Vitamins and minerals are considered essential micronutrients. They work together to perform hundreds of roles in the body and are important for bone growth and repair, wound healing, metabolism, red blood cell production, good immunity, and healthy skin and teeth. Only tiny amounts of these nutrients are required, yet deficiencies can lead to serious health complications, such as rickets for vitamin D deficiency and an increased risk of neural tube defects in infants of folate-deficient women.
Vitamins are organic and can be broken down by heat, air, or acid, while minerals are inorganic and retain their structure. This means, it is often easier to obtain sufficient minerals from plant and animal sources, whereas vitamins are more easily inactivated through cooking and storage.
What are vitamins?
There are two main types of vitamins – water-soluble and fat-soluble.
Water-soluble vitamins are easily dissolved in water and absorbed directly into the bloodstream as food is digested or as a supplement dissolves. They are continuously regulated by the kidneys with excess levels excreted in the urine.
Water-soluble vitamins should generally be replenished every few days, as they are not stored as well in the body. The B vitamins and vitamin C are water-soluble vitamins.
Fat-soluble vitamins reach the blood via lymph channels in the intestinal wall and often require protein carriers to be able to move around the body.
Excess fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the liver and fat tissues, and released as required. This means that fat-soluble vitamins generally only need to be replenished occasionally (compared to the frequent intake required for water-soluble vitamins). Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins.
What are minerals?
There are both major minerals and trace minerals. Major minerals are required and stored in fairly large amounts. Examples include potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur.
Trace minerals are just as important as the major minerals, but are only required in tiny amounts. Examples include iron, zinc, copper, and selenium.
What does it mean to have a vitamin or mineral imbalance?
Mineral imbalances can occur when there is an excess intake of one mineral, which results in the deficiency of another mineral. In addition, excess intake of certain minerals can be just as harmful as too low consumption. This is usually not a problem with food sources, but can easily occur with high supplement intake. Or, in the case of iron, high levels can accumulate due to hemochromatosis that results in an increased absorption of iron from the diet.
Many vitamin and mineral imbalances do not cause any noticeable symptoms until the deficiency (or excess) has been occurring for an extended period or has reached a certain level. This is why a simple test to measure your vitamin and mineral levels is important to allow you to be proactive and correct the imbalance before any health complications occur.