Role of micronutrients in women 


Woman, the ultimate multi-tasker!

Women nowadays have to perform many roles in managing kids, preparing food for their family, housekeeping, managing their office work, and the list goes on… With such a hectic schedule, they usually end up completely neglecting themselves, which in turn affects their health badly. Hence taking care of their health is highly necessary, and to do this, they need to shift their focus to something which absolutely cannot be neglected – NUTRITION.

Macronutrients vs. Micronutrients

There are seven major classes of nutrients, like carbohydrates, fats, fiber, minerals, protein, vitamins, and water. These nutrients are classified as macronutrients (needed in relatively large amounts) or micronutrients (needed in smaller quantities). The major macronutrients are carbohydrates, fats, fiber, proteins, and water. The micronutrients are minerals and vitamins. On a daily basis, women get most of the macronutrients from their meals, but the ones that get neglected most in the entire fray are the micronutrients.

More about micronutrients


To repeat, micronutrients are those nutrients which we require in relatively small quantities. They are vitamins and minerals, and we require them in milligram and microgram amounts. Vitamins are carbon-containing molecules and are classified as either water-soluble or fat-soluble. Minerals can be classified into Major and Trace minerals –

  1. Water soluble vitamins: Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Folate, and Niacin
  2. Fat soluble vitamins: Vitamin A, D, E and K
  3. Major minerals: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, chlorides, and sulphur.
  4. Trace minerals like iron, copper, zinc, manganese, fluoride, selenium, and cobalt.


Common Diseases related to nutrition deficiency in women

1) Anaemia: Iron deficiency is the culprit here. Anaemia is particularly common in women, in fact the most common deficiency in the world, affecting about 1 billion people. Iron is important because it helps carry oxygen to your muscles and to the brain. Population from regions where malaria and intestinal parasitic infestation are prevalent, women of child-bearing age, and young children are most vulnerable to Anaemia.

Preventive Measures: Try not to consume ‘iron blockers’ like tea, coffee, and milk for one hour before and one hour after eating an iron-rich meal, you can increase iron absorption of these foods by combining them with food that are good source of vitamin C, such as strawberries, citrus fruits, and tomatoes. Eat iron-rich vegetables like cowpeas, spinach, millet, beans, pulses, pumpkin seeds, beef, liver, lamb, or chicken.

Dietary requirement of iron: 16.3 mg/day in children and teens aged 12–19 years, 17.0–18.9 mg/day in women older than 19.


2) Goitre and Cretinism: This occurs because of Iodine deficiency. Iodine is an essential mineral for normal thyroid function and the production of thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones are involved in many processes in the body, such as growth, brain development and bone maintenance. They also regulate the metabolic rate. Iodine deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. It affects nearly one-third of the world’s population.

Population from mountainous areas where there is limited access to seafoods and iodised salt are at risk. Goitre is highest in adolescent girls.

Preventive Measures: Purchase packaged iodized salt, store packaged iodized salt faraway from heat and from moisture, add salt before serving food, and include items like seaweed, fish, dairy (yogurt), eggs etc.

Dietary requirement of iodine: 150 micrograms (mcg) per day for adult and women, 220 mcg for pregnant women and 290 mcg for lactating/breastfeeding women.


3) Osteoporosis: Calcium and Vitamin D deficiency causes it. Calcium is essential for every cell. It mineralizes bones and teeth, especially during times of rapid growth. It is also very important for the maintenance of bones. The calcium concentration in the blood is tightly regulated, and any excess is stored in bones. If there is a lack of calcium in the diet, calcium is released from the bones. Also, calcium plays a role as a signaling molecule in the body. With a lack of enough calcium, our heart, muscles, and nerves would not be able to function.

Vitamin D is important because it plays an essential role in calcium absorption and in regulating the nervous system. Vitamin D may also aid in immunity and the regulation of blood sugar levels. Because most of the women are spending less time outdoors or wearing sunscreens or maybe more women are avoiding dairy products or altered lifestyles, whatever the reason, we are seeing Vitamin D deficiencies among women increasing at an alarming rate. To read more about this ‘Sunshine Vitamin,’ take a look at the Fitmag article here – “The Sunshine Vitamin – Vitamin D”

Preventive Measures: Spend some time every day under sunlight, preferably in the afternoons. Eat low-fat dairy products like milk, and dark green vegetables such as kale, spinach and broccoli. Also include eggs, oysters, salmon, and tuna.

Dietary requirement: Calcium: Adults, age 19 to 50 years old need 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily. Women older than 50 and men aged 70 and beyond, should increase their daily intake to 1,200 milligrams. Vitamin D: Women (up to the age of 50) need at least 200 IU’s of Vitamin D per day.


Micronutrient needs of pregnant and breastfeeding women:  


Pregnancy and breastfeeding are periods where proper nutrition is crucial, because the optimal development of the infant depends on the mother’s diet. Below are the essential vitamins required during pregnancy:

Vitamin A – For lung development and maturation in the foetus (particularly from week 28 to the birth).  

Vitamin B9 (folate) – To maintain blood plasma and red cell folate levels. There is convincing evidence that folic acid supplementation, starting before conception and carrying on till early pregnancy, can decrease neural tube defects in infants. Hence, many health organizations recommend routine folic acid supplementation of 400 micrograms per day.

Vitamin C – Both mother and baby need vitamin C for the body to make collagen, a structural protein that’s a component of cartilage, tendons, bones, and skin.

Vitamin D – To reduce the risk of low calcium levels (‘hypocalcaemia’) and bone diseases in the mother, and to improve the vitamin D status of the foetus and the breastfeeding infant throughout the developmental period.

Essential fatty acids – Pregnancy and breastfeeding (the first 12 to 18 weeks after birth), are the most critical times for a woman to supplement sufficient amounts of essential fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, are necessary for the complete development of the human brain during pregnancy and in the first two years of life; if a mother and infant are deficient in it, the child’s nervous system and immune system may never fully develop, and it can cause a lifetime of unexplained emotional, learning, and immune system disorders. An adequate diet or supplementation during breast-feeding is recommended.

Iron and Iodine – A sufficient supply of iron and iodine is essential during pregnancy. Iron is needed for the formation of red blood cells, while iodine is required for the production of thyroid hormone affecting growth and development.


Below are the RDA for Macronutrients during pregnancy and lactation

Micro Nutrient    Age    RDA (Pregnancy)    RDA(lactation)
Vitamin A    19 years and older    750 μg (2,500 IU)/day    1,200 μg (4,000 IU)/dayc 
Folate    19 years and older    600 μg/daya    500 μg/daya 
Vitamin C    19 years and older    80 mg/day    115 mg/day  
Vitamin D    19 years and older    15 μg (600 IU)/day    15 μg (600 IU)/day 
Essential fatty acids    all ages    13g/day    13g/day
Iron    19 years and older    27 mg/day    10 mg/day  
Iodine    19 years and older    220 μg/day    290 μg/day 

Now that we are aware of the importance of these micronutrients, especially for women, let’s make it a point to supplement our diet with the required amounts of each of these nutrients.


Author Credits – Dilip Kumar Karanam