Every day our body builds new cells, renews blood, carries nutrients, forms hormones, and sends nerve signals to carry and sustain the many functions we go through in our daily lives. It’s amazing to think of how much our body does for us on a constant basis. But, in order to perform these roles, we require raw materials that are in essential vitamins and minerals.

“Essential” means that a lack of the nutrient for a long period of time will lead to deficiency symptoms that can only be corrected by re-introducing the nutrient (prolonged absence of an essential nutrient can lead to serious health problems and even death, yikes!). Thankfully, vitamins and minerals are considered micronutrients because we only need very small amounts of them, typically gathered from well-rounded diets.

Vitamins and minerals differ in subtle ways. Vitamins are organic whereas minerals are inorganic nutrients. In chemistry, “organic” means “containing carbon,” which can be broken down by heat, air, and acid (non’t confuse it with the market definition of organic as “pesticide-free”. Totally different!)

So why does this matter? Micronutrients are extremely important in providing you with energy and executing hundreds of roles in your body. The minerals in soil, water, and nature make it into your body a lot easier than vitamins do since minerals cannot be broken down, since they don’t have carbon. It’s much harder to efficiently provide your body of vitamins because processes such as cooking, storage, cleaning, or simple environmental exposure can break apart fragile carbonic compounds. Micronutrients are essential to our health and getting critical vitamins and minerals requires education, information, and diligence.

See this list of some micronutrients and more! Remember that this is not a comprehensive list but a basic one. Visit your medical professional if you have any questions regarding vitamin/mineral intake.

A (Vitamin A): for antioxidant, immune system, vision, night vision, anti-cancer properties, cardiovascular system, bones, eyes, hair, teeth, and cellular health. Common forms include retinol and carotene.

Boron: for bones, osteoporosis, cell membranes, mental functions, alertness, balanced estrogen and calcium levels, and prevention of bone demineralization

Calcium: Builds and protects bones and teeth. Helps with muscle contractions, relaxation, blood clotting, and nerve impulse transmission. Helps maintain a steady blood pressure and aids in hormone secretion/enzyme activation.

D (Vitamin D): for bones and teeth, osteoporosis/osteoarthritis prevention, absorption of calcium to promote strong bones. Scientists say that many people do not get enough of this nutrient; the body uses sunlight to make Vitamin D but it cannot produce enough.

E (Vitamin E): acts as an antioxidant and neutralizing damaged cells. Protects Vitamin A and certain fats from cellular damage. Diets rich in Vitamin E may prevent Alzheimer’s disease and protect against prostate cancer.

Folic Acid: Common pregnancy vitamins. Integral in new cell creation. Helps prevent brain and spinal defects when taken early in pregnancy.

Glucosamine: Used to create cushioning fluids and tissues around joints. It repairs damaged arthritic joints and reduces pain. Necessary for skin, eyes, bones, tendon, nails, ligament, and heart formation.

H (Vitamin H or Biotin): for energy production, balance blood sugar/insulin levels, and optimal skin, hair, and nail health. Also helps body synthesize glucose in order to help metabolism and allow for efficient energy production.

Iodine: Part of thyroid hormone, which regulates body temperature and influences muscle/nerve function, reproduction, and growth.

K (Vitamin K): for osteoporosis and to decrease risk of fractures, liver support, radiation therapy, and reduction of hemorrhaging after surgeries. Decreases cholesterol levels, excessive menstrual bleeding, and morning sickness.

Magnesium: needed for chemical reactions in body, works with calcium for muscle contraction, blood clotting, and blood pressure regulation.

Niacin: helps convert food to energy; essential for healthy skin cells, blood, brain, and nervous system. Lowers cholesterol by preventing buildup in liver and arteries. Necessary for the health of all tissue cells, good digestion, and circulation. 

Potassium: balances fluids in body, helps maintain steady heartbeat and send nerve impulses. Getting enough potassium, according to research, may benefit strong bones and low blood pressure.

Riboflavin: provides biochemical reactions needed for cells to live. Fosters nervous system/skin/eye health, control fetus development, helps convert protein to energy, and with Vitamin A maintains membranes lining respiratory, digestive, circulatory, and excretory tracts.  

Sulfur: helps form bridges that shape and stabilize protein structures. Optimal for healthy skin and overall wellness since it promotes collagen synthesis, which gives skin its structure and strength. Also required for producing glutathione, one of the body’s most important antioxidants in preventing damage caused by free radicals.

Thiamin: retards motion sickness, can help learning, necessary for growth and appetite, aids in functioning of digestive tract, fosters a healthy mental outlook and a healthy nervous system.

Zinc: helps form enzymes, proteins and new cells. Needed for immune system, taste, smell, and wound healing. Also helps your liver release stored Vitamin A, which is much needed for maximum efficiency. Note: since vegetarians absorb less zinc, experts suggest they pay particular attention in order to gain the required amounts from plant-based diets.

For more information, visit the Vitamin and Minerals Fact Sheets at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/vitamins/

*Readers should not use this information for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. Always consult a medical professional regarding medical problems or major dietary changes. Ask questions regarding nutritional intake and health. This information should not be substituted for medical advice.