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What are vitamins and minerals

What are vitamins and mineralsWhy do we need supplements in some situations?

We humans depend on an array of different nutrients in order to thrive and be able to prevent various diseases. However, even with a healthy and balanced diet there may be circumstances that call for the use of supplements:

  • Depleted soil typically lacks minerals and trace elements
  • The process of refining, boiling, frying, and exposing food to other types of thorough preparation reduces its content of many different nutrients
  • In our part of the world, we are unable to synthesise vitamin D from sunlight during the winter period 
  • Environmental pollution, stimulant abuse, and the use of medicine challenges the body's immune defence and cleansing organs
  • Stress, pregnancy, lactation, age, disease, and high-performance sports activities often increase the need for a number of different nutrients

Where do we get our energy, and what are vitamins and minerals?

The energy-providing macronutrients include carbohydrate, fat, and protein. We need vitamins and minerals (also known as micronutrients) in order to convert macronutrients to energy, but we also need them in order for the body's cells to handle all their highly specialised tasks. Vitamins are different organic molecules and are composed of atoms that are attached with one another. Minerals are inorganic substances, either as elements or simple salts.

The water-soluble vitamins include folic acid, all B-vitamins, and vitamin C. These vitamins are excreted with sweat and urine and are very difficult to overdose on.

The lipid-soluble vitamins, which include vitamins A, D, E, and K, are largely bound to oils and lipids in our diet. Long-term excessive intake may cause these nutrients to accumulate in the body and result in vitamin toxicity. In practice, this is most relevant for vitamin A. The safe upper intake limit for vitamin D has been raised considerably.

Minerals are different elements that occur naturally in the crust of the earth. When we ingest minerals from vegetable and animal food sources, the compounds are in their organic form and therefore easy for the body to absorb. The trace elements belong to a large group of nutrients which we only need in microscopic (trace) amounts. Despite the extremely limited amounts of these nutrients in the human body, they are of vital importance.

  • Minerals: Calcium, phosphor, magnesium, sodium, chlorine, and sulfur.
  • Trace elements: Selenium, chromium, iron, iodine, copper, manganese, silicium and around 60 other substances.

What are antioxidants and free radicals?

Antioxidants are substances that prevent free radicals from attacking and damaging cells. Free radicals are highly aggressive oxygen compounds that steal lacking electrons from other molecules, thereby starting a chain reaction that can cause damage to cells in all the different body tissues. Free radicals are generated as a result of smoking, infections, poisoning, heavy metal exposure, medicine, radiation, exposure to sunlight, physical labour, and stress. The protective antioxidants mainly include vitamins A, C, and E plus zinc, selenium, Q10, and various plant substances.

Fatty acids

Fatty acids are either saturated or unsaturated. Not only do fatty acids serve as an energy source, they are also building blocks of cell membranes and take part in many physiological functions. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are unsaturated. They are also known as essential fatty acids, as we are unable to make them ourselves. We need to get omega-3 and omega-6 from the diet, and it is very important that we consume them in a properly balanced ratio.

Dietary fibre

Dietary fibres are different carbohydrates from the plant kingdom. They are not assimilated in the small intestine but are passed on in undigested form to the colon. Dietary fibre generally has a positive influence on digestion, intestinal flora, blood sugar levels, feeling of satiety, cholesterol balance, and weight management.

Lactic acid bacteria

Lactic acid bacteria are various bacteria that produce lactic acid when fermenting carbohydrate. Lactic acid bacteria are prevalent in nature and constitute an important part of our intestinal flora. Lactic acid bacteria are also used in dairy product acidulation. They do, however, not contain lactose so the name is slightly misguiding.

Nutritional supplements and recommended daily allowance (RDA) in Denmark

Nutritional supplements are registered under the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration.
Nutritional supplements containing vitamins and minerals must be labelled with RDA levels and accurate information about the content of nutrients in percentage of the RDA levels.

The RDA levels of the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration apply to normal, healthy individuals.
RDA levels may be higher or lower for certain nutrients in relation to pregnancy, disease, age, sex, use of medicine, and other factors that can affect nutrient needs.

RDA levels, adults: 11 years and older

RDA levels, children: 1-10 years of age

Children under the age of 1 year should only be given nutritional supplements if advised by a physician or health care professional.

Strong vitamin and mineral preparations and natural remedies for special needs

Strong vitamin and mineral preparations and natural remedies carry an approved marketing authorisation that is issued by the Danish Medicines Agency/Danish Health and Medicines Authority. Strong vitamin and mineral preparations is a term for a specific group of drugs containing nutrients in amounts that are significantly higher than the RDA levels and are intended to use as prevention and treatment for deficiency diseases.

Natural remedies contain naturally occurring substances such as e.g. medicinal herbs, and the concentration of these are significantly higher than amounts in which they occur in nature. As part of the approval of strong vitamin and mineral preparations and natural remedies, the Danish Medicines Agency/Danish Health and Medicines Authority make specific demands with regard to manufacturing procedures, quality, the safety and effect of the products.

The quality of nutritional supplements and natural remedies is highly important

It pays off to choose products of sufficiently high quality in order to ensure that body can absorb and utilise the active ingredients.
In fact, it may even be a good idea to investigate any scientific documentation relating to the product(s) in question. It is even possible to choose strong vitamin and mineral preparations and natural remedies that allow recommendation of larger doses. With such preparations there are substantially greater demands in terms of the safety, effect, and documentation.