It’s essential to consume vitamins and minerals. Most people will absorb the correct amounts by eating a balanced diet. That said, it’s useful to have a general understanding of vitamins and minerals in order to support health and vitality.
What are vitamins and minerals?
The good news is that we only require very small amounts of vitamins in our systems to promote a healthier being (sometimes they are known as ‘micronutrients’); the bad news is that our bodies cannot simply produce these substances and we are therefore required to find ways of consuming and absorbing them. Similarly, we should also be looking to ingest the correct amount of minerals. The five major mineral components the human body needs are calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and magnesium.
Why do we need them?
Vitamins and minerals need to be present in the body to enable and support functions such as keeping bones in good condition and healing wounds through to transmitting nerve signals and even maintaining a regular heartbeat. They’re also needed to convert food into energy so it’s no wonder that they are also known as ‘essential nutrients’.
We know that vitamins and minerals are important since it has been noted that people with deficiencies in their diet are often subject to diseases and health conditions. Similarly, you may be alerted to vitamin and mineral deficiencies by small symptoms such as low energy levels, poor skin or hair quality or even weak fingernails and so on.
Absorbing vitamins and minerals is an ongoing necessity. The human body is an incredible organism that is perpetually undertaking activity such as regenerating cells – in fact it’s known that our body is all-but entirely regenerated over the course of about seven or eight years, with some parts even more regularly than that. Hence we can’t just eat a lifetime’s worth of vitamins and minerals for lunch and be done with it.
Ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates (he of the Hippocratic Oath) apparently, said: “Let food be your medicine, let medicine be your food”.
Indeed, this sage advice still rings true today. Both vitamins and minerals are regarded as micronutrients but it’s important to realise that they are different if we’re to get the best from our food – which is still by far and away the best way to make sure we’re getting enough of them.
Minerals are inorganic which means that they are not alive (and never were alive). The minerals found in soil and water find their way into your body through the food you eat (plants and animals). Vitamins are different in that they are organic and can be altered by variables like heat, air or acid, since they are more delicate. This means that cooking, mixing or even storage can alter their organic structure. Your best chance of absorption is by consuming a balanced diet whereby your calorie intake is based on fresh fruit and vegetables.
Together or apart?
If you’re looking to increase certain vitamin and mineral levels, you’ll need to check the way they interact together. For instance, vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron but at the same time will inhibit your body’s ability to assimilate the essential mineral, copper. You’ll also need to make sure that you’re giving vitamins, in particular, the best conditions to operate inside your body. For instance, washing down a vitamin supplement with a cup of anything caffeinated is almost certainly pointless. Drinks such as tea and coffee will inhibit absorption and furthermore will increase the extent to which they are excreted (ejected) from the body.
Even timing can play a part. It is thought that water-soluble vitamins are best taken on an empty stomach and that often means 30 minutes prior to eating or two hours after a meal. Best advice seems to be to take them at roughly the same time in the morning to build up a consistent and effective absorption routine.
Naturally, supplements are seen by many as a convenient way to improve their diet. While supplements can help, it’s also true that for some people, vitamins can react with their medication and/or cause them to develop health conditions.
There is general agreement on the efficacy of the use of supplements by certain groups of people…
- Lots of people decide to take B-12 vitamin supplements in order to create more red blood cells or to combat anaemia which can make people feel tired or weak.
- People that don’t get much sunlight, perhaps because they are unable to go outside independently, are sometimes prescribed vitamin D supplements.
- Folic acid supplements are something of a staple for pregnant women who take them to lower their child’s risk of birth defects.
Vitamins and Minerals – A quick guide
Vitamin A – Helps the immune system and promotes good low light vision. Keeps skin and lining of some parts of the body, such as the nose, healthy.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) – Helps break down and release energy from food and keeps the nervous system healthy.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) – Also helps release energy from food and is good for the nervous system – as well as eyes.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) – Aids release of energy from foods and helps the nervous system. Also keeps skin in good condition.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) – Helps release energy from food. Helps form haemoglobin, aiding circulation of oxygen via the blood.
Vitamin B7 (Biotin) – Very small amounts help the body break down fat. The bacteria that live naturally in the bowel are able to make biotin, so it’s unclear if additional biotin is necessary.
Vitamin B9 (Folate and folic acid) – The man-made form of folate is called folic acid and helps the body form healthy red blood cells.
Vitamin B12 – Contributes to red blood cell production, keeping the nervous system healthy and releasing energy from food.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid) – Protects cells and keeps them healthy, maintaining good skin, blood vessels, bones and cartilage and helps with wound healing.
Vitamin D – Helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body that keep bones teeth and muscles in good condition.
Vitamin E – Maintains skin and eye health and strengthens immunity.
Vitamin K – Essential for healing wounds through clotting blood and keeps bones heathy.
Calcium – Well known for promoting strong bones and teeth but also regulates muscle contractions such as your heartbeat.
Iodine – Helps produce thyroid hormones, keeping cells and the metabolic rate healthy.
Iron – Important in producing red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body.