Published on May 7th, 2013 | by Joe Starks0
Know Your Substances: Micronutrients
We all know our macronutrients fat, proteins and carbohydrates. We need a lot of them to stay alive and we can’t easily skip any of these without some ill effect on our health; but what about micronutrients? How much do we need those mysterious substances and why do we need them? What are they? These are all valid questions in a time where people get bombarded with fancy scientific words rather than with pure knowledge. The moment you know about your body’s needs you will become better at taking care of yourself. So let’s answer some questions in a simple and understandable way. (No fancy bamboozlement here!)
What are micronutrients?
Micronutrients are substances which our body absolutely needs to stay healthy, but it only needs them in small amounts in comparison to macronutrients. The two main groups of micronutrients our body needs are minerals and vitamins.
Vitamins in general are (usually) complex substances our body needs to function properly. There are thirteen important vitamins we need to get in sufficient quantities to avoid illness. These are:
- Vitamin K, which protects us from bleeding too much when we get injured
- Vitamin A, which protects our eyes mainly but also keeps most of our tissues healthy
- Vitamin C, which helps us form collagen to heal wounds and helps us also absorb iron
- Vitamin D, which helps us absorb phosphorus and Calcium
- Vitamin E, which keeps us fertile
- The B vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12, which keep all sorts of our body’s functions working properly
Minerals are inorganic, dense substances with a steady and typical molecular form. Most minerals are inedible and some are even poisonous, but a few special minerals are absolutely necessary for our bodies. These minerals can be further split into macro-minerals and trace minerals, depending how much you need of them. Note that both macro and trace minerals are micronutrients, because you still need a lot less of them then you need –for instance, protein.
The macro minerals our body needs are:
- Calcium, which keeps bones dense and muscle moving
- Chloride, which we need for cell functionality
- Magnesium, without it no organism’s cells could exist because it is part of nucleic acids (it is part of our DNA to put it simply)
- Phosphorus, also needed for DNA and RNA
- Potassium, helps our neurons function (neurons are our nervous system’s pathways)
- Sodium, is part of all cells
The trace minerals we need are:
- Copper, helps organs function properly and keeps our metabolism working
- Iodine, keeps out thyroid working which leads to a healthy metabolism
- Manganese, is part of many enzymes
- Molybdenum, is part of the active cite of certain enzymes
- Zinc, is part of over a hundred enzymes
- Selenium, helps regulate our body’s antioxidant enzymes
- Iron, forms part of our red blood cells
There are other minerals that have been suggested to be essential or useful under certain circumstances. These are:
- Boron, essential to utilize vitamin D
- Cobalt, part of vitamin B12 aka cobalamine
- Sulfur, which is part of all living cells
- Fluoride can prevent dental decay
- Strontium is involved in the utilization of Calcium in the body
- Elements like Arsenic, Silicon and Vanadium seem to have certain biological roles which occasionally are important
There are other types of nutrients considered essential micronutrients by some nutritionists and scientists. Some of those are the essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, so many consider amino acids a matter of macro nutrient intake. In our days where we can supplement amino acids many have come to consider them micronutrients separate from their protein mothers. Both notions are equally correct and it doesn’t change the fact that you absolutely need essential amino acids.
To determine how much you need of any micronutrient you should follow the daily recommended amounts lists, which have been compiled after thorough and rigorous studies on deficiencies and overdoses.
You can get too much of a good thing when it comes to micronutrients, so be very careful when you supplement and ask for a doctor’s advice first. It is extremely hard to overdose on micronutrients from food alone so there is no serious worry there. Fortified foods and supplements are the real reason people overdose and should be taken with caution. So be careful if –for example, your corn flakes are fortified, that you are not overdosing by taking additional supplements. People with balanced diets need no fortified foods or supplementations. A varied diet, which includes all food groups, will cover all your needs naturally.