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Vitamins and Minerals

Health NewsVitamins and minerals are substances that your body needs to grow and develop normally. They are used by the body for any number of processes from building bone, to carrying oxygen, to helping regulate various bodily functions.

The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements (NIH) defines a vitamin as: A nutrient the body needs in small amounts to function and maintain health. There are 13 vitamins your body needs. They are:

Some vitamins like A, D, E and K are fat soluble. That means they stay in your body until you need them. Water soluble vitamins, like the B vitamins and vitamin C, are used by your body right away. Vitamin D can be made with the help of sunlight; your own body can create vitamin K as well.

It is possible get all your vitamins from the foods you eat. People who eat a vegetarian diet may need to take a vitamin B12 supplement. (Read about "Dietary Guidelines")

Each vitamin has specific jobs. If you have low levels of certain vitamins, you may develop a deficiency disease. For example, if you don't get enough vitamin D, you could develop rickets. (Read about "Osteomalacia & Rickets") Some vitamins may help prevent medical problems. Vitamin A helps prevents night blindness and vitamin C prevents scurvy.

According to the National Women's Health Information Center (NWHIC), you can get the vitamins and minerals you need by eating a diet filled with fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and meat products. In some cases, you may need to take a daily multivitamin for optimal health. However, high doses of some vitamins can make you sick.

A mineral is defined as: An inorganic substance found in the earth that is required to maintain health. Minerals are important for your body to stay healthy. Your body uses minerals for many different jobs, including building bones, making hormones and regulating your heartbeat.

There are two kinds of minerals: macrominerals and trace minerals. Macrominerals are minerals your body needs in larger amounts. They include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and sulfur. Your body needs just small amounts of trace minerals. These include iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride and selenium.

What they do

We all must have vitamins and minerals to get our bodies to work the right way, according to NWHIC. Usually our food supplies us with all we need, but in case that doesn't happen, most essential vitamins and minerals are available in pill or liquid form. Here are some of the top vitamins and minerals that help keep the well-oiled human machine running, and the foods in which they are found.

Vitamins

Name: Vitamin A

Benefits: healthy skin and hair, sight and growth

Food Sources: fortified cereals, green vegetables and carrots

Name: Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)

Benefits: keeps nervous system healthy and is needed for energy metabolism

Food Sources: fortified cereals, whole grain breads, enriched grain products, rice, beans and nuts

Name: Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

Benefits: gives energy and helps body tissues grow

Food Sources: almonds, dairy products, avocados, dark green vegetables and fortified grain products

Name: Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

Benefits: breaks down food for energy

Food Sources: fortified cereals, meat, fish, peanuts, peanut butter and whole grain products

Name: Vitamin B6

Benefits: helps the brain function and body to build proteins for growth and development (Read about "The Brain")

Food Sources: poultry, fish, pork, beef, nuts, beans, eggs, vegetables, bananas, avocados and fortified cereals

Name: Vitamin B12

Benefits: promotes growth and development and helps make red blood cells

Food Sources: animal sources, like meat, fish, chicken, milk, cheese, eggs and fortified cereals

Name: Folate (folic acid)

Benefits: prevents birth defects when take before and during pregnancy (Read about "Neural Tube Defects" "Healthy Pregnancy")

Food Sources: cooked dry beans, peas, peanuts, oranges, dark green vegetables, enriched grain products and fortified cereals

Name: Pantothenic Acid

Benefits: energy metabolism

Food Sources: peas, pinto, black, and navy beans, lean meat, poultry and fish

Name: Biotin

Benefits: energy metabolism

Food Sources: egg yolk and liver

Name: Vitamin C

Benefits: healthy gums and teeth, helps body absorb iron (Read about "Oral Health")

Food Sources: sweet potatoes, pumpkin, liver, dairy products, mango, cantaloupe, apricots and other fruits and vegetables

Name: Vitamin D

Benefits: strong bones (Read about "Osteoporosis")

Food Sources: fortified cereal, fortified milk and fatty fish

Name: Vitamin E

Benefits: protects cells

Food Sources: nuts and vegetable oils

Name: Vitamin K

Benefits: clots blood, builds protein, regulates calcium levels

Food Sources: dark green vegetables, soybean and canola oils

Minerals

Name: Calcium

Benefits: strong bones and teeth, helps to regulate heartbeat (Read about "Calcium" "Osteoporosis" "Oral Health" "The Heart & Cardiovascular System")

Food Sources: milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, sardines and calcium fortified foods such as cereals, juices and calcium fortified soy milk and tofu

Name: Iron

Benefits: helps red blood cells carry oxygen to different parts of the body

Food Sources: organ meats like liver, beef, pork, and most legumes like soy and lima beans

Name: Magnesium

Benefits: normal muscle function, steady heart rhythm, healthy immune system, strong bones (Read about "The Immune System" "Osteoporosis")

Food Sources: green vegetables, beans, peas, nuts and whole grain wheat bread

Name: Potassium

Benefits: helps with muscle contraction and balances fluids in body's cells

Food Sources: fruits and vegetables, milk and yogurt

Name: Selenium

Benefits: thyroid function, immune system (Read about "Thyroid" "The Immune System")

Food Sources: plants, meat, seafood and some nuts

Name: Zinc

Benefits: helps in normal growth and with eyes, bones, skin, hair and nails

Food Sources: beef, turkey, fish, pork, oysters, whole grain bread with yeast and soybeans

Deficiencies and Overdoses

Some of us need to take vitamins and minerals in supplement form for various reasons. One reason might be our diet. Let's say you don't like dairy products. According to NWHIC, you would probably need to take a calcium supplement to make up for the lack of calcium in your diet. In addition, certain diseases and medications deplete the body of its essential vitamins. For example, some diuretics, antibiotics and cancer treatments may cause magnesium deficiency. (Read about "Antibiotics" "Cancer Treatments") In addition, diseases like Crohn's and diabetes can also lower magnesium intake. (Read about "Crohn's Disease" "Diabetes") Vitamin A deficiency can come from malnourishment as well as excess alcohol intake (Read about "Alcoholism"), according to NIH. A deficiency in zinc can lead to a vitamin A deficiency since zinc is required to move vitamin A stores from the liver to body tissues. (Read about "The Liver") As you can see, vitamins and minerals need to work in a delicate balance with our bodies. That's why doctors recommend caution in taking pills.

Just like most anything else, too much of a good thing can pose dangers. While it is difficult, but not impossible, to overdose on vitamins or minerals with your diet, if you are taking supplements you could get too much. Iron deficiency can cause anemia (Read about "Anemia"), but too much iron can result in nausea, vomiting and liver problems. An overdose, especially by a child, can be fatal. (Read about "Iron Supplements") The same goes for vitamin C. High doses can cause kidney stones, severe diarrhea, nausea and gastritis. (Read about "Kidney Stones" "Diarrhea" "Gastritis") A deficiency could result in scurvy, which though rare, can be deadly. However, healthy doses of vitamin C can help prevent scurvy and some studies say may even decrease the risk of developing certain types of cancer, particularly cancers of the mouth, stomach, colon and lungs. (Read about "Oral Cancer" "Stomach Cancer" "Colorectal Cancer" "Lung Cancer") Vitamin C also appears to help with the absorption of iron. The fourth most abundant mineral in the body - magnesium - is essential to good health. It is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body, everything from keeping bones strong, to a steady heart rhythm. Take too much of it via a supplement and NIH says you could suffer from diarrhea, abdominal cramping, muscle weakness, and an irregular heartbeat. Magnesium is often found in antacids. (Read about "Heartburn") Both adults and children should be cautious about such products.

Meanwhile, interactions between vitamins and both over-the-counter and prescribed medications are always possible, and should be discussed with your doctor and/or pharmacist. (Read about "Medicine Safety")

Doses

If you look on the label on a bottle of multivitamins, you will likely see something called daily value or DV. That describes the recommended levels of intake of a nutrient. The percent daily value, percent DV, according to NIH, represents how much of a nutrient is in one serving of the vitamin or mineral.

The vitamin or dietary supplement industry is regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Until 2007, supplements were regulated as a type of food.

That is now changing with more regulations on the manufacture and quality of vitamin and mineral supplements. You should not confuse vitamin and mineral supplements with dietary supplements. A dietary supplement can include vitamins and minerals as well as herbs and amino acids. (Read about "Herbal Precautions")

As always, it is important to discuss your vitamin and mineral intake with your doctor. Make sure you are taking the correct amount. Also make sure that any drugs you are taking do not interact negatively with supplements. NWHIC reminds us that pills cannot replace eating healthy foods and living a healthy lifestyle.

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