Micronutrients are divided into two distinct families: vitamins and minerals. What are the differences and what are their roles in the body? Everything you need to know about them can be found in this article!
Macronutrients are well known: proteins, fats and carbohydrates. They represent the majority of our diet and have the main role of providing us with energy in the form of calories. Micronutrients, unlike macronutrients, are molecules that do not provide energy to the body but they remain essential to its proper functioning. They have the characteristic of being active at very low doses. Essentially, micronutrients are vitamins, minerals and trace elements.
Indeed, micronutrients intervene in all types of metabolic reactions that occur in the organism, through different synthesis pathways: i.e. in every cell of the body, including those of our brain.
Nonetheless, the risk with micronutrients is the unbalancing of the proper functioning of the body due to a deficiency or excess caused by a lack of intake or even assimilation. Here are some frequent signs that may be a sign of a potential deficiency: fatigue, severe stress, non-restorative sleep, difficulty falling asleep, irritability, difficulty digesting, headaches, permanent muscular tension, palpitations, …
Liposoluble vitamins are those found in fat-rich products because as their name indicates, they are soluble in fat. As a result, they are absorbed along with fat and then stored in our bodies. These vitamins include vitamins A, D, E and K.
Vitamin A exists in two different forms: retinol, which contributes to improved vision, and the more widely known beta carotene which acts as an antioxidant to slow down the aging of cells.
Vitamin D helps promote the fixation of calcium and phosphorus on the bones. Accordingly, it contributes to proper bone growth and ensures the maintenance of healthy bones and teeth.
Vitamin E is known for its powerful antioxidant effect. It also helps to lower the level of bad cholesterol in the blood, which further explains its preventive effect on cardiovascular disease.
Vitamin K mainly helps regulate the process of blood coagulation helping control the formation of blood clots. And like vitamin D, vitamin K promotes the fixation of calcium on the bones and therefore helps to fight against osteoporosis.
Water-soluble vitamins, unlike fat-soluble vitamins, are soluble in water. These vitamins are not stored in the body because any excess is eliminated thorugh urine. Water-soluble vitmains contain vitamin C and group B vitamins. All these vitamins belong to the same group but they have very different roles, essential for the proper functioning of our body.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. It helps reduce cellular aging and fatigue. It also helps promote the absorption of iron.
There are a large number of vitamins part of the B group, let’s start off with vitamin B1, thiamine. It works with carbohydrates helping transform absorbed carbohydrates into energy. Thianine also plays a key role in the liver working on alcohol’s trransformation.
Vitamin B2, riboflavin, is involved in every energy metabolism: that of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids. Its other main role is to produce red blood cells.
Vitamin B3, also called niacin, is involved in the synthesis of sex hormones and the proper functioning of the nervous system.
Vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid, is involved in the synthesis of cholesterol and therefore bile. It also allows the production of sex hormones and promotes the healing of wounds.
Vitamin B6, pyridoxine, promotes the transformation and assimilation of amino acids (the elements that make up a protein). Also, it participates in the maintenance of neurons.
Vitamin B8, called biotin, is involved in the manufacturing of hair cells (the hair) and epidermal cells (the skin). Another very specific function: vitamin B8 participates in epigenetic regulation which takes into account more than 2000 genes.
Vitamin B9, which is called folates or folic acid, is essential as it participates in the formation and division of cells whether at the level of the conception of a being, or throughout our lives. It also participates in the synthesis of DNA.
Vitamin B12, known as cobalamin, is also key as it allows the formation of hemoglobin and participates in the synthesis of DNA similarly to vitamin B9.
Minerals can be split into two families: major minerals, also called macroelements, and trace elements, called microelements. Major minerals are defined as such due to their high intake level: more than 100 mg per day. There are 7 different ones: magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chlorine and sulfur. On the other hand, trace elements are defined as such due to them being found in trace amounts (very small quantities). Indeed, they represent, together, less than 5g of the total body mass. There are 15 of them in total, with the main ones being iron, copper, fluorine, zinc, iodine, selenium, and chlorine.
The roles of these elements are numerous and they act at different levels throughout our organism.
- Minerals intervene at the level of the metabolism: they enter into the composition of our enzymes and hormones.
- They are also involved in the structure of the body: they play a key role in the constitution of teeth and bones.
- Minerals play an important role in the body’s functions: they contribute to the maintenance of heart rate, neuronal conductivity, muscle contraction and acid-base balance.
Of course, this is only a brief summary of the roles of each vitamin and mineral, as each have a larger number of roles. Our organism is a real little machine and our diet provides us with small and large soldiers, macro and micro nutrients. This is why we must not neglect our diet and make sure to provide our body with everything it needs thanks to a balanced and varied diet.
Article written by Romane Guerot, dietician at Foodvisor.