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Vitamins & Natural Health

Vitamins and Minerals: The Basics

What Are Vitamins?

Vitamins are organic compounds found in the foods we eat. The word vitamin comes from the Latin word "vita" which literally means life and the word "amine," as vitamins were originally believed to be amine chemicals. We need vitamins in small amounts to ensure normal functioning of our body. Vitamins help the body use the other nutrients we ingest such as protein, carbohydrates, fats and minerals, for cell growth, maintenance and repair. Some vitamins are enzymes or coenzymes that are necessary elements in various biochemical reactions that occur in our body to turn food into energy. (Refer to the summary table in this article for a list of vitamins and minerals, their functions and food sources.)

What Are the Different Kinds of Vitamins?

Vitamins are divided into two types, fat-soluble vitamins and water-soluble vitamins.

Characteristic Water-Soluble Vitamins Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Water solubility Dissolve in water Will NOT dissolve in water
Body Storage NOT stored in the body; excreted in the urine Stored in fat cells in the body
Food sources and dairy products Fruits, vegetables, grains, oil, fortified milk, and margarine Whole grains, fish liver
Types Vitamin C, and all eight B vitamins Vitamins A, D, E, and K
Required frequency of intake Need daily replenishment Do NOT require daily replenishment

What Is the Difference Between Natural and Synthetic Vitamins?

Generally speaking, there is no difference between a vitamin manufactured in a laboratory (synthetic) or one in its natural form. Once ingested into the body, these vitamins are used in the same way and for the same functions.

What Are Minerals?

Minerals are non-organic elements that must be consumed to maintain health. They activate vital bodily functions and are required for the growth and strength of the body's structural elements, such as bones and teeth. Muscle contraction and relaxation, proper functioning of the nervous system, and the normal rhythm of the heartbeat are also dependent on the presence of adequate amounts of minerals. Minerals are also necessary for the production and functioning of some of the body's hormones (e.g., thyroxine, insulin), the activation of some enzymes in various biochemical reactions, and the maintenance of proper fluid balance, both volume and acid base balance.

What Are the Different Types of Minerals?

Minerals are divided into two classifications, either macrominerals or trace minerals, depending on the amounts needed by the body. Macrominerals are needed in large quantities by the body's tissues. These include:

  • Calcium
  • Chloride
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorous
  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Sulfur

Trace minerals are needed in only very small amounts. These include:

  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Fluoride
  • Iodine
  • Iron
  • Manganese
  • Selenium
  • Zinc

Can Vitamins and Minerals Be Toxic?

Yes, vitamins and minerals, if taken in large amounts, can be toxic. The fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) are more likely to cause toxicity than water soluble vitamins because they are stored in fat cells in the body and are not readily excreted in the urine.

Before supplementing your diet with individual vitamins and/or minerals, or using large doses of vitamins or minerals, you should discuss this with your family doctor or your Sobeys Pharmacist. There are well documented risks associated with large doses of some vitamins and minerals. Using single supplements or large doses of certain vitamins or minerals may cause an imbalance in other vitamins or minerals. Use caution before you self medicate with vitamins and minerals and seek professional advice first!

Are There Different Vitamin Requirements for Different Stages in Life?

Specific vitamin supplements may be recommended for certain ages or stages of life and in certain conditions including:

  • Infants, young children, preteens and adolescents
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • People taking certain cholesterol lowering drugs, or other drugs which might interfere with the absorption of vitamins and minerals from the diet
  • A diagnosed vitamin deficiency state resulting perhaps from bowel, liver or kidney disease
  • People with severe alcohol or drug dependence
  • People on a strict vegetarian diet that excludes all animal products including dairy products
  • Smokers
  • Dieters
  • Athletes
  • The elderly

If you fall into any of these categories, or are concerned about a loved one who does, discuss your nutritional concerns with your Sobeys Pharmacist or your family doctor. Your health care professional can guide you in the selection of the most appropriate vitamin and mineral supplement(s) for your needs.

What Are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are specific vitamins, namely beta-carotene, vitamins C and E ,and possibly selenium, which are believed to protect our bodies from free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive substances, such as unpaired oxygen atoms or nitric oxide that are missing an electron. Free radicals "steal" the missing electron from other tissues causing damage to that tissue. There are numerous conditions which are believed to be caused or aggravated by the action of free radicals. These include the aging process, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson's disease, cataracts, atherosclerosis, heart disease and lung damage, to name a few.

Obviously, if the use of antioxidants can arrest or slow these degenerative processes they would be very beneficial. However, to date, the results of studies with these agents are somewhat conflicting and more research needs to be completed before they can be routinely recommended.

How Do I Know if I Need Vitamin Supplements?

Normally, a well-balanced, healthy diet provides a sufficient intake of vitamins and minerals. However, many people feel that their lifestyle prevents them from eating as well as they would like. Many people will use a multivitamin and mineral supplement to ensure an adequate intake of these essential nutrients.

If you are unsure regarding your need for supplementation discuss this with your Sobeys Pharmacist or your family doctor. If you are pregnant, nursing or have other special needs, seek medical advice. Vitamin and mineral supplementation may be beneficial in the prevention of unnecessary illness and the improvement of overall well-being.

Vitamins and Minerals Summary Table

Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Nutrient Needed for Best food sources
Vitamin A growth and repair of skin tissue; night vision; bone and tooth growth; reproduction liver and fish liver oils, eggs, milk and dairy products, green fruits and vegetables, kidney
Vitamin D regulation of the balance of calcium and phosphate; strong bones and teeth fish and fish liver oils, egg yolks, organ meats such as liver and kidney, fortified milk
Vitamin E normal cell structure; the formation of red blood cells; maintenance of some enzymes vegetable oils, nuts, meats, leafy green vegetables, egg yolk, cereals, wheat germ
Vitamin K formation of substances required for blood clotting leafy green vegetables, fruits, cereal, dairy products, egg yolk, pork liver

Water-Soluble Vitamins

Nutrient Needed for Best food sources
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) energy production from carbohydrates to permit proper growth and functioning of the nerves, muscles and heart; appetite maintenance wheat germ, bran, whole-grain or enriched cereals, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, brown rice, pasta, liver, kidney, pork
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) regulation of the balance of calcium energy production from carbohydrates, fats and proteins; maintenance of healthy skin, eyes, nails and hair organ meats, fish, eggs, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, peanuts, dried fruit, enriched breads and cereals
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) normal cell structure; the formation of red protein and fat metabolism; red blood cell growth; proper functioning of the nervous system fish, poultry, lean meats, milk, whole grain breads and cereals, eggs, peanuts and legumes
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism; maintenance of healthy nervous system; folic acid metabolism; cell reproduction and growth organ meats, milk, eggs, fish, cheese, meat
Biotin breakdown of proteins and carbohydrates yeast, organ meats, legumes, eggs, nuts, fruits, fish
Folic Acid red blood cell formation; healthy functioning of the nervous system; growth and cell division leafy green vegetables, organ meats, nuts, milk and milk products, legumes, whole grain cereals and breads
Niacin metabolism of fats and carbohydrates; functioning of the nervous and digestive system; manufacture of sex hormones; maintenance of healthy skin meat, poultry, fish, milk products, peanuts, dried fruits, whole grain and enriched cereals
Pantothenic Acid metabolism of fats and carbohydrates, manufacture of some hormones; normal growth and development; proper functioning of the nervous system organ meats, fish, egg yolks, most vegetables and cereals, nuts
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) growth and maintenance of healthy bones, teeth, gums, ligaments and blood vessels; production of chemicals used for nerve impulse transmission; wound healing; absorption of iron; production of some hormones citrus fruits and juices, leafy green vegetables, strawberries, tomatoes, cantaloupes, potatoes, green peppers


Mineral Needed for Best food sources
Calcium functioning of cells; muscle contraction; transmission of nerve impulses; blood clotting milk and milk products, sardines, clams, oysters, salmon, green vegetables, legumes
Chromium normal activity of several enzymes corn oil, clams, whole grain cereals
Copper formation of red blood cells; bone growth; formation of elastin in muscle shellfish, organ meats, legumes
Iodine formation of thyroid hormones iodized table salt, milk, seafood
Iron formation of hemoglobin (the oxygen carrying pigment in red blood cells) and myoglobin (the oxygen carrying pigment in muscle cells); formation of certain enzymes meats and organ meats, fish, leafy green vegetables, whole grain cereals and breads
Magnesium activation of enzymes involved in protein and nucleic acid production; fat metabolism and energy production; bone growth whole grain cereals and breads, leafy green vegetables, dairy products, nuts
Manganese activation of enzymes involved in protein and nucleic acid production whole grain breads and cereals, blueberries, legumes and nuts
Phosphorus bone development; metabolism of proteins milk, meat, fish
Potassium maintenance of normal heart rhythm; regulation of body's water balance; conduction of nerve impulses; contraction of muscles oranges, bananas, whole grain breads and cereals, potatoes, legumes, leafy green vegetables
Selenium possible preservation of the elasticity of the body tissues seafood, organ meats, lean meats, grains
Sodium regulation of body's water balance; maintenance of normal heart rhythm; conduction of nerve impulses; contraction of muscles table salt, processed foods
Zinc normal growth; development of the reproductive system; normal functioning of the prostate gland; wound healing; metabolism oysters, liver, beef, lamb, pork
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