Micronutrient malnutrition can be addressed by using low cost and proven interventions such as food fortification. Food fortification is the most cost-effective strategy, providing nutritional benefits without requiring people to change their eating habits or purchasing patterns. In Pakistan, food fortification is central to overcoming these deficiencies. National standards now require that wheat flour be fortified with iron, folic acid, Vitamin B12 and zinc, and edible oil/ghee fortified with Vitamins A and D. Adequate nutrients supplied through fortified wheat flour and edible oil/ghee should ideally form part of a balanced diet.
The effects of micronutrients deficiencies
Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) play an important role for the healthy functioning of our body – one missing nutrient can disrupt the whole metabolic system in our body affecting our ability to digest or absorb foods. According to nutrition experts, we need more than fifty nutrients every day, and while they are required in small quantities, their absence causes serious health problems. Micronutrients work as co-factors, helping digestion, absorption and metabolism and affecting our health in general.
Deficiencies can lead to a variety of health problems. The information below briefly explains what each of the micronutrient deficiencies are, why they occur and how they affect health:
- Iron deficiency occurs when our body doesn’t have enough iron to produce hemoglobin.
- Hamoglobin is the part of red blood cells that gives blood its red colour and enables the red blood cells to carry oxygenated blood throughout our body.
- This affects mental and physical growth and may lead to health and learning problems. If iron deficiency isn’t addressed early, it can lead to iron-deficiency anaemia.
- It also impairs children’s physical and cognitive development, and results in fatigue and weakness, reduced work performance and reduced immune functionality.
- Anaemia is a decrease in the total amount of red blood cells (RBCs) or hemoglobin in the blood, or a lowered ability of the blood to carry oxygen and leads to health and developmental problems.
- Anaemia in school-aged children may result in lower school achievement and performance due to impaired cognitive development, poor attention rate in studies and general fatigue.
- In women of childbearing age, the most common cause of iron deficiency anaemia is blood loss during childbirth.
Folic acid deficiency
- Folate deficiency is a low level of folic acid and derivatives in the body.
- Folic acid plays an important role in the formation of a developing child’s brain and spinal cord.
- The lack of folic acid can be a risk factor for babies born leading to mental and physical disorders.
- The most common form of Neural Tube Defects is Spina Bifida and can lead to severe birth defects leading to lifelong disability.
- Zinc deficiency occurs due to the low dietary intake of zinc-rich foods. It is a contributing factor in child deaths due to diarrhoea.
- Zinc deficiency causes poor memory, sleep problems, diarrhoea and in severe cases causes child growth retardation. It can also cause impotence, and eye and skin lesions.
Vitamin B12 deficiency
- A vitamin B12 deficiency is caused by digestive system difficulties, which can occur if the body is unable to absorb B12 from foods and liquids. Most frequently this is due to insufficient acid in the stomach.
- Vitamin B12 is important for the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system, and the formation of red blood cells.
Vitamin A deficiency
- According to WHO Vitamin A functions at two levels in the body; the first is in the visual cycle in the retina of the eye; the second is in all body tissues where it systemically maintains the growth and soundness of cells.
- In pregnant women Vitamin A deficiency causes night blindness and may increase the risk of maternal mortality.
- For children, lack of vitamin A causes severe visual impairment and blindness.
- Deficiency in Vitamin A leads to poor eyesight and, for school-aged, it can mean that they are unable to perform well at school.
Vitamin D deficiency
- Vitamin D deficiency may cause weakness of bones, joints and muscles.
- Vitamin D is therefore needed for the development and maintenance of healthy bones, teeth, muscles, and immune function.
- The primary source of vitamin D is the sun, but the use of fortified edible oil/ghee is an important additional requirement.
Note: the above information has been provided after careful review of different research reports.