Micronutrients are vital to health, disease prevention and wellbeing. These are often referred to as vitamins and minerals required in small amounts. Since not produced in the body, these should be obtained from the diet.
According to WHO, these are called micronutrients because they are needed only in minuscule amounts, these substances are the ‘magic wands’ that enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances essential for proper growth and development. As tiny as the amounts are, however, the consequences of their absence are severe.
Vitamins and minerals, like zinc, iron, vitamin A, iodine, folate, etc. are crucial for the proper growth and development of the human body, their deficiency may lead to major threat to the public globally. Micronutrient deficiencies also referred to as ‘hidden hunger’ which affects the health, learning ability as well as immune functions due to high rates of illness and disability contributing to vicious cycle of malnutrition and poverty. It is estimated that over two billion people in the world are deficient in one or more micronutrients.
In the present day scenario, especially in this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, micronutrients have a crucial role to play in improving immunity levels in humans. Micronutrients with strongest evidence for immune support are zinc, vitamins C and D. Widespread deficiency of such micronutrients in the human population has resulted in poor immunity to fight against diseases.
Micronutrients are equally crucial for maintaining a sound mental health. Essential vitamins and minerals are needed for many different aspects of optimal mental health and often there is a vicious cycle where low nutrient intake contributes to poor mental health and vice versa. Ensuring dietary intake of these and many other essential vitamins and minerals is vital for optimal mental health. Taking a multivitamin or mineral supplement that supplies a daily maintenance dose of these crucial nutrients is worth considered for maintaining a good mental health. Some of the key micronutrients, like zinc, iodine, magnesium, folate, vitamin B12, vitamin D, etc. have a valuable role to play in mental health.
Zinc is essential for the optimal function of the human body, especially the brain. Its deficiency is common in several psychiatric disorders. Scientific evidence suggests a link between low zinc levels and depression. Iodine plays a crucial role in brain and neurological function. Magnesium is an important co-factor for the production of the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter serotonin that is crucial for a balanced mood. Folate and vitamin B12 deficiency may cause neurological disturbances including depression and dementia. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to cognitive impairment, depression and even autism.
Rashtriya Poshan Maah (Nutrition Month) was observed recently in the month of September to address the problem of malnutrition among women and young children. Every year Poshan Maah is celebrated all over the country under POSHAN (Prime Minister's Overarching Scheme for Holistic Nutrition) Abhiyaan, launched in 2018. Under the POSHAN Abhiyaan, the government targets reducing stunting, underweight and low birth weight by two per cent a year and anaemia prevalence by three per cent a year. Overall, India plans to reduce anaemia levels to one-third of what was recorded in the fourth National Family Health Survey, by 2022. Similarly, under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), India needs to reduce the prevalence of anaemia in women of reproductive age by 50 per cent by 2030.
India has made tremendous progress in all fronts since independence. Several programmes or schemes have been launched over the years to improve the nutrition and health status of the population. However, still a large portion of the population suffers from malnutrition. Micronutrient deficiency is a major health problem in the country. With recent initiatives of the government and strengthening existing health and agriculture systems, micronutrient status of the population is expected to improve in the coming years.
Dr Soumitra Das - Director, South Asia - Zinc Nutrient Initiative (International Zinc Association), New Delhi