News

The risks attached to insufficient intakes of micronutrients are often overlooked

May 25, 2011

Despite many reports to the contrary, German experts have come to the conclusion that older people, young women and children from low-income families often suffer from deficiencies of micronutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, folic acid, vitamin E, zinc and selenium.

At an event held by the University of Hohenheim in Germany, medical experts in the field of nutrition discussed the causes and effects of insufficient intakes of micronutrients. An insufficient supply of certain micronutrients, the experts agreed, can be harmful and pose a health risk. The cause of this partial insufficiency is a lack of information, which in turn is caused by unwillingness to tackle the subject of deficiencies openly.

Professor Heike A. Bischoff-Ferrari, head of the University of Zurich’s Center for Age and Mobility in Switzerland, advised anybody over 60 years of age to take vitamin D – advice which is in line with that of the International Osteoporosis Foundation. She said there is clinical evidence to indicate that supplementary intake of vitamin D could prevent fractures, and that the danger of falls is lessened by the positive effects of this vitamin on muscles. Clinical studies have also shown that the incidence of fractures is not reduced when calcium is taken alone. Taking high doses of calcium, over 1,000 mg and more per day, as a monotherapy could even pose a risk for the coronary blood vessels.

Dr. Hajo Haase from the Institute for Immunology at the University Hospital of RWTH Aachen University, Germany, highlighted the consequences of an undersupply of zinc: as many as 40 percent of the world’s population may be suffering from zinc deficiency. The WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that this deficiency may be a leading cause of the worldwide loss of healthy life years, especially in developing countries. An insufficient supply of this important trace element could be associated with greater vulnerability to diseases, in particular infectious ones. Zinc deficiency can occur even in industrialized countries. Here, malnutrition, inflammation and advanced age are regarded as risk factors.

Another essential trace element featured on the deficiency list is selenium: in Central Europe too little selenium is consumed in the diet, according to Professor Josef Köhrle of Berlin’s Humboldt University. The expert warned that intake here was at the lower end of the recommended range. We still do not understand the biological function of all of the selenium proteins and it is important that we conduct more research into this subject. Selenium proteins are known to be involved in important biological processes: they are associated with the thyroid gland, male fertility, neuronal development, muscle function and immune defense, as well as with tumor formation. Interestingly, selenium has different effects in men and women. But in each case the same applies: both selenium deficiency and excess selenium intake are harmful.

References

  1. Hohenheimer Ernährungsgespräch: Unterversorgung mit Mikronährstoffen – ein übersehenes Risiko? [4th Hohenheim Nutrition Debate: Micronutrient Insufficiency – an Overlooked Risk?] 13 May 2011, University of Hohenheim, Germany.