Monday, March 8, 2010

Vitamins and Minerals: A Clueless Gal's Attempt at Research

Blog reader ThatPastryGirl aka Karin asked me on twitter: Are there any supplements you think are essential? Ie multivitamin etc?

Once again Team Six Pack works hard at answering your questions....

This was a topic I definitely needed to research, because honestly I'm not too familiar with them myself and probably lacking in many of them. There are a lot of books out there on the topic as well and I'm sure most are very accurate and complete, but there's a lot to search through. I sat at borders for a good hour debating on which book to purchase: "A Complete Idiots Guide to Vitamins and Minerals" because honestly I am a complete idiot on this topic ;), this one had the most recent publication date, but I've noticed the "idiots and dummy's" books tend to dumb down their language and I definitely wanted a book that was thorough on this topic so I could learn as much as possible. Other books I looked at were "Vitamins, Herbs, Minerals & Supplements: The Complete Guide" by H. Winter Griffith, M.D., clocking in at 504 pages long, and "The New Encyclopedia of Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements & Herbs: A completely cross-referenced user's guide for optimal health" by Nicola Reavley clocking in at 792 pages long....

OY!! Information OVERLOAD

For the purposes of this article though, I am going to only discuss essential Vitamins, Minerals for a healthy diet, weight loss, exercise, and the use of some vitamins and supplements for women's needs... such as PMS... lets face it ladies a lot of us suffer from it and it's just a fact of life that I am bitchier certain times of the month than others, last week was a perfect example.

So after debating the merits of each book, reading the introductions searching the indexes etc., I settled on the Encyclopedia because it was the most thorough. However dear readers, as always please consult your physicians if you think you need to start taking vitamins or supplements. I am not a Doctor, dietitian or nutritionist I'm simply trying to learn all that I can about nutrition and health, if you take away anything from this article perhaps it's just list of questions to ask your Dr....because I know I'll have lots of questions for mine. :)

Ok, let's get this party started...

What's a Vitamin!??

Vitamins are substances which, in small amounts, are necessary to sustain life. They must be obtained from food as they are either not made in the body at all, or are not made in sufficient quantities for growth, vitality or wellbeing. Lack of a particular vitamin can lead to incomplete metabolism, fatigue and other health problems; and in severe cases, to deficiency disease.

What do vitamins do?
Individual vitamins have specific functions which vary widely and can overlap. They are involved in growth, the ability to produce healthy offspring, and the maintenance of health. They play a role in metabolism, enabling your body to use other essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins and minerals. Vitamins are important for a normal appetite, in digestions, mental alertness, and resistance to bacterial infections.

How Many Vitamins are there?
In the USA the following are officially listed as vitamins: vitamin A, C, D, E, K and the B vitamin complex containing: B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), folic acid, B12 (cobalmin), biotin and pantothenic acid.

Vitamins are generally divided into two categories: fat soluble and water soluble. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble, they require an adequate supply of minerals and fats to be absorbed in the digestive system and are stored in the liver. The remaining vitamins are water soluble with any excess being excreted in the urine. These need to be replenished frequently.
Break Down! (I am not going to list any of the recommended dosages in the book, I feel that is something that should be discussed with your doctor.)

...Vitamin A...

Essential for:
Healthy eyes and vision
growth, repair and cell differentiation
health of epithelial cells
protection against infection
a healthy reproductive system

Therapeutic uses of supplements:
Supplements are used to boost immunity; prevent cancer; treat skin disorders such as acne and psoriasis; and treat eye problems.

cod liver oil, carrots (raw), squash, kale (boiled), mango (raw), canteloupe, apricots, sardines, tomato sauce, bran, pumpkin (peeled & boiled), broccoli, sweet potatoes (peeled, boiled), green peppers (raw), milk, cream cheese.

...Vitamin B Complex...

Essential for:
Releasing energy from food
carbohydrate and fatty acid metabolism
healthy growth
healthy skin, blood, hair and muscles
a healthy brain and nervous system
alcohol metabolism

Absorption and metabolism:
Daily intake is necessary.

Symptoms include fatigue, depression, reduced mental functioning, muscle cramps, nausea, heart enlargement and eventually beriberi, which can cause paralysis.

Thereaputic uses of supplements:
Thiamin supplements have been used to improve mental function in alcoholics and the eldery. They mage be useful in times of street and have also been used to treat fatigue, irritability, depression, to aid digestion, and to promote healing.

Thiamin Pork, oats, wheatgerm, peacans, pistachios, bra, green peas, kidney beans, brazil nuts, ham, liver, chickpeas (cooked), cod, cashews, whole grain bread, beef steak.

Riboflivin almonds, pink salmon, bran, spinach, milk, veal, wheatgerm, eggs (boiled), feta cheese, oats, soy milk, pork, cheddar cheese.

Niacin tuna (canned), special K cereal, bran, swordfish, veal, peanuts, trout, chicken breast (roasted), mackerel, beef (lean), wheatgerm, pork, corn.

...Vitamin B6...

Essential for:
the release of energy from food
healthy cardiovascular, nervous and immune systems
protein metabolism and hormone production
healthy skin, hair and red blood cells
manufacture of genetic material of the cell
the conversion of tryptophan to niacin

Absorption and metabolism
Daily intake is necessary.

Symptoms include weakness, poor appetite, dermatitis, a sore mouth, susceptibility to infection, and eventually convulsions and anemia. Deficiency may play a fole in heart disease, kidney stone formation, carpal tunnel syndrome and depression.

Theraputic uses of supplements:
These include asthma, cardiovascular disease, mood disorders, PMS, stress, carpal tunnel syndrome, fatigue, nausea of pregnancy, skin problems and kidney stones.

wheatgerm, wheatbran, bananas, chicken, avacado, ham, tuna (canned in water), spinach (cooked), soybeans (cooked), rasins, beef (serloin grilled), green peas (cooked), pork chop (grilled), salmon, brown rice, peanuts, potato (baked), brussel sprouts.

...Vitamin C...
Essential for:
the manufacture of collegen, a protein which forms the basis of connective tissues such as bones, teeth and cartilage
wound healing
healthy immune and nervous systems
adrenal hormone production
as an antioxidant to help prevent disease

Absorption and metabolism:
Daily intake is necessary.

Sever deficiency leads to scurvvy with symptoms of bleeding gums, joint pain, easy bruising, dry ski, fluid retention and depression. Marginal deficiencies may play a role in the development of cancer, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, lowered immunity, diabetes and cataracts.

Theraputic uses of supplements:
These include the treatment and prevention of many disorders including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, cancer, gallstones, cataracts, diabetes, asthma and infections.

blackcurrants, red pepper (raw), guavas, oranges, grapefruits, papaya, lemons, strawberries, green pepper, kiwi fruit, cantaloupe, broccoli (boiled), mangoes, kale, brussel sprouts (boiled), honeydew melon, raspberries, cauliflower, tangerines, pineapples, cabbage.

...Vitamin D...

Essential for:
the absorbtion and use of calcium and phosphorus, which are vital for function such as the development of bones and teeth
healthy regulation of some hormones
normal cell growth and maturation

deficiency in children leads to rickets in which bones lose calcium and become soft and curved. In adults, symptoms include bone pain and tenderness, and muscles weakness. Deficiency may also increase the risk of osteoporosis, arthritis and cancer.

Thereapeutic uses of supplements:
Supplements have been used to treat osteoporosis and osteoarthritis in elderly people. Synthetic vitamin D analougues are used to treat psoriasis.

Medicinal cod liver oil, salmon, tuna, whole milk (fortified), skim milk (fortified), sardines, shrimp, bran, corn flakes, special K cereal, egg yolk.

...Vitamin E...

Essential for:
action as an antioxidant to provide protection for cells against free radical damage which may lead to disorders such as heart disease and cancer. It is particularly important in protecting fats, cell membranes, DNA and enzymes against damage.

Deficiency is rare.

Therapeutic use of supplements
Supplements have been used to treat and prevent many disorders including heart disease, cancer, cataracts, diabetes, asthma, Alzheimer's disease and infertility.

wheatgerm, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, peanuts, soy beans (cooked), safflower oil, canola oil, corn oil, avacado, spinach (cooked), tomato sauce, olive oil, broccoli, grapes, blackberries, parsnip (cooked), peaches, brussel sprouts (cooked), tomatoes, eggs.

...Vitamin K...
Essential for:
blood clotting
bone metabolism
kidney function

Deficiency in adults is rare.

Theraputic uses of supplements:
Vitamin K supplements are used to prevent hemorrhages and may be useful in the treatment of osteoporosis.

broccoli (cooked), spinach (raw), avocado, lettuce, cabbage (raw), watercress (raw), snap beans (raw), plums, canola oil, kiwi fruit, greens peas (cooked), miso, carrots (cooked), sweet peppers, potato with skin, tomatoes, celery (raw), peanut butter, olive oil, cauliflower (boiled), cucumbers (raw).

Time to learn about Minerals!!!

What are minerals?
Minerals are naturally occuring inorganic (non carbon containing) elements which play a part in many biochemical and physiological processes necessary for body maintenance. They are important structural components of several body tissues; for example calcium, phosphorus and magnesium make up an important part of bone tissue. Minerals are as important as vitamins for your body to function properly.

The body cannot make any minerals, they must be obtained from plant and animals foods, and water, which may contain dissolved minerals.

Which are the essential minerals?
About 20 minerals are known to be mecessary for body maintenance and regulatory functions. The major minerals are calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, cloride, magnesium and sulfur.

I will only discuss the major minerals that I read were healthy for the heart and for metabolism for the purposes of this entry. Time to break it down...!


essential for healthy bones and teeth, muscle contraction, a healthy heart and nervous system, blood pressure regulation and clotting.

Deficiency leads to nerve and bone disorders, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia of pregnancy and may contribute to colon cancer.

Sources: Milk, cheddar cheese, salmon, crab, figs, peanuts, baked beans, brazil nuts, kale, walnuts, almonds, broccoli (cooked).


Essential for normal metabolism, healthy bones, joints, skin and blood vessals, healthy cardiovascular system.

Deficiency leads to anemia, connective tissue defects, immune suppression, nerve problems and heart disease

Sources: seafood, meat and whole grains, lentils, mushrooms, spinach (cooked), almonds, avocado, tofu.


Essential for water balance in the body, muscle contraction, energy metabolism, protein and carbohydrate metabolism a healthy heart and blood vessels.

Deficiency may lead to increased risk of high blood pressure.

Sources: fruits, vegetables and whole grains.


Ahh... salt, yup it's a mineral, this one we hear a lot about how in excess it's bad for's what the book has to say!

Essential for water balance in the body, muscle contraction, energy production, stomach acid production

Sources: Foods high in sodium include processed meats, cheese, margarine and butter. (essentially foods that aren't that good for you!)

Effects of excess intake: High blood pressure, PMS, and possibly osteoporosis, asthma and urinary stones

Supplementation is usually unnecessary!


Essential for oxygen transport and storage in the blood and muscles, fatty acid metabolism, energy production, maintenance of a healthy immune system.

Deficiency leads to weakness, fatigue, reduced resistance to infection and eventually anemia

Sources: meat, whole grains and dark green leafy vegetables.

Essential for production and transfer of energy a healthy heart bones, muscles and blood vessels, protein and carbohydrate metabolism

Deficiency symptoms include fatigue, mental and heart problems.

Sources include whole grains, nuts and green vegetables.

Supplementation includes treatment of stress, fatigue, cardiovascular disease, migrane, kidney stones, asthma, PMS, muscle cramps, pre-eclampsia and diabetes.


Essential for healthy bones, metabolism of proteins, carbohydrate, fats and DNA, energy production and exchange.

Deficiency symptoms are rare.

Sources include meat, wheatgerm, poultry, cheese, milk, canned fish, nuts and whole grain cereal.


Essential for energy production healthy immune and reproductive systems, normal growth and development, healthy brain, teeth, bones and skin.

Deficienct includes skin problems, fetal abnormalities, reproductive defects, cardiovascular disease, immuse deficiency, loss of eye function and osteoporosis.

Sources include seafood, meat and whole grains.

Supplements are often given to diabetics and pregnant women.

*takes deep breath* not joking I literally just let out a BIG exhale, haha. I know it's a lot to absorb! Now it's time to analyze all this information!

Are Supplements Even Necessary??
Whether or not vitamin and mineral supplements are necessary is the most controversial topic in nutrition. The question a need for supplements is central to the debate about the levels of vitamins and minerals required to promote optimal health. Given that people vary so much in their requirements and that very few people eat really well-balanced diets, vitamin and mineral supplements can be viewed as a relatively inexpensive form of "nutritional insurance."

Who might need them??Supplements may be beneficial for those on weight loss diets. Many people, particularly women, eat low calorie diets which are inadequate in iron, calcium and zinc.
Strict vegetarians who avoid meat and dairy products must obtain vitamin B12 from supplements.

I have posted previously about nutrition and exercise, in my post food to fuel your work outs here's some information about Vitamins, minerals and exercise:

Vitamin C: May be beneficial for those who exercise heavily and have problems with frequent upper respiratory tract infections.

Vitamin E: there is some evidence that vitamin E may decrease muscle fatigue and improve endurance performance

B Vitamins: are essential for the conversion of carbohydrates to energy, and as to calorie and carbohydrate intakes increase, the requirement for B vitamins also increases.

Vitamin B6: Exercisers and athletes often have low vitamin B6 levels.

Calcium: female athletes often have menstrual irregularities, which are due to disruption of the normal estrogen cycle. Lack of estrogen can lead to a loss of bone mineral density.

Iron: Heavy exercise may lead to iron deficiency. Distance runners are at particular risk as running appears to lead to a decrease in body stores of iron.

Magnesium: Strenuous exercise alters magnesium concentrations in muscle and blood. Stressful conditions such as intense training and competition may also increase the need for magnesium.

Zinc: Athletes can be deficient in zinc as increased needs and increased sweating and urinary excretion may lead to greater requirements.

Weight loss! I thought this particular passage of the book was very important and touched on exactly what type of diet worked for me and what I promote here on this blog:

Despite the availability of low fat foods and increasing awareness of the risks, obesity is still on the increase. However, despite the prevalence of obesity, many people do not consume enough essential nutrients to keep themselves healthy, and overweight and poor nutrition are major risk factors for some of the most common diseases in our society. These include high cholesterol levels, atherosclerosis, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes...

Hand in hand with the increase of obesity has come a national obsession with weight loss. Many overweight people are drawn to fad diets that promise fast results with minimal effort, only to see the weight go back on just as quickly once they return to their regular diet. Such a pattern of repeated weight loss and gain may contribute to lifelong obesity. The only way to lose weight and keep it off is to develop, and stick to a healthy, nutrient dense, balanced diet and a regular exercise program.

Vitamins and Minerals to help during weight loss:

B Vitamins: are essential for the metabolism of food and optimal intake is necessary to ensure that this takes place effectively.

Minerals: extra minerals may also be useful in preventing deficiency, especially in people whose fiber intakes are high, as fiber reduces the absorption of calcium, iron, zinc, and copper.

Antioxidants: Since weight loss usually involves a mild process of detoxification, with the body burning fat and sometimes other tissues, antioxidants may be useful. These include beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium.

Ok, that's all for now! Please feel free to ask more questions, or pick up your own copy of "The New Encyclopedia of Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements and Herbs" by Nicola Reavley for more information. It's VERY informative and my copy is already bookmarked, dogeared and has a damaged spine :).

And again, I stress... please discuss with your doctor before taking any of these supplements...proper nutrition might be all your lacking instead of taking a multivitamin, but that is for them to decide.

1 comment:

Dangrdafne said...

I mentioned the other day on Twitarded that I think Twitardia is becoming a weird mind meld - I was JUST asking my trainer for more information on supplements! Now I don't have to wait for her, I have your take and I can't wait to read this post intently when I get home tonite. Thank you for putting this all together it is a herculean task.