Think of your body as a 24-hour working factory: every day there’s gazillions of operations undertaking place in a dozen different departments. But to do all this, your body requires some raw materials. These include at least 30 vitamins, minerals, and dietary components that your body needs but cannot manufacture on its own in sufficient amounts.
Today, people have become aware enough that vitamins and minerals play an important role in our everyday bodily functions. Ask all of those nutritional supplement companies and all of third party logistics providers delivering millions of orders every day, they know. But what do they really do?
What Are Vitamins and Minerals?
Vita means “life” in Latin, and vitamins are essential for life. According to the World Health Organization, they are “magic wands” our bodies use to synthesize enzymes, hormones and other chemical necessities. They help shore up bones, heal wounds, and bolster your immune system. They also convert food into energy and repair cellular damage.
Whereas vitamins are organic substances (made by plants or animals), minerals are inorganic elements that come from the soil and water and are absorbed by plants or eaten by animals.
It’s also important to know what these vitamins are made of, and it’s always a good idea to turn to third party logistics and visit different websites that can provide you with more insight into how these vitamins are made, and what it is exactly that you’re putting into your body, and of course, their effects both in the short and long term.
Types of Vitamins
Humans need 13 vitamins to survive, also called “micronutrients” because they are required in minute quantities. Apart from vitamin D, which we can make from the action of sunlight on our skin, and some of both B vitamin biotin and vitamin K, made by the beneficial bacteria in our gut, the rest must be found in our food.
Vitamins can be grouped in two categories:
Water Soluble Vitamins, C and the B-complex vitamins, and they are the majority. They need to dissolve in water before your body can absorb them, and your body can’t store these vitamins. That means they are easily excreted and you can’t easily overdose on them.
Fat Soluble Vitamins, A, D, E, and K, and they dissolve in fat and can be stored in your body. They can accumulate in your body when taken in excess.
Water-soluble vitamins and their function
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) – Releases energy from carbohydrates.
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) – Releases energy from protein, fat and carbohydrate; promotes healthy skin and eyes.
- Niacin (Vitamin B3) – Releases energy from protein, fat and carbohydrate; involved in cholesterol production.
- Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5) – Releases energy from carbohydrate, fat and protein.
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) – Breaks down protein; helps to make red blood cells.
- Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin) – Helps to make red blood cells, nerve cells and genetic material (DNA); breaks down carbohydrate and fat.
- Folate (Folic acid) – Helps to make red blood cells and enzymes and prevents neural tube defects; breaks down DNA material and reduces levels of homocysteine (high levels are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease).
- Biotin – Breaks down fat and protein Promotes growth and healthy nerve cells.
- Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid) – Forms collagen (an essential component of the skin, blood vessels, bone and teeth); acts as an antioxidant, providing resistance to infections and promoting wound healing; improves non-haem iron absorption.
Fat-soluble vitamins and their function
- Vitamin A (Retinol) – Maintains healthy skin and eyes, improving vision at night and in dim light; acts as an antioxidant, having a role in cancer prevention. Vitamin A also occurs as beta-carotene in our food, being converted into retinol in the body.
- Vitamin D (Cholecalciferol) – Promotes strong bones and teeth.
- Vitamin E (Tocopherols) – Maintains healthy cell membranes; acts as an antioxidant.
- Vitamin K (Phylloquinone) – Needed for normal blood clotting.
Your body needs larger amounts of some minerals, such as calcium, to grow and stay healthy. Other minerals like chromium, copper, iodine, iron, selenium, and zinc are called trace minerals because you only need very small amounts of them each day.
Major minerals and their function
- Calcium – Forms the structure of bones and teeth; assists nerve function, muscle contraction, enzyme activity and blood clotting.
- Iron – Transports oxygen around the body via red blood cells; important part of many enzymes and muscle protein.
- Magnesium – Controls nerve signals and muscle contractions, and is involved in many enzyme systems; forms the structure of bones and teeth.
- Phosphorus – Works with calcium in forming the structure of bones and teeth; releases energy from carbohydrates, fats and protein; important part of many enzymes and DNA.
- Potassium – Maintains water and acid-base balance in the body and nerve impulses by working with sodium; involved with many enzyme systems.
- Sodium – Maintains water and acid-base balance in the body and nerve impulses by working with potassium.
Trace minerals and their function
- Chromium – Regulates blood glucose through its action on insulin.
- Copper – Produces colour pigments in skin, hair and eyes; promotes nervous system function and red blood cell formation.
- Fluoride – Strengthens teeth and bone; reduces tooth decay.
- Iodine – Necessary for thyroid function, needed for normal growth.
- Selenium – Acts as an antioxidant; promotes a healthy immune system and resistance to disease; necessary for adequate thyroid function
- Zinc – Promotes normal growth, wound healing and immune system function, reproduction and sensory abilities, such as taste, smell and sight.
Supplements Vs. Food
The perfect way to get what your body needs of both vitamins and minerals, will always be from food. If your diet falls short of this, however, or you are busy, stressed, undergoing intense physical training for sport, pregnant or breastfeeding, or are struggling with illness, consider taking a supplement. Make sure it is non-synthetic, food grade, and of good manufacturing practice.
Words to the wise
We do need vitamins, but more is not necessarily better. Overdosing on vitamins can have serious toxic effects, so make sure you’re always within the right ranges your body needs. Take extra care with the fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamin A. Stored in the liver, it can accumulate to reach toxic levels and cause liver damage. And as a rule, always consult your physician before prescribing any supplements to yourself.
What types of vitamins and supplements do you take?
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