Nutrition Tuesday: Vitamins & Minerals

Vitamins and minerals are categorized as micronutrients, which some people might interpret as non-important. However, both vitamins and minerals are essential to life. Certain vitamins and minerals are more important and needed in larger amounts than others, but all are important in maintaining a healthy body.

Vitamins are organic substances created by plants or animals. Minerals are inorganic substance that come from the earth. Plants absorb minerals from the soil and water and humans and animals absorb minerals through consuming plants.

Vitamins are classified as either water soluble or fat soluble. Water-soluble vitamins easily dissolve in water and are easily excreted by the body and thus must be consumed in larger quantities and preferably on a daily basis. Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed through the intestine with the help of fats and can be stored easier in the body and thus can be consumed in smaller amounts and less frequently (However, it’s still important to consume them!).

Human Vitamins

Water-Soluble Vitamins
Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Vitamin B1
Vitamin A
Vitamin B2
Vitamin D
Vitamin B3
Vitamin E
Vitamin B5
Vitamin K
Vitamin B6
Vitamin B7
Vitamin B9
Vitamin B12
Vitamin C

Now let’s look at a couple vitamins more in-depth:

Vitamin B12 is required by the body for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis(1). It is the largest and most complex vitamin and cannot be synthesized by the human body and thus must be obtained through diet(2). Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs and milk products. Many breakfast cereals are now fortified with B12. Since Vitamin B12 is found mostly in animal products, many vegetarians and vegans are in dangerous of having a vitamin deficiency. Nutritional yeast is a good source of Vitamin B12 for these populations. A Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to megoloblastic anemia, fatigue, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, and weight loss(1). The current Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Vitamin B12 for adults is 2.4 mcg(1).

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is vital for many physiologic functions within the human body. Humans cannot synthesize Vitamin C and must obtain it through diet. Vitamin C is important in the synthesis of collagen, which is one of the main components of tendons, ligaments, bones, and blood vessels(2). Another very important role Vitamin C plays is the production of carnitine. Carnitine is a transport molecule that transports fatty acids into the mitochrondria to be used for the production of energy(2). Vitamin C also has antioxidant properties. The current RDAs for Vitamin C is 90 mg/d for men and 75 mg/d for women(2). Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruit, tomatoes, spinach, and strawberries among other plants.

Vitamin D is a unique vitamin. There are several forms of Vitamin D, but Vitamin D3 is the primary form used by the human body(2). Cholesterol in the body can be convert into a precursor molecule to Vitamin D3 and then ultraviolet light from the sun converts the precursor molecule to Vitamin D3 in the skin. Only a minimal amount of sun exposure, about 15 minutes, can provide adequate Vitamin D3 for the human body.  

Minerals are chemical elements found naturally from the earth. There are 16 minerals that the human body requires to support human biochemical processes by serving structural and functional roles and also serving as electrolytes. Minerals include: potassium, chlorine, sodium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, iron, and several others. Let’s look at a couple minerals more in-depth:

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. Calcium concentrations in the body are closely regulated by the body for normal cellular function. When calcium is deficient in the body, the body will absorb calcium from bone stores to maintain proper blood/cellular calcium concentrations(2). Most people think of bones when they think of calcium, however, calcium has another very important role within the body. Calcium is very important in cell signaling. Calcium ions are released during a nerve impulse to contract muscles. The current RDAs for calcium is 1000 mg/d for adults.

Iron is a component of hundreds of proteins and enzymes in the human body(2). Hemoglobin is the oxygen transportation molecule in red blood cells and it contains iron. Several important iron-containing molecules are found in the electron transport chain in the mitochrondria that are essential in creating ATP and energy for the body. Iron-deficiency anemia is a common condition that can occur when not enough iron is consumed in the diet. Low iron levels can also alter such processes such as the electron transport chain, neurotransmitter synthesis, and protein synthesis(2). Many studies have shown that iron intake of female athletes is low and thus making them more prone to iron-deficiency anemia(2). Iron levels can easily be determined by a simple blood test done by your health care provider.

Each vitamin and mineral has a specific role in the human body. It is important to consume the RDA of all the nutrients to ensure a healthy body. If you are concerned about your vitamin and mineral intake then please consider consulting with your health care provider and/or registered dietitian. They may suggest taking a vitamin supplement.

References:
1. CDC. Vitamins and Minerals. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/vitamins/index.html.
2. Antonio J et al. Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements. Totowa, IL: Humana Press; 2008.

(Disclaimer: As always this is for your information only. Please consult with your health care provider if you need any guidance with nutrition.)

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