Micronutrient deficiency

Micronutrient deficiency or dietary deficiency is not enough of one or more of the micronutrients required for optimal plant or animal health. In humans and other animals they include both vitamin deficiencies and mineral deficiencies,[1] whereas in plants the term refers to deficiencies of essential trace minerals.

Micronutrient deficiency
The skin rash of pellagra, due to not enough niacin.


Micronutrient deficiencies affect more than two billion people of all ages in both developing and industrialized countries. Micronutrient deficiency adversely affects the physiology and immunology of an individual, causing long term health consequences.[2] They are the cause of some diseases, exacerbate others and are recognized as having an important impact on worldwide health. Important micronutrients include iodine, iron, zinc, calcium, selenium, fluorine, and vitamins A, B6, B12, B1, B2, B3, B9 and C.[3]

The population mostly affected by micronutrient deficiency are infants, children and adolescents, women of childbearing age, pregnant women and the elderly.[4]

Vegans and people reducing meat in their diets, as recommended by many scientific studies and experts, are also at greater risk of micronutrient deficiencies if they don't adequately consume supplements or foods substituting animal-sourced micronutrients.[5][6][7][8]


Micronutrient deficiencies are associated with 10% of all children's deaths,[9] and are therefore of special concern to those involved with child welfare. Early childhood micronutrient deficiency leads to stunted growth and impaired cognitive development.[10][11]

Deficiencies can constrain physical and (neurocognitive) development and compromise health in various ways.[12] Beyond dangerous health conditions, they can also lead to less clinically notable reductions in energy level, mental clarity and overall capacity.[13] Micronutrients help to resist or to recover from infectious diseases which can have extensive health impacts.[14][15]


Deficiencies of essential vitamins or minerals such as Vitamin A, iron, and zinc may be caused by long-term shortages of nutritious food or by infections such as intestinal worms.[16] They may also be caused or exacerbated when illnesses (such as diarrhoea or malaria) cause rapid loss of nutrients through feces or vomit.[17]


There are several interventions to improve the micronutrient status including fortification of foods, supplementation and treatment of underlying infections.[18] Implementation of appropriate micronutrient interventions has several benefits, including improved cognitive development, increased child survival, and reduced prevalence of low birth weight.[19]


A pooled analysis indicated that globally over half of all preschool-aged children and over two-thirds of all nonpregnant women of reproductive age are deficient in at least one of three micronutrients each. The study notes required data is scarce and provides preliminary country-level charts.[20][12] According to UNICEF, at least half of children worldwide younger than 5 years have vitamin and mineral deficiencies.[14]


In plants a micronutrient deficiency (or trace mineral deficiency) is a physiological plant disorder which occurs when a micronutrient is deficient in the soil in which a plant grows. Micronutrients are distinguished from macronutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, potassium, calcium and magnesium) by the relatively low quantities needed by the plant.[21]

A number of elements are known to be needed in these small amounts for proper plant growth and development.[22] Nutrient deficiencies in these areas can adversely affect plant growth and development. Some of the best known trace mineral deficiencies include: zinc deficiency, boron deficiency, iron deficiency, and manganese deficiency.

List of essential trace minerals for plants[23]

  • Boron is believed to be involved in carbohydrate transport in plants; it also assists in metabolic regulation. Boron deficiency will often result in bud dieback.
  • Chlorine is necessary for osmosis and ionic balance; it also plays a role in photosynthesis.
  • Copper is a component of some enzymes and of vitamin A. Symptoms of copper deficiency include browning of leaf tips and chlorosis.
  • Iron is essential for chlorophyll synthesis, which is why an iron deficiency results in chlorosis.
  • Manganese activates some important enzymes involved in chlorophyll formation. Manganese deficient plants will develop chlorosis between the veins of its leaves. The availability of manganese is partially dependent on soil pH.
  • Molybdenum is essential to plant health. Molybdenum is used by plants to reduce nitrates into usable forms. Some plants use it for nitrogen fixation, thus it may need to be added to some soils before seeding legumes.
  • Nickel is essential for activation of urease, an enzyme involved with nitrogen metabolism that is required to process urea.
  • Zinc participates in chlorophyll formation, and also activates many enzymes. Symptoms of zinc deficiency include chlorosis and stunted growth.

See also


  1. Young, E.M. (2012). Food and development. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. p. 38. ISBN 9781135999414.
  2. Campos Ponce, M., Polman, K., Roos, N., Wieringa, F., Berger, J. and Doak, C., 2018. What Approaches are Most Effective at Addressing Micronutrient Deficiency in Children 0–5 Years? A Review of Systematic Reviews. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 23(S1), pp.4-17.
  3. Theodore H Tulchinsky (2010). "Micronutrient Defi ciency Conditions: Global Health Issues". Public Health Reviews. BioMed Central (Springer). 32: 243–255. doi:10.1007/BF03391600. S2CID 74453574.
  4. Hwalla, N., Al Dhaheri, A., Radwan, H., Alfawaz, H., Fouda, M., Al‐Daghri, N., Zaghloul, S. and Blumberg, J., 2017. The Prevalence of Micronutrient Deficiencies and Inadequacies in the Middle East and Approaches to Interventions. Nutrients, 9(3), p.229.
  5. Parlasca, Martin C.; Qaim, Matin (5 October 2022). "Meat Consumption and Sustainability". Annual Review of Resource Economics. 14 (1): 17–41. doi:10.1146/annurev-resource-111820-032340.
  6. Barr, Susan I; Rideout, Candice A (1 July 2004). "Nutritional considerations for vegetarian athletes". Nutrition. 20 (7): 696–703. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2004.04.015. ISSN 0899-9007.
  7. Bakaloudi, Dimitra Rafailia; Halloran, Afton; Rippin, Holly L.; Oikonomidou, Artemis Christina; Dardavesis, Theodoros I.; Williams, Julianne; Wickramasinghe, Kremlin; Breda, Joao; Chourdakis, Michail (May 2021). "Intake and adequacy of the vegan diet. A systematic review of the evidence". Clinical Nutrition. 40 (5): 3503–3521. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2020.11.035. PMID 33341313. S2CID 229341062.
  8. Thiagarajan, Kamala. "Is a vegan diet healthy for children?". BBC. Retrieved 7 January 2023.
  9. Nutrition in the first 1,000 days: State of the world's mothers 2012 (PDF). Westport, CT: Save the Children. 2012. p. 16. ISBN 978-1-888393-24-8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 May 2012. Retrieved 23 June 2016.
  10. Adair, L. S., Fall, C. H., Osmond, C., Stein, A. D., Martorell, R., Ramirez-Zea, M., et al. (2013). Associations of linear growth and relative weight gain during early life with adult health and human capital in countries of low and middle income: Findings from five birth cohort studies. Lancet, 382, 525–534.
  11. Mattei, Davide; Pietrobelli, Angelo (June 2019). "Micronutrients and Brain Development". Current Nutrition Reports. 8 (2): 99–107. doi:10.1007/s13668-019-0268-z. PMID 30953290. S2CID 96448765.
  12. Stevens, Gretchen A.; Beal, Ty; Mbuya, Mduduzi N. N.; Luo, Hanqi; Neufeld, Lynnette M.; Addo, O. Yaw; Adu-Afarwuah, Seth; Alayón, Silvia; Bhutta, Zulfiqar; Brown, Kenneth H.; Jefferds, Maria Elena; Engle-Stone, Reina; Fawzi, Wafaie; Hess, Sonja Y.; Johnston, Robert; Katz, Joanne; Krasevec, Julia; McDonald, Christine M.; Mei, Zuguo; Osendarp, Saskia; Paciorek, Christopher J.; Petry, Nicolai; Pfeiffer, Christine M.; Ramirez-Luzuriaga, Maria J.; Rogers, Lisa M.; Rohner, Fabian; Sethi, Vani; Suchdev, Parminder S.; Tessema, Masresha; Villapando, Salvador; Wieringa, Frank T.; Williams, Anne M.; Woldeyahannes, Meseret; Young, Melissa F. (1 November 2022). "Micronutrient deficiencies among preschool-aged children and women of reproductive age worldwide: a pooled analysis of individual-level data from population-representative surveys". The Lancet Global Health. 10 (11): e1590–e1599. doi:10.1016/S2214-109X(22)00367-9. ISSN 2214-109X. PMID 36240826. S2CID 252857990.
  13. "Micronutrients". www.who.int. Retrieved 7 January 2023.
  14. "Micronutrient Facts". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1 February 2022. Retrieved 7 January 2023.
  15. James, Philip T; Ali, Zakari; Armitage, Andrew E; Bonell, Ana; Cerami, Carla; Drakesmith, Hal; Jobe, Modou; Jones, Kerry S; Liew, Zara; Moore, Sophie E; Morales-Berstein, Fernanda; Nabwera, Helen M; Nadjm, Behzad; Pasricha, Sant-Rayn; Scheelbeek, Pauline; Silver, Matt J; Teh, Megan R; Prentice, Andrew M (1 July 2021). "The Role of Nutrition in COVID-19 Susceptibility and Severity of Disease: A Systematic Review". The Journal of Nutrition. 151 (7): 1854–1878. doi:10.1093/jn/nxab059. PMC 8194602.
  16. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-05-23. Retrieved 2013-04-05.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. The Development of Concepts of Malnutrition, Journal of Nutrition, 132:2117S-2122S, July 1, 2002.
  18. Campos Ponce, M., Polman, K., Roos, N., Wieringa, F., Berger, J. and Doak, C., 2018. What Approaches are Most Effective at Addressing Micronutrient Deficiency in Children 0–5 Years? A Review of Systematic Reviews. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 23(S1), pp.4-17.
  19. Bhutta, Z. A., Das, J. K., Rizvi, A., Gaffey, M. F., Walker, N., Horton, S., et al. (2013). Evidence-based interventions for improvement of maternal and child nutrition: What can be done and at what cost? Lancet, 382, 452–477.
  20. "'With food prices increasing less people will achieve a balanced diet': Data highlights 'shocking' extent of malnutrition". foodnavigator.com. Retrieved 17 December 2022.
  21. Mortvedt, John J. (31 August 1999). "Chapter 2: Bioavailability of Micronutrients". In Malcolm E. Sumner (ed.). Handbook of Soil Science. CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-8493-3136-7.
  22. A Companion to Plant Physiology, Fourth Edition. Wade Berry, UCLA. Topic 5.1 Symptoms of Deficiency In Essential Minerals. Sinauer Publishing.
  23. Marschner, Petra, ed. (2012). Marschner's mineral nutrition of higher plants (3rd ed.). Amsterdam: Elsevier/Academic Press. p. 191. ISBN 9780123849052.
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