Vitamins and minerals are together called micronutrients because they are required in small quantities for optimal growth and development, functioning of the body, disease prevention, and well-being. Although required in tiny quantities, a deficiency of any minerals or vitamins can lead to serious and often life-threatening health conditions.
According to the United Nations Children's Fund, micronutrient deficiencies affect about 50 percent of children younger than five years old globally. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies affect adults as well, leading to several diseases. Three of the most common micronutrient deficiencies around the world are iron, vitamin A and iodine deficiencies. Apart from deficiencies, consuming certain micronutrients, such as sodium and fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K) in excess can also harm health.
The various vitamins and minerals needed by the body include:
- Vitamins: Vitamins are organic substances that are naturally found in various plants and animals, and come in two types:
- Water-soluble vitamins: They dissolve in water and are eliminated from the body through urine. Most of these vitamins cannot be stored in the body. They include vitamin C and B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine or B6, biotin, folic acid, and vitamin B12).
- Fat-soluble vitamins: They are stored in the body for long periods and are not eliminated as easily and frequently from the body as water-soluble vitamins. They include vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- Minerals: Minerals are inorganic substances that are naturally found in soil and water, which include:
- Macrominerals: Larger amounts of these are needed by the body, such as calcium, sodium, magnesium, potassium, and chloride.
- Trace minerals: Very small amounts are needed and include iron, iodine, fluoride, selenium, zinc, chromium, and copper.
What are the health benefits of vitamins and minerals?
Vitamins and minerals perform diverse roles in the body. They are required at every stage of life beginning at the time of conception. While each has its distinct functions, some of the major roles of vitamins and minerals are:
- Healthy fetal development and growth
- Cellular function at biochemical levels
- Healthy bones, teeth, and muscles
- Regulation of blood pressure
- Maintenance of heart health
- Functioning of the brain and nerves
- Healthy vision
- Hormone production, release, and action
- Immune function
- Reproductive health
- Healthy blood including the formation of healthy blood cells and blood clotting
- Healthy skin, nails, and hair
- Maintenance of fluid balance
- Proper functioning of various organs, tissues, and cells
- Prevention of various diseases including high blood pressure, arthritis, memory impairment, blood clotting diseases, vision disorders, and cancer
What are the sources of vitamins and minerals?
Most vitamins and minerals need to be obtained through the diet because the body cannot produce them. Vitamins D and K, however, can be formed in the body in small amounts. Nonetheless, these amounts are rarely enough to meet the demands of the body. Hence, one needs to consume the micronutrients in their diet to prevent deficiencies.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that micronutrient requirements must be fulfilled by including various sources of vitamins and minerals in the diet, such as:
- Dairy products
- Meat, seafood, and poultry
- Fortified foods (foods that have been made nutrient-rich by adding certain vitamins and minerals, such as fortified juices and cereals)
- Whole grains
- Soy products
Taking dietary supplements including multivitamin pills is not recommended for people who can meet their nutrient demands through foods. Talk to the doctor to know about other ways to get the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals if enough is not obtained through diet. They may recommend taking vitamin supplements, especially if a person:
- Has certain food allergies (such as nut allergies or lactose intolerance)
- Is on a calorie-restricted diet for health conditions, such as obesity
- Has any signs of micronutrient deficiencies
- Is pregnant or breastfeeding
- Has strict dietary preferences as seen in vegans
- Has certain health conditions that prevent absorption of micronutrients from the gut
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Teens Health. Vitamins and Minerals. https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/vitamins-minerals.html
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 8th ed. December 2015. https://health.gov/our-work/nutrition-physical-activity/dietary-guidelines/previous-dietary-guidelines/2015
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