7 Most Common Micronutrient Deficiencies and their Impact on Health Status

In past articles, I have written so much about nutrition and diet. This is because good nutrition is the bedrock of survival and development. Eat your fruits, vegetables, whole grain, quality protein, and healthy fats are the mantra. But why is nutrition so important to be the main focus?

Good nutrition means our bodies can function properly, are productive, and fall sick less often. On the other hand, a diet poor in nutrients increases the risk of diseases, mental malfunction, poor cognitive function, and low productivity.

Nutrition deficiencies broadly fall under two major categories, macronutrient and micronutrient malnutrition. A diet lacking macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) leads to protein-energy malnutrition and presents as stunting, wasting, and underweight. 


Micronutrient deficiency is the other form of malnutrition. Unlike energy-protein malnutrition, micronutrient deficiencies are not easily visible and are known as the ‘hidden hunger’. Micronutrient deficiencies have serious and sometimes irreversible consequences on the immune system with increased vulnerability to infectious disease, increased risk of chronic diseases, growth restriction, impaired brain development and functions, reduced cognitive function, poor school achievement, and low productivity in adulthood.

Causes of Micronutrient Deficiencies

Micronutrient deficiencies can result from the inadequate dietary composition. A poor diet that is low in nutrient density leads to insufficient nutrient intake predisposing to micronutrient deficiency. Micronutrient deficiency can also occur even where the diet is sufficient in nutrients due to malabsorption because of gastrointestinal infections, other diseases of digestion tracts, or inflammation rendering it impossible for the body to absorb the nutrients. 

At the same time, young children can acquire micronutrient deficiencies from maternal micronutrient inadequacy during pregnancy, inappropriate feeding practices, unhealthy living environments, and/or insufficient health care access.  

Prolonged medication as a result of chronic diseases can predispose someone to micronutrient deficiency. Medication overuse increases the risk of malabsorption and nutrient interactions. 

Essential Micronutrients with a high prevalence of deficiency

Even though micronutrients are required in very minimal amounts, they play a significant role in maintaining body physiology and functions. Some of the micronutrients that are critical in moderating health status include;

  1.  Iron

Iron is an essential element that is involved in most metabolic processes such as the transport of oxygen in every part of the body, the manufacture of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), and the movement of electrons. However, iron can cause tissue damage if used in high concentrations by forming free radicals. This calls for tight balance to prevent excess iron in the body.

Health benefits of iron include reduced tiredness and fatigue, good energy levels, normal formation of red blood cells and hemoglobin, improved mental and physical endurance, and support of normal cognitive functions with attention span, decision-making, reasoning, learning, and intelligence. In addition, iron is involved in the immune system, muscle growth and development, healthy pregnancy, health, and overall vitality.


Iron metabolic disorders are the most common form of nutrient deficiencies manifesting as anemia and neurodegenerative disorders.

2. Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a derivative of carotenoid pigmentation from plants. Vitamin A is fat-soluble and any excess is stored in the liver. There are two types of vitamin A found in the diet. Preformed Vitamin A found in animal products and precursors to Vitamin A found in a plant-based diet. The most common form of Vitamin A is beta-carotene.

Vitamin A helps form healthy teeth, skeletal and soft tissue, mucus membrane, and skin. Vitamin A is also known as retinol because it produces the pigment in the retina of the eye that promotes good eyesight, especially in dark.

Vitamin A plays a significant role in supporting a healthy pregnancy and breastfeeding while the better carotene is an antioxidant involved in cell protection against free radicals. An adequate amount of vitamin A lowers the risk of cancer and promotes healthy skin and hair.

3. Iodine

Iodine is described as an essential element meaning that our bodies do not produce it and have to rely on nutrition to meet the demand. Iodine is required for normal thyroid functioning to produce thyroid hormones. A deficiency is associated with poor thyroid function. In pregnant women and children, iodine supports bone development and brain functions. Breastfeeding women require higher iodine needs because they support newborn iodine needs. Children who do not meet their iodine needs suffer greater cognitive malfunctions and low intelligence quotient.

Most people can get all the iodine they require from their diet. However, there is a small minority that must supplement with iodine. The iodized salt is usually a government project to ensure that populations meet their daily dietary iodine needs.

The most significant role of iodine is to regulate proper thyroid functions and lower the risk of goiter, embryo brain development, healthy baby weight, and improve cognitive function in children.

4. Folate (Vitamin B-9)

Folate is the natural form of vitamin B-9. Folate is involved in the formation of DNA and RNA, as well as protein metabolism. Vitamin B-9 is an important factor in red blood cell formation, healthy cell growth, and function. Folate is required in large amounts during rapid growth and it is critical during early pregnancy for brain and spine growth. Inadequate folate increases the risk of neural tube defects in newborns.

Some health benefits of folate include; moderating blood pressure, supporting embryo development, reducing the risks of age-related muscle degeneration, and lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

5. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a micronutrient required throughout life for optimal health. Vitamin D can be synthesized on the skin when exposed to the UV light of the Sun, but can also be derived from the diet. Vitamin D is only found in very few food sources. Examples of foods rich in Vitamin D include fatty fish, eggs, and food fortification.

Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. Adequate Vitamin D maintains healthy bones, teeth, and muscles. A deficiency of Vitamin D is responsible for bone loss and increased risk of a bone deformity like rickets in children and bone pain a condition known as osteomalacia in adults. Lack of vitamin D is the genesis of multiple avoidable illnesses including bone loss, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and hypertension.

6. Zinc

Zinc is an essential micronutrient that has multiple functions. It is involved in healthy metabolism as it catalyzes over 100 enzymes, facilitates protein folding, and regulates gene expressions. It strengthens the immune system. One of the most important factors seen in zinc deficiency is oxidative stress. Oxidative stress results from Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). When ROS is high it causes cell damage.


Oxidative stress is an important factor in the etiology of most chronic diseases like diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Some of the health benefits of zinc include; normal growth and development, a better sense of taste and smell, cell division, reduced effects of diarrhea in children, and slowing age-related vision loss.

7. Magnesium

Magnesium plays a very crucial role in supporting muscle and nerve health and in energy production. Some of the health benefits of magnesium include; it is necessary for multiple biochemical processes for a healthy body, supports healthy blood sugar control, promotes heart health, has anti-inflammatory benefits, and is necessary for bone health.

Magnesium deficiency rarely results in symptoms but chronic deficiency is an underlying factor in the genesis of chronic diseases like heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.

Signs and Symptoms of Micronutrient deficiencies

Micronutrient deficiency of a single micronutrient is easy to diagnose because it presents with profound signs and symptoms associated with the disease. But it is difficult to diagnose multiple micronutrient deficiencies. Be suspicious of micronutrient deficiency if you find yourself battling the following telltales;  

  •  Severe hair loss
  •  Burning sensation in the feet or tongue
  •  Slow healing of wounds
  •  Painful bones
  •  Poor night vision
  •  Irregular heartbeat
  •  Mouth ulcers or cracks in the corner of the mouth
  •  Bleeding gums
  •  Muscle cramps and fatigue

Although micronutrients are required in small quantities by the body to grow and function well, their deficiencies can result in life-threatening diseases, increased morbidity, and mortality. However, with basic nutrition education, following a nutrient-dense diet pattern, food fortification, and supplementation, most micronutrient deficiencies can be prevented.  

Join me in our subsequent articles as we explore common micronutrient deficiency diseases and how to mitigate their effect through appropriate nutrition. 


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