Micronutrient Malnutrition

Micronutrient Malnutrition

Micronutrients are those nutrients that our bodies need in very limited amounts for optimum performance and to ward off disease. Nearly 33 percent of the world suffers from micronutrient malnutrition, even in developed countries. Micronutrient deficiency in vitamin A, folic acid, zinc, iron,and iodine can cause blindness, mental retardation, brain damage, birth defects, difficulties in learning, low IQ, and death. Vulnerable populations do not just include those in underdeveloped countries, but those in developed nations who have people that are not getting the micronutrient nutrition they need in order to function and grow.


Vitamin A

Two hundred fifty million preschool children are vitamin A deficient, the leading cause of preventable blindness in children. A quarter to half a million of those children lose their sight each year, half dying within a year of becoming blind. Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) also increases the risk of death from disease and severe infections. Pregnant women who are deficient in this micronutrient face the possibility of blindness and maternal death.

One supplemental dose of Vitamin A costs about two cents. Intervention in children has reduced mortality by 23 percent. Breastfeeding is free. Breast milk is a natural vitamin A resource and is the single best way to protect infants and babies from vitamin A deficiency. But the time to breastfeed is limited and the supplements last a third to a half a year. Those in Africa and Southeast Asia are at highest risk of complications from vitamin A deficiency. Even mildly deficient children are at risk for eye and respiratory problems, diarrhea, and other infectious disease. Other diseases connected to VAD include leukemia, breast and lung cancer, as well as retinal diseases of the eye and diseases of the skin.

Vitamin A Studies in Pregnancy:. This study discusses how much beta-carotene is safe in pregnancy.

Golden Rice: This genetically modified rice may save the world’s children from going blind due to beta-carotene deficiency.

General VAD Information: The World Health Organization’s fact sheet on vitamin A deficiency discusses who is at risk, the complications of VAD, and what is being done to alleviate it.

Retinol: Vitamin A as retinol for eye health. Discusses symptoms of deficiency and various treatment options.


Folic Acid

A water-soluble B-complex vitamin, folic acid, or folate as it is known in its natural form, when deficient, is commonly caused by insufficient dietary intake. Malabsorption can also cause the deficiency. Seventy-five percent of those 300,000 born worldwide with the severe neural tube defects spina bifida and anencephaly could be prevented with natural and synthetic folate and folic acid supplements.

Those neural tube defects occur between the 21st and 27th day after conception when most women do not realize that they are pregnant. DNA and RNA synthesis requires adequate folate. If there is not enough folate or folic acid in a woman’s diet, the cell division required by fetal development is compromised, increasing the risk of the neural tube not closing, causing the spine and/or brain defects. Heart and limb defects, risk of premature delivery or miscarriage, low birth weights, preeclampsia, and abruption of the placenta are some of the other complications of folic acid deficiency.

Folic Acid Deficiency Overview: Background, pathophysiology, frequency, mortality rates and problems specific to pregnancy.

Folate Anemia: Folic acid deficiency that creates megaloblastic anemia, also known as pernicious anemia.

Folic Acid and Pregnancy: Why taking 400 micrograms of folic acid every day can prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

Spina Bifida: Fact sheets, FAQ, research, and living with the neural tube defect.



It is estimated that between six to eight out of ten people around the world are iron deficient. That is about four to five billion people who may have a reduced learning ability, cognitive development issues, and decreased work capacity. Another two billion or around one-third of the global population, are anemic, including about half of pregnant women in developing countries.

Iron deficiency is one of the most severe of micronutrient deficiencies on a worldwide scale. Children under the age of five or six and pregnant women are at the highest risk. Some of the consequences include:

  • cognitive development impairment for children and adolescents

  • immune mechanism damage and morbidity

  • impairment of physical work capacity for men and women

  • sepsis, maternal and perinatal mortality, low birth weight

  • anemia


If you suspect an iron deficiency, never attempt to treat it yourself. Rare conditions such as hemochromatosis are too much iron in the blood and excess iron supplementation can be deadly. Never start an iron supplement for your child without doctor approval.

Anemia: Without enough iron, your body cannot make enough red blood cells, and anemia results.

Child Development: Iron deficiency affects brain growth and alters metabolism.

Rice and Iron: How fortifying rice can help two billion people get the iron they need.

Hemochromatosis: Although the opposite of an iron deficiency, be aware that those who self-administer iron supplements for perceived iron loss are at risk of death due to iron overdose if they have this disease.



An estimated 50 million people around the world suffer from preventable brain damage caused by iodine deficiency, although iodine deficiency disorders affect 740 million people and nearly two billion people do not get enough of the micronutrient.

Iodine deficiency causes cretinism, a form of severe physical and mental retardation. It can also cause goiter in adults and children. Goiter is a thyroid disorder characterized by swelling. Most commonly, however, iodine deficiency lowers IQ by 10 to 15 percent across the board. The trickledown effect is that the social and economic development of a person’s life will affect his community and ultimately, his nation as a whole. Nearly three-quarters of the world’s households use iodized salt or vegetable oil, which has produced dramatic improvement in combating this global deficiency.

International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders: Monitors iodine deficiency in both industrialized and developing countries. Iodine intake in the USA has fallen in recent years and this is a major concern for the health and well-being of the nation.

Iodine Deficiency: Thyroid: Iodine is not made in the body, so without enough, your thyroid will not operate correctly or perhaps at all.

U.S. Iodine Deficiency: Although rare in the U.S., it affects more women than men.

Dietary Sources: Where to find iodine in foods and the various intake levels.



Malnourishment is a main cause of non-genetic zinc deficiency.

Zinc is not only an essential trace micronutrient necessary for all life, but it is a catalyst for nearly 100 enzymes to carry out their chemical reactions. Cellular metabolism, proteins, and the cell membrane are dependent on zinc. If someone is zinc-deficient, then they are affected at the cellular level which affects the immune system, hair growth, genes, nerves, dwarfism, night blindness, liver disease, and many chronic diseases. Zinc also reacts with the other micronutrients listed in this article. Severe zinc deficiency slows down a person’s growth and development, including sexual maturation. Diarrhea, skin rashes, lack of appetite, corneal and other eye problems, as well as immune system deficiencies, most of those occurring in those with a genetic component to the zinc deficiency.

The Micronutrient Information Center: The Linus Pauling Institute has researched zinc deficiency including how to prevent and treat diseases caused by a lack of zinc and details of the recommended daily allowances of this trace element.

Zinc Fact Sheet: Recommended intake, sources, deficiency information, medicine interactions and overall health when zinc is at the proper level.

Zinc and Cancer: Zinc’s link to esophageal cancer and the increased risk of cancer when zinc deficient.

Vegetarianism and Zinc: Vegetarians are more susceptible to zinc deficiency. This site shows what sources of zinc are available for those who do not eat meat.

The World Bank estimates that micronutrient deficiency lowers the economic wealth of a nation by up to five percent annually. By fortifying foods such as rice and getting supplements to developing nations, the world micronutrient deficiencies can be severely curtailed for pennies a person.






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