Micronutrient malnutrition refers to diseases caused by a dietary deficiency of vitamins or minerals. Vitamin A deficiency, iron deficiency anaemia and iodine deficiency disorders are the most common forms of Micronutrient malnutrition. Although the most severe problems of Micronutrient malnutrition are found in developing countries, people in developed countries also suffer from various forms of these nutritional problems.

The primary causes of most micronutrient malnutrition are inadequate intakes of micronutrient-rich foods and impaired absorption or utilization of nutrients in these foods due partly to infection and parasitic infestation, which also increase metabolic needs for many micronutrients. Poverty is often at the root of micronutrient malnutrition and is also linked to inadequate access to food, sanitation and safe water and to lack of knowledge about safe food handling and feeding practices. Adequate intake of micronutrients particularly iron, Vitamin A, iodine and Zinc from conception till 2 years of age is vital for the optimal growth and development of children. It is equally important that pregnant women receive adequate quantities of these micronutrients in their diet or through dietary supplementation.

Vitamin A deficiency:
It is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and increases vulnerability to disease as well as deaths from severe infections. In pregnant women Vitamin A deficiency causes night blindness and increased risk of maternal mortality.

Symptoms of Vitamin A deficiency

i. Reduced vision in the night or dim light

ii. Dry eyes which could also lead to xeropthalmia (inability of the eye to produce tears)

iii. Eye inflammation

iv. Increased susceptibility towards respiratory infection and urinary infections.

v. Growth can be halted in children due to vitamin A deficiency.

vi. Rough and/or dry skin.

Prevention and treatment of Vitamin A deficiency

  • Diet which is rich in Vitamin A is the treatment and the best prevention method of vitamin A deficiency. Liver, kidney, milk, cheese, cream and butter are rich sources of Vitamin A. Vitamin A can also be absorbed in the body through carotene which is found in vegetables which have dark green vegetables. Vitamin A is also present in fruits and vegetables that are yellow and orange in color.
  • Food fortification: Is also preventative and a means of treatment of Vitamin A deficiency. In a process known as “biofortification”, food crops can be bred to biofortify themselves by loading higher levels of minerals and vitamins in their seeds and roots while they are growing. Vitamin A cassava in DRC, vitamin A cassava and vitamin A maize in Nigeria, vitamin A sweet potato in Uganda and vitamin A maize in Zambia are examples of Vitamin A
    fortified foods.
  • Vitamin A can also be taken through medication in oral and injectable forms. Orally they can be taken as supplements after meals or with meals. People who are suffering from intense vitamin A deficiency can be given vitamin A solution I.M. or aqueous I.V. supplement.

Iron deficiency:
Iron Deficiency is the leading cause of anemia among children.

i. Tiredness and lack of energy (lethargy)

ii. Shortness of breath

iii. Noticeable heartbeats (heart palpitations)

iv. Paleness

v. Headache

vi. Sore tongue

vii. A desire to eat non-food items, such as ice, paper or clay (pica)

viii. Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)

ix. Painful open sores (ulcers) on the corners of your mouth

x. Spoon-shaped nails

Prevention and treatment of iron deficiency

Iron Supplements: The most commonly prescribed supplement is ferrous sulphate.

Dietary changes: Iron-rich foods include breast milk, red meat, poultry, pork, beans, lentils, iron-rich beans, dark green leafy vegetables, and dried fruit.

Treatment of the underlying cause: If the original reason of iron deficiency is loss of blood (not including menstruation), the cause of the blood loss need to be found and stopped. This may possibly include surgery.

Iodine deficiency
Iodine deficiency is the main cause of brain damage in childhood. It results in impaired cognitive and motor development which affects a child’s performance at school.

Symptoms of iodine deficiency

i. In infants and children, less severe iodine deficiency causes neurodevelopmental deficits such as lower-than-average intelligence as measured by IQ.

ii. In adults, mild-to-moderate iodine deficiency can cause goiter (swelling of the thyroid gland) as well as impaired mental function and work productivity.

iii. Chronic, severe iodine deficiency in utero causes cretinism, a condition characterized by mental retardation, deaf mutism, motor spasticity, stunted growth, delayed sexual maturation, and other physical and neurological abnormalities

Prevention and treatment of iodine deficiency

When iodine deficiency is seen in an entire population, it is best managed by ensuring that common foods that people eat contain sufficient levels of iodine. Salt iodization is an effective population-based intervention for Iodine deficiency control. All pregnant and breastfeeding women should take a multivitamin containing at least 150 μg iodine per day.