“Naturally occurring” vitamins and minerals are found in foods but it can be next to impossible to get all the micronutrients you need in your daily diet. Supplements are important to ensure you reach the daily recommended amount of vitamins and minerals.
Micronutrients are vital for your body’s overall health. They consist of thirteen vitamins, four major minerals, and nine minor minerals. In order to replenish your body’s natural supply, you need to eat the right foods or take the proper supplements.
Did you know that 80% of children who lived in Boston had rickets back in the early 1900s? The pollution from coal and wood limited their sun exposure, and they were getting no Vitamin D. Many long voyage sailors and explorers have indirectly thanked surgeon James Lind, who discovered that citrus fruits could assuage scurvy. If only they had vitamin C on board…
Vitamins Help Protect Against Disease
Vitamins play a significant role in preventing different diseases and each individual vitamin serves a different purpose. Vitamin E, for example, helps keep your eyes and skin healthy. Some scientists also argue that the antioxidant properties of vitamin E can potentially help prevent diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer.
Vitamin C assists your body’s collagen production, the most prevalent protein in mammals. As you get older, your collagen starts to break down. When your skin collagen breaks down, it can cause wrinkles! Vitamin C allows your body to create new collagen, potentially slowing the effects of aging. It can also boost your immune system.
Minerals are just as important.
Minerals are just as important. We all know how important calcium is for our bones and teeth, but did you know it also helps in clotting your blood? Unlike calcium, chromium is a mineral that is probably not on your radar. One of the benefits of chromium is that it helps our bodies use insulin thus keeps our blood sugar normal. Luckily (for chocolate lovers) it can be found in dark chocolate. Minerals and vitamins are also known to complement each other. For example, you are familiar with Calcium-Magnesium vitamins. Not only does magnesium help you sleep and regulate your blood pressure, but it also helps your body’s absorption of calcium! The combination of Calcium and Magnesium together provides bone support.
Micronutrients Can Benefit Your Long Term Health.
Micronutrients also play an important role in our body’s long term health. Dr. Bruce Ames, from University California at Berkeley, has studied the long term effects of vitamins on our mitochondria and our aging cells. As we age, our mitochondria is not as prevalent, but Dr. Ames has found that micronutrients can enhance mitochondria – thus amending DNA damage leading to aging issues. Dr. Ames associated vitamin bioavailability with a “triage theory”. Similar to triage in an emergency room where the doctors take care of the most severe cases first, our bodies use vitamins and minerals the same way. First, they take care of short term vitamin and mineral shortages. Then they address fixing long term problems such as inflammation or DNA mutation. Hence why you need a steady supply of vitamins to maintain your health! If you are deficient in any vitamins and minerals, your long term repair system could be in trouble and unable to help protect your body against cancer, neurological diseases, and/or other aging diseases.
So, we know why we need vitamins and minerals—but exactly how does your body use these specific vitamins to protect your body?
Vitamins help to maintain the healthy condition of your cells, organs, and tissues and can keep your body from wearing down. Of the 13 vitamins, four are fat-soluble vitamins and nine are water-soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins, vitamins D, E, A, and K, are stored in the liver or fat tissues. Rather than passing quickly through your body, fat-soluble vitamins remain in the body for longer. Once they are stored, these “reserves” can be used days after ingestion.
Water-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, dissolve in water—and your body does not store them for very long. They are expelled from your body through your urine and need to be replenished more quickly than fat-soluble vitamins. All fat and water-soluble vitamins play different, but equally important roles in your body’s overall health.
These days, our lives are pretty hectic and we often don’t get enough sleep, we are exposed to environmental and food toxins, and most likely we are not getting the full requirement of vitamins and minerals through our diet. And since our bodies rarely produce enough of these on their own, typically we need supplements to stay healthy.
Now, this might not be true for all our readers, but globally there are more than two billion people that suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. In fact, nine out of ten Americans suffer from dietary gaps with the most common micronutrients of vitamin A, C, D, E, Magnesium, and Calcium. Amending these deficiencies with a diet change is pretty unrealistic. Not to mention when you look at a nutrition label, you often go straight to the calories, sugar, and protein listing. And while that is good practice, the bottom of the “Nutrition Facts” label often gets overlooked.
You can rely on different foods to help replenish various vitamin deficiencies. Refer to this chart for a little help!
The Dietary Supplement Label Database
With all the various vitamins and different requirements for each one—it is difficult to keep up! The FDA publishes the Dietary Supplement Label Database to help you understand the minimum daily requirements for vitamins and minerals.
If you would like even more detail, the National Academies Food and Nutrition Board has categorized daily requirements by children, males, females, pregnancy, and lactation. For more detail on what each vitamin and mineral does for your body, check out The Ultimate Guide to Vitamins and Minerals or the Harvard Medical School Health Publication.
Now that we know how much we should take, how do you know which supplements are safe to take?
Because the FDA does not regulate supplements, many are tested independently by third-party certification. The most common to look for are The USP Seal of Approval, NSF International, Informed Choice, ConsumerLab, and Banned Substances Control Group (BSCGF). They test to confirm that the ingredients listed on the label are:
- actually in the product in the stated amounts.
- made in sanitary FDA Good Manufacturing Conditions.
- will break down in the body in an appropriate amount of time.
- do not contain harmful levels of toxins or contaminants.
Third party organizations provide independent testing, but it is at a point in time and does not guarantee future batches. So you want to look for those companies who manufacture their vitamins under ‘Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). These standards are written by the FDA.
According to the FDA, here’s how to be a savvy supplement user:
- When searching for supplements on the internet, use noncommercial sites (e.g. NIH, FDA, USDA) rather than doing blind searches.
- Watch out for false statements like “works better than [a prescription drug],” “totally safe,” or has “no side effects.”
- Ask your healthcare provider for help in distinguishing between reliable and questionable information.
- If you want to know more about the product that you are taking, check with the manufacturer or distributor about information to support the claims, ingredients, and effectiveness.
If you are integrating vitamin supplements into your routine, there are two different types of supplements you can purchase: natural or synthetic. Read our post to help you make an informed decision about what supplements you should be purchasing.
Resources to learn more about essential vitamins and minerals:
NIH: The National Institutes of Health (NIH), from the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), has a range of materials, across topics, and offers an easy-to-understand fact sheet on supplements.
FDA: The U.S. FDA: Dietary Supplements page has a roster of helpful information.
CRN: The Council of Responsible Nutrition (CRN), here you will find helpful tips from a leading trade association, including how to read a supplement label.
A Guide to Vitamin and Mineral Safety.
IOM: To learn more about recommended intake levels based on RDAs (Recommended Dietary Allowances) from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Bottom Line:
Vitamins and minerals are important for your short and long term health yet it is difficult to get all that you need through a regular diet. A visit with your doctor for a simple blood test can determine where your deficiency lies and can be the start of your strategy for vitamin and mineral intake. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see which supplement brands they recommend.