Back to list of articles.
Use of supplements
Vitamins and Minerals & how they keep you healthy
Whilst the so called "macro" nutrients, protein, carbohydrate and fat, are usually more than adequately supplied by our western diets, the "micro" nutrients, vitamins and minerals, can sometimes be in short supply due to the way food is stored, cooked or processed, or simply because we do not eat enough micro nutrient rich foods, such as fruit and vegetables.
A well-balanced diet is essential for a healthy body but, despite the knowledge that proper nutrition can help us experience good health, few of us put this theory fully into practice.
Dietary supplements are a convenient way of safeguarding our vitamin and mineral intake, and ensuring we obtain at least the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of various micro nutrients. RDAs are set only at the level that is enough to prevent clinical deficiency, with an added margin of safety. What they do not reflect is the level needed for optimal health a concept currently of great interest to many nutritional scientists.
In fact, the idea that intakes of vitamins and minerals higher than those normally obtainable through diet, may bring particular health benefits is now widely accepted. For example, it has been established that folic acid is required at twice the level of the RDA to reduce the risk of Spina Bifida in the newborn. Many supplements on the market provide significantly more than the RDA of vitamins and minerals, as well as providing micro nutrients that are known to be important to health but which have so far not been assigned an RDA.
Supplements are not intended as a substitute for a healthy balanced diet, but an addition to it.
VITAMINS & their role in your health
- Vitamin A: Maintains healthy skin and mucous membranes. Necessary for proper vision, especially at night. Needed for correct bone development and growth.
- Vitamin D: Helps the body utilize Calcium and Phosphorus for strong bones and teeth.
- Vitamin E: Protective antioxidant vitamin, that is, it mops up substances called "free radicals". Needed for the health of the heart and circulation, nerves, muscles and red blood cells.
- Beta Carotene: An antioxidant which mops up "free radicals" which, in excess, can cause damage to cells and tissues. Beta Carotene can also be converted into vitamin A in the body.
- Thiamin (Vit. B1): Needed for the release of energy from Carbohydrate. Aids in functioning of the nervous system.
- Riboflavin (Vit. B2): Needed for converting proteins, fats and carbohydrates into energy. Also important for skin and eye health.
- Niacin (Vit. B3): Vital for energy release in tissues and cells. Helps to maintain healthy nervous and digestive systems.
- Vitamin B6: Important in protein metabolism. Vital for maintaining a healthy nervous system, skin, muscles and blood.
- Folic acid: Essential for growth and reproduction of cells, particularly red blood cells. Particularly important as a supplement for women of childbearing age.
- Vitamin B12: Needed for red blood cell production and maintenance of the protective sheath around nerves. Vegans in particular may require additional amounts of this vitamin.
- Biotin: Involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Needed for healthy skin and hair.
- Pantothenic acid: Plays a vital role in the release of energy from foods, Needed for healthy growth and the production of antibodies.
- Vitamin C: An antioxidant which helps white blood cells fight infection. Also needed for healthy skin, and enhances absorption of iron from non-meat sources.
MINERALS & their role in your health
- Calcium: Needed for healthy strong bones and teeth, and for the functioning of nerves and muscles.
- Phosphorus: Needed for a strong skeleton. A component of ATP - the immediate source of energy in muscle tissue.
- Magnesium: Plays a role in bone structure; central to energy release and the functioning of nerves and muscles. Also important for cardiovascular health.
- Copper: Component (with Zinc and Manganese) of an Anti-Oxidant enzyme system. Needed for Melanin (skin pigment) formation and Iron metabolism.
- Chromium: Required for normal Glucose (blood sugar) metabolism; may also have a role in controlling blood fat levels.
- Iodine: Needed for the production of Thyroid hormones that regulate metabolic rate.
- Iron: Carries vital oxygen around the body as part of the blood pigment Haemoglobin.
- Manganese: Component (with Copper and Zinc) of an Anti-Oxidant enzyme system. Needed for sex hormone formations, healthy bones, joints and the nervous system.
- Molybdenum: Involved in Iron metabolism and in the production of Uric acid (a waste product found in urine). Necessary for normal sexual functioning in males.
- Selenium: Anti-Oxidant mineral which helps protect the delicate fatty parts of cells from going rancid. Needed for healthy liver tissue.
- Zinc: Component (with Copper and Manganese) of an Anti-Oxidant enzyme system. Needed for healthy reproductive and immune systems. Also required for tissue repair and renewal and for sense of taste and smell.
UPPER SAFE LEVELS OF VITAMINS AND MINERALSBut what about the safety of higher intakes? How safe are the supplements we take, and are there any dangers from taking them over long periods? Here are some important points to remember:
- Micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals) are essential to good health. Some micro nutrients may have particular health benefits at levels in excess of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA).
- The Upper Safe Levels determined for micro nutrients are not related in any consistent way to their Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs), for example, vitamin B products containing at least 80 times the RDA are considered safe, whereas long term daily intakes of supplemental Zinc may be undesirable at only a little above the RDA.
- The RDAs (Recommended daily allowance) often referred to are those specified by the EU as a reference value for labeling purposes.
- The figures shown already take into account the average amounts of vitamins and minerals normally consumed from food in the UK.
The above is for information only and is taken from my personal experience. It is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice.
Back to list of articles.