The 8 Micronutrients That Are Essential For Your Health
Our lives seen to become busier and more stressful over the years. However, our ability to handle lives stresses seems to decline as we age.
Though our own health and wellness gives us the reserves to live our lives as we would like to, we often find it hard to take time to consider how we can improve our own health and wellness.
One approach I like to take is to look at what I call our pillars of health and wellness, which determine are overall health. These pillars include sleep, activity, nutrition, stress management, social supports, and our spirituality. If we want to prevent illness and optimize health, we have to pay attention to each pillar.
“Our bodies require thousands of biochemical reactions to occur every second in order for our bodies to run efficiently.”
A biochemical reaction is the transformation of one molecule to a different molecule inside a cell. Biochemical reactions are regulated by enzymes (proteins), which are biological catalysts (dramatically speed up the rate of chemical reactions inside cells). Some enzymes cannot function unless they have a specific non-protein molecule attached to them. These are called cofactors (often minerals such as zinc, magnesium, iron, selenium or copper) or coenzymes (often vitamins such as B complex vitamins and Vitamin C).
Many hormones act by increasing the rate that the body produces enzymes or by switching enzymes on or off. So, in order to be healthy and optimize the pillars of health and wellness, we need our hormones to be well-balanced and we require the right types and blend of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) and micronutrients (e.g. minerals and vitamins).
“However, the food many Canadians are eating is not as nutritious as it once was.”
In Canada, our soils contain 85% less minerals than they did a century ago. This world-wide problem is leading to a recurrence of nutritional deficiencies and to the development of preventable disease. In addition, beginning in the 1970s, processed food has greatly increased the amount of simple carbohydrates that most people in the west are consuming.
Combine this with the development of national food guides produced by special interest groups intent on selling more grains, milk and sugar to the domestic population (not healthcare professionals) is now thought to be the cause of the explosion of obesity seen in Canada and other similar nations. Meanwhile, as we get older, our hormone levels tend to drop and hormone resistance increases also.
These changes make it much harder for most of us to optimize our pillars of health and wellness, and our health suffers in the form of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugars (even Diabetes), gaining weight and cardiovascular disease.
Common Nutritional Deficiencies Amongst Canadians
Health Canada tells us that the most common nutritional deficiencies amongst Canadians are Vitamin D3, Magnesium, Calcium, Zinc, and Vitamin A. Unbelievably, 10 to 90% of Canadians are now deficient in these micronutrients. In fact, Alberta Health Services no longer pays for physicians to order blood Vitamin D3 levels, because deficiencies amongst Albertans were so prevalent. So, why is this?
Vitamin D3: Vitamin D3 deficiency can be traced back to Alberta’s northern latitude. Vitamin D3 is formed by skin that has been exposed to sunshine. This is obviously limited during Alberta’s long, cold, dark winter months. Also, many of us do not spend as much time outdoors as we should. Interestingly, darkly pigmented skin (with more melanin) has more difficulty producing Vitamin D3 in response to the sun’s rays than lighter skin.
It is possible to receive Vitamin D3 by eating dairy products, cold-water fish, fish liver oils, and eggs. However, vegans, those who are intolerant to dairy products, those with gastro-intestinal problems (for example Coeliac Disease, Crohn’s Disease, or even gluten sensitivity and lactose intolerance) or those with poor diets are often deficient in Vitamin D3. The symptoms of Vitamin D3 deficiency include abnormal calcium metabolism (fragile or weak bones), depression, high blood pressure, and generalized muscle aches and pains.
Some researchers believe Vitamin D3 deficiency is involved in the development of Multiple Sclerosis, a progressive neurological disease.
Research indicates that Vitamin D3 also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, in addition to reducing insulin-resistance. It has been shown to decrease the chance of developing colorectal cancer considerably as well as the risk of falls in the elderly (and subsequent fractures).
“I recommend that adults consume 3000-5000 International Units of Vitamin D3 daily to ensure they meet their daily requirements.”
If it is lacking in the diet, supplements can be taken. Less Vitamin D3 is required in the summer, especially if people are outdoors a lot. Personally, I take Vitamin D3 year-round so I don’t forget to take it when our days get shorter again. If you could only take one nutritional supplement during your day, I recommend it be Vitamin D3.
Vitamin A: This vital micronutrient is found in a range of different foods including carrots, spinach, broccoli, milk, egg, liver and fish. It plays an essential role in vision (lack of Vitamin A is a common cause of blindness), reproduction and growth, and the functioning of a healthy immune system (it plays a key role in the development of white blood cells), and maintaining cellular communication. The current regulations are for 700 micrograms and 900 micrograms per day for women and men respectively (3000 micrograms as a maximum).
Omega 3 Fatty Acids: This extremely anti-inflammatory nutrient is typically found in cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines and tuna. They are also found in many nuts and seeds. Omega 3 Fatty Acids have been quite helpful in the treatment of inflammatory disorders such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and Asthma. It can also dramatically reduce triglyceride levels (a type of cholesterol). Many physicians also feel it is protective for depression and even dementia. The recommended daily intake is 1000 mg.
Calcium and Magnesium: These are essential minerals to the human body. Among their many functions, they are both vital to maintain a healthy bone matrix. These two trace minerals are also commonly deficient in Canadians according to Health Canada (in 30-90% of Canadians). For healthy bone growth we require adequate Calcium to be present in our diets. A normal balance of calcium to magnesium is 1000 mg Calcium to 500 mg of Magnesium. Vitamin D3 helps Calcium to move across the Gastro-intestinal wall into the blood stream. Once in the blood stream, Calcium is bound to proteins to carry it around the body.
Most Calcium goes to bone and enamel; however, some is transported to the kidneys and blood vessels. When Calcium is deposited within blood vessels walls or within the kidneys, it can cause Kidney stones and arterial narrowing. For this reason, daily Calcium supplementation should not exceed dietary recommendations.
Magnesium, not only is important for bone health but it is a muscle relaxant (useful for sleep or Restless Legs Syndrome), and it helps maintain healthy heart rhythm. It can reduce blood pressure, reduce insulin resistance and blood sugars, and prevent Migraine Headaches.
Zinc: This mineral is found in a range of foodstuffs including liver, eggs, nuts, cereals and seafood (including oysters). The absence of zinc is associated with a number of conditions including, short stature, anemia, impaired healing of wounds, poor testicle and ovary function, and impaired thinking and nerve function.
The recommended daily allowance is 25-50 mg. It can be useful to increase testosterone production, stimulate the immune system, decrease insulin resistance and it exerts an anti-inflammatory effect.
In addition to these above micronutrients, which have been identified by Health Canada as being of particular concern, there are two others you should be aware of:
Vitamin K2: The recent discovery of Vitamin K2 has added another important piece to Calcium metabolism. Through the activation of two enzymes Vitamin K2 removes Calcium from the extracellular spaces (where is unwanted-i.e. the kidney and blood vessels) and deposits it into the bony matrix and enamel. Vitamin K2 enters our diets primarily through the consumption of animals that have been fed on green (chlorophyll producing) plants. Unfortunately, the vast majority of our meat is now raised in industrial feed lots using factory farming techniques and using grain as food (supplemented by antibiotics and hormones to increase rate of growth and productivity). Thus, most of us can no longer acquire Vitamin K2 through our meat.
The Form of Vitamin K2 (also known as Menaquinone) which is most commonly used for supplementation is MK-7. This comes from plant sources; the recommended amount is 100-120 micrograms per day. Dietary sources of Vitamin K2 include egg yolks and high fat dairy products such as hard cheeses.
Also important in Calcium metabolism is Estrogen, which inhibits bone resorption (break down) and performing load-bearing exercise, which increases bone density and strengthens supporting soft tissue structures. So, it is easy to see how deficiencies in numerous micronutrients might affect Calcium metabolism and bone development, causing osteoporosis, fractures and potentially death.
Selenium: Selenium is a micronutrient, a mineral found in soil. It is a powerful anti-oxidant; some studies have demonstrated its effect on preventing Prostate cancer. Selenium has proven to be beneficial in normalizing thyroid function in those with auto-immune diseases such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or Grave’s Disease. It also increases the conversion of T4 (storage form) to T3 (the active form of thyroid hormone). It also has anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. It is found naturally in Brazil nuts and walnuts as well as fresh and salt-water fish. The recommended daily allowance of selenium is 100-300 micrograms per day, which would be met by eating two Brazil Nuts.
Turmeric: Turmeric is a spice that comes from the root of the turmeric plant, which is part of the ginger family. It is commonly used in Asian food and is best known to be the primary spice used to make curry. The active component in turmeric is a compound known as curcumin.
It has been demonstrated to be a potent anti-inflammatory which is believed to reduce the risk of developing inflammatory disorders such as atherosclerosis (inflammation of the arteries), Alzheimer’s Disease, Osteoarthritis, Hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), Diabetes and even Hay fever. Doses vary from disease to disease but are generally 500 mg once to three times daily.
People with a well-balanced diet, who avoid processed food, often require little supplementation. However, this information will help you to determine where your diet may be lacking as you attempt to strengthen the nutrition component of your pillars of health and wellness.
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