It can lead to more than 140 different genetic defects.
Folate, or vitamin B9, is often seen in its synthetic form, folic acid. Because folic acid has a better bioavailability in the body, it is often used in processed foods and supplements. It is an important contributor for developing red blood cells and also aids in the synthesis and repair of DNA and RNA. Deficiencies, while rare, most often lead to some form of anemia.
Also known as pantothenate or pantothenic acid, vitamin B5 is necessary for red blood cell production and metabolizing food/macronutrients. Symptoms of a deficiency are similar to those seen in B6 and B3.
Vitamin C: Sometimes referred to as ascorbic acid, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant which protects cells against free radicals, which are produced when we convert food into energy and are also found throughout the environment. Deficiencies are rare. It is believed that vitamin C can help prevent immune deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, prenatal issues, eye diseases, and skin wrinkling.
Vitamin D: This vitamin is available in two forms, D3 and D2. D3 is better absorbed and utilized by the body and is, therefore, more commonly seen. The body also requires vitamin D to absorb calcium and promote bone growth. It is also required for adequate hormone functioning. A deficiency would lead not only to weak, softer bones (a condition called Rickets in children), but can also lead to breast, colon, and prostate cancer.
Other complications associated with vitamin D deficiencies include heart disease, depression, and weight gain. Our bodies can produce vitamin D but only with adequate sunlight exposure. It is therefore essential to ensure you are taking in enough vitamin D through diet or supplementation, if necessary, or if living in a northern state where there is limited sun exposure.
A powerful antioxidant which can reduce free radical damage and slow the aging process of cells, vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be found in foods such as seeds, nuts, leafy greens, oils, and swordfish. It may also protect the skin against aging, inflammation, and sun damage.
Potential side effects of a vitamin E overdose include diarrhea, headache, fatigue and weakness, blurry vision, and problems with the reproductive organs. A deficiency can cause disorientation and vision problems as well as muscle weakness.
An often-underrated vitamin, K is essential for blood clotting and reverses arterial stiffness by preventing the calcium buildup that causes it. A vitamin K deficiency can cause easy bruising, excessive bleeding, heavy periods, GI bleeding, and increased prothrombin time (a measure of how quickly your blood clots). Vitamin K is found in many leafy green vegetables as well as fish, liver, meat, and eggs.
Role of Minerals as Micronutrients
Symptom of Deficiency
A mineral essential for the development and health of bones and teeth, calcium also plays vital roles in cell signaling, blood clot formation, and muscle/nerve functioning. A deficiency in the mineral, known as hypocalcemia, could lead to a vast array of symptoms such as confusion, muscle spasms and cramps, numbness and tingling in the extremities, depression, hallucinations, weak and brittle nails, and bones that fracture easily.
While most dairy foods are rich in calcium, they aren’t the only source of it. Calcium can also be found in seafood, leafy greens, legumes, certain fruits, and even dairy substitutes such as almond milk.
Another mineral, magnesium, facilitates more than 300 different chemical reactions in the body. It is important for regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. It also contributes to the development of bones, proteins, and DNA. A magnesium deficiency can lead to muscle twitches or cramping, mental disorders, osteoporosis, fatigue and muscle weakness, high blood pressure, asthma, and irregular heartbeat.
Foods containing high amounts of magnesium include leafy greens, fruits, nuts and seeds, legumes, and seafood. There are many variations of magnesium supplements, so it is recommended to speak with a health professional to determine which is best for you.
This mineral supports the formation of connective tissue, bones, blood clotting factors, and sex hormones. It can also be a contributor in fat and carbohydrate metabolism. Manganese could also play a role in calcium absorption, blood sugar regulation, and normal brain and nerve functioning.
Deficiency symptoms include poor bone growth or skeletal defects, slow/impaired growth, low fertility, impaired glucose tolerance, and abnormal fat/carbohydrate metabolism. Manganese is found in whole grains, nuts, leafy green vegetables, and tea.
Zinc is a mineral which is required by the immune system for proper functioning but also plays a role in cell division and growth, wound healing, carbohydrate breakdown, and hormone function. In addition, zinc supports the senses of smell and taste. Some symptoms of a deficiency may be acne, eczema, xerosis, seborrheic dermatitis, and alopecia. It can also impair vision as well as the sense of smell and taste, immune function, appetite, and cognitive function.
Zinc is found in meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds, nuts, dairy, eggs, and whole grains. When supplementing with zinc, it is critical to avoid overdose. When taken in excess, zinc can suppress copper and iron absorption and may also lead to nausea and vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea, cholesterol issues, and flu-like symptoms.
A metal/mineral that is incorporated into proteins and metalloenzymes to support essential body functions, copper is used in conjunction with iron to form red blood cells. It also maintains healthy bones, blood vessels, nerves, and immune function while simultaneously supporting iron absorption. It is suspected that consuming ample copper may aid in preventing cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, which is no surprise given its function in the domains of the body affected by those conditions.
Some symptoms of a deficiency include weakness and fatigue, frequent sickness, weak or brittle bones, memory and learning impairment, pale skin, difficulty walking, and premature gray hair. Copper can be found in oysters and other shellfish, beans, nuts, potatoes, dark leafy greens, and dried fruit, such as prunes. Like zinc, however, it can be dangerous if consumed in excess. If used as a supplement, it is important to take copper in safe amounts.
The Importance of Vitamins and Minerals as Micronutrients
The role of micronutrients is often overlooked, since macronutrients receives so much of the world’s attention in regard to nutrition and weigh loss. However, the severity of symptoms caused by deficiencies, and sometimes vitamins or minerals taken in excess, can be the reason you can’t achieve optimal health.
Micronutrient food allergy testing through Cenegenics can give you the boost you need to meet your personal goals. Performed under the direction of a clinician, this blood analysis tests for 35 vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and amino acids inside the body, which are important to its optimal functioning. Don’t let a simple imbalance, caused by a food allergy or fad diet, get in the way of your personal health goals!
Next Steps in Understanding The Role of Micronutrients
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About the Contributor
Austin Zechman MS, CSCS
Nutrition & Exercise Counselor at Cenegenics Dallas
Originally from Pennsylvania, Austin has a Bachelor’s degree in health science from Lock Haven University and a Master’s Degree in Exercise Science from Bloomsburg University. He has completed Strength and Conditioning Internships at Pennsylvania State University and the University at Buffalo working with multiple sports teams including football. His research interests are different nutritional concepts, training methods, and supplements.
This guide was produced with contributions from the following key resources:
The Cenegenics Education and Research Foundation
The Textbook of Age Management Medicine Volume 1: Mastering Healthy Aging Nutrition, Exercise and Hormone Replacement Therapy
Jeffrey Park Leake, M.D., CPT
Dr. Jeffrey Park Leake is a Partner and Director of Education at Cenegenics Elite Health specializing in age management and wellness. Having trained hundreds of physicians worldwide, Dr. Leake is also the Director of Education for the Clinical Strategies for Healthy Aging course at AMM Educational Foundation.
Todd David Greenberg, M.D., CSCS
Dr. Todd Greenberg is a practicing physician with a broad range of expertise, including wellness, exercise, sports injuries, and MRI of sports injuries. He is a Radiology Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Washington.