Vitamins and Minerals: What Are They For?


Vitamins and minerals are essential micronutrients for the proper functioning of the whole organism. Since they are involved in numerous rations and processes, it is clear that the right contribution is essential for maintaining the health of the whole body.

In this article we will try to briefly summarize the main functions and characteristics of these precious micronutrients. 


What they are for and functions

Vitamins have different chemical structures and perform different activities.

They can be classified according to their solubility in water or in fats water-soluble e liposolubili. Some vitamins can be produced in part by the body, despite this, the intake with the diet is still essential.

Water-soluble vitamins

The B vitamins and Vitamin C.

Vitamin B1 or Thiamine

Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is found in many foods, both of animal origin and of vegetable origin; however, it is available in limited quantities. However, food sources of vitamin B1 are legumes, whole grains, offal, some types of meat and fishery products.

Vitamin B1 introduced with food plays an important role in metabolic pathway to the energy nutrients, in function area of membrana synaptosomiale and in Develop area of mitochondrial membrane.

For further information: Vitamin B1

Vitamin B2 or Riboflavin

Vitamin B2, or riboflavin if you prefer, has coenzymatic functions and it is fundamental in the process of cellular respiration and in the metabolism of fats, polishes, amino acids, etc.

Food sources particularly rich in vitamin B12 are milk and its derivatives, green vegetables, mushrooms, oil seeds, meat and offal.

For further information: Vitamin B2

Vitamin B3 or PP

Vitamin B3, better known as vitamin PP, is not made up of a single molecule, but a complex of three elements: niacin or nicotinic acid, nicotinamide or niacinamide and nicotinamide riboside.

Among the main food sources of vitamin PP we find milk, meat, fish, eggs and legumes.

Precursor of the coenzima NAD (Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide), vitamin PP plays essential roles in the metabolism of our body (superimposable to those of NAD precisely).

For further information: Vitamin PP - Vitamin B3 Niacin

Vitamin B5 or Pantothenic Acid

Vitamin B5 is very important as it is implicated in synthesis of coenzyme A (CoA), a very important element for energy metabolism and for the biosynthesis of compounds essential for the body such as fatty acids, cholesterol and acetylcholine.

Food sources of vitamin B5 are egg yolks, liver, kidney, shitake mushrooms, whole grains and sunflower seeds.

For further information: Vitamin B5

Vitamin B6

When we talk about vitamin B6 we are not referring to a single compound, but to three derivatives of 2-methyl-3,5-dihydroxy-methyl-pyridine having, however, the same biological activity: the pyridoxine, piridossale and piridossamina.

Vitamin B6 is mainly available in food sources of animal origin, but it can also be found in foods of plant origin such as legumes, oil seeds, etc.

Vitamin B6 intervenes in numerous chemical reactions; in fact, its primary function is precisely that of coenzyme to support enzymes that are mainly involved in amino acid metabolism.

For further information: Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine, pyridoxal, pyridoxamine)

Vitamin B8, H or Biotin

Vitamin B8, better known as biotin or vitamin H, can be defined as ubiquitous in foods, despite its bioavailable form being present in those of animal origin.

Involved in numerous physiological processes, vitamin H takes part in metabolic processes such as protein synthesis, gluconeogenesis and cell growth.

For further information: Vitamin H - Biotin

Vitamin B9 or Folic Acid

Vitamin B9, certainly better known as folic acid, is a fundamental element for life. Folic acid, in fact, is involved in synthesis of nucleic acids, in summary of some amino acids and in hemoglobin production; is crucial to the division and cellular maturation and it is very important for the growth, for the reproduction and for the good functioning of nervous system.

Food sources containing folic acid are mainly of vegetable origin (leafy vegetables, cereals, legumes and some fruits), but it can also be found in offal, fish and yogurt.

For further information: Folic Acid

Vitamin B12 or Cobalamin

As already seen for other vitamins, when we talk about vitamin B12 or cobalamin we are not referring to a single molecule, but to a family of four vitamers: hydroxocobalamin, cyanocobalamin, methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin.

Vitamin B12 plays a role in cofactor in the cells of the body and is involved in synthesis di DNA e amino acids, as well as in the metabolism of fatty acids. It plays an important role in the normal functioning of the nervous system and in Develop and in maturity to the Red blood cells in the bone marrow.

Vitamin B12 is present in food sources of animal origin such as meat, fish, milk and eggs. Plant sources are rare and in any case contain a non-biologically active form.

For further information: Cobalamine

Vitamin C or Ascorbic Acid

Vitamin C, also called ascorbate or ascorbic acid, is a well-known vitamin antioxidant properties, found mainly in foods of plant origin (citrus and sour fruits, strawberries, peppers, cabbage, etc.). 

The functions of vitamin C are many: from tissue repair, passing through the production of some neurotrasmettiori and again al operation of numerous enzymes and immune function.

For further information: Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)

Fat-soluble vitamins

The Vitamins A, D, E e K.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A can be found in numerous foods, both of animal origin and of vegetable origin; foods such as liver, whole milk, egg yolk, cheese and butter are particularly rich in it. It can also be produced by the body starting from beta-carotene, contained in yellow, orange and red vegetables (carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, apricots, etc.).

Among the multiple functions of vitamin A, we remember that it is essential for cells epithelial, la growth of the bones and teeth. Furthermore, it is very important for the sexual maturation in the adolescent and for the fertility in the adult. In addition to that, Vitamin A is capable of support il immune system increasing resistance to infections. Finally, do not forget his roles in the good functioning of sight and in protecting the skin from damage caused by the sun, to which is added an important and powerful antioxidant effect.

For further information: Vitamin A

Vitamin D

By vitamin D we mean a group of secosteroidi liposolubili. The compounds of greatest interest belonging to this group of substances are the vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and the vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) which, to be active, must be converted into calcitriolo.

Our body is able to synthesize vitamin D3 in the skin starting from cholesterol through a chemical reaction that requires sunlight (UVB rays). As for food sources, however, there are few foods in which vitamin D is available in good quantities, among these we remember egg yolk, liver and fish; to a lesser extent, vitamin D is also present in some types of mushrooms.

The functions of vitamin D are different; in particular, it is linked to the homeostasis of calcium and phosphate and is essential for the maintenance and growth of the skeleton.

For further information: Vitamin D

Vitamin E

The term vitamin E indicates a group composed of different molecules: four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. The most biologically active compound is, however, theα-tocoferolo.

Mostly known for its antioxidant properties useful for protecting cell membranes from free radical damage, vitamin E influences gene expression and is a regulator of enzymatic activity.

For further information: Vitamin E

Vitamin K

In nature, vitamin K comprises two vitamers: the vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) and the vitamin K2 (menaquinone). K1 is considered to be the plant form of vitamin K, as it is contained in high quantities in green leafy vegetables, where it is directly involved in photosynthesis.

Vitamin K is very important in blood clotting (it has an anti-haemorrhagic activity) and ensures the correct functionality of some proteins involved in the binding of calcium in bones.

For further information: Vitamin K


What they are for and functions

Similarly to vitamins, mineral salts are also essential for the well-being of the organism as they are involved in multiple reactions and processes.

Based on the daily requirement in the human diet, mineral salts are divided into:

  • Macroelementi, present in the body in rather high quantities and whose requirement exceeds 100 mg per day (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sulfur, sodium, potassium, chlorine);
  • Microelements o oligoelemti, present in the body in small quantities and whose need is limited and does not exceed 100 mg per day (iron, zinc, copper, iodine, fluorine, chromium, cobalt, silicon, vanadium, selenium, tin, manganese, nickel, molybdenum).

The main functions of some mineral salts will be briefly summarized below.


Calcium is one of the fundamental components of teeth and bones, but its functions certainly do not end there. In fact, it is involved in muscle contraction, in the regulation of vascular permeability, in the conduction of nerve impulses and in the blood coagulation process.


Magnesium is also one of the constituents of the skeleton; moreover, it is involved in neuromuscular transmission and is part of the composition of numerous enzymes that participate in various reactions within the organism.

Phosphorus and Potassium

Together with the other mineral salts mentioned so far, phosphorus is part of the composition of bones and teeth. It is also part of membrane phospholipids, nucleic acids, ATP and some enzymes, as well as participating in the maintenance of the body's acid-base balance.


Sodium is involved in the regulation of the body's water balance, in the regulation of osmotic pressure and in the regulation of acid-base balance.


Together with sodium, potassium regulates the body's water balance, osmotic pressure, acid-base balance, neuromuscular excitability and heart rhythm.


Chlorine is essential for the formation of hydrochloric acid which will form part of the gastric juices; moreover, it is also involved in the regulation of osmotic pressure and acid-base balance.


Sulfur is part of the structure of many amino acids, coenzymes, vitamins and even the hormone insulin.


Iron is an indispensable element for the synthesis of hemoglobin and is a component of enzymes of energy metabolism.


Copper facilitates the absorption of iron and is one of the components of several digestive enzymes; moreover, it determines the formation of elastin.


Zinc is involved in the constitution and functioning of proteins, enzymes and nucleic acids. It performs essential functions in RNA and DNA metabolism, signal transduction and gene expression. Furthermore, it regulates apoptosis and can modulate neuronal excitability.


Iodine is the fundamental component of the thyroid hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine.


Along with calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, fluoride plays an important role in maintaining the structure of bones and teeth.


Selenium is an element that performs an antioxidant action that helps protect cells from free radical damage.


Manganese is part of the composition of enzymes involved in the metabolism of amines and in the biosynthesis of cholesterol.


Chromium is a trace element present in the body and is involved in the metabolism of lipids and carbohydrates.


Cobalt facilitates the fixation of thyroid iodine; moreover, it participates in the functions of vitamin B12 and also plays a role in the synthesis of hemoglobin.


Molybdenum is part of the composition of some enzymes involved in the metabolism of purine bases, ie the constituents of nucleotides.

For further information: Mineral salts: Macrolements, Microelements and Oligoelements
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