What you need to know about vitamins and minerals

Vitamins and minerals

Vitamins are not drugs.

They have no caloric value and they are not meal replacements. They have no nutritional value and are not meant to replace food and meals. They are also not diet pills. They are not stimulants and nor are they pep pills. They are not used as building blocks in muscles.

Vitamins are carbon containing chemicals, necessary for life and are required in small amounts. They help facilitate biochemical reactions in the human body. They help to regulate metabolism, help to convert food to energy and aid in enzyme reactions. They also assist in bone and other tissue formation in the body.

There are at least 14 different vitamins that are named alphabetically. They are further classified on their solubility. Some of them are water-soluble and easily mixed in water. Others are fat-soluble and only mix with oils and fats.

The fat-soluble vitamins include vitamin A or beta-carotene, vitamin D or calciferol, vitamin E or tocopherols and vitamin K or menadione.

The water-soluble vitamins include vitamin B1 or thiamine, vitamin B2 or riboflavin, vitamin B3 or niacin, vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid, vitamin B6 or pyridoxine, vitamin B7 or biotin, vitamin B8 or inositol, vitamin B9 or folate, vitamin B12 or cobalamin, vitamin C or ascorbic acid and vitamin P or bioflavonoids.

Minerals or inorganic chemicals do not contain carbon. They are required in small or medium amounts in the body. Minerals are present in body fluids like blood and lymph. They help regulate enzyme functions, regulate electrolyte balance, maintain proper nerve and muscle function and act as building blocks for bones and other tissues.

There are at least 22 different minerals used in the body. They are classified as macro-minerals or micro-minerals depending on the amount required. Macro-minerals are required in large amounts and are measured in grams. Micro-minerals are required in small amounts and measured in micrograms.

Macro-minerals include calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and sulfur.

Micro-minerals include boron, cobalt, chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, lithium, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, silicon, tin, vanadium and zinc.

A deficiency of vitamin A can cause poor vision and poor night adaptation; vitamin B1, a sore, painful tongue; vitamin B2, a rash at the corners of the mouth; vitamin B3, high lipids; vitamin B6, carpal tunnel symptoms, premenstrual symptoms and dandruff; vitamin B12, fatigue, numbness and tingling; folic acid, cervical dysplasia, biotin and poor hair growth; vitamin C, scurvy; vitamin D, osteoporosis and a deficiency of vitamin K can cause easy bruising.

Signs of mineral deficiencies can include weak bones, osteoporosis and muscle cramps (calcium); blood sugar irregularities (chromium); low thyroid (iodine); fatigue (iron); and fatigue, poor sleep and muscle cramps (magnesium). A deficiency of potassium can cause high blood pressure and heartbeat irregularities, as well as low sodium, blood pressure, muscle cramps and weakness. Being low in zinc can lead to a poor immune system, frequent colds and flus and prostate issues.

Assessing vitamin and mineral status in the human body can be both easy and complicated. Ways of measuring these levels include dietary analysis, blood levels or other tissue samplings like hair tests.

Measuring levels of vitamin B12, iron and electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium in the blood, is fairly accurate and straight forward. However, blood is usually tightly regulated and does not accurately reflect true levels in other tissues and deficiencies only show up in the blood when they have been low in other tissues for a while.

It is not cost-effective to measure some vitamin and mineral levels.

Generally, take vitamins and minerals with, or just after, meals. Fat soluble vitamins are best taken when eating fatty foods. Water soluble vitamins are best taken with fluids like water. Minerals are best absorbed with protein foods. Take supplements one to three times per day. If taking once per day, take with the largest meal.

Store vitamins and minerals in a cool place in a closed opaque container. Cotton or silica inserts prevent moisture damage. Vitamins can be generally stored for up to two years, while minerals can be stored for up to 10 years.

People who have increased requirements for certain vitamins and minerals include those with poor diet and bad nutrition, infants and adolescents, teenagers, pregnant and nursing mothers, smokers, dieters, alcohol drinkers, vegetarians, stressed out people, the elderly, sick and ill people and those with poor immune functions.

Vitamins and minerals can be toxic if consumed in large amounts. Some individuals can be allergic or sensitive to certain vitamins or minerals, although this is thought to be rare. As a rule, water-soluble vitamins are less toxic than fat-soluble vitamins.

Some people are sensitive to high-dose B vitamins, especially vitamin B3.

Fat soluble vitamins, especially vitamin A, can have deleterious side effects too. Minerals can cause side effects when consumed in large doses that exceed dietary requirements. However, vitamins and minerals are generally safe when consumed in appropriate amounts.

The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute medical advice. All information and content are for general information purposes only.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More The Okanagan Naturopath articles

About the Author

Doug Lobay is a practicing naturopathic physician in Kelowna, British Columbia.

He graduated with a bachelor of science degree from the University of British Columbia in 1987 and then attended Bastyr College of Natural Health Sciences in Seattle, Washington, where graduated with a doctorate in naturopathic medicine degree in 1991. While attending Bastyr College, he began to research the scientific basis of naturopathic medicine. 

He was surprised to find many of the current major medical journals abounded with scientific information on the use of diet, vitamins, nutritional supplements and herbal medicines.

Doug is a member of the College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia and has practiced as naturopathic family physician for more than 30 years.  He maintains a busy practice in Kelowna where he sees a wide age range of patients with various ailments.

He focuses on dietary modification, allergy testing, nutritional assessments, supplement recommendation for optimal health, various physical therapy modalities, various intravenous therapies including chelation therapy.

An avid writer, he has written seven books on various aspects of naturopathic medicine that are available on Amazon and was also a long-time medical contributor to the Townsend Letter journal for doctors and patients, where many of his articles are available to view on-line. He has also given numerous lectures, talks and has taught various courses on natural medicine.

Doug enjoys research, writing and teaching others about the virtues of natural health and good nutrition. When not working, he enjoys cycling, hiking, hockey, skiing, swimming, tennis and playing guitar.

If you have any further questions or comments, you can contact Dr. Lobay at 250-860-7622 or [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories