CoSozo Living

Wed, September 1, 2010
Vitamins and Minerals: Working Together (Part 1)

Vitamins and minerals are nutrients that the body requires to function properly. Vitamins can be fat-soluble or water-soluble. The fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fat-soluble vitamins dissolve in fat and are stored in the body. Water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C and the B vitamins, dissolve in water and cannot be stored by the body. Any water-soluble vitamins that your body doesn’t need pass through your system and are lost in urine.

Minerals are inorganic nutrients that come from the soil and water. Some minerals, such as calcium, are required in larger quantities than others, such as chromium and zinc. The minerals required in smaller amounts are called trace minerals.

The ability of a vitamin or mineral to be used by our body is called its bioavailability. The bioavailability of a nutrient depends on its efficiency of digestion, foods eaten at the same meal, the way the food was prepared and whether the vitamin is natural, synthetic, or fortified in foods.

Vitamins and minerals often work together to perform different functions in the body. For example, vitamin D regulates calcium balance and these nutrients work together to affect bone mass. Vitamin C assists in the absorption of iron, which is essential for prevention of anemia. Thus, our intake of certain nutrients affects not only the body’s ability to maintain levels of other nutrients, but it also affects the ability of the body to perform essential functions. In this three-part series, we will learn about how vitamins and minerals affect our healthy and wellbeing.

Vitamin C/Iron

More than 250 years ago, sailors at sea had only about a 50% chance of survival because of a deadly disease called scurvy. But at that time, no one knew the reason. The first nutrition experiment devised to find a cure for scurvy was in the mid-1700s. Sailors were given a supplement of cider, vinegar, sulfuric acid, seawater, oranges and lemons, or a strong drink of spices. The sailors that received the citrus fruits recovered quickly when compared to those receiving the other supplements.

It wasn’t until almost 200 years later when the nutrient in citrus fruits was isolated and discovered to be ascorbic acid, one of the active forms of vitamin C. Scurvy is now rare in industrialized countries and occurs most often in malnourished populations, persons with alcoholism, those with an inadequate diet or institutionalized persons.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant vitamin, which helps the body defend against free radicals thereby preventing damage to the body. Vitamin C is also used by the body in the creation of collagen in bones and teeth. Food sources of vitamin C include papaya, strawberries, oranges, broccoli, mango, Brussels sprouts, grapefruit, sweet potatoes, kiwi and red bell pepper. Recently, vitamin C has been proposed as a cure for the common cold. Unfortunately, research results have often been conflicting. Currently the use of large doses of vitamin C in the treatment of colds is controversial.

Recommended Intake for Vitamin C

Recommended Intake for Vitamin C

Age Group Age in Years Vitamin C
(mg/day)
Children 1-3 years
4-8 years
15
25
Males 9-13 years
14-18 years
19+ years
45
75
90
Females 9-13 years
14-18 years
19+ years
45
65
75

Iron also had early medicinal uses. The ancient Egyptians used iron oxide (also known as rust) as a treatment for male baldness. During the 17th century, iron was used to treat “green disease” or chlorosis, which was later determined to be the result of iron deficiency.

Iron is an essential nutrient that is vital for proper function of the body. However, many people suffer from iron-deficiency anemia due to chronic medical conditions or simply due to not eating enough iron-containing foods. It is estimated that 2 to 5 billion people in the world are iron deficient. Iron deficiency is more common in infants and young children, women in their reproductive years, pregnant women, and teenagers.

Iron occurs in two forms in foods. Heme iron, found only in foods derived from animals, and nonheme iron, which is found in both plant and animal foods. Vitamin C enhances the absorption of nonheme iron by capturing iron and keeping it in its more absorbable form. Other dietary factors can inhibit or decrease iron absorption.

The phytates and fibers found in some grains, oxalates found in spinach, and the tannic acid found in tea and coffee can decrease the ability of the body to absorb iron from a meal. For those people struggling to increase the iron levels in their blood, these foods could be consumed separately from foods high in iron.

Recommended Intake for Iron

Age Group Age in Years Iron
(mg/day)
Children 1-3 years
4-8 years
7
10
Males 9-13 years
14-18 years
19+ years
8
11
8
Females 9-13 years
14-18 years
19-50 years
51+ years
8
15
18
8

Iron is often enriched in products such as grains and cereals. Iron is naturally found in foods such as legumes, red meats, fish, poultry, eggs and dried fruits. The elemental iron found in many iron-fortified breakfast cereals has lower bioavailability than the iron found in most meat.

Vitamin D/Calcium

Vitamin D has existed on the Earth for more than 500 million years. Vitamin D is different from other nutrients because the body can make it using sunlight. Because the body can make vitamin D, it is not considered an essential nutrient. Vitamin D is used in the body to maintain the balance of calcium, which is important for bone growth and maintenance. Vitamin D controls this balance by improving the efficiency of the small intestine to absorb dietary calcium and by removing calcium from the bone when blood levels are low.

Vitamin D deficiency is known as rickets when it occurs in children, and it is known as osteomalacia when it occurs in adults. A child with rickets, who is old enough to walk, often has bowed legs and/or a protruding belly. The adult form of rickets, osteomalacia most often occurs in women who have diets low in calcium and who have poor exposure to the sun. Older adults also have an increased likelihood of developing vitamin D deficiency. This is due to changes in the ability of their skin, liver and kidneys to process vitamin D, and because older adults often drink less milk and may spend less time outdoors in the sun.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, cases of rickets were treated and often cured with cod liver oil, which contains a high level of vitamin D. But it wasn’t until much later that the vitamin D compound was isolated. In the 1930’s vitamin D was added to most commercially available milk to help prevent rickets in the general population.

Few foods contain vitamin D naturally. Fortunately, the body can make vitamin D with a little help from the sun. Foods containing vitamin D include vitamin D fortified milk, fortified breakfast cereals, egg yolks, fatty fish and liver.

Recommended Intake for Vitamin D

Age Group Age in Years Vitamin D
(mg/day)
Children 1-8 years 5
Males & Females 9-50 years
51-70 years
71+ years
5
10
15

Calcium is one of the most abundant minerals in the body. Maintaining an adequate dietary intake of calcium helps ensure healthy bone building in early life and minimized bone loss later in life. The majority of calcium is stored in the bones and teeth where it helps provide structure and serves as a storage bank for calcium in the body. Maintaining a balance of calcium in the body is one of the body’s highest priorities. This balance is regulated in part by vitamin D. When blood levels of calcium go low, the bone supplies the blood with calcium.

Adults generally absorb about 30% of the calcium they consume. However, there are some things that enhance calcium absorption such as the acidity of the stomach, vitamin D status, and lactose in the food containing calcium. Factors that can inhibit calcium absorption include low acidity in the stomach, vitamin D deficiency, excess phosphorus intake, high fiber diets, or foods containing high levels of oxalates or phytates.

Calcium is found in dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. In fact, about 78% of the calcium in the US diet is provided by calcium. It is also found in lesser amounts in tofu, sardines, and some vegetables such as broccoli, greens, and watercress.

Recommended Intake for Calcium

Age Group Age in Years Calcium
(mg/day)
Children 1-3 years
4-8 years
500
800
Males 9-18 years
19-50 years
51+ years
1300
1000
1200
Females 9-18 years
19-50 years
51+ years
1300
1000
1200

Calcium deficiency can lead to a common condition known as osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is often a condition of older persons in which the bone becomes porous and fragile due to loss of minerals. In osteoporosis, high calcium intake alone during adulthood may help prevent further bone loss but does little to reverse bone loss.

If you are concerned about getting enough calcium, vitamin D, iron or Vitamin C in your diet, talk to your doctor or registered dietitian about how best to include these nutrients in your daily routine. For more information about common vitamins and minerals, check out the next issue of CoSozo Living magazine for the next article in this three-part series.

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