Vitamins are organic compounds that maintain metabolic functions of the body, whereas minerals are inorganic metals that perform similar tasks. Outside sources must supply essential vitamins and minerals because either the body does not synthesize them, or it does not synthesize them in sufficient enough quantities for good health. Some are required for growth, maintenance, and repair of cells while others facilitate biological processes within the cells.
Vitamins, along with minerals, are referred to as micronutrients. They are needed to release the energy of the macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) for use by the body, but not in the vast amounts that we need macronutrients. Micronutrients are essential for all life, so they are used by most of our food sources in small quantities as well. Though different plants and animals do have different nutrient needs, and for this reason, some foods may be more suitable sources for specific vitamins and minerals, despite nearly all food sources containing a mix of the three macronutrients.
Vitamins are either water-soluble or oil-soluble, while all minerals are water soluble. We measure the water-soluble nutrients (consisting of the B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, minerals, and other compounds) in milligrams (mg) or micro-grams (μg). Since the body uses water-soluble nutrients within hours of ingestion, we must regularly replenish them with food or supplementation. Excess water-soluble nutrients that are not immediately needed are transported to the kidneys and passed from the body in urine. Fat-soluble ones (vitamins A, D, E, K, and a few other lipid based compounds) dissolve in fats and oils, and are measured in International Units (IU), which is a standard based on biological activity, rather than mass or volume. The conversion from IU to mg or μg varies depending upon the source of the nutrient, and how biologically active it is. Your body stores fat-soluble vitamins in various organs and tissues until use, making mega-dosing them dangerous. Levels of fat-soluble vitamins well above the recommended amounts is not advised without a doctor’s supervision.
Each customer must decide for his or herself- based on personal assessment or consultation with a physician- just what sort of supplementation they need. When making this decision, you should consider the following:
- Nutritional supplements are not substitutes for good food or replacements for meals.
- Dietary supplements are not for the treatment of any disease or illness.
- Balance is the key to proper use of supplements. Some vitamins are more beneficial when taken together, and the over-abundance of one nutrient may reduce the efficiency of another.
- Age, sex, body build, daily activity, diet, medical conditions, genetics, over-the-counter or prescription drugs and other factors all influence vitamin efficiency.
- With a few exceptions, taking supplements with meals should reduce the chance of an upset stomach, and allow for better absorption.
- Supplementation should stop at the first sign of negative symptoms, and you should notify your healthcare provider of any such symptoms.
Many vitamins lose their potency when exposed to light, heat, moisture, and air. Storage in a cool, dry place will help prevent this loss. Unopened supplement packages typically have a shelf life of two or three years.
Each nutrient is broken down into the following sections:
Contained In– A few examples of common nutritional sources for the nutrient in question. This list is by no means exhaustive and only serves to provide a few sources rich in the nutrient.
Functions– Some of the principal duties and processes in which the nutrient is involved. Other essential nutrients may also contribute to the physiological functions and processes listed.
Dietary Needs– No two people’s needs are the same. Age, sex, the quantity of exercise, genetic heritage, drugs, hormones, disease, surgery, stress, lifestyle changes and overall health condition all contribute to levels of a person’s nutrient requirements. There are several established values used to measure dietary intake. They are as follows:
The EAR (Estimated Average Requirement) is the expected average requirement based on extensive test data. This is the minimum amount to maintain good health for an average individual. Most will actually fall above or below this value due to our vast difference.
The DRI (Dietary Reference Intakes) are standards set by a dedicated committee of scientists.
The RDA (Recommended Daily Amount) is two standard deviations above the EAR for a given nutrient. The RDA is higher than the EAR to account for some of the variances in individual dietary needs. The United States Recommended Daily Allowances are a set of values used by the Food and Drug Administration for product labeling purposes. Not all essential nutrients have an established US RDA. If there is too little test data to determine the EAR of a nutrient, then the RDA cannot be established.
The FDA established the DRV (Daily Reference Value) for macronutrients, which are fats (total, saturated, and cholesterol), carbohydrate (total, sugar, and dietary fiber), protein. The DRV also covers the two well-known micronutrients, sodium and potassium. These standards were developed to provide consumers with information on the products that they consume.
The DV (Daily Value) is the value found on product labels. It is based on the RDA for most micronutrients and the DRV for macronutrients, sodium, and potassium. The DV and %DV categories were created to limit consumer confusion over product labels, due to the many values used when expressing daily dietary needs. The website www.fda.gov maintains a current listing of all DVs.
The AI (Adequate Intake) is the minimum amount needed to maintain good health. Nutritional scientist base the AI on studies, but the standards used to generate an AI are not as vigorous as those required to declare an EAR. If insufficient test data exists to determine the EAR for a nutrient, then the AI is often used to express the minimum amount an average individual should consume daily.
This guide will provide the established DV for each micro-nutrient whenever possible, followed by a table containing the RDA for each age group. If no EAR exists, then we provide the AI.
The UL (Upper Limit) is the point beyond which further consumption is potentially dangerous.
The ULs for each age group, as well as any prominent symptoms or conditions resulting from excess amounts of the nutrient, will be provided. The symptoms listed may be the outcome of any number of other illnesses and do not imply only toxic levels of the nutrient.
It’s important to remember that because nutrients have an active effect on your body, that makes overdoing it even more dangerous! Taking too much of a chemical with little or no effect on your body may have some side effects, but they are often restricted to your digestive system. When your body is built to absorb something and put it to use, though, the effects high doses can be more pronounced, and often more dangerous.
You are built to absorb, store, and utilize sugar, so taking too much sugar (or artificial sweeteners that look similar to sugar from your body’s perspective) can have some very damaging effects on you. The same holds true for the other nutrients. There is a lot of marketing hype about, “getting rid of dangerous toxins,” but that’s what your liver and kidneys are built for. Unlike toxins, your body is ill prepared to handle excessive amounts of nutrients, and will attempt to put them to use well past the point of good health so long as you keep consuming them.
Be aware of Tolerable Upper Intake Levels, and remember the mantra, “all things in moderation.”
Individual depletion rates vary, and deficiency may appear at different times and in varying forms in different people. The summaries within the deficiency sections are for information purposes only; they have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. The symptoms listed may be the result of any number of other illnesses and do not imply only a nutrient deficiency.
Best Taken With
Many vitamins work in concert with each other, and their efficacy is dependent upon sufficient amounts of other nutrients. Associated vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients are listed to help you gauge which ones work best together.