Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients because they perform hundreds of roles in the body. There is a fine line between getting enough of these nutrients (which is healthy) and getting too much (which can end up harming you). Eating a healthy diet remains the best way to get sufficient amounts of the vitamins and minerals you need.
Essential nutrients for your body
Every day, your body produces skin, muscle, and bone. It churns out rich red blood that carries nutrients and oxygen to remote outposts, and it sends nerve signals skipping along thousands of miles of brain and body pathways. It also formulates chemical messengers that shuttle from one organ to another, issuing the instructions that help sustain your life.
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.
Vitamins and minerals are considered essential nutrients—because acting in concert, they perform hundreds of roles in the body. They help shore up bones, heal wounds, and bolster your immune system. They also convert food into energy, and repair cellular damage.
But trying to keep track of what all these vitamins and minerals do can be confusing. Read enough articles on the topic, and your eyes may swim with the alphabet-soup references to these nutrients, which are known mainly be their initials (such as vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K—to name just a few).
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.
Micronutrients with a big 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 virtually guarantees disease. Here are a few examples of diseases that can result from vitamin deficiencies:
- Scurvy. Old-time sailors learned that living for months without fresh fruits or vegetables—the main sources of vitamin C—causes the bleeding gums and listlessness of scurvy.
- Blindness. In some developing countries, people still become blind from vitamin A deficiency.
- Rickets. A deficiency in vitamin D can cause rickets, a condition marked by soft, weak bones that can lead to skeletal deformities such as bowed legs. Partly to combat rickets, the U.S. has fortified milk with vitamin D since the 1930s.
Just as a lack of key micronutrients can cause substantial harm to your body, getting sufficient quantities can provide a substantial benefit. Some examples of these benefits:
- 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
Although they are all considered micronutrients, 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.
So why does this matter? It means the minerals in soil and water easily find their way into your body through the plants, fish, animals, and fluids you consume. But it’s tougher to shuttle vitamins from food and other sources into your body because cooking, storage, and simple exposure to air can inactivate these more fragile compounds.
Interacting—in good ways and bad
Many micronutrients interact. Vitamin D enables your body to pluck 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.
A closer look at major minerals
The body needs, and stores, fairly large amounts of the major minerals. These minerals are no more important to your health than the trace minerals; they’re just present in your body in greater amounts.
Major minerals travel through the body in various ways. Potassium, for example, is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, where it circulates freely and is excreted by the kidneys, much like a water-soluble vitamin. Calcium is more like a fat-soluble vitamin because it requires a carrier for absorption and transport.
What they do
One of the key tasks of major minerals is to maintain the proper balance of water in the body. Sodium, chloride, and potassium take the lead in doing this. Three other major minerals—calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium—are important for healthy bones. Sulfur helps stabilize protein structures, including some of those that make up hair, skin, and nails.
Words to the wise
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. That means 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 closer look at trace minerals
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.
What they do
Trace minerals carry out a diverse set of tasks. Here are a few examples:
- Iron is best known for ferrying oxygen throughout the body.
- Fluoride strengthens 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.
Words to the wise
Trace minerals interact with one another, sometimes in ways that can trigger imbalances. 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.
The difference between “just enough” and “too much” of the trace minerals is often tiny. Generally, food is a safe source of trace minerals, but if you take supplements, it’s important to make sure you’re not exceeding safe levels.
Hope this article is Helpful 🙂 🙂