Micronutrients have a substantial impact on a woman’s health throughout her entire life. Every woman needs a constant, balanced, and adequate supply of all essential nutrients throughout her lifetime

Micronutrients have a substantial impact on a woman’s health throughout her entire life. Every woman needs a constant, balanced, and adequate supply of all essential nutrients throughout her lifetime.

Many women do not get enough of the micronutrients they need, however. Both in the U.S. and worldwide, inadequate intakes are far too common. Deficiencies of the following

nutrients are particularly common:
• Vitamin D • B vitamins • Calcium
• Zinc • Iron

In addition to low dietary intake, other factors can contribute to micronutrient deficiencies,

• genetic factors

• poor absorption

• drug-nutrient interactions

• acute and chronic health conditions

• stress

• normal processes of aging

The fact is that many women cannot get adequate amounts of some nutrients without supplementing their diets.

Research Shows the Importance of Micronutrients to Women’s Health
Breast Health

Breast health issues are one of the most common reasons why women consult their health care practitioners. Research suggests that several micronutrients play key roles in breast health, including iodine, B vitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C.2–4 Uterine and Ovarian Health
Micronutrient status plays a major role in the overall health and function of the uterus and ovaries, which can be affected by a variety of health issues. Research suggests that supplementation with B vitamins, calcium, and vitamin D may support uterine and ovarian health.

Menstrual Cycle Health
Many women experience physical and emotional challenges relating to their menstrual cycle, and research suggests that several micronutrients support a healthy menstrual cycle—including increased B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc.7–9 Urinary Tract Health Women are at greater risk for urinary tract health issues than men. Statistically at least one-third of American women will develop urinary tract health issues, which also become more frequent with age. Recent research found that adequate vitamin D intake may protect against urinary health issues.

Anxiety and Mental Health

Mental health challenges are much more prevalent in women than men, and research continues to investigate the importance of vitamins and minerals for mental health. Higher intakes of vitamin D and magnesium have been associated with improved mental health and function.11,12

Birth Control / Contraceptives
Oral contraceptives have been shown to lower levels of B vitamins, vitamin C, and zinc in the body, causing researchers to recommend that women taking contraceptives should pay close attention to
their vitamin and mineral intake and consider supplementation.
Conception and Pregnancy Many women know the importance of vitamins and minerals during pregnancy, but recent research also emphasizes the importance of micronutrient status in the time period before conception. Micronutrient deficiencies can also negatively impact fertility. B vitamins, vitamin D, iodine, selenium, antioxidants, iron, and vitamin A have been shown to be key nutrients in fertility and maternal, fetal, and infant health.

Postpartum Mood

Postpartum mood challenges are common—affecting at least 12–16% of mothers. Studies have linked low intakes of micronutrients with increased incidence of mood issues, and have suggested that supplementation can help maintain healthy mood in postpartum women. B vitamins, selenium, vitamin D, and magnesium have been suggested to promote healthy mood. Menopausal and Bone Health
Menopause can affect women’s nutritional needs, and research has shown that B vitamins and vitamin D are particularly important. Minerals are also crucial after menopause, since one of the most significant changes associated with perimenopause and post menopause is a decrease in mineral
levels, which can negatively impact bone health in particular. Magnesium, zinc, and calcium are all important minerals to support postmenopausal bone health.

1. Seibel M. Fertil Steril 1999;72(4).
2. Ghent W, et al. Can J Surg 1993; 35(5):453–60.
3. Zhang SM. Curr Opin Obstet Gynecol 2004;16(1):19–25.
4. Lazzeroni M, et al. Breast 2011;20(Suppl 3):S36–41.
5. Killicdag EB, et al. Hum Reprod 2005;20(6):1521–8.
6. Firouzabadi Rd, et al. Complement Ther Clin Pract 2012;18(2):85–8.
7. P.O. Chocano-Bedoya, et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2011 May;93(5):1080–6.
8. De Souza MC, et al. J Womens Health Gend Based Med
9. Abraham G. J Reprod Med 1983;28:446–64.
10. O Hertting, et al. PLoS One 2010;Dec 14;5(12):e15580.
11. Zender R, et al. Nurs Clin N Am 2009;44(3):355–364.
12. Murphy P, et al. J Midwifery Women’s Health 2008;53:440–446.
13. Veninga KS. J Nurse Midwifery 1984;29(6):386–90.

14. Webb JL. J Reprod Med 1980;25(4):150–6.

15. Allen LH. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;81(5):1206S–1212S.

16. Davison KM, et al. Can J Psychiatry 2012;57(2):85–92.
17. Leung BM, et al. J Am Diet Assoc 2009;109(9):1566–75.
18. Mokhber N, et al. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med
19. Jacka FN, et al. J Affect Disord in press 2012.
20. Seibel MM. Fertil Steril 1999;72(4):579–91.
21. Grochans E, et al. Magnes Res 2011;24(4):209–14.
22. Chapuy M, et al. Br Med J 1994;308:1081–82.
23. Stendig-Lindberg G, et al. Magnes Res 1993;6:155–163.

Role of micronutrients in sport and physical activity

Role of micronutrients in sport and physical activity

Ron J Maughan

Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Aberdeen Medical School

Many micronutrients play key roles in energy metabolism and, during strenuous physical activity, the rate of energy turnover in skeletal muscle may be increased up to 20-100 times the resting rate. Although an adequate vitamin and mineral status is essential for normal health, marginal deficiency states may only be apparent when the metabolic rate is high. Prolonged strenuous exercise performed on a regular basis may also result in increased losses from the body or in an increased rate of turnover, resulting in the need for an increased dietary intake. An increased food intake to meet energy requirements will increase dietary micronutrient intake, but athletes in hard training may need to pay particular attention to their intake of iron, calcium and the antioxidant vitamins. Prof. R J Maughan, Department of Biomedical Sciences. University Medical School, Foresterhill,Aberdeen

For normal health to be maintained, a wide range of vitamins, minerals and trace elements must be present in adequate amounts in the body tissues, and the dietary intake must be sufficient to meet the requirement. Many vitamins and minerals play key roles in energy metabolism, and the adverse effect of deficiencies of these components is well recognised and easily demonstrated. Marginal deficiency states may have little effect on the sedentary individual, but small impairments of exercise capacity may have profound consequences for the serious athlete. Regular intense exercise training may also increase micronutrient requirements, either by increasing degradation rates or by increasing losses from the body. Consequently, there is a great interest shown by athletes in some of these dietary components because of their role in maintaining or enhancing physical performance. There is often, however, a failure to appreciate that it is not inevitably, or indeed even generally, the case that increasing micronutrient intake to levels above those that are adequate for maintaining health will improve athletic performance.

Low micronutrient intake may accelerate the degenerative diseases of aging through allocation of scarce micronutrients by triage

Low micronutrient intake may accelerate the degenerative diseases of aging through allocation of scarce micronutrients by triage

  1. Contributed by Bruce N. Ames, October 6, 2006 (received for review September 20, 2006)


Inadequate dietary intakes of vitamins and minerals are widespread, most likely due to excessive consumption of energy-rich, micronutrient-poor, refined food. Inadequate intakes may result in chronic metabolic disruption, including mitochondrial decay. Deficiencies in many micronutrients cause DNA damage, such as chromosome breaks, in cultured human cells or in vivo. Some of these deficiencies also cause mitochondrial decay with oxidant leakage and cellular aging and are associated with late onset diseases such as cancer. I propose DNA damage and late onset disease are consequences of a triage allocation response to micronutrient scarcity. Episodic shortages of micronutrients were common during evolution. Natural selection favors short-term survival at the expense of long-term health. I hypothesize that short-term survival was achieved by allocating scarce micronutrients by triage, in part through an adjustment of the binding affinity of proteins for required micronutrients. If this hypothesis is correct, micronutrient deficiencies that trigger the triage response would accelerate cancer, aging, and neural decay but would leave critical metabolic functions, such as ATP production, intact. Evidence that micronutrient malnutrition increases late onset diseases, such as cancer, is discussed. A multivitamin-mineral supplement is one low-cost way to ensure intake of the Recommended Dietary Allowance of micronutrients throughout life.

Poor nutrition has been linked to an increased risk of many diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. The human diet requires both macronutrients, which are the main source of calories, and micronutrients (≈40 essential minerals, vitamins, and other biochemicals), which are required for virtually all metabolic and developmental processes. The leading dietary sources of energy in the United States are abundant in carbohydrates and fats (1) but deficient in micronutrients (i.e., they are energy-dense and nutrient-poor) (2). Such foods are inexpensive and tasty and as a consequence are consumed excessively, particularly by the poor (3). Thus, even in the United States (4), inadequate intake of some vitamins and minerals is common (Table 1). Suboptimal consumption of micronutrients (4) often accompanies caloric excess (688) and may be the norm among the obese and contribute to the pathologies associated with obesity.

Significant chronic metabolic disruption may occur when consumption of a micronutrient is below the current Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) (710) but above the level that causes acute symptoms. When one component of the metabolic network is inadequate, there may be a variety of repercussions in metabolism, including acceleration of degenerative diseases. The optimum intake of each micronutrient necessary to maximize a healthy lifespan remains to be determined and could even be higher than the current RDA, particularly for some populations (710). For example, folic acid intakes above the RDA appear to be necessary to minimize chromosome breaks (1011).