Role of Micronutrients in Maintaining Health
Food is the basis of life. Food gives us nutrition for growth, maintenance, and repair functions. We can classify food into seven major groups:
Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients, required in very small quantities, unlike other categories of nutrients. Their importance in human health, however, is a very significant one. They are important in maintaining tissue function, boosting immunity and preventing disease, preserving metabolic functions, and cell repair processes.
The 13 essential vitamins
Vitamins are organic compounds that are important in maintaining human health. ‘Vitamin’ is a derivative of the Latin word ‘vita’, meaning ‘life’. This truly depicts how important vitamins are to our health and essential functions. There are 13 essential vitamins, most derived from a balanced diet. These include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
- Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
- Vitamin B9 (Folate)
- Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin)
- Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
Importance of Testing for Vitamins
Food is the essential source of nearly all our vitamin needs. The human body can produce Vitamin D from exposure to the sun. Our food sources about 10-20% of Vitamin D. Intestinal or gut bacteria produce a form of Vitamin K called menaquinone, but this is not very potent, and green plants remain an important source of Vitamin K.
When dietary sources do not provide adequate amounts of a particular vitamin, we suffer from several conditions due to its deficiency. For example, the inadequacy of dietary vitamins could be because of a lack of meal planning or understanding of nutritional needs, lack of availability, lifestyle or socio-economic factors.
When you present with symptoms consistent with a deficiency of any particular vitamin, your doctor may recommend Vitamins Tests. Alternatively, some vitamin deficiencies are endemic in a geographical location and could be part of routine health screening. Recent studies suggest that 75-90% of Indians suffer from a deficiency of Vitamin D, making it important to screen for Vitamin D deficiency regularly.
Important Vitamin Tests
Among the vitamins, five are commonly deficient among Indians. Let us look at these vitamins and why testing for these is important.
- Vitamin A: Carrots, green leafy vegetables, cantaloupes, mangoes, pumpkins, and red bell peppers are the major source of Vitamin A. Despite this, India has the highest Vitamin A deficiency prevalence among South Asian countries. Nearly 17.5% of Indians suffer from vitamin A deficiency and suffer from its symptoms, including night blindness, lower immunity, poor outcomes in pregnancy, increased mortality, and a greater risk of infections.
- Vitamin B1 testing: Fortified cereals, beans and lentils, meats, fish, peas, and nuts are great sources of Thiamine. While Thiamine deficiency is not as common as Vitamin A deficiency, there are some parts of India in which Vitamin B1 intake is lower than necessary. For example, a 2020 report from the National Institute of Nutrition of India says that the B1 intake in Assam is nearly half the recommended amount. Beriberi is one of the most common diseases caused by this deficiency.
- Vitamin B2 testing – Vitamin B2, or Riboflavin, is another one of the eight vitamins that make up the B Complex and is one of the important coenzymes that are key in the energy utilisation of the cells. Foods like eggs, organ meats, milk and dairy products, and some fish like salmon, almonds, spinach, and lean meats are rich in Riboflavin. Ariboflavinosis can cause many symptoms, including skin disorders, cracked lips, sores in the corners of the mouth and hair loss.
- Vitamin B12 testing – Most medical organisations agree that Vitamin B12 is endemic in India. Nearly 47% of Indians suffer from cyanocobalamin deficiency. Vitamin B12 is abundant in animal sources such as eggs, salmon, beef, and dairy products. However, vegan and vegetarian diets are deficient in this vitamin, leading to several health issues, including fatigue, breathlessness, muscle pain and weakness, vision trouble, balance issues, depression and psychological issues.
- Vitamin D testing – Most Indians are deficient in Vitamin D. Fatty fish, fish liver oils, egg yolks, and beef liver are good sources of the vitamin. Vitamin D deficiency can cause bone health disorders, including osteoporosis and rickets.
You can get yourself tested for all these vitamins through blood tests at home also. Your doctor may recommend them for routine health checks or when you present with relevant symptoms. In addition, supplementing your diet with vitamins may be necessary if you have a deficiency.