Micronutrients are one of the major groups of nutrients your body needs. They include vitamins and minerals.
Vitamins are necessary for energy production, immune function, blood clotting and other functions. Meanwhile, minerals play an important role in growth, bone health, fluid balance and several other processes.
What Are Micronutrients?
The term micronutrients is used to describe vitamins and minerals in general.
Macronutrients, on the other hand, include proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
Your body needs smaller amounts of micronutrients relative to macronutrients. That’s why they’re labeled “micro.”
Humans must obtain micronutrients from food since your body cannot produce vitamins and minerals — for the most part. That’s why they’re also referred to as essential nutrients.
Vitamins are organic compounds made by plants and animals which can be broken down by heat, acid or air. On the other hand, minerals are inorganic, exist in soil or water and cannot be broken down.
When you eat, you consume the vitamins that plants and animals created or the minerals they absorbed.
The micronutrient content of each food is different, so it’s best to eat a variety of foods to get enough vitamins and minerals.
An adequate intake of all micronutrients is necessary for optimal health, as each vitamin and mineral has a specific role in your body.
Vitamins and minerals are vital for growth, immune function, brain development and many other important functions.
Depending on their function, certain micronutrients also play a role in preventing and fighting disease.
Types and Functions of Micronutrients
Vitamins and minerals can be divided into four categories: water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins, macrominerals and trace minerals.
Regardless of type, vitamins and minerals are absorbed in similar ways in your body and interact in many processes.
Most vitamins dissolve in water and are therefore known as water-soluble. They’re not easily stored in your body and get flushed out with urine when consumed in excess.
While each water-soluble vitamin has a unique role, their functions are related.
For example, most B vitamins act as coenzymes that help trigger important chemical reactions. A lot of these reactions are necessary for energy production.
The water-soluble vitamins — with some of their functions — are:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine): Helps convert nutrients into energy.
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): Necessary for energy production, cell function and fat metabolism.
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): Drives the production of energy from food.
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): Necessary for fatty acid synthesis.
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): Helps your body release sugar from stored carbohydrates for energy and create red blood cells.
- Vitamin B7 (biotin): Plays a role in the metabolism of fatty acids, amino acids and glucose.
- Vitamin B9 (folate): Important for proper cell division.
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin): Necessary for red blood cell formation and proper nervous system and brain function.
- Vitamin C (ascorbic acid): Required for the creation of neurotransmitters and collagen, the main protein in your skin.
Fat-soluble vitamins do not dissolve in water.
They’re best absorbed when consumed alongside a source of fat. After consumption, fat-soluble vitamins are stored in your liver and fatty tissues for future use.
The names and functions of fat-soluble vitamins are:
- Vitamin A: Necessary for proper vision and organ function.
- Vitamin D: Promotes proper immune function and assists in calcium absorption and bone growth.
- Vitamin E: Assists immune function and acts as an antioxidant that protects cells from damage.
- Vitamin K: Required for blood clotting and proper bone development
Macrominerals are needed in larger amounts than trace minerals in order to perform their specific roles in your body.
The macrominerals and some of their functions are:
- Calcium: Necessary for proper structure and function of bones and teeth. Assists in muscle function and blood vessel contraction.
- Phosphorus: Part of bone and cell membrane structure.
- Magnesium: Assists with over 300 enzyme reactions, including regulation of blood pressure.
- Sodium: Electrolyte that aids fluid balance and maintenance of blood pressure (24).
- Chloride: Often found in combination with sodium. Helps maintain fluid balance and is used to make digestive juices.
- Potassium: Electrolyte that maintains fluid status in cells and helps with nerve transmission and muscle function.
- Sulfur: Part of every living tissue and contained in the amino acids methionine and cysteine.
Trace minerals are needed in smaller amounts than macrominerals but still enable important functions in your body.
The trace minerals and some of their functions are:
- Iron: Helps provide oxygen to muscles and assists in the creation of certain hormones.
- Manganese: Assists in carbohydrate, amino acid and cholesterol metabolism.
- Copper: Required for connective tissue formation, as well as normal brain and nervous system function.
- Zinc: Necessary for normal growth, immune function and wound healing.
- Iodine: Assists in thyroid regulation.
- Fluoride: Necessary for the development of bones and teeth.
- Selenium: Important for thyroid health, reproduction and defense against oxidative damage.
Health Benefits of Micronutrients
All micronutrients are extremely important for the proper functioning of your body.
Consuming an adequate amount of the different vitamins and minerals is key to optimal health and may even help fight disease.
This is because micronutrients are part of nearly every process in your body. Moreover, certain vitamins and minerals can act as antioxidants.
Antioxidants may protect against cell damage that has been associated with certain diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s and heart disease.
For example, research has linked an adequate dietary intake of vitamins A and C with a lower risk of some types of cancer.
Getting enough of some vitamins may also help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. A review of seven studies found that adequate dietary intake of vitamins E, C and A is associated with a 24%, 17% and 12% reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s, respectively.
Certain minerals may also play a role in preventing and fighting disease.
Research has linked low blood levels of selenium to a higher risk of heart disease. A review of observational studies found that the risk of heart disease decreased by 24% when blood concentrations of selenium increased by 50%.
Additionally, a review of 22 studies noticed that adequate calcium intake decreases the risk of death from heart disease and all other causes.
These studies suggest that consuming enough of all micronutrients — especially those with antioxidant properties — provides ample health benefits.
However, it’s unclear whether consuming more than the recommended amounts of certain micronutrients — either from foods or supplements — offers additional benefits.