6 minute read

The role of vitamins & minerals in overall health

Published February 14, 2024

The human body might be a single structure, but it's made up of billions of parts.¹ And every part needs essential nutrients to keep things running smoothly.² Vitamins and minerals for your body are like a recipe for good health. A dash of this and a sprinkle of that can give it what it needs to function.

There are many vitamins and minerals, but 13 vitamins and 16 minerals rank as essential. This is because your body needs them to function but can't make them on its own (except for vitamins D and K). So, it's essential to get them through your diet.² ³ This article provides a quick snapshot of the essentials: what they are, what they do, and how they support each other—and you—for overall health and wellness.

Why are vitamins & minerals important?

Every part of the body needs essential vitamins and minerals. Your body simply can’t function at its best without these nutrients.³ Vitamins and minerals often work together, supporting one another in keeping you healthy. For example, some vitamins help the body absorb certain minerals better. And minerals can turn on enzymes that help the body use vitamins. So, if you’re low on one nutrient, it could throw another nutrient out of balance. This is why there's a focus on eating well-balanced meals, as the body has diverse nutritional needs.⁴ 

What are vitamins? 

From its Latin origin, 'vita,' meaning life,⁵ vitamins are crucial for the development and functioning of our bodies. Vitamins are organic substances because they are made by plants or animals. These nutrients are called essential as our bodies lack the ability to make them (except for vitamins D and K), and because of this, getting essential vitamins through your diet is essential.² 

Vitamins can be sorted into 2 groups: fat-soluble and water-soluble. Each group of vitamins is classified by how they are absorbed and if your body stores them

What are fat-soluble vitamins?

Fat-soluble vitamins are nutrients that dissolve in fat and are stored in the body. They include and are important for⁶ ⁷:

Vitamin A (retinol, beta-carotene) Bone, tooth, skin, eye, and immune system health; cell growth; reproduction; metabolism
Vitamin D (calciferol) Calcium absorption; blood vessel, nerve, muscle, brain, heart, and immune system health; regulating calcium and phosphorus blood levels; regulating blood pressure and blood sugar levels
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) Nerve, muscle, and immune system health; metabolism; cell protection
Vitamin K Bone and tissue health; blood clotting

What are water-soluble vitamins?

Water-soluble vitamins are nutrients that dissolve in water and aren’t stored in the body for long. They include and are important for⁶⁻⁸:

Vitamin C (retinol, beta-carotene) Iron absorption; tissue growth and repair; collagen production; skin, bone, and connective tissue health; cell protection (antioxidant)
Vitamin B1 (thiamin) Energy production; muscle function; cell growth, development, and function
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) Energy production; red blood cell production, growth and development
Vitamin B3 (niacin) Energy production; skin and nerve health; digestion; supporting over 400 enzyme reactions
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) Energy production; making and breaking down fatty acids
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) Energy production; red blood cell production; brain health; supporting over 100 enzyme reactions
Vitamin B7 (biotin) Energy production; skin, hair, and nail health; cell communication; gene activity
Vitamin B9 (folate, folic acid) Energy production; DNA and RNA creation; tissue growth; red and white blood cell production
Vitamin B12 Energy production; red blood cell production; DNA creation; brain and nerve cell health

Why do vitamin groups matter?

These 2 groups of vitamins differ in how they are absorbed and if they are stored by the body. Your body needs both types, but some, like the fat-soluble ones, stick around in your body because they're stored whereas water-soluble vitamins are not stored in your body. And while having some vitamins is necessary, large amounts aren’t always better and getting too much of certain vitamins can be harmful, even toxic.⁷

What are minerals?

Minerals come from rocks, soil, and water. They're absorbed by plants as they grow or by animals as they eat the plants. People, in turn, get minerals by eating plant-based or animal-based foods because our bodies don’t make them on their own.⁹ Minerals are also found in supplements and some fortified foods. 

Minerals can be sorted into 2 groups: macrominerals and trace minerals. Each group of minerals is classified by the amounts the body uses and stores

What are macrominerals?

Macrominerals are nutrients that are used and stored by the body in larger amounts. They include and are important for⁹ ¹⁰:  

Calcium Healthy teeth and bones; blood clotting; muscle function; regulating blood pressure and heart rhythm; nerve signaling; hormone release; enzyme activation
Chloride Nerve and muscle activity; digestion; regulating fluid and nutrient exchange in cells; balancing fluids in the body
Magnesium Healthy teeth and bones; DNA and protein creation; blood clotting; muscle and nerve function; regulating blood pressure and blood sugar levels
Phosphorus Bone and blood vessel health; muscle function
Potassium Cell, nerve, and muscle function; digestion; regulating blood pressure, heart rhythm, and the water content in cells
Sodium Muscle and nerve function; regulating heart rhythm; balancing fluids in the body
Sulfur Metabolism; cell protection

What are trace minerals?

Trace minerals are nutrients that are used and stored by the body in smaller (trace) amounts. They include and are important for⁹ ¹⁰:  

Chromium Energy production; regulating blood sugar levels
Copper Red blood cell production; metabolism; cell protection; hormone regulation
Fluoride Bone health; preventing tooth decay
Iodine Thyroid hormone production
Iron Muscle health, growth and development; enzyme activation; creating amino acids, collagen, brain chemicals, hormones, and hemoglobin (a protein in red blood cells that moves oxygen around the body)
Manganese Bone health; digestion; metabolism
Molybdenum Preventing the buildup of harmful substances in the body
Selenium Thyroid function; DNA creation; reproduction; cell protection
Zinc Blood clotting; wound healing; immune system health; DNA and protein creation

Why do mineral groups matter?

The 2 groups differ in how they are used and stored by the body. This is because our bodies need “more” of certain minerals and “less” of others. Like vitamins, your body needs both types, but in different amounts. And getting too much of some can cause health issues.⁹

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