All About Vitamins and Minerals

What are vitamins?

The word vitamin derives from the Greek vita meaning life + “amine” (because they were originally thought to contain amino acids).

Vitamins are essential chemical compounds for many of the functions of the human body. Because they are so important to our physical health, they are sometimes referred to as micronutrients (“micro” because you require such small amounts + “nutrient”, substance essential for life). Vitamins play a critical role as raw materials in the building of new bone and muscle and can help boost your immune system among many other uses.

Vitamins are found in many foods, and natural food sources are probably the best way for our bodies to ingest vitamins. However, some vitamins are very delicate and can be destroyed by exposure to air or by cooking. Most of us don’t eat enough of our food raw to ensure getting all the vitamins we need. For this reason, vitamin supplements can play an important role in keeping us healthy.

Solubility of vitamins – water-soluble vs. fat-soluble

The water-soluble vitamins include the B vitamin group and vitamin C. The B vitamins are used to produce and release energy as well as working to metabolise amino acids (to build proteins) and facilitate cell division. Vitamin C has many uses in the body, including creating collagen, which is used to help wounds heal and help build blood vessel walls. Water-soluble vitamins are usually washed out of the body regularly and should be replenished every few days, however some can persist in the body for long periods. Over-dosing with water-soluble vitamins can cause health problems. Mega-doses of vitamin C are associated with a range of unpleasant symptoms and have been found to contribute to the loss of other nutrients. Very large amounts of vitamin B6 can cause nerve damage.

Unlike water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins are a little bit more particular about how they can be taken into the system. Usually they need to be consumed with protein which will help them get absorbed. Fat-soluble vitamins are also generally stored in the system much longer, which increases the risk of accumulating too much if taking regular supplements. Always consult with your doctor or pharmacist about taking care with supplemental fat-soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins are used to build bones and improve vision, and they also are helpful in working with the water-soluble vitamins to help get the most out of them.

What about minerals?

Minerals are simple chemicals we require for various functions, including maintaining proper water balance in various parts of the body (mainly potassium, chloride and sodium), helping move oxygen through the body (iron), helping blood clot and boosting the immune system (zinc).

Major minerals and trace minerals

The minerals we need are divided into the major minerals and the trace minerals. The major minerals are Potassium, Sodium, Sulfur, Calcium, Chloride, Magnesium and Phosphorus. These are used in large amounts in our bodies, making up a few kg of our body weight. The trace minerals are just as essential but are needed in much smaller quantities. All of the trace minerals together from one human body would weigh less than 10 grams. The trace minerals are Iodine, Chromium, Molybdenum, Selenium, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Zinc and Fluoride. The balance of trace minerals is delicate, and taking too much of one tends to create a deficiency in another. Where minerals are concerned, it is very important to get guidance from your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking supplements.

PharmaPOS Free Poster: Quick Guide to Vitamins

We are happy to offer our free poster Quick Guide to Vitamins for you to download and print – a handy reference showing pharmacy customers the benefits of vitamin supplements and the dangers of vitamin deficiencies.

For PharmaPOS members we offer a better version of the same poster, automatically branded with your pharmacy logo and with the option for you to add your own recommendation for a good supplement product. Login to and click on Print Ready Posters on the home page.