Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients because they perform hundreds of roles in the body. Eating a healthy diet remains the best way to get sufficient amounts of the vitamins and minerals you need. It is important to get enough nutrients from food, however there are vitamins to help where needed.
Essential nutrients for your body
Every day, your body produces skin, muscle and bone, it produces red blood that carries nutrients and oxygen around the body, and also sends nerve signals skipping along thousands of miles of brain and body pathways. It also formulates chemical messengers that move around the body from one organ to another, issuing many instructions that help sustain your life. There are at least 30 vitamins and minerals and dietary componenets that your body needs but cannot manufacture on its own in sufficient amounts.
Vitamins and minerals are considered essential nutrients, they perform hundreds of roles in the body. They help boost the immune system, keep your bones strong, help heal wounds, they also convert food into energy, and repair cellular damage.
There can be some confusion trying to keep track of all these vitamins and minerals! Read enough articles on the topic, and your eyes may swim with letters of the alphabet, which are known mainly be their initials. In this article, you’ll gain a better understanding of what these vitamins and minerals actually do in the body and why you want to make sure you’re getting enough of them.
What are Micronutrients role in the body
Vitamins and minerals are often called micronutrients because your body needs only tiny amounts of them. Yet failing to get even those small quantities may lead to disease in the body.
Just as a lack of key micronutrients can cause substantial harm to your body, getting sufficient quantities can provide great benefit including:
- Strong bones – A combination of Calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K, Magnesium, and Phosphorus protects your bones against fractures.
- Prevents birth defects – Taking folic acid supplements early in pregnancy helps prevent brain and spinal birth defects in offspring.
- Healthy teeth – The mineral fluoride not only helps bone formation but also keeps dental cavities from starting or worsening.
The difference between vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and minerals differ in basic ways. Vitamins are organic and can be broken down by heat, air, or acid. Minerals are inorganic and hold on to their chemical structure. Why is this important? It means the minerals in soil and water easily find their way into your body through the plants, fish, animals, and fluids you eat. It is tougher to get vitamins from food and other sources into the body due to cooking, storage, and exposure to the air all these processes can inactivate the essential vitamins in the food and make them less effective in the body.
Interacting – in good ways and bad
Micronutrients interact with each other – Vitamin D enables your body to get calcium from food sources passing through your digestive tract rather than harvesting it from your bones. Vitamin C helps you absorb iron.
The interplay of micronutrients isn’t always cooperative, however. For example, vitamin C blocks your body’s ability to assimilate the essential mineral copper. And even a minor overload of the mineral manganese can worsen iron deficiency.
Water Soluble Vitamins
Water-soluble vitamins are packed into the watery portions of the foods you eat. They are absorbed directly into the bloodstream, as much of your body consists of water, many of the water-soluble vitamins circulate easily in the body. Your kidneys continuously regulate levels of water-soluble vitamins, shunting excesses out of the body in your urine.
Water-soluble vitamins are:
- Biotin (vitamin B7)
- Folic acid (folate, vitamin B9)
- Niacin (vitamin B3)
- Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- Thiamin (vitamin B1)
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
What they do
They have many tasks in the body, one of the most important is helping to free the energy found in the food you eat. Others help keep tissues healthy. Here are some examples of how different vitamins help you maintain health:
- Release energy – Several B vitamins are key components of certain coenzymes (molecules that aid enzymes) that help release energy from food.
- Produce energy – Thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, and biotin engage in energy production.
- Build proteins and cells – Vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid metabolize amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and help cells multiply.
- Make collagen – One of many roles played by vitamin C is to help make collagen, which knits together wounds, supports blood vessel walls, and forms a base for teeth and bones.
Some water-soluble vitamins can stay in the body for long periods of time. You may have several years’ supply of vitamin B12 in your liver. Vitamin C stores and folic acid can last more than a couple of days. It is adviseable that water-soluble vitamins should be replenished every few days.
Make note – There is a small risk of consuming large amounts of some of these micronutrients through supplements and may be quite harmful. For example, very high doses of B6—many times the recommended amount of 1.3 milligrams (mg) per day for adults can cause damage to nerves, causing numbness and muscle weakness.
They are unlike water-soluble vitamins as they gain enty to the blood via lymph channels in the intestinal wall. Many fat-soluble vitamins travel through the body under escort by proteins that act as carriers.
Fatty foods and oils are reservoirs for the four fat-soluble vitamins. In your body, fat tissues and the liver act as the storage containers for these vitamins and release them as needed. They are like time-release micronutrients. You can consume them every now and again, perhaps in doses weeks or months apart rather than daily, and still get enough. Your body squirrels away the excess and releases it gradually to meet your bodies needs.
Fat Soluble vitamins are:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
What they do
These 4 vitamins come together to help keep your eyes, skin, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and nervous system in good repair. These essential vitamins also:
- Build bones – Bone formation would be impossible without vitamins A, D, and K.
- Protect vision – Vitamin A also helps keep cells healthy and protects your vision.
- Interact favorably – Without vitamin E, your body would have difficulty absorbing and storing vitamin A.
- Protect the body – Vitamin E also acts as an antioxidant (a compound that helps protect the body against damage from unstable molecules).
Make note – Because fat-soluble vitamins are stored in your body for long periods, toxic levels can build up. This is very rare from the food you eat but can happen when taking supplements.
Major minerals are stoed in the body for when they are needed. These minerals are no more important to your health than the trace minerals. Major minerals travel through the body in various ways. Potassium, is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, here it circulates and is excreted by the kidneys, much like a water-soluble vitamin. Calcium is more like a fat-soluble vitamin as it requires a carrier for absorption and transport.
Major minerals are:
What they do
A key role major minerals play is to maintain the proper balance of water in the body. Sodium, chloride, and potassium take the lead in doing this. The other major minerals – Calcium, Phosphorus, and Magnesium are important for healthy bones. Sulfur helps stabilize protein structures, including those that make up hair, skin, and nails.
Make note – Imbalance can result by having too much of one major mineral can result in a deficiency of another. These sorts of imbalances are usually caused by overloads from supplements, not food sources. Here are two examples:
- Salt overload – Calcium binds with excess sodium in the body and is excreted when the body senses that sodium levels must be lowered, meaning that if you ingest too much sodium through table salt or processed foods, you could end up losing needed calcium as your body rids itself of the surplus sodium.
- Excess phosphorus – Likewise, too much Phosphorus can hamper your ability to absorb Magnesium.
A thimble could easily contain the distillation of all the trace minerals normally found in your body. Yet their contributions are just as essential as those of major minerals such as calcium and phosphorus, which each account for more than a pound of your body weight.
Trace minerals are:
What they do
Trace minerals carry out diverse tasks a few examples are:
- Iron is best known for carrying oxygen throughout the body.
- Fluoride strengthens the bones and wards off tooth decay.
- Zinc helps blood clot, is essential for taste and smell, and bolsters the immune response.
- Copper helps form several enzymes, one of which assists with iron metabolism and the creation of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood.
The other trace minerals perform equally vital jobs, such as helping to block damage to body cells and forming parts of key enzymes or enhancing their activity.
Make note – Trace minerals interact with one another. Too much of one can cause or contribute to a deficiency of another. Here are some examples:
- A minor overload of manganese can exacerbate iron deficiency. Having too little can also cause problems.
- When the body has too little iodine, thyroid hormone production slows, causing sluggishness and weight gain as well as other health concerns. The problem worsens if the body also has too little selenium.
There is a fine balance between “just enough” and “too much” of the trace minerals. In general food is a safe source of trace minerals, if you take supplements it is important to make sure you go with a reputable brand and company and follow their guidlines and dosage limits to ensure you are not exceding safe levels.
Antioxidant is a term for any compound that can counteract unstable molecules such as free radicals that damage DNA, cell membranes, and other parts of cells.
The body cells naturally produce plenty of antioxidants from the foods you eat and supplements you take. Carotenoids (such as lycopene in tomatoes and lutein in kale) and flavonoids (such as anthocyanins in blueberries, quercetin in apples and onions, and catechins in green tea) are antioxidants. The vitamins C and E and the mineral selenium also have antioxidant properties.
Free radicals and why they may be harmful
Free radicals are a natural byproduct of energy metabolism and are also generated by ultraviolet rays, tobacco smoke, and air pollution. They lack a full complement of electrons, which makes them unstable, so they steal electrons from other molecules, damaging those molecules in the process.
Free radicals have a reputation for causing cellular damage, however they can be helpful too. When immune system cells muster to fight intruders, the oxygen they use unleashes an army of free radicals that destroys bacteria, viruses, and damaged body cells in an oxidative burst. Vitamin C can then disarm the free radicals.
How antioxidants may help
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by giving up some of their own electrons. When a vitamin C or E molecule makes this sacrifice, it may allow a crucial protein, gene, or cell membrane to escape damage. This helps break a chain reaction that can affect many other cells.
It is important to recognize that the term “antioxidant” reflects a chemical property rather than a specific nutritional property. Each of the nutrients that has antioxidant properties also has numerous other aspects and should be considered individually. The context is also important in some situations vitamin C is an antioxidant, and in others it can be a pro-oxidant.
Make note – Articles and advertisements have written about antioxidants as a way to help slow aging, fend off heart disease, improve flagging vision, and curb cancer. Also studies in the laboratory and many large-scale observational trials have noted benefits from diets rich in certain antioxidants and, in some cases, from antioxidant supplements.
But results from randomized controlled trials and placebo are not clear and further research is needed. These findings suggest little overall benefit of the antioxidants in pill form. On the other hand, many studies show that people who consume higher levels of these antioxidants in food or supplements have a lower risk of many diseases.
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