Vitamins and minerals are essential parts of our food. If you eat a variety of foods and have a balanced diet, you’ll likely get all the necessary vitamins and minerals.
If you eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and reduced-fat dairy products, your body will usually have the level of vitamins and minerals it needs. Vitamins and minerals are essential for bodily functions such as fighting infection, wound healing, bone strength and hormone regulation.
The body has thousands of chemical reactions in its cells throughout the day, and these cells are constantly processing proteins, fats and carbohydrates from food. Vitamins and minerals are key parts of these chemical reactions, but you only need small amounts of them.
The best way to get the vitamins and minerals you need is by having a well-rounded and balanced diet. However, many people need to supplement certain vitamins for a variety of reasons.
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There are 13 vitamins in total, and eight of these come from the B-group of vitamins. There are also four minerals that are essential to our health. Each of these vitamins and minerals plays a different role in the overall functioning of our body.
The 13 vitamins are:
The four minerals are:
They are required in different amounts and help with many functions in our body. For example, we need iron for energy and healthy blood supply and vitamin C for our immune system health.
A situation where you might need to take vitamin or mineral supplements is because you aren’t able to get enough through your diet. This could be because you’re vegan, vegetarian, or following another diet that restricts certain food groups.
When the body becomes deficient in specific vitamins and minerals, it can have symptoms and issues, such as:
Some vitamins and minerals are only found in animal products, which means that people following a vegan or vegetarian diet may have some vitamin deficiencies. Often, people who follow a vegan diet need regular vitamin B12 supplements, as well as vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and iron supplements.
Another example is if you have a diet low in whole grains or fibre, you may need to take vitamin B, iron, or magnesium supplements. There are many different dietary reasons why someone might need supplements to get the necessary vitamins and minerals in their system.
A situation where you might be lacking in essential vitamins or minerals is if you have a medical condition. People with particular medical conditions, such as Crohn’s disease or coeliac disease, often lack certain nutrients.
A person with Crohn’s disease may develop a deficiency in vitamins and minerals including:
Coeliac disease results in a person being unable to consume gluten products, and even the slightest traces of gluten can damage the bowel. This prevents the proper absorption of food nutrients.
People with coeliac disease are usually on a long-term gluten-free diet, which means a large food group is missing and can lead to micronutrient deficiencies. The common micronutrient deficiencies in people with coeliac disease include:
These deficiencies can contribute to neurological complications, psychiatric symptoms, and bone issues if untreated.
When pregnant, doctors often advise the person to take folic acid supplements and iron or vitamin D supplements. The body undergoes many changes, and vitamin supplements are used during pregnancy to combat any issues.
The body needs more of certain nutrients, including folic acid, iodine, and iron. These vitamins and minerals are essential because:
However, you can’t just assume that we need more of all vitamins. Specific vitamins and supplements cause issues during pregnancy, and doctors advise against using them. Most importantly, always check with your doctor before taking your usual or new supplements during pregnancy.
Watch the video below for more information on when vitamin supplements might be necessary:
As with anything, supplements can be dangerous if you take too much. If consumed in large amounts, they can cause toxicity in the system. For example, too much vitamin C can cause diarrhoea and kidney stones. Too much vitamin A is also harmful, particularly for pregnant women.
It’s extremely rare to overdose on vitamins, but there have been instances of death related to vitamin toxicity. Usually, the side effects are other health problems and side effects rather than death. But this doesn’t mean they can’t cause serious harm.
When consumed naturally through food, vitamins and minerals are unlikely to cause harm, even when eaten in large amounts. However, supplements are concentrated doses, and it becomes easy to take too much. Using supplements responsibly is essential, and consult a health professional if you have any questions.
A healthy and balanced diet is the best way to get your vitamins and minerals. However, it’s possible to miss out on specific vitamins. This will vary quite significantly between countries, climates and individual lifestyles.
If you’re unsure whether you should be taking vitamin or mineral supplements, go to your doctor for a proper diagnosis. Getting all the vitamins and minerals you need from a balanced diet is usually easy, but it’s not always the case.
You can also take our first aid course if you are living with someone who might be suffering from a vitamin or mineral deficiency. A first aid course can help you manage symptoms from deficits, such as fainting, falls, and other minor injuries.