Vitamins and Minerals. What are vitamins and minerals?
A brief explanation.

Stefan Angheli, CSCS

Vitamins are substances derived from plants and animals that are needed in small amounts in the body. These micronutrients are not a source of energy to the body but some are heavily involved in converting macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fats) into usable forms of energy. They are necessary for the normal growth, maintenance and repair of the body.

Vitamins can also function as coenzymes in the body. That means they help enzymes do their job of promoting all of the body's biochemical reactions. Enzymes are so essential that out of the trillions of chemical activities occurring in your body, none would be possible without them. Enzymes are especially critical in nerve transmission, blood formation, muscle contraction, protein metabolism and energy production. In addition, vitamins are so necessary that every organ in the body won't be able to function without them.

In general, the body can't make vitamins and so it is extremely important they are obtained from your diet or vitamin supplements. There are two exceptions however; vitamin D, which can be obtained through sunlight and niacin (B3), which can be made inefficiently from an amino acid (l-tryptophan).

Vitamins can be broken down into two groups; fat-soluble (A, D, E and K) and water-soluble. Fat soluble vitamins are absorbed with the assistance of dietary fats and are stored in the body's tissues. The fact that they are stored in the body is significant because toxic levels can accumulate if some vitamins are consumed consistently and in high amounts. The ones to watch out for in particular are A, D and K, too much can be problematic.

The water-soluble vitamins on the other hand, are excreted by the body through urination and perspiration and are unlikely to buildup in the body. This again is significant because that means that we need to make sure that we are consuming these vitamins on a regular basis. This is especially true for Vitamins B and C.

Minerals and Electrolytes:

Even though vitamins may have received more attention, minerals are equally important. Like vitamins, they are also absolutely necessary for the growth, maintenance and repair of the body. These inorganic substances come from soil and water and are absorbed by plants and animals that make up our diet.

They too are micronutrients, but the body needs many minerals in larger amounts compared to vitamins. Like vitamins minerals act as coenzymes, working with enzymes to necessitate the body's processes. In addition they help the body build strong bones and teeth and aid in the manufacture of hemoglobin which helps carry vital oxygen.

Minerals are split into two groups: the macro minerals and the micro minerals depending on the amounts used by the body. The macro minerals, sometimes called the major minerals are magnesium, chloride, calcium, potassium, sulfur, sodium and phosphorus. The micro minerals sometimes called trace elements are needed in relatively smaller amounts.

Some minerals are also known as electrolytes. These minerals form salts that conduct electrical energy needed to keep the body functioning. They are heavily involved in muscle contraction and nerve transmission. Electrolytes are composed of the minerals, chloride, sodium, potassium and magnesium.

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