What Is Micronutrient Malnutrition and Why Does It Matter?

When many people think of malnutrition their minds immediately spring to what is known as Protein-Energy Malnutrition (PEM). PEM nutrition is essentially the term used to refer to when one has an insufficient calorie intake due to a lack of food, and is essentially hunger based malnutrition.
It is easy to see why PEM receives more international attention; not only can this form of malnutrition often have fatal results, but the lack of calories and proteins can mean that those who suffer from PEM are unable to perform basic bodily functions and tasks that many of us take for granted.

The other lesser known form of malnutrition is known as ‘micronutrient malnutrition’ and refers to the situation when an individual or individuals are suffering from a deficiency of the vital nutrients and minerals needed to meet daily nutrition requirements. Though micronutrient malnutrition may not have as fatal consequences as PEM, it is nonetheless an incredibly pertinent and widespread global issue, and a form of malnutrition that the Amira Foundation is determined to help combat. Essentially, PEM malnutrition is malnutrition caused by a lack of food, whereas micronutrient malnutrition is malnutrition caused by a lack of certain essential vitamins.

While there are several different forms of micronutrient malnutrition, the three most common forms are Iron, Vitamin A and Iodine deficiencies, all three of which have several adverse effect on the body and day to day life.

Iron Deficiency

Iron is used by the body to produce red blood cells, which help store and carry oxygen around the blood stream. A lack of iron intake causes anaemia, a condition which can lead to several health problems. Not only can iron deficiency cause your immune system to weaken and make you more susceptible to illness, but anaemia is also known to result in increased chances of poor pregnancy outcome, impaired physical and cognitive development and extreme tiredness and lethargy.

Foods that are high in iron include clams, pork liver, kale, brown rice, eggs, cuttlefish and many more. In many cases an iron supplement can be taken to boost the body’s iron levels on a short term basis.

Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency is a problem that is primarily prevalent in developing nations. Vitamin A is an incredibly important nutrient that is used by the body for growth and development and for the maintenance of good vision and the immune system. The effects of vitamin A deficiency are widespread; between 250,000 and 500,000 children a year are estimated to go blind as a result of a lack of vitamin A consumption. The condition also seriously contributes to underdeveloped immune systems in the regions where it is prevalent.
Vitamin A can be found in fruits and vegetables and foods that are high in Vitamin A include sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, squash, sweet red peppers and much more.

Iodine Deficiency

Iodine deficiency is the third most common micronutrient deficiency and can cause impaired cognitive development in children. Iodine is an important trace element required by the human body as a constituent of thyroid hormones. As well as its effects on mental development, iodine deficiency can also cause hypothyroidism, the symptoms of which can include fatigue, depression, weight gain, mental slowing and much more.
Iodine is naturally present in high levels of concentration in oceans and certain soils, so iodine deficiencies are most prevalent in remote inland areas where little seafood is eaten, or mountainous regions in which the soil contains little iodine.
One simple solution for iodine deficiencies is iodised salt. A small amount of iodine is added to table salt and has helped reduce the global prevalence of iodine deficiency significantly. Additionally, foods that are naturally high in iodine include seafood and sea vegetables such as kelp, hiziki and arame, as well as cranberries and raw organic cheese, amongst others.