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What are micronutrients?

The micronutrients are about forty biochemicals that include vitamins, several fatty acids and a number of inorganic elements. They are not made by humans or most other mammals, are essential for growth and maintenance of the body and must be obtained through the food chain or in the form of supplements. Individual micronutrients usually participate in enzymes that drive biochemical processes or in a few cases are substrates for biochemical reactions. Their existence became known from distinctive diseases in which cellular functions were compromised by a deficiency.  Although they can be eliminated by public health campaigns, acute deficiencies of specific micronutrients (eg iron, zinc, vitamin A and iodine) remain important health issues in certain parts of the developing world and very occasionally in the developed world.

Even modest deficiencies of micronutrients have important implications for the onset of age-related diseases. They are thought to affect social attributes including cognitive skills, behaviour and mental health, and they may even influence the lifespan and the proportion of a person’s life spent in good health. Such deficiencies are probably widespread even in the developed world and have special importance for the work of the IFBB.

Apart from these essential micronutrients, two other categories of biochemical are probably of importance for health and well-being. The second group is made by mammalian bodies but not in sufficient amounts to meet demands at critical times. Examples of these are alpha-lipoic acid, L-carnitine and coenzyme Q which must be supplied from dietary sources.  Nutrients in the third category are not essential but may confer health benefits.  They includes a large group of plant biochemicals (phytochemicals) such as genistein whose effects are much more difficult to evaluate objectively.

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