Elixir of life: Vitamins & Minerals – 1

So what’s the big deal about vitamins and minerals any ways? Do you really need to worry about getting adequate amounts of these “essential nutrients”?

Let’s have a look at what the fuss is all about. Vitamins and minerals together are called “essential nutrients” because they perform literally hundreds of different functions in the body.

This three part blog will arm you with all the information that you will ever need on these “essential nutrients”. Let’s start with an overview of the functioning of these micro nutrients as a whole. In the later parts we will take a closer look at the vitamins and minerals individually.

Now that we have the importance of these micro nutrients, let’s get a couple of things down:

  • Eating a well-balanced diet still remains the best way to get adequate quantities of these essential nutrients.

  • Like all things in life there is a fine line between getting the right quantity and having too much which can cause several complications.

Essential nutrients for your body

These nutrients are essential for your body as they provide the raw material that is required to produce bones, muscle, skin as well as adding in a number of life-supporting processes. Together these 30 odd vitamins, minerals, and dietary nutrients are essential for survival and must be sourced from external sources as the human body cannot produce them in sufficient quantities on its own.

In addition, these nutrients together work synergistic-ally to perform hundreds of additional roles in the body, they support healthy bones, aid in the healing process, and bolster your immune system. They also play a vital role in converting food into energy, and help repair damaged cells.

What if you don’t get adequate amounts of these micro-nutrients?

Having gotten the importance part out of the way let’s look at what can happen if you don’t get the adequate quantities of these essential nutrients. Vitamins and minerals are also known as micro-nutrients because they are only required in minute quantities. Yet failing to meet the adequate quantity of these nutrients virtually guarantees diseases. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • Scurvy: Used to be prevalent in sailors as the job enlisted months on end at sea without access to fresh fruits or vegetables rich in vitamin C— the disease is marked by bleeding gums and lethargy of scurvy.

  • Blindness: Failing to get adequate quantities of vitamin A can cause blindness. Blindness due to vitamin A deficiency is still prevalent in a number of countries in the developing world.

  • Rickets: This disease is caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, a condition that causes the bones to become soft and weak which in turn can cause skeletal deformities such as bowed legs.

Okay enough fear mongering; let’s look at the benefits of a well-balanced diet that provides for the adequate quantities of these essential nutrients. Just to name a few:

  • Strong bones: together vitamins D and K along with calcium, phosphorus and magnesium help build strong bones that are more resilient to fractures. This combination should be of interest to you, especially if you’re over 35 and for post-menopausal women.

  • Prevention of birth defects: It is highly recommended that folic acid supplements be taken during early pregnancy as it aids in prevention of brain and spinal birth defects in offspring.

  • Healthy teeth: The mineral fluoride often found in a number of toothpastes these days aids not only in bone formation but also keeping teeth cavities at bay.

Vitamins and minerals

Vitamins and minerals are often mentioned in a single breath no doubt; however these two are different nutrients. The biggest difference between the two being that vitamins are organic in nature and are fragile and break down upon exposure to air and/or heat, minerals on the other hand are more resilient as these are inorganic in nature.

Why do you need to know the difference between vitamins & minerals? Well, learning the basic difference between vitamins and minerals is important as most minerals required by your body can be absorbed by through various food sources that you consume. But it’s tougher to maintain the vitamin content of the food as cooking, storage, or even simple exposure to air can inactivate these more fragile compounds.

Interacting— both good and bad

A number of these nutrients interact with each other and not always in a positive fashion. For instance, Vitamin D and calcium share a positive interaction; vitamin D facilitates the absorption of calcium from various food sources and in turn aids maintaining bone strength. Likewise Vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron.

As mentioned earlier the interplay of micro nutrients isn’t always positive. For example, it is known that higher quantities of vitamin C block copper absorption. Similarly, excess of manganese can worsen iron deficiency.