What are Vitamins and Minerals and Why are they Important?

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The concept of vitamins and minerals contained in food is instilled in each and every one of us as soon as we start schooling. From then on, we have been aware that all food items that we eat on a daily basis give us essential nutrients that nourish and fuel our body, enabling us to go about our day-to-day routine.

Our bodies are comparable to machines that operate every hour of the day to sustain life. Day in and day out, the different systems that make up our body work hand in hand to circulate blood in our bloodstream, digest food, and process different stimuli around us. Like all types of machines, we need raw fuel to ensure that we function efficiently – and this is where vitamins and minerals come in.

Vitamins and minerals are regarded as vital nutrients, each having a specialized function to aid a specific bodily function. When put together, a powerhouse is formed, and a great number of roles are performed by these substances.

Definition and Types of Vitamins

Medical News Today defines vitamins as natural substances obtained from food which are needed by the human body in small amounts for growth and maintenance of good health. We need to ingest food in order to get vitamins because the human body either does not produce enough amount of vitamins, or does not produce them at all.

Medical experts consider an organic chemical compound as vitamin if a living thing cannot produce enough amounts of this substance and has to rely on food to have in his system. To date, there are 13 universally recognized vitamins, which are categorized as fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins.

A study by Colorado State University Extension emphasizes that the categorization of vitamins as fat-soluble and water-soluble is important, since this explains the behavior of each specific vitamin when inside the human body.

Water-soluble Vitamins

The water-soluble vitamin category is comprised 9 vitamins under the vitamins C and B-complex group.  Based on its category name, water-soluble vitamins are dissolved by water inside the body. Furthermore, the body needs to utilize water-soluble vitamins right away, because unused vitamins under this category are eliminated by the body through excretion of urine. Daily supply of water-soluble vitamins are highly-recommended to replenish the amount excreted in urine.

Vitamin B1

The main function of Thiamine or Vitamin B1 is to aid the body in transforming carbohydrates from food into usable energy. Moreover, Thiamine promotes healthy nerve cells and optimum heart function. Vitamin B1 deficiency may cause a condition called beri-beri which causes loss of muscle strength and nerve damage.

Vitamin B2

Riboflavin or Vitamin B2 is essential for production of healthy red blood cells and overall growth. Like other components of Vitamin B-Complex, Riboflavin also aids in transforming carbohydrates from food into energy. Meeting the required intake of Vitamin B2 is beneficial in fighting free radicals and metabolizing Iron, per The George Mateljan Foundation.

Vitamin B3

Apart from its contribution on the overall function of the Vitamin B group, Vitamin B3, also known as Niacin, also plays a part in blood circulation and in the production of certain stress-related and sex hormones in the body’s adrenal glands.

Based on the study of University of Maryland Medical Center, it has been shown that Niacin suppresses inflammation.

Niacin has also been used to lower the body’s LDL or bad cholesterol and triglyceride. Other conditions in which Vitamin B3 deems beneficial are diabetes, atherosclerosis and osteoarthritis.

Vitamin B5

Pantothenic Acid is important in the production of hormones and good cholesterol, in addition to its role in food metabolism.

Vitamin B6

Pyridoxine or Vitamin B6 plays a role of great importance in overall brain function. It is also important in regulating proteins from food when it is being metabolized by the body.

Vitamin B7

Vitamin B7, more commonly known as Biotin, is often attributed to strengthening hair and nails. A study by Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California also states that Vitamin B7 is required for the generation of glucose and important fatty acids in the body.

Vitamin B9

Vitamin B9 or Folate is required for the production of DNA which serves as the body’s blueprint. Folate deficiency in pregnant women is linked to birth defects in infants.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12, also known by its chemical names hydroxycobalamin, methylcobalamin and cyanocobalamin is important in the process of DNA synthesis. Unlike its other counterparts in the Vitamin B Complex formulation, our livers can store Vitamin B12, which in turn lessens the chances of deficiency. Lack of Vitamin B12 may cause certain types of anemia that is more likely to occur in the elderly.

Vitamin C

Ascorbic Acid, more commonly known as Vitamin C, promotes the overall health of teeth and gums. In addition to these benefits, this antioxidant aids the human body in absorbing iron, maintaining healthy tissues, and healing of wounds. Lack of Vitamin C in our system may lead to megaloblastic anemia or scurvy, which is characterized by fatigue, sudden weakness and aching limbs, according to Dermnet New Zealand.

Fat-soluble Vitamins

Vitamins A, D, E and K are essential nutrients which fall under the fat-soluble category. Colorado State University describes fat-soluble vitamins as substances that are easily absorbed when dietary fat is present. Unlike their water-soluble counterparts, Vitamins A, D, E and K are not easily eliminated from the body as they are stored in fatty tissues and in the liver.

Vitamin A

Beta carotene or Vitamin A, promotes good eyesight, healthy bones and teeth, and maintains the softness of tissue, mucus membrane, and skin. Lack of this vitamin may cause night-blindness and kerotomalacia or dryness of cornea in some individuals.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D, famously known as the “sunshine vitamin”, aids the body in absorbing calcium for the development of teeth and bones. Unlike majority of vitamins that are acquired from food, Vitamin D is acquired by the body through exposure to sunlight.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is one of the lesser known vitamins with a very significant function. Without it, blood in the body would not be able to coagulate or stick together, leading to incontrollable bleeding.

Definition and Types of Minerals

Same as vitamins, minerals are important substances acquired from food that are required for normal bodily functions. Minerals are categorized as macrominerals and trace minerals, which corresponds to the amount required by the body.

Macrominerals

The US Department of Health and Human Services define macrominerals as minerals that are needed by the human body in large amounts to function properly.

 

Sodium

Sodium ensures that the various nerves and muscles in the body is functioning properly. Moreover, Sodium promotes fluid balance to keep the right amounts of water in various parts of the body.

Chloride

Like Sodium, Chloride is also important in fluid balance in the body. Furthermore, Chloride also regulates stomach acids which aid in the digestion process.

Potassium

In addition to its role in fluid retention and muscular function, Potassium ensures that our nerves are functioning seamlessly in transmitting signals to various receptors.

Calcium

Most of us are quite familiar with Calcium due to its role in maintain teeth and bone health. Other than this, Calcium aids muscle contraction, blood clotting, and regulation of blood pressure.

Microminerals

Also called trace minerals, microminerals are substances that are required by the body only in small amounts.

Iron

Iron is one of the components that make up hemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells. This trace mineral helps transmit oxygen throughout the body, thereby aiding metabolism of energy.

Zinc

Zinc helps the body in warding off infections and healing wounds. Other than this, this trace mineral is needed in generation of protein and development of the fetus in pregnant women.

Iodine

Iodine is one of the components that make up the thyroid hormone. This hormone plays a role in regulation of development, growth, and metabolism.

Given the important roles that they play in most bodily processes and functions, meeting the daily requirement of these essential vitamins and minerals will help ensure that we are at our best forms and that our bodily systems are working hand-in-hand in promoting overall health.

Aside from taking vitamin and mineral supplements, a great way to make sure that we are acquiring the nutrients that we need is to eat a balanced diet which is comprised mainly of meat, fruits, and vegetables paired with healthy amounts of carbohydrates and fats.

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10 Comments

  • Gwen C

    Reply Reply May 15, 2016

    Mind=blown. I have never bothered to stop and think about what the difference between a vitamin and mineral was before. And who knew there were so many b vits! I know I didn’t. I seriously assumed vitamins were just named after a letter based on which order they were discovered in so I never realized the number behind the b meant anything as important as making it a totally different type. This was SOOO informative! Tot’s sharing!

  • Rachel Brown

    Reply Reply May 15, 2016

    Very well put together post. I’m curious though, how do you feel about the emerging claims that taking vitamin and mineral supplements/multi-vitamins is actually causing more harm than good? Is it better to get your nutrients from food as much as possible? I feel like it would be. Interested to hear your thoughts. I love and appreciate how well researched and assembled your post is. Keep up the great work!

  • Toni Fontello

    Reply Reply May 15, 2016

    Very informative article that encourages me to check the labels of not only the vitamins I take but foods I eat. I never realized how many B vitamins there were or the importance of minerals.

  • Athan

    Reply Reply May 15, 2016

    This article has been most helpful for my niece’s report. It is very easy to understand, and thus, easy for her to explain. In behalf of my niece, who I am sure will get a good grade on her report, thank you very much for sharing this information!

  • Adeline N.

    Reply Reply May 17, 2016

    My question is…is it better to take supplements or eat fresh fruits and veg? Sure, taking a pill with all those vitamins is a quick way to supplement our body’s deficiencies. But, I’ve also read somewhere that it is harmful on the long term. I mean, if you’ve been taking the same set of vitamins for years, it does make your body dependent on it, right?

  • Kelvin G.

    Reply Reply May 17, 2016

    I grew up taking vitamins and now I’m taking protein supplements to bulk up. I’m a normal lad, though I would say that I haven’t been to the doctor’s as often as my friends did. I’m 21 and have a pretty active lifestyle and I think vitamins played a big part of my health.

  • Terrence

    Reply Reply May 17, 2016

    Great article! I regularly take vitamins but I have never really understood what they were really doing. But now after reading your article I have a better understand. Also, can you tell me if taking liquid vitamins are better than pills?

  • Hannah Cortes

    Reply Reply May 17, 2016

    I always take my multivitamins every morning but I don’t even know a thing about it. Now I know my vitamins and minerals. I feel very empowered.

  • Bruce

    Reply Reply May 21, 2016

    I take my vitamins every single day. They make me feel much better and energized. I will share your informative article!

  • Pam

    Reply Reply May 29, 2016

    There is so much misinformation about vitamins and minerals. So glad you are shedding light on this subject. Will share of Twitter!

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