What Are Vitamins and Minerals?

Vitamins and minerals are types of nutrients. Specifically, they are micronutrients. In comparison, the macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Below, we look at vitamins and minerals, talk about their differences, and explain why you need them.

Vitamins

Vitamins are organic compounds which are necessary for proper human health. In general, your human body can’t control many processes and functions without them. Since the human body can’t produce vitamins (except for D and K), we must get them from outside sources. The two main sources of vitamins are the foods we eat and dietary supplements (1).

13 Essential Vitamins

There are 13 essential vitamins — vitamins A, C, D, E, K along with all the B vitamins: B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyroxidine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate), and B12 (cobalamin) (2). The average person who eats a balanced diet gets all of these vitamins from foods. Additionally, the human body can create vitamin D (from sunshine) and vitamin K (created by bacteria in the large intestine) (3).

Two Types of Vitamins

There are two main categories of vitamins: fat-soluble and water-soluble. The body stores and transports the four fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) through fatty tissues. Since the body stores these vitamins in fat, be cautious when taking fat-soluble vitamins. Specifically, taking too much of these vitamins could be harmful.

The other category of vitamins is water-soluble. This group includes the other nine essential vitamins (C along with all the B vitamins). Since these vitamins dissolve in water and the body continually removes them in your urine, your body constantly needs fresh doses of these vitamins (4).

Minerals

Like vitamins, minerals also help your body to function normally. However, without the proper amounts of minerals, your health suffers. Minerals help you maintain strong bones, a healthy heart, and proper nervous system functioning. But they are also important building blocks for certain hormones and enzymes (5). Also, like vitamins, the human body cannot produce minerals. Consequently, they must be introduced into the body either through the diet or dietary supplements.

Two Types of Minerals

There are two types of minerals: macrominerals and trace minerals. Yet both types are necessary for good health. However, your body simply needs them in different amounts. As the name suggests, the body needs greater doses of macrominerals. Some of these include calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium. On the other hand, the body only needs small doses of trace minerals like iron, copper, iodine, zinc, and selenium (5). However, even though the body needs smaller amounts of trace elements, they are still necessary for good health.

Common Mineral Supplements

Below are a few some common mineral supplements along with the ways they help the body (6):

  • Calcium — Necessary for strong bones, muscle growth, heart health, digestive system health, and the creation and maintenance of blood cells
  • Iron — An important building block for for many proteins and enzymes, most notably hemoglobin
  • Magnesium — Necessary for bone health and processing ATP
  • Chromium — Assists with glucose and lipid metabolism
  • Potassium — A necessary electrolyte

What’s The Difference Between Vitamins And Minerals?

Raw copper

Although your body needs both vitamins and minerals to function properly, there are differences between them. Overall, the big difference is what they’re made of. Vitamins are organic, complex molecules or compounds composed of different elements. For example, vitamin D is composed of the elements carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen (7). Vitamin A is also made of the same three elements, but is a different configuration (8).

In comparison, minerals are elements found on the periodic table (9). For example, calcium (atomic number 20) is an alkaline earth metal and an element the body needs for strong bones (10). Moreover, iron, which helps prevent anemia, is also a metal and is atomic number 26 (11). And copper, a soft metal with atomic number 29, is useful for building many enzymes (12).

Why Are They Important For Health?

The amount of minerals that each person needs depends on a number of factors. For example, age, body composition, health issues, and gender all play a role in the amounts each person needs. At the same time, not getting enough of the vitamins and minerals your body needs is called deficiency. As a result, a deficiency may lead to health problems. Below are the effects of not getting enough of a few vitamins and minerals (13):

  • Vitamin D — Can weaken the immune system and lead to bone loss, muscle weakness, fatigue, and depression
  • Magnesium — Can produce fatigue, irregular heartbeat, muscle cramps, andrestless leg syndrome; long-term effects include osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke
  • Omega-3 fatty acids — Dry skin, a weakened immune system, fatigue, and mood disorders; long-term effects could include heart disease, inflammation, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer
  • Vitamin E — Reduced mortality and an increased risk of stroke, prostate cancer, lung cancer, and respiratory disease

What Are The Most Important Ones To Keep Nourished?

By staying well-nourished and eating a balanced diet, the average person gets all the vitamins and minerals they need. However, which are the most important ones to help a person stay nourished?

As the name says, the 13 essential vitamins are necessary for good health. What’s more, your body needs all the major minerals (calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and sulfur) as well as the trace minerals (chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc) (14). In summary, each person should get adequate amounts of all of these vitamins and minerals.

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References:

  1. https://www.uen.org/lessonplan/view/1261
  2. https://www.disabled-world.com/medical/supplements/vitamins/
  3. http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/topics/vitamink.html
  4. https://www.uen.org/lessonplan/view/1261
  5. https://medlineplus.gov/minerals.html
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mineral_(nutrient)#Elements_considered_possibly_essential_but_not_confirmed
  7. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/ascorbic_acid
  8. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/445354
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mineral_(nutrient)
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calcium
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copper
  13. https://www.betternutrition.com/features-dept/vitamin-deficiencies
  14. https://www.helpguide.org/harvard/vitamins-and-minerals.htm

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