Elixir of life: Vitamins & Minerals – Part II: Vitamins

The first part of this three part blog was an overview of vitamins and minerals. This part we take a closer look at the types of vitamins and their role.Vitamins are classified broadly into two categories water-soluble and fat-soluble. You need to know this for example if you’re supplementing your vitamin requirement via supplements as fat soluble vitamins are better absorbed if taken with food. Let’s have a closer look at the two types.

Water-soluble vitamins

  • B vitamins

  • Biotin (vitamin B7)

  • Folic acid (folate, vitamin B9)

  • Niacin (vitamin B3)

  • Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5

  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2)

  • Thiamine (vitamin B1)

  • Vitamin B6

  • Vitamin B12

  • Vitamin C

Why are they important

Water-soluble vitamins play a host of different tasks in the body. One of the most important being the release of energy from the food you consume Still others help in maintaining tissue health. Here are some examples of how different vitamins help you maintain good health:

  • Release energy: Several B vitamins form the bases of certain co-enzymes. These co-enzymes aid in the metabolism of fat and carbohydrate in turn liberating energy.

  • Proteins synthesis and new cell generation. Vitamins B6, B12 along with folic acid help in metabolising amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and help in cells division and multiplication.

  • Building collagen. Vitamin C plays an important role in build collagen. Collagen plays a vital role in healing wounds, supporting walls of blood vessels, and forms the base for bones and teeth.

Words to the wise

It is generally believed that, our body does not store water-soluble vitamins. However, it might be true in the case of some of the water soluble vitamins but not all. Some of them can stay in the body for extended periods of time. For instance, Vitamin B12 is stored in the liver and you might have several years’ worth of this vitamin in your body at any given stage. Vitamin B12 is not the only one, folic acid and vitamin C reserves could last for a couple of days as well.

Generally, though, the stock of these vitamins would require replenishment every few days.

A word of caution:

Though the risks associated with excessive intake are low in water soluble vitamins, there is however a small risk associated with excessive intake of some of these vital micro-nutrients. Through the chances of this happing through food alone are virtually zero, the risk is quit real when it comes to supplements. For instance, a B6 dose that’s well over RDA can cause damage to the nerves, in turn causing numbness and even weaken the muscle.

Fat-soluble vitamins

As the name suggests Fatty foods and oils are reservoirs for fat-soluble vitamins. Within the body, these vitamins are stored primarily in the fat tissues. The liver is organ that holds these vitamins.You can think of these vitamins as being time-released. Unlike most water soluble vitamins these can be stored in the body and you may replenish your reserves weeks and even months apart and still get your fill. Your body accumulators the excess and doles it out when needed.

The four fat-soluble vitamins

  • Vitamin A

  • Vitamin D

  • Vitamin E

  • Vitamin K

Why are they important

Collectively these quartets of vitamins promote eyes, skin, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and nervous system health. In additions to these fat-soluble vitamins play a pivotal role in:

  • Building strong bones: together vitamins A, D, and K play a pivotal role in the process of bone formation.

  • Shield the vision: Vitamin A is probably the most important nutrient for the eyes. It aids in keeping the cells healthy and provides protection for the vision.

  • Guard the body: Vitamin E also acts as powerful antioxidant. It helps mop up free radicals which can damage healthy cells and provides for complete well-being.

A word of caution

As the body store excessive fat-soluble vitamins over long periods of times, the risk of toxicity are very real with these vitamins. As is the case with water-soluble vitamins there is very little chance to reach these via diet alone. But if you’re taking supplements you need to be very careful.

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.

Elixir of life: Vitamins & Minerals

Part III: Minerals

The first two parts of this three part blog we took an overview of vitamins and minerals and took a closer look at the role vitamins in maintaining good health. In this part we will take a closer look at Minerals and their importance in maintaining good health.

Minerals play an import role in a lot of bodily functions and processes. As is the case with vitamins the minerals can be divided into two categories namely the so called major minerals and the trace minerals. At any given time the body stores large amounts of the major minerals. However it should not be inferred that these minerals are somehow more important than the trace minerals; it’s just that the major minerals are present in the body in larger quantities.

As mentioned above the minerals that we require can be classified into two broad categories, the major minerals and the trace elements. This classification is based on the amounts that are present in the body. Let’s look at the Major minerals to start with.


Major minerals are absorbed, stored and travel through the body in a host of ways. Potassium, for instance, is readily absorbed and enters the bloodstream quickly; the level of potassium is regulated by the kidneys. On the other hand, calcium requires a carrier for absorption and transport.

Major minerals

  • Calcium

  • Chloride

  • Magnesium

  • Phosphorus

  • Potassium

  • Sodium

  • Sulfur

So what’s the big deal about these minerals? You may ask

Though minerals play a host of functions in our body, the list is too extensive and is out of the scope of this blog. In order to get some clarity let’s just look at the major functions these minerals play. Probably the most important role that major minerals play is that they help to regulate the water level in the body. Potassium, chloride and Sodium together are responsible for this. On the other hand calcium, magnesium and phosphorus—are instrumental for maintaining healthy bones. Sulphur another major mineral aids in stabilizing the structure of proteins, including the once that make up hair, skin, and nails.

So how much is too much?

As it is true with other things in life too much of even a good thing can be bad. The body needs to get the major mineral in balanced amounts. Having one major mineral in excess can result in the body being deficient in the. These sorts of imbalances rarely result from diet alone and may be caused by supplements. One should make sure that the levels in the supplement that they consume are close to the RDA and do not exceed it by a big number. Here are two examples:

Sodium along with calcium plays an important role in the normal functioning of the nervous system. Once the body senses that sodium levels are higher than ideal it excretes the sodium and the calcium is excreted along with it. So if you are consume sodium in access, you could end up losing the much needed calcium from your body. Same way an excess of phosphorus in the body can hinder the body’s capacity to engross magnesium.

Trace minerals

Thought required only in very small amounts as compared to the major minerals, trace minerals have an equally important role to play in maintaining overall well-being. To give you an idea just cap of your supplement bottle could accommodate all the trace elements in your body on the other hand calcium and phosphorus two of the major minerals, could each account for more than a pound of your body weight.

Trace minerals

  • Chromium

  • Copper

  • Fluoride

  • Iodine

  • Iron

  • Manganese

  • Molybdenum

  • Selenium

  • Zinc

The big deal you ask

  • Trace minerals carry out a number of diverse set of functions in our body. For instance,
  • Iron present in the blood stream plays a vital role in ferrying oxygen throughout the body.

  • Fluoride another important trace mineral plays a key role in maintaining bone strength and wards off tooth decay.

  • Zinc helps in the blood clotting and also in the functioning of the sensory organs that help us taste and smell. It also has a role to play in shoring up the immune response.

  • Copper acts as a building block for a number enzyme.

These are just a few of the bodily functions that trace minerals perform. In additions the other members of the trace mineral family play an equally vital role in a number of other bodily functions.

Words to the wise

As is the case with major minerals, trace minerals too interact with one another, sometimes in ways that can cause imbalances in the body. Excess of one can cause a deficiency of another.

Here are some examples:

  • An excess of even a little manganese can aggravate the deficiency of iron.

  • Low levels of iodine can cause the thyroid to produce lower quantities of thyroid hormone, causing listlessness and result in weight gain in addition to other health concerns.

  • A deficiency of selenium can act as a catalyst in this situation and aggravate the problem.

  • The variance between “just enough” and “too much” of the trace minerals is often tiny. Generally, there is little chance that food alone may cause an imbalance, but if you take supplements, it’s important to make sure not to exceed the safe levels.