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What Role Do Micronutrients Play in the Body?

By Nicole Crawford

Although the body only requires a small amount of micronutrients, these important vitamins and minerals play a crucial role in overall health and wellness. Adequate micronutrient consumption is particularly important for young children, the elderly and pregnant women. Consult your doctor to determine whether you might benefit from a micronutrient supplement.

Identification

The term micronutrient actually refers to a broad list of vitamins and minerals. They are called micronutrients because the body only needs small amounts to function properly. Because micronutrients are found in a large variety of food sources, most people who live in developed countries obtain adequate amounts. However, some micronutrients, like vitamin A, are only found in a few food sources, resulting in more frequent deficiencies. According to the World Food Programme, approximately 2 billion people around the world suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, which include anemia, iodine deficiency disorder and vitamin A deficiency.

Function

Micronutrients play a crucial role in healthy growth and development. Calcium, for example, contributes to proper development of bones and teeth, and iodine is important for proper thyroid development. Other micronutrients, such as iron, contribute to metabolism and energy balance. Magnesium helps prevent heart disease by regulating the rhythm of heartbeats and muscular activity in the heart. Some micronutrients, like zinc, selenium and phosphorus play an important role in the regulation and activation of other micronutrients. For example, B-complex vitamins are better absorbed and assimilated by the body when combined with adequate levels of zinc.

Deficiency

When micronutrients are not consumed in adequate quantities, a variety of undesirable symptoms may develop. Iron deficiency, for example, may cause iron deficient anemia, which leads to fatigue and breathlessness. Iron deficient anemia is common in both developed and undeveloped countries. In some extreme cases, micronutrient deficiencies may lead to the development of chronic disease or disability. Vitamin A deficiency, for example, causes 250,000 to 500,000 children to become blind each year, according to the United Nations World Food Programme.

Sources

Ideally, a healthy and balanced diet that includes all of the food groups and meets daily calorie recommendations should provide adequate micronutrients for body functions. Micronutrients are present in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy products. If you find that you do not obtain enough of one or several micronutrients, a dietary supplement can help fill the gaps. However, bear in mind that whole food sources are always best, as emphasized in a 2005 study published in the "Proceedings of the Nutrition Society."

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