Micronutrient requirements –
Who needs how much?

Micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals/trace elements, but also certain fatty acids and the large group of phytonutrients are an indispensable part of a healthy diet and are also included in food supplements. But what exactly is needed in order to ensure an optimum supply of micronutrients? Does anybody in Germany really suffer from a lack of vitamins? And is it possible to take an “overdose” of micronutrients?

The need for micronutrients varies in each individual situation

It is obvious that a person’s lifestyle influences how many calories they need: a professional athlete burns more calories than an office worker and a 15-year-old youth uses more energy than his 80-year-old grandmother. But micronutrient requirements are influenced by lifestyles as well, although other factors such as chronic illnesses or special circumstances (such as pregnancy and breastfeeding) also have a determining influence on the need for micronutrients, which are frequently also referred to as vital substances. Certain people are particularly prone to low levels of vitamins and minerals:

Groups at risk of micronutrient deficiencies

  • People who adhere to a specific diet in order to lose weight, or those who only eat a small amount for other reasons (such as elderly people with a poor appetite)
  • People with extremely one-sided eating habits, e.g. those who predominantly eat fast food, or “fruitarians” who only eat a limited number of foods for ideological reasons
  • Smokers
  • People who drink a lot of alcohol
  • People with digestive disorders 
  • Vegans
  • Patients who must take certain pharmaceuticals on a regular basis (e.g. cortisone or a number of antibiotics)
  • People with minimum sun exposure are at risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency

Can our normal diet supply us with everything we need?

It is theoretically possible for healthy people without any specific needs to fulfil their micronutrient requirements by ensuring a healthy and well-balanced diet. Experts at the German Nutrition Society (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung – DGE) recommend that 400 g vegetables and 250 g fruit should be eaten every day. Fish should be consumed 1-2 times per week as this is important for iodine levels, and wholegrain products should be preferred. However, major government studies on the eating habits of the German population have shown that 87 per cent of those surveyed failed to reach the required amount of vegetables. 59 per cent did not even manage to eat enough fruit, and 16 per cent of the participants had not eaten any fish for a whole month. As fruit and vegetables are particularly important sources of vital substances and phytonutrients, it is not surprising that a very large number of people fail to reach the recommended reference values for micronutrient intakes (see graphic). Even though this does not necessarily result in a clinical vitamin deficiency, a poor supply of vital substances has an influence on many processes in the body, from the immune system to a person’s moods.

Is it possible to take an overdose of micronutrients?

“The dose makes the poison” is an adage expressed centuries ago by Paracelsus. Micronutrient requirements must be taken into account when a food supplement is chosen. Relevant advice should be obtained beforehand from a physician or pharmacist. It is also important to know that the aforementioned reference values for nutrient intakes are the recommended quantities that should be consumed in order to prevent vitamin deficiencies and avoid the resultant illnesses such as scurvy or rickets and to keep the body healthy. They specifically do not apply to “the requirements of sick and convalescent people; they are not high enough (apart from iodine) to replenish depleted reserves, and are unsuitable for use in connection with digestive and metabolic disorders and for people whose bodies are stressed by social drugs (alcohol) or the intake of pharmaceuticals”. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding also have different needs. In certain situations it can therefore make sense to intake more than the recommended reference value. There is frequently a huge difference between the (minimum) daily requirement and the safe maximum limit. A well-balanced dose for a number of different situations demands profound specialist knowledge and care. At Orthomol we consider this of paramount importance.