When I talk about micronutrients in my practice, not everyone knows what I’m referring to without a proper explanation. Micronutrients are nutritional factors that are essential for cell growth, division, key enzymatic functions and biochemical reactions in our body. Without them, pathways break down and a deficiency state and/or sickness can develop. These key micronutrients are, but are not limited to all of our vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and key metabolites.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey (NHANES), the CDC’s ongoing survey that addresses the health and nutritional status of the US population, the most common deficiencies are Vitamin B6, Vitamin D and Iron.
Vitamin B6 is essential for normal brain development and function, and is a cofactor in manufacturing the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine which affect mood; and melatonin, which regulates circadian rhythm. It is also a key metabolite in numerous enzymatic functions for protein metabolism. In conjunction with Vitamins B12 and Folate, Vitamin B6 serves to modulate circulating homocysteine levels, which is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Food sources include fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, potatoes, and bananas.
Vitamin D is necessary for many functions in the body, most notably bone health. Many studies have demonstrated a relationship between low vitamin D status and autoimmune diseases, including Type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus. Food sources are fatty fish, mushrooms, egg yolk, liver.
Iron is a key mineral the body needs to make hemoglobin, a substance in the blood that carries oxygen from the lungs to cells throughout the body. Iron is also an important part of many other proteins and enzymes needed by the body for normal growth and development. Severe cases of iron deficiency are often associated with tiredness and exhaustion. It is found in red meat, fish, poultry, lentils, beans, and dark leafy greens.
Given this information and our hurried lifestyles, it is not surprising, some of the most common micronutrient deficiencies we see in our practice are for the above nutrients as well as the B vitamins as a whole. Often called “stress vitamins”, they are: B1 (Thiamin), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenate), B6 (Pyridoxine), B12, Folate and Biotin (B7). Inositol is also a component of the B vitamin family. Crucial for neurological function, carbohydrate metabolism, immune system functioning and more, these vitamins are naturally found in whole grains and dark leafy greens. legumes, some meats and nuts or seeds. Consuming too many refined carbohydrates: think processed food/white flour products, will not only leave your diet lacking in these crucial vitamins, but the processes required to digest them will rob your body of its B vitamin stores as well. Where does this leave us and how do these deficiencies present themselves in everyday life?
Results of Micronutrient Deficiency
1. Thyroid Issues:
It is estimated that 4.6% of people 12 and older have thyroid conditions. The thyroid gland is reliant upon Vitamin D, Zinc and Selenium in particular to function effectively. Vitamin D is of special interest. Although categorized as a fat-soluble vitamin, it is technically a hormone our skin manufactures on its own when exposed to the sun. Many people are low in Vitamin D and this can present itself in a variety of conditions. Rich food sources already mentioned are fatty fish and egg yolks. Zinc is abundant in pumpkin seeds and grass fed beef, poultry and legumes, while Selenium is high in Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, cold water fish, garlic and liver.
2. Gut Issues:
L-Glutamine, Vitamin D, and Vitamin K are crucial for gut function. The healthier our intestinal tract is, the stronger our immune system will be. L-glutamine is a protein that is one of the primary fuel sources for the endothelial cells in our intestinal tract. Often it is depleted when there are issues with digestion, inflammatory gut disorders such as IBS, undetected food sensitivities, and autoimmune conditions. Rich sources of l-glutamine are meat products. Vitamin K is abundantly found in dark leafy greens.
3. Other Concerns:
Vegetarians need to be conscientious of more than just macronutrient intake and paying attention to adequate protein intake. There are essential micronutrients that are available in very limited quantities from plant products and must be supplemented. Of key concern is Vitamin B12, Carnitine, and Iron. Fish, meat, eggs and milk products are good sources of Vitamin B12 and Carnitine. Additional food sources of carnitine include fermented soybeans, asparagus, avocados and peanuts. The richest food sources of Iron include red meats, lentils, legumes and dark leafy greens.
Athletes have particular needs that the general population does not. Increased exercise and stress on the system translates into increased demand for micronutrients. Due to the oxidative and physical stress athletes put on their bodies, they have an increased need for B vitamins and antioxidants in particular. Very often glutathione is reduced. This antioxidant is crucial for reducing oxidative stress. Other key antioxidants include Vitamin C, E, Coenzyme Q10, Alpha Lipoic acid. Eating a whole foods diet rich in vegetables and all the colors of the rainbow will serve to increase all antioxidant levels. Ideally, we should all be consuming 5 or more servings of vegetables per day.
Testing for micronutrient status can be an essential part of a treatment plan in a variety of situations serving as guidance for appropriate dietary and supplemental protocols. It is always advised to consult with your practitioner prior to supplementing with specific nutrients.
Pauline is a board-certified Nutrition Specialist with 18 years of experience who is covered by most insurance plans. She practices at HART Acupuncture and Nutrition, 501 Farmington Ave., Farmington, CT. www.hartacu.com (860)284-4406. She creates customized nutritional and weight loss plans.