It’s no secret that to stay fit, well and in good shape, you need to eat a healthy diet. Vitamins and minerals are an essential part of this, helping your body to function and remain in tip-top condition.
A well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables is the best way to make sure you get all the nutrients you need. However, it’s not always easy to cram in five portions of vegetables every day or to make sure you have a wide enough variety. That’s where vitamin supplements can help, topping up any missing nutrients to recommended daily levels.
But why are vitamins so important, and what exactly do they do? Here’s a closer look at the vital role they perform in the body.
Why Do We Need Vitamins?
Your body works hard every day of your life, carrying out a range of functions that you are completely unaware of. From sending nerve signals along pathways and creating chemical messengers to producing red blood cells, skin, bone and muscle, your body is a constant hive of activity.
To manage all of these functions, your body needs raw materials – and that’s where vitamins and minerals come in. There are around 30 vitamins and minerals, and other dietary components that your body needs and have to be obtained from foods.
Vitamins and minerals are known collectively as micronutrients because they are so powerful you only need a tiny amount. In very high quantities some vitamins can even be harmful, which is why multivitamins contain a careful balance and don’t exceed your daily requirements.
Working in tandem, micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals perform literally hundreds of functions within the body such as repairing damage to cells, converting food into energy, healing wounds and boosting your immune system.
Without vitamins, your body would not be able to carry out many of its daily functions.
Are Vitamins and Minerals the Same Thing?
Vitamins and minerals are often bundled together, but they’re not the same thing. They are both types of micronutrients that are essential to the body and they often combine to support bodily functions.
However, vitamins are an organic component which means that they can be broken down by heat, acid or air. In contrast, minerals are inorganic and their chemical structure cannot be changed.
This may seem like a small difference but it’s an important one. The robustness of minerals means that it’s much easier to get what you need from animals, plants, fish, and fluids. Minerals are more stable and less affected by storage or heat. On the other hand, some vitamins, like B and C vitamins can be easily damaged by the process of storage, cooking, or even exposure to the air.
The Functions of Vitamins
There are 13 different vitamins that the body needs; these work together with minerals and other types of micronutrients to support healthy functioning.
Each vitamin has its own role so you need to consume an adequate quantity of each one to ensure your body can do everything it needs. Having more of one vitamin and less of another will not achieve the same effect due to their differing functions.
The main role of each of the vitamins is as follows:
Assists with growth and development
Formation of red blood cells
Supports production of skin and bone
Promotes healthy vision
Boosts the immune system
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)
Supports healthy functioning of the nervous system
Converts food into energy
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Helps with blood cell formation
Supports growth and development
Converts food to energy
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Assists with the production of cholesterol and fatty acids
Converts food to energy
Supports general digestion and the function of the nervous system
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)
Assists with the production of red blood cells
Supports healthy nervous system
Promotes metabolism of fat
Helps with the production of hormones
Supports macronutrient absorption
Assists with creation of red blood cells
Boosts the immune and nervous systems
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
Supports energy storage
Boosts metabolism of macronutrients
promotes healthy skin, hair, and nails
Vitamin B9 (Folate)
Supports healthy metabolism
Prevents birth defects
Contributes to red blood cell production
Supports functioning of the nervous system
Helps with metabolism
Promotes healthy hormone production
Creates connective tissue and collagen
Promotes wound healing
Boosts immune system
Strong antioxidant action
Contributes to the regulation of blood pressure
Assists with bone development
Supports hormone production
Boosts immune system and function of the nervous system
Promotes blood calcium balance
Forms blood vessels, helps prevent blood clots
Boosts immune function
Plays important roles in blood clotting and heart health
Promotes strong bones
Different Types of Vitamins
All of the main vitamins mentioned above can be split into two broad groups: fat-soluble vitamins and water-soluble vitamins. This is an important distinction as it helps you to understand the best way to extract the greatest nutrition.
These vitamins are contained in the watery parts of the food you consume. As the food is broken down, or the supplement dissolves, the vitamins can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream. This makes them a very easy vitamin for your body to access.
Your kidneys monitor the levels of water-soluble vitamins in your body and will get rid of any excess amount which is circulating. Water-soluble vitamins are particularly accessible as they are able to circulate readily due to the high level of water within the body.
Some types of water-soluble vitamins can be stored for some time, but in general, levels normally need topping up regularly.
Fat-soluble vitamins cannot access the body as easily as they aren’t just absorbed by the bloodstream. Instead, they have to travel to the lymph channels in the intestinal wall to be absorbed. They normally piggyback onto proteins to be able to do this.
The body tends to store the fat-soluble vitamins, slowly releasing them as needed. This means you don’t necessarily have to consume these daily to still get maximum benefit. All fat-soluble vitamins have antioxidant qualities, thus they can fight free radicals that cause cellular aging and cell damage.
Supporting Your Body
Without vitamins, your body would be unable to function and you would quickly start to notice ill-effects. A deficiency in just one vitamin is enough to throw your system out of balance and prevent you from functioning normally.
Debilitating illnesses such as scurvy and rickets are caused by severe vitamin deficiencies. You may also feel exhausted, breathless, nauseous, and weak without sufficient levels of vitamins in the body.
Vitamins play an integral part in health and well-being, and their importance should never be overlooked.