Micronutrient requirements, such as vitamins and minerals, depend on factors such as age, lifestyle, and medication intake. Certain factors, e.g., illnesses, can increase an individual’s intake requirements − often to such an extent that the normal intake recommendations no longer apply. Find out here what effect these factors have and if the standard recommendations apply to you.
If you are searching for intake recommendations for an individual type of nutrient, then you can find them in articles on this nutrient or in the nutrient list.
Micronutrient requirements and their influencing factors
Reference ranges for micronutrient intake and how they are influenced
The nutrient requirement is the minimum daily amount of the nutrient that the body needs to function optimally - i.e. to be healthy and efficient. The requirement varies from person to person.
Intake recommendations or reference ranges are calculated using the average requirement of a population group − for example, adult women. The calculations include a safety margin to take into account fluctuations from person to person. Only healthy people are included in the calculation.
What are the reference ranges?
Various specialist associations, such as the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in North America or the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) provide intake recommendations for nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Both have in common: Their recommendations are based on the requirements for healthy persons who have a normal metabolism.
In the opinion of micronutrient experts, this is often insufficient. The influence of illnesses, life circumstances, stress, and other factors is not taken into account.
Even for healthy people with low stress levels and a healthy lifestyle, these recommendations may be too low. Some people have higher requirements for certain nutrients than others. This can be due to them having poor nutrient absorption or utilization, or higher usage. In these cases, the nutrient intake in the intake recommendations is usually too low to compensate for an existing deficit. Depending on the nutrient and the severity of the deficiency, it may be necessary to administer doses which considerably exceed intake recommendations.
By visiting a physician who is specialized in this field, you can find out more about your personal nutrient intake requirements. The physician will be able to determine if you have an increased requirement for one or more nutrients. They will then discuss the findings with you and, if necessary, carry out laboratory blood tests. The specialists in this field are nutritionists and physicians who have undergone advanced training as a orthomolecular specialist or micronutrient therapist.
Institute of Medicine (IOM)
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has published the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI). This includes comprehensive lists of reference ranges for various nutrients. The ranges were compiled in cooperation with the public Canadian health organization Health Canada and numerous North American and Canadian scientists. The process was subject to stringent standardization and monitored by a superordinate authority. These reference ranges are commonly consulted by international experts and scientists.
The recommendations are adjusted for age and sex. Influencing lifestyle factors (such as smoking and alcohol) are also taken into account. This provides healthy people with an excellent guideline.
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) also publishes recommendations in the form of reference range values. These recommendations only apply to healthy people and can, in some cases, be too low. In Europe, the values issued by the EFSA tend to be used.
Factors affecting nutrient requirements
Nutrient requirements are influenced by a wide range of factors. We have listed the most important factors below. Further details can be found in the articles on the individual nutrients or illnesses.
The required amount of some nutrients changes depending on a person’s age. For example, children have higher requirements for certain nutrients. And older people are not able to absorb nutrients as well as young people.
Children grow, learn, and develop. This means they require certain nutrients more than adults do. These include calcium, Vitamin C and Vitamin D. It is also assumed that children require large amounts of lecithin, which is vital for the development and function of the brain.
With advancing age, the body's ability to absorb Vitamin B12 deteriorates and production of Coenzyme Q10 falls. Therefore, the requirement for both of these nutrients in increased in older people. Older people can also have problems obtaining enough of the following nutrients: Vitamin D, folate, and the minerals calcium, iodine, iron, and zinc.
When menstruating, pre-menopausal women lose high levels of iron. This means their iron intake requirement is higher than that of men.
Pregnancy causes an increase in the requirements for many nutrients. At the same time, the energy intake should not increase drastically. This is because the energy requirement increases less than the nutrient requirement. During pregnancy, the intake of the following nutrients should be increased:
- Folic acid is particularly important before and in the initial stages of pregnancy.
- Omega-3 fatty acid DHA
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
Illnesses can affect nutrient requirements in different ways. Examples are:
- reduced absorption of vitamin B12 during gastrointestinal illnesses
- increased utilization of antioxidants due to inflammation, which elevates oxidative stress
- increased excretion of minerals and proteins due to diabetes-related liver damage
The search function can help you access more information about the types of illness which react positively to the targeted intake of micronutrients.
Similar to illnesses, medications can affect micronutrient requirements in various ways. A few examples:
- Reduced absorptionof folic acid by women using the pill.
- Elevated excretion of zinc when using diuretic medication which increases the amount of water expelled by the body via the urine
- Reduced production of coenzyme Q10 due to cholesterol-reducing medications (statins)
The search function can help you identify medications which affect micronutrient intake requirements.
Stress at work or in everyday life can increase the requirements for many types of nutrients, especially antioxidants.
Smoking increases the requirements for antioxidants, such as vitamin C, selenium, and vitamin E: Smoking increases the body's use of these nutrients.
Increased alcohol consumption leads to an increased need for many micronutrients. Minerals in particular are affected by increased excretion, as are many antioxidants, one example being B vitamins..
High levels of physical exertion, i.e., sport or a physically demanding job, also increases requirements for certain nutrients. One reason for this is increased sweating: This process causes the body to lose valuable minerals.
Endurance athletes have increased requirements for iron and magnesium, whereas power athletes require increased protein intake.
Genetics also play an import role. For example, around half of all humans have a genetic mutation which makes it difficult for them to exploit folate (folic acid) contained in food. The requirement for folic acid increases the more pronounced the genetic mutation is.
Micronutrient requirements vary from person to person. An increased intake requirement can be necessary due to lifestyle, age, genetics, illness, and medication. Normal guideline list values for an average healthy person’s requirements, with no exceptional increases. A visit to a specialist physician can be useful if an individual wishes to find out exactly what their micronutrient requirements are.
Vaisman N. et al. (2008): Correlation between changes in blood fatty acid composition and visual sustained attention performance in children with inattention: effect of dietary n-3 fatty acids containing phospholipids. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May; 87(5): 1170-80.
Niklowitz, P. et al. (2016): Coenzyme Q10 serum concentration and redox status in European adults: influence of age, sex, and lipoprotein concentration. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2016 May; 58(3): 240–245. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4865593/