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Micronutrients and their importance for our health

You want to be fit, healthy and full of energy? Micronutrients are the key to countless metabolic processes in our body.

All substances that our organism needs for development, health and growth are called nutrients. Most of them are absorbed through food, some substances can be produced by our body itself.

Nutrients are divided into two groups, macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are our suppliers of calories and are absorbed through food, these include fats, carbohydrates and protein. 

Micronutrients, on the other hand, do not provide energy in the form of calories, but are responsible for the growth and development of tissues, as well as the regulation of metabolism. They can be ingested through food, or produced by our body. 

Micronutrients are divided into the following groups:

-Vitamins

-Minerals

-Secondary plant substances

-Amino acids

-Essential fatty acids

Vitamins - important for a functioning metabolism

75% of the western population does not get the recommended daily ration of vitamins. The human body needs 13 different vitamins, which are involved in a variety of processes. New important findings about vitamins are constantly being published, and it remains exciting whether a new vitamin will be discovered.

Almost all vitamins are essential, i.e. they must be taken in with food and are relevant for our survival. Exceptions are vitamin D, which can be produced by the skin through sunlight, and vitamin K, which can be produced by intestinal bacteria.

Vitamins can be divided into two groups, fat-soluble vitamins and water-soluble vitamins. They are distinguished by the way they are absorbed, stored, transported and excreted.

Fat-soluble vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E and K. They are stored in the liver and in fatty tissue. Since fats contained in food ensure better absorption of these vitamins, a low-fat diet can lead to a deficiency. During food preparation, fat-soluble vitamins are quite resistant and are not destroyed when food is heated.

Vitamin A (retinol) can either be absorbed through food or formed in the small intestine wall from beta-carotene (precursor of vitamin A), stored in the liver and bound to protein for transport in the blood. It has the following functions in the human body: contribution to the process of vision, building and maintenance of the skin and mucous membrane as well as bone, cartilage tissue and teeth, defense against infection, function as a growth factor, contribution to reproduction and as a carotenoid (antioxidant effect).

Vitamin D (calciferols) has a special position among vitamins, as it can be formed by the body itself with the help of sunlight. This vitamin is thus also referred to as a hormone. Vitamin D is needed for maintaining the calcium-phosphate balance. According to the latest scientific findings, it also plays an important role in the regulation of our genes. It is particularly relevant for our immune system.

Vitamin E (tocopherols, tocotrienols) includes a total of eight natural compounds. The most important form for humans is tocopherol, which accounts for 90%. It is stored primarily in fatty tissue and in the adrenal glands and is excreted in the stool. The forms of vitamin E are effective as antioxidants and thus protect cells from the influence of free radicals. For its function as a free radical scavenger, it is incorporated into the cell membrane. Other functions of vitamin E are inhibition of inflammation, support of the immune system, neuroprotection, and it is also an anticarcinogen and thus forms protection against tumor cells.

There are about 100 combinations of vitamin K (phylloquinon K1, menaquinon K2) , but only vitamin K1 and K2 are relevant for humans. Vitamin K1 can be absorbed through nutrition, vitamin K2, however, is produced by intenstinal bacteria. In the human body, vitamin K is being used in the production of a protein which contributes to blood clotting. Furthermore, vitamin K influences bone building and bone metabolism.

Water-soluble vitamins

Do you eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day?

Water-soluble vitamins, as the name suggests, dissolve in water and can only be stored in the body to a very limited extent. Thus they must be continuously supplied through food or dietary supplements.

They are also less resistant to processing and storage than fat-soluble vitamins. Here it is important to supply fresh and gently processed fruits and vegetables. They can hardly be overdosed, since the excess is excreted by the kidneys through the urine.

Vitamin B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cobalamin), niacin, pantothenic acid, folic acid, biotin and vitamin C (ascorbic acid).

Vitamin B1 is involved in the utilization of carbohydrates for energy production, and is also of particular importance for the heart muscle and the brain. It also influences the regeneration of the nervous system after illnesses. We need to take vitamin B1 regularly because we cannot store it well.

Vitamin B2 plays a central role in metabolism. Cells need it to obtain energy from carbohydrates, fats and proteins. The elderly, patients with chronic diseases and alcoholics may be undersupplied.

Vitamin B3 (niacin) In the body, coenzymes are formed from the forms of vitamin B3, nicotinamide and nicotinic acid. In this form, niacin plays a central role in energy metabolism, protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism. In addition, it provides for the regeneration of our body, as it leads to the recovery of nerves, muscles, skin and our DNA. Niacin is needed for the function of our nerves and the building of various neurotransmitters in the brain (e.g. serotonin). It improves the ability to concentrate and our memory, as it promotes the formation of neurotransmitters.

Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) in food is pantothenic acid mainly in bound form as coenzyme A. Vitamin B5 is involved in many metabolic and catabolic processes. It is involved in carbohydrate, fat and amino acid metabolism and has an essential function in the entire energy metabolism. It is needed for the formation of connective tissue, hair, nails and mucous membranes. It is also required for the production of steroids and neurotransmitters.

Vitamin B6 is involved in the breakdown and formation of amino acids - the building blocks of protein. It contributes to the building of muscles and is relevant for the formation of messenger substances in the brain.

Vitamin B7 (biotin) promotes hair growth and has a positive effect on the skin. It is involved in numerous metabolic processes and the nervous system. Biotin is present in the blood mainly in bound form. As a coenzyme, it activates various enzymes and is thus involved in the formation of fatty acids, the breakdown of amino acids and the formation of cholesterol and sugar. It promotes the growth of blood cells, sebaceous glands, skin, hair and nerve tissue.

Vitamin B12 participates in many metabolic processes, especially in the formation of red blood cells and in the protection and function of the nervous system and brain. Since we absorb vitamin B12 almost exclusively through foods of animal origin, supplementation is recommended for vegetarians and vegans.

Vitamin C protects cells from free radicals and supports the immune system. It is also needed for the formation of connective tissue, cartilage, bones and teeth. It improves iron absorption from plant foods.

Folic acid is of great importance in cell division and embryonic development. Folic acid is also relevant in protein metabolism and in the formation of red blood cells.

Minerals - building blocks of our body structures

Minerals are vital, inorganic nutrients. The body cannot produce them itself, so they have to be ingested through food. They fulfill various functions in our body, as building blocks of body structures, for maintaining the water balance, for building various substances, for converting organic compounds and as stimulus conductors for the nerves.

Depending on their occurrence, minerals are divided into bulk elements and trace elements and must be supplied to the body on a daily basis. Essential bulk elements are calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium.

Trace elements occur in the human body in low concentrations and must therefore be taken in only small quantities. Trace elements include iron, zinc, selenium, copper, iodine, manganese and molybdenum.

Secondary plant compounds - they provide the color in our foods

How did the rule of thumb come about: eat a rainbow every week?

Different fruits and vegetables contain different micronutrients. The color-providing components can be classified here in the group of secondary plant compounds. According to current knowledge, these do not count as essential nutrients, but they are involved in a large number of metabolic processes. A large number of health-promoting effects of secondary plant compounds have been researched.

According to the German Society for Nutrition (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung e.V.), 100,000 different plant substances are known to date, of which 5,000 - 10,000 are contained in our foods.

The secondary plant compounds are divided into different groups based on their chemical structure and functional properties: Polyphenols, carotenoids, glucosinolates, phytoestrogens, sulfides, saponins, monoterpenes, protease inhibitors, phytosterols and lectins. Chlorophyll and phytic acid do not belong to any group and stand alone.

Green fruits and vegetables, for example, contain a lot of chlorophyll. From the group of flavonoids, anthocyanins are known to color berries violet or blue. Red fruits contain lycopene and orange ones contain β-carotenoids, from the group of carotenoids.

Amino acids the building blocks of our proteins

You pay attention to a protein-rich diet, or want to avoid a deficiency? Then you are certainly interested in amino acids?

Amino acids are complicated organic compounds and the building blocks of our proteins. They are essential components of our food and indispensable for biochemical processes. Amino acids can be divided into two groups. Essential amino acids, i.e. the body cannot produce them itself and they must be supplied through food. And non-essential amino acids, which the body produces itself or forms from other amino acids. In the human body they are involved in many important bodily functions, such as muscle and tissue formation, growth and for a variety of metabolic processes.

20 different amino acids are important building blocks of the body's proteins, they are called proteinogenic amino acids. Over 250 different amino acids do not occur in proteins and fulfill other tasks. They are referred to as non-proteinogenic amino acids.

Lysine is found in cereals and has a balancing effect on the immune system. It is also relevant for the formation of carnitine.

Phenylalanine, together with tyrosine, forms the hormones adrenaline and thyroxine.

Tryptophan is responsible for protein synthesis in the liver. It produces the happiness hormone serotonin and the sleep hormone melatonin.

Methionine, together with cysteine, represents the main source of sulfur from food.

Cysteine is relevant in case of methionine deficiency, since it is formed from methionine. It promotes cartilage formation, has anti-inflammatory as well as analgesic effects. It also prevents fat breakdown in the liver. It is responsible for building tissue, hair and nails.

Histidine provides tissue building, especially in infants.

Arginine is responsible for the excretion of ammonia in urine. It improves blood circulation in the vessels and protects against cardiovascular diseases and impotence.

Serine is relevant for kidney function.

Tyrosine is necessary for premature babies and in phenylalanine deficiency.

Double phenylalanine is instrumental in human nitrogen metabolism. Is relevant to produce neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine.

Proline is found in connective tissue and collagen and is formed from glutamine.

Glutamine and glutamic acid are found in blood plasma and spinal fluid. Glutamine also provides firm skin, strengthens the immune system, counteracts stress and sleep disorders.

What are essential fats - and how good is a low-fat diet?

If you eat a low-fat diet, the intake of essential fatty acids is particularly important for you. A deficiency usually occurs with this type of diet.

The two essential fatty acids omega-6 fatty acid (linoleic acid) and omega-3 fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid) are vital and provide for the elasticity of your cells, regeneration of the muscles, production of hormones, cell renewal and support the immune system.

The right mixing ratio is important here, it should be 5:1 omega-6 to omega-3. Especially since both fatty acids are incorporated into the cell membrane and omega-6 fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids can displace. Excessive levels of omega-6 fatty acids can lead to increased levels of inflammation and resulting disease. With a low-fat diet, all the more attention should be paid to the correct ratio of fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which support normal heart function. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) also supports vision and brain function.

What are essential fats - and how good is a low-fat diet?

If you eat a low-fat diet, the intake of essential fatty acids is particularly important for you. A deficiency usually occurs with this type of diet.

The two essential fatty acids omega-6 fatty acid (linoleic acid) and omega-3 fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid) are vital and provide for the elasticity of your cells, regeneration of the muscles, production of hormones, cell renewal and support the immune system.

The right mixing ratio is important here, it should be 5:1 omega-6 to omega-3. Especially since both fatty acids are incorporated into the cell membrane and omega-6 fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids can displace. Excessive levels of omega-6 fatty acids can lead to increased levels of inflammation and resulting disease. With a low-fat diet, all the more attention should be paid to the correct ratio of fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which support normal heart function. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) also supports vision and brain function.

How can a micronutrient deficiency occur?

A balanced diet should help to cover the need for vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fats. A varied diet with a high proportion of fresh, preferably organic fruits and vegetables is also important here. But also herbs, nuts, seeds and mushrooms contain the important micronutrients.

Due to intensive, monocultural agriculture, arable soils are depleted. Thus, the concentration of mineral density in our food decreases.

Our diet can have a further negative effect toward micronutrient deficiency. Ready-to-eat meals are often consumed, only 12% of all farms are organic, and the consumption of fruits and vegetables in Germany is only 289 grams, instead of the 400 grams recommended by the WHO.

These factors can lead to the following common deficiency symptoms:

  • poor sleep,

  • tiredness and fatigue,

  • problems with digestion,

  • impure skin,

  • lack of energy and lack of concentration,

  • psychological issues all the way to depression

  • nervousness and restlessness,

  • headaches,

  • joint and muscle pain and

  • inflammations

How can high-quality dietary supplements be recognized?

For quite some time now, there has been a discussion in the medical community about the usefulness of dietary supplements. Many points of criticism are related to the quality of the preparations which are to be classified as unsuitable due to poor dosage, vitamins in non-bioavailable form, non-active minerals or due to inexpensive raw materials as well as unnecessary fillers.

You can recognize high-quality dietary supplements by the following points:

  • Bioavailable ingredients

  • Optimal coordination of the substances and a sensible dosage

  • Without fillers and flowing substances

  • Vegan or vegetarian if possible

  • Free from allergens.

Micronutrients: Conclusion

  • Micronutrients are of high importance for the optimal functioning of our body.

  • Micronutrients are essential for our health and the whole organism.

  • They are divided into two groups: Quantitative elements occur in greater concentrations and must be supplied accordingly in larger quantities daily. Trace elements, on the other hand, are only found in small concentrations.

  • Micronutrients are largely absorbed through food, because the human body cannot produce them itself. However, there are a few exceptions, these can be produced by our body itself.

  • Our diet alone often can not meet the need for micronutrients, because in the meantime some factors negatively affect the content in food.

  • The quality of food supplements differs drastically.