The information on vitamins and minerals has gotten a little way from me. Turns out I had more to say than I realized. I won’t get to suggested amounts and tips on buying high quality supplements until my next post. I’m going to back up a little in this post and just cover what vitamins and minerals are.
Do you know what they are and why we need them? Turns out I didn’t. I knew the basic stuff like vitamin c is found in citrus fruit and you always hear that it’s great for keeping the sniffles away. I know vitamin D comes from the sun. I have always heard that we need to drink milk to get our calcium (not necessarily true, by the way). You know, the basics.
That’s all great but it never made an impression on me or made me feel like I needed to do anything special to make sure I was getting all that I needed (never mind trying to get the stuff I’d never heard of). The two classes I finished over the summer concentrated on macro (protein, carbs, fat & water) nutrients and micro (vitamins and minerals) nutrients. I think most of us spend time thinking about macro nutrients. There is certainly a lot of information out there about them – primal, paleo, ancestral and to a lesser degree, the USDA food pyramid or myplate.
I think, most of the micro nutrients fly a little under the radar. It may only be me, it’s possible the rest of you know everything about micro nutrients but just in case there is one other person out there who doesn’t I’ll give you my quick (I’ll try to be quick), recently acquired understanding of micro nutrients and why they are important.
Vitamins occur naturally in plants and animals, they are organic compounds. In the body, vitamins function as coenzymes. As coenzymes vitamins are activators, they are the catalysts in chemical reactions that take place in our bodies all the time. That is huge! Enzymes make everything happen. Without them we wouldn’t be able to do the simple things we don’t even think about like breath, blink or even walk. Without enzymes our bodies can’t break down the food we eat, our nerves wouldn’t transmit important information and electrons wouldn’t flow. That’s pretty scary if you really think about it. Here’s the really interesting part, even if you have tons of enzymes, if you don’t have the vitamin a particular enzyme needs as its catalyst/activator that enzyme just sits around wasted. It can’t do it’s job.
Here’s an example from The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book by Shari Lieberman and Nancy Bruning:
…consider a particular enzyme that is needed to transmit nerve impulses to your fingers. No matter how plentiful this enzyme is in your body, if you are deficient in B6, this enzyme cannot be activated. As a result, you might feel some numbness in your fingers.
Pretty cool don’t cha think? It gets better. You may think, great, I’ll take a single vitamin supplement for a specific deficiency. Vitamins (and minerals) don’t work that way. They work synergistically, they need balance to work best. For example, if you supplement with calcium but are deficient in vitamin D (which most of us are) your body won’t be able to absorb/use the calcium the way it needs to. This can eventually lead to osteoporosis, not good. The authors of The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book suggest that “calcium plus magnesium and vitamin D is the combination that works best because each nutrient enhances the absorption and benefits of the others.”
There are two types of vitamins, water-soluble and fat soluble. The water-soluble vitamins are: vitamin C, vitamin B12, Folic Acid, Niacin, Pyridoxine (B6), Riboflavin (B2), and Thiamin (B1). Th fat-soluble vitamins are: vitamin A, Beta-carotene, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, and Vitamin K. The body uses the water-soluble vitamins very quickly, as soon as they are absorbed through the digestive system. They aren’t stored in the body, any excess gets excreted from the body so there is no known toxicity. They need to be replenished all the time since we can’t store them. Fat-soluble vitamins are primarily stored in fat tissue but may also be stored in some organs, especially the liver. Because these vitamins are stored in the body there is potential for toxicity but it’s rare and the dose has to be very, very large.
O.k. so that was my “quick” over view of vitamins, here’s my quick wrap up about minerals. Minerals are not produced in plants and animals, they are inorganic elements – the plants we eat absorb minerals from the soil and the animals we eat get minerals from the plants they eat. Many minerals function as coenzymes just like vitamins but minerals also have other functions. Some minerals act as antioxidants, some transport oxygen and some function as hormones.
There are two types of minerals, macro minerals and micro minerals. We need larger amounts of macro minerals than we do of micro minerals. Macro minerals: calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. Micro minerals: zinc, iron, copper, manganese, chromium, selenium, iodine, potassium and boron.
Like fat-soluble vitamins, minerals get stored in the body. They can be stored all over the body but they are primarily stored in the bones and muscles. Because minerals are stored it is possible to overdose on minerals but it’s difficult to reach toxicity levels and generally only happens if extremely large doses are taken.
To reach toxicity with vitamin and mineral supplements, you must go out of your way to abuse supplements by taking massive quantities, usually for a prolonged period of time.
The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book
I could go on but I think you get the point, we need them all. The best place to start is with a high quality multi-vitamin. If you are really interested in putting together a personal supplement plan you should look for a qualified nutritionist or naturopath. Once you move beyond the multivitamin it can get a little tricky. Not all supplements are needed by all people and some people will have adverse reactions to some supplements. We are all unique and we all have very different biochemical needs. The good news is, if you can’t tolerate a certain supplement your body will let you know rather quickly. If it makes you feel lousy, stop taking it and you’ll bounce back to “normal”.
I’m going to finish with some quotes from The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book about deficiencies and why it’s important to support the body with all of these necessary nutrients even if we don’t feel like we are in need.
State-of-the-art biochemistry shows that classic, overt deficiency symptoms, like those of beriberi, are merely the last event in a long chain of reactions in the body…
Even if you feel “pretty good” and don’t notice deficiency symptoms it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
If we do not get enough of a specific vitamin, the initial reactions occur on the molecular level. The first thing that happens is a depletion of the vitamin stores in the body. Then the enzymes, of which the vitamin is a part, become depleted. This in turn, brings about changes on the cellular level: some of the cells of the body, which depend upon these enzymes, can no longer carry out their normal functions. It is not until the depletion is prolonged and severe that the classic clinical signs of deficiency appear.
Yipes. Another example of this would be osteoporosis. I think we all want to avoid that.
It’s also likely that what we mistake for normal signs of aging are really signs of inadequate vitamins and minerals, according to the Senate Special Council on Aging.
If you aren’t already, you might want to consider taking a multi-vitamin.
In my next post I will put up the RDA, ODI, and SONA values (I promise). I’ll also put up some information about what to look for and/or avoid when shopping for high quality supplements.
Eat Well, Feel Good, Have Fun
Fallon, S., & Enig, M. G. (2001). Introduction. In Nourishing Traditions. (2nd ed.). (pp. 37-47). Washington, DC: NewTren
Lieberman, S., & Bruning, N. (2007). The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book. (4th ed.). New York, New York: Penguin Group.
Mateljan, G. (2007). Health-Promoting Nutrients from the World’s Healthiest Foods. In The World’s Healthiest Foods. (1st ed.).
(pp. 733-804). Seattle, Washington: George Mateljan Foundation.
McGuire, M., & Beerman, K. (2011). Water-Soluble Vitamins, Fat-Soluble Vitamins, The Major Minerals, The Trace Minerals. In Nutritional Sciences: From Fundamentals to Food. (2nd ed.). (pp. 439-579). Belmont, California: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Ross, J. (1999). Your Master Nutritional Supplement Plan. In The Diet Cure. (1st ed.). (pp. 248-254). New York, New York: Penguin Group.
Amy White MS HNC
I am a holistic nutrition counselor and believe real food is the true path to wellness. If you are interested in learning more about me and how I can help you, please see my story.
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