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What’s The Difference Between Vitamins And Minerals?
In many of our articles, we have discussed the importance of macronutrients. These are the compounds like fats, proteins and carbohydrates which are so essential for our health. These nutrients are the fundamental building blocks that make up a proper diet and a healthy body. But they are not the final word on nutrition. Another class of nutrients called micronutrients is also very important. You probably know them by different names: Vitamins and minerals. But what are they, and what is the difference between them?
What are Vitamins and Minerals, and How are they different?
Let’s start with vitamins. If you live in the northern hemisphere, it is winter right now and that means it’s cold season. During this time of year, you probably see commercials recommending vitamin C supplements to ward off colds and other infections. But what is vitamin C, and how do vitamins benefit you in the first place?
Vitamins are natural, organic chemical compounds found in natural sources like foods. When you consume them in their naturally occurring form or through supplements, they are broken down by your body and used to assist in various biological functions. Vitamins that most people are familiar with include vitamins A, C, and, D as well as the various B vitamins.
Vitamin deficiencies can lead to all kinds of health complications and disease. Not getting enough vitamin D is linked with seasonal affectiveness disorder, rickets (weak bones) and more. Insufficient amounts of vitamin A is associated with night blindness and vision loss, while not enough vitamin E can lead to trouble absorbing vitamin A.
Minerals are somewhat different. They are inorganic compounds like zinc, iron, and magnesium all of which are much more durable than vitamins. They retain their chemical structure much more so than vitamins after consumption, and they assist the body in a different way which we’ll explain in more detail below. As with vitamins, mineral deficiencies can lead to all kinds of health problems. One well known example is anemia (chronic iron deficiency).
While they are quite different from a molecular standpoint, vitamins, and minerals can interact with each other in many ways, some of which are beneficial, others of which are counterproductive to health.
Let’s look at an example: In addition to boosting the immune system and warding off depression, vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium properly by building stronger bones. But calcium also serves other purposes, such as moderating excess amounts of sodium, another mineral, in your body. Many people get too much from the salt they add to their meals or from the sodium found in processed foods. Excess sodium can contribute to high blood pressure which itself can lead to cardiovascular problems.
Calcium helps flush excess sodium out of your body through urine, but doing so also depletes the calcium. If too much calcium is spent getting rid of sodium, it can contribute to weaker bones, and if you’re not getting enough vitamin D, you will have more difficulty absorbing calcium in the first place.
Are you beginning to get a sense of how interrelated vitamins and minerals are? This also extends to macronutrients. B vitamins, for instance, help your body convert macronutrients into energy. Vitamin C not only helps strengthen your immune system, but helps produce collagen, which helps build blood vessels, teeth, and more.
Vitamins, Minerals and Balance
It is important to understand the role of balancing ratios of vitamins and minerals. As we have explained above, too much of one vitamin can cause deficiencies in a certain mineral and vice versa. Overdosing on a particular vitamin or mineral can also lead to potentially serious health problems.
The good news is that this almost never happens if you are getting your vitamins and minerals from natural, whole food sources. Overdosing usually happens when taking supplements. While high quality supplements can be an incredibly beneficial tool, those who haven’t done their proper research can throw their micronutrient ratios off balance and unwittingly cause some health problems for themselves.
If you are thinking about starting a long-term supplement regimen, it’s best to get some blood work done or talk to your doctor first so you can be sure you are taking the right supplements in the right amounts and avoiding the ones you don’t need.