Vitamins and Minerals A to Z (SQ-136)
Your body needs vitamins and minerals to run as a smooth, well-oiled machine. These micro-nutrients work hand in hand to carry out hundreds of functions that keep your body up and running.
Among many things, vitamins and minerals help produce energy from the food, support healthy growth and development, fight infections and keep diseases at bay, keep organs and organ systems healthy, prevent birth defects, repair damaged tissues, and maintain your mental and emotional well-being. These nutrients also work as anti-oxidants and even help the body make important antioxidants to reduce the damage caused by free radicals and toxins.
In this A-to-Z quick nutrition guide, let’s discuss what kind of vitamins and minerals your body need, what they do individually and how their deficiencies can cause poor health and put you at a risk of infections and diseases.
Here is a list of vitamins and minerals from A to Z:
1. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a collective name for a group of compounds found in plant and animal foods. Vitamin A maintains healthy vision, supports reproductive health, and protects against infections.  It also keeps your skin, bones, nails, hair and lining of organs healthy, and is required for healthy growth and development of the foetus.
Both deficiency and excess Vitamin A can cause health problems. While vitamin A from fruits and vegetables doesn’t cause any toxicity, supplements and multivitamins can increase this risk. Food sources of vitamin A include beef liver, fish, eggs, dairy products, sweet potatoes, green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, broccoli and turnip greens), and red orange and yellow vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and squash).
2. Vitamin B Complex
Vitamin B complex is a group of “water-soluble vitamins” that play and incredible role in keeping you healthy and vibrant. While each B vitamin has a unique role, most of these help the body produce energy from food, keep your nervous system healthy, aid in the absorption of other nutrients, and help in the production of hormones and brain chemicals that help with learning, memory and mood. These vitamins also work as co-enzymes – substances that help enzymes function properly. Let’s take a closer look at all of the B vitamins and their individual roles.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)
- Breaking down carbohydrates
- Nervous system health
- Production of fatty acids, hormones and neurotransmitters
Vitamin B1 is found in yeast extracts, wheatgerm, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
- Energy production
- Converting tryptophan into niacin (vitamin B3)
- Absorption of Vitamin B6, iron and folic acid
- Keeping your vision, skin, and lining of mucous membranes healthy.
- Development of red blood cells
Vitamin B2 may help prevent migraine headaches.  It is found in whole grains, breakfast cereals, eggs, and dairy products.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
- Converting food into energy
- Healthy skin, brain and nervous system
Vitamin B3 supplements may help lower cholesterol levels , and treat pellagra (niacin deficiency). It is found in fortified breakfast cereals, avocado, mushrooms, chicken, red meat, fish, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)
- Energy production
- Production of cholesterol, stress hormones, sex hormones
- Formation of red blood cells
- Healthy digestive system
It is found in avocados, cauliflower, kale, tomatoes, eggs, whole grain cereals, nuts, seeds, organ meats and brewer's yeast.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
- Protein, fats and carbohydrates metabolism
- Heathy brain function as it is involved in the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine.
- Haemoglobin production
- Maintaining baby’s health during pregnancy and in infancy
- Healthy immunity
Vitamin B6 may help with mild symptoms of nausea during pregnancy . It is found in chickpeas, beef liver, tuna, banana and nuts.
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
- Fat and protein metabolism
- Production of fatty acids
- Cellular communication and growth
- Brain and nervous system health
- Production of brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine.
- Supporting hair, nails and skin health
Vitamin B8 may help treat metabolic syndrome , improve pain before periods, and support healthy hair growth. It is found in liver, meat, eggs, dairy, lentils, dried beans, nuts, cereals, banana, mushrooms, cauliflower, and brewer’s yeast.
Vitamin B9 (Folate/Folic acid)
- Formation of red blood cells, DNA and RNA
- Removing homocysteine, amino acid harmful for arteries
- Healthy pregnancy and fetal development
Vitamin B9 prevents birth defects of the spine (spina bifida) and brain (anencephaly).  Low levels can cause poor mood and depression. It is found in dark leafy greens, seafood, liver, eggs, peanuts, sunflower seeds, fresh fruits, fortified cereals and whole grains.
Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin)
- Energy production
- Brain and nervous system health
- Synthesis of healthy red blood cells
- Recycling of folic acid
Severely low levels can cause unexplained tiredness, pale skin, sore tongue and neurological symptoms such as difficulty walking, brain fog, memory loss, depression, and pins and needles sensation. It is only found in animal based foods such as eggs, organ meats, beef, fish, dairy and fortified cereals. Vegetarians may suffer from B12 deficiency.
Your body can’t store B vitamins for longer periods, except B12 and folate. So it’s important to eat food B-rich foods to get your daily dose. Some health conditions and lifestyle factors interfere in proper absorption. For example, absorption of B12 depends on many factors that are affected by age, weight loss surgery, long term use of drugs (especially drugs to treat diabetes and acid reflux), laxative use and conditions such as Crohn's disease, colitis, and celiac disease.
So taking supplements in such cases can be helpful, and even important in maintaining your B12 levels.
3. Vitamin C
While best known for its role in boosting immunity, vitamin C has many other important functions too. It is required for collagen synthesis, which helps in keeping your connective tissues strong and healthy.
Your skin, hair, blood vessels, muscles, bones, tendons and cartilage all need vitamin C for growth and repair. It helps in wound healing and protects skin from UV damage. Vitamin C works as an antioxidant that protects your cells and tissues from damage caused by free radicals. It also helps in iron absorption. Vitamin C deficiency can cause anemia, gum bleeding, joint pain, muscle pain, and dry skin.
You can’t make your own vitamin C and must get it from your diet. Most fruits and vegetables are a good source of vitamin C, but it is easily destroyed by cooking. Smoking, stress and infections also depletes vitamin C from the body.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D keeps your bones and muscles healthy as it helps in calcium absorption. It boosts natural immunity and helps fight infections. It also keeps a check on unwanted immune responses, thus reducing the risk of autoimmune disorders.
Vitamin D is required for healthy brain function, keeps the thyroid gland working properly and supports eye health. It helps in healthy growth and development of babies in pregnant women and also supports a healthy pregnancy.
Vitamin D3 deficiency can cause fatigue, pain in joints and muscles, muscle weakness and overall pain in the body. Excessive head sweating is also a sign that your D levels are low. Severe deficiency can lead to poor immunity, depression, and also increase the risk of allergies, asthma, eye disorders [7,8], heart disease [9-12] and even thyroid disorders.
Your body can make some vitamin D with 15-20 minutes of sensible sun exposure. However, liver disorders, absorption issues, use of statins, magnesium deficiency, and excessive use of sunscreens interfere with natural production of sunshine vitamin. You can safely build healthy levels by taking vitamin D3 supplements that can also help prevent osteoporosis, reduce inflammation, keep your heart healthy and reduce risk of upper respiratory infections and autoimmune disorders.
5. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects cells, tissues and organs from free radicals. It boosts immunity, nourishes your skin and hair, and protects skin against ageing and sun damage. Vitamin E is also involved in the production of red blood cells.
It works best with other nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin B3, selenium and antioxidant glutathione. Vitamin E deficiency can cause poor reflexes, poor immunity, muscle weakness, impaired vision, and even fertility issues. In babies, deficiency can cause anemia. It is found in wheatgerm oil, sunflower seeds, nuts, green leafy vegetables, cooked broccoli, fish and certain fruits like mango and kiwi.
6. Vitamin K (K1 and K2)
Vitamin K is a group of fat soluble vitamins; K1 and K2. Both vitamin K1 and vitamin K2 have unique roles in the body. While K1 mainly helps in blood clotting, K2 keeps your heart and bones healthy.  Vitamin K2 also regulates sex hormones and maintains blood sugar levels.
K2 works best with calcium and vitamin D3 in keeping your bones healthy and strong. Green leafy vegetables are a good source of vitamin K1, a small amount of which is also converted into K2 in the body. Fermented foods such as natto, curd, eggs and grass-fed dairy provide K2 in your diet. It is also produced by gut bacteria. Use of statins and antibiotics can lead to vitamin K2 deficiency, and that can lead to poor bone health and even osteoporosis.
It is important to note that these vitamin alphabets are either fat soluble or water soluble. While fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K are stored in tissues, Vitamin C and B vitamins are water soluble and are easily excreted in urine.
Fat soluble vitamins are better absorbed when consumed with healthy fats, and pose a higher risk for toxicity as excess amounts are not easily flushed out and stay deposited in the liver and other tissues for longer. However, water soluble vitamins can also cause serious damage when taken in large doses through supplements.
Calcium is an extremely important mineral for bone formation. It also plays an important role in blood clotting, nerve impulses, muscle contractions, and production of hormones. Healthy calcium levels help to maintain normal heart rhythm.
You need vitamin D to absorb calcium from the food and supplements. And you also need vitamin K2 to help the calcium go into the right places such as bones and keep away from soft tissues like arteries.
Calcium deficiency can lead to weak and brittle bones that can easily fracture. It also causes tooth decay, muscle spasms, abnormal heartbeat and mental confusion. Tingling in lips and fingers is also a sign of low calcium. It is found in dairy foods, almonds, seeds (sesame, poppy and chia), some dark leafy green vegetables, legumes and sardines. Fortified cereals also add calcium to the diet.
Chromium is a trace mineral that helps in the metabolism of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. It helps the body to convert food into energy.
Chromium maintains healthy blood sugar levels as it helps insulin to function properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps your body to absorb and use glucose available in the bloodstream. Chromium is found in liver, brewer’s yeast, broccoli, potatoes and wholegrains. Poor nutrition can cause chromium deficiency.
Copper is required for the formation of red blood cells, melanin and myelin sheath. It helps in the absorption of iron and keeps your bones, immune system, nerves, and connective tissues healthy.
Your body uses copper to maintain and repair collagen, thus keeping your connective tissues healthy. While too much can be toxic, low copper levels can cause weakness, anemia, and poor bone health. It is found in beef, liver, potatoes, oysters, nuts and beans.
Your thyroid gland uses iodine to make thyroid hormones that control your metabolism, growth, repair, reproduction, heart rate, and breathing. It also helps in brain development and in maintaining healthy birth weight during pregnancy. Too much or too little can cause symptoms of thyroid disorders. It is found in iodized salt, seaweed, seafood, eggs and dairy.
Your body needs iron to make haemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from lungs to tissues. It is also involved in the synthesis of myoglobin, a protein that stores oxygen within muscles and releases it when required.
You also need iron for healthy immune function, healthy pregnancy and to make hormones, neurotransmitters and collagen. Iron deficiency can cause anemia with symptoms like extreme fatigue, dizziness, chest pain, sore tongue, cold hands and feet, and pale skin. Iron is found in red meat, dark leafy green vegetables, beet root, raisins, apricots, sweet peas and chickpeas. Eating vitamin C rich foods also helps in iron absorption.
Magnesium works as a co-factor in hundreds of biochemical reactions. It plays an important role in protein synthesis, DNA synthesis and repair, energy production and in regulating stress hormones.
Magnesium keeps bones strong and is required for a healthy nervous system. Your body needs magnesium for healthy vitamin D metabolism as you can’t use and absorb vitamin D if you have a magnesium deficiency.  It is also required for making glutathione, an important antioxidant.
Magnesium deficiency can lead to painful muscle cramps, fatigue, weak bones, tinnitus (constant ringing in ears), stress, anxiety, headaches, acid reflux and even heart disease.  It is found in nuts, seeds, egg yolk, whole grains and green leafy vegetables. Magnesium supplements may help in depression, anxiety, poor sleep and painful muscle spasms.
Found in nuts, beans, legumes, leafy greens, oatmeal, raisin bran and certain fruits like pineapple, manganese helps in the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein, amino acids and cholesterol. 
It plays an important role in processes like bone health, blood clotting (along with vitamin K), wound healing and nervous system functioning. Manganese also activates many enzymes and is also a key part of many antioxidant enzyme systems that your body uses to fight oxidative damage.
Potassium is one of the main electrolyte minerals required for proper functioning of your nerves, muscles and heart. It regulates fluid balance and is needed for generating nerve signals, critical for maintaining normal muscle contractions, healthy reflexes and a regular heartbeat.
Diet rich in potassium may help reduce blood pressure, reduce water retention and lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. Foods like bananas, oranges, spinach, mushrooms, potatoes and seafood are a good source of potassium.
Selenium is a trace mineral that plays an important role in thyroid function, reproduction, DNA synthesis and immunity. It helps in the production of antioxidant enzymes that protect organs from oxidative damage.
Low levels can cause poor immunity, infertility, fatigue, mental confusion, thyroid problems and muscle weakness. Brazil nuts, seafood, meat, poultry, eggs and dairy are some good sources of selenium in your diet.
Sodium, along with potassium, works as an electrolyte and plays many important roles in the body. It helps maintain fluid balance, transmit nerve impulses and regulate muscle contraction. Sodium also controls blood pressure. Low levels of sodium can cause symptoms like fatigue, nausea, muscle cramps and headache.
Table salt, pickles and packaged food add sodium to your diet. As with other minerals, too much as well as too little sodium can cause health problems. It is always best to watch your sodium intake.
Sulfur has many crucial functions in the body, including DNA synthesis and repair. It is a part of certain amino acids, enzymes, insulin and vitamins like biotin and vitamin B1.
Sulfur supports the health of your skin, hair, bones, tendons and ligaments as it is required for the production of collagen and keratin, structural proteins that keep your connective tissues strong and healthy.
It is also required for the production of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that protects the body from oxidative damage, inflammation and infections and also plays a critical role in detoxification. Seafood, meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, onions, garlic, leeks and cruciferous vegetables are rich in sulphur.
Zinc is a trace mineral that helps hundreds of enzymes to function properly. It is required for protein synthesis, boosts immunity and helps in wound healing.
Zinc also supports healthy vision, keeps your senses of smell and taste working well and maintains hormonal balance. It works with other trace minerals to make thyroid hormones and contribute to healthy thyroid function. Some good sources of zinc are shellfish, meat, dairy, nuts, seeds, chickpeas, black beans and lentils.Zinc supplements can be extremely helpful in diarrhea.
It is best to get your vitamins and minerals from natural food sources if possible. And eating a variety of whole and fresh foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, dairy, meat, poultry, fish and seafoods is the easiest and safest way to get A to Z nutrition that you need for optimal health. In some cases, taking supplements may be necessary. As every individual has a unique need, you should consult your doctor to understand the dosage, interactions and side effects caused by taking supplements in your situation.
- Vitamin A. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
- Riboflavin. National Institute of Health.
- Mc Parlin et al. Treatments for Hyperemesis Gravidarum and Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy. JAMA. 2016.
- Giacoma Di Vieste and Matteo Bonomo. The Effectiveness of Myo-Inositol and D-Chiro Inositol Treatment in Type 2 Diabetes. International Journal of Endocrinology. 2016.
- Folic Acid. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
- JIn et al. Correlation of vitamin D levels with tear film stability and secretion in patients with dry eye syndrome. Acta Ophthalmol. 2017
- Layana et al. Vitamin D and Age-Related Macular Degeneration. Nutrients. 2017
- Sunil J.Wimalawansa. Vitamin D and cardiovascular diseases: Causality. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. 2018.
- Park et al. Plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration and risk of type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes: 12-year cohort study. PLoS One. 2018
- Vitamin D supplements can reduce blood pressure in patients with hypertension. European Society of Hypertension. 2012.
- Ioana Mozos, Otilia Marginean. Links between Vitamin D Deficiency and Cardiovascular Diseases. BioMed Research International. 2015
- Katarzyna Maresz. Proper Calcium Use: Vitamin K2 as a Promoter of Bone and Cardiovascular Health. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2015
- Uwitonze et al. Role of Magnesium in Vitamin D Activation and Function. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. 2018
- J Di Nicolantonio et al. Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis. Open Heart. 2018
- Manganese. National Institute of Health.
- Selenium. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health