Micronutrients - What are they, Why are they important, and How can you find out if you have enough?

When people are looking to improve their health, they tend to focus on items such as portion size, the number of calories, or the amount of carbohydrates, fat, or protein in a food. These things may be the most commonly known but are not the only pieces that make up your food that contribute to our health.

Carbohydrates, fat, and protein are known as the macronutrients. This means that they are the main, energy-contributing components that make up all of the food you eat.

For many, macronutrients are likely to be a familiar concept. As consumers of both food and media, you have likely heard about low carb diets or fat-free options. In the health and fitness world, it is a popular practice to count macronutrients throughout the day in order to control weight.

However, in this blog post, I would like to share information about micronutrients, which hopefully in the coming years will get just as much, if not more, attention than macronutrients.

Micronutrients, like the macronutrients, are essential components of the foods you eat, however, you need these in very small, or micro amounts. Unlike carbohydrates, fat, and protein, micronutrients are consumed in amounts so small that they do not contribute any energy or calories.

How small?

Rather than measuring micronutrients in grams, they are measured in milligrams (0.001 gram) or micrograms (1x10^6 gram). The measurement largely depends on the specific micronutrient, what we need it for, and how easy it is to get.

There are many micronutrients that you might be familiar with such as vitamins and minerals. Your moms may have told you that vitamin C is essential for fighting off and preventing colds, or that you need iron to feed your blood. But is this true or was she just trying to get you to eat dinner? Also, where exactly do these micronutrients come from and how do they do such miraculous things?

When micronutrients get into your body from the foods you eat, they then participate in all kinds of important chemical reactions that keep you functioning on the day-to-day. Most often they function as cofactors, a type of helper molecule for chemical reactions.

They are involved in every single one of the body’s processes such as digestion, breathing, walking, and more. This makes them incredibly important, and it is crucial that you get enough of them. If not, you could experience some major consequences.

Micronutrient deficiencies occur when you do not get enough of a certain micronutrient, or your body cannot keep enough of it on hand. However, it can be very easy to develop micronutrient deficiencies without even knowing it!

Some micronutrient deficiencies are more common than others. Here are some of the most common micronutrient deficiencies for Americans: (click on the right side of this image to see the next images)

There are many more micronutrients than those that are shown here. Depending on the specific micronutrient, the prevalence of deficiency can vary in frequency from exceedingly rare to very common.

An individual’s risk of micronutrient deficiency can depend on many factors such as genetics, geographic location, cultural and food behaviors, socioeconomic status, and more.

Micronutrient deficiencies can occur for a variety of reasons. As mentioned above, not only is low intake of micronutrients a potential cause, but so too is the inability of your body to keep the vitamin or mineral on hand.

In some cases there might even be an underlying cause such as a disease or genetic condition that can cause you to run low on a specific nutrient as a result. Sometimes these things can even block your ability to take in micronutrients from the foods you eat.

Another potential and common cause of micronutrient deficiency is nutrient-drug interactions. These can be caused by prescription or over-the-counter drugs, medicines, or supplements. In these cases, the drug may interact with specific foods you eat or the nutrient in your body. This may cause depletion of micronutrient stores, prevent you from taking in micronutrients, or cause you to excrete them.

Some drug classes that might impact nutrient status include and are not limited to:

  • Antacids or ulcer medications

  • Antibiotics/Anti-fungal medications

  • Statin or other cholesterol-related drugs

  • Antidepressants

  • Female Hormone Replacement Therapies

  • Anticonvulsants

  • Anti-inflammatories

  • Diuretics

  • Cardiovascular drugs

  • Diabetic drugs

  • Antiviral agents

  • Oral hormonal contraceptives

If you are currently taking medications, you can estimate your risk of micronutrient deficiency using MyTavin. This is a free online calculator, created by a doctor, that allows you to put in specific medications or supplements and it will show you any nutrients that might be affected.

If you have nutrients show up on MyTavin, it's important that you don't just start a supplement, but rather that you schedule an appointment with a functional nutrition dietitian. This is just a general calculator, and a functional nutrition dietitian will better be able to look at your full chart to make sure to create a safe and appropriate supplement plan for you, to help you feel better.

Micronutrient deficiencies may or may not cause noticeable signs and symptoms. It may be difficult to determine whether symptoms are from micronutrient deficiencies or something else entirely, especially if you are not a qualified nutrition professional.

Oswald Digestive Clinic offers a variety of functional lab testing for our clients. Our most commonly used lab panels are organic acid testing, stool testing, micronutrient testing, and food sensitivity testing.

Spectracell Laboratories Inc. is the lab that does our micronutrient testing. Using a blood sample, they are able to measure up to 35 different nutrients in the body. Rather than just looking at the amount of each nutrient present in the serum, or blood fluid, they zoom in to look at how the nutrients are functioning inside the white blood cells. This allows their specialists to have a more complete picture of nutrient status!

Back at Oswald Digestive Clinic, we use the reported results from Spectracell Laboratories to determine a personalized nutrition plan to help you best get what your body needs. We take into account all the potential risks for micronutrient deficiency. Action steps could include making changes to the food you eat, taking supplements, and more. We often begin by replacing your low levels for 6 months and then transition to maintaining those levels from the food you eat. We had one women get rid of her severe anxiety, in large part due to replacing her low levels of nutrients that all have research showing their importance in preventing anxiety.

If you are interested in micronutrient testing or would like to find out what might be causing your mysterious symptoms, you can schedule a free Gut Health call here

Do you take hormonal oral contraceptives? If you are interested in learning more about how your birth control can affect your nutrient status, check out our recent blogpost The Role of Birth Control in Nutrient Depletion.

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