Vitamins, Minerals and Other Supplements: What you Need to Know
A large part of being healthy involves consuming a diet rich in nutritious foods. Unfortunately, your diet, lifestyle and a list of other factors may not always be optimal in providing your body with all the nutrients it needs. Luckily, vitamins, minerals and other supplements can help make up the difference!
Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that your body needs in order to carry out the endless list of functions it manages to perform on a daily basis—anywhere from playing a pivotal role in bone strength, to preventing birth defects. They’re the unsung heroes working to keep us healthy! A nutritious diet is a great way to ensure you’re getting all your necessary vitamins and minerals. However, sometimes your food choices aren’t as optimal and varied to meet these requirements (like that one month you spent eating only fast-food—because it was busy at work and you didn’t have time to cook), and illnesses and genetic factors can also come into play and result in deficiencies. When deficiencies occur, supplements may be a beneficial option to consult with a trusted healthcare professional about, in order to determine what is right for you.
Other supplements (amino acids, enzymes, herbal or botanical, fish oil etc.) can be used to restore or boost health in some way i.e. help with sleeping issues, restore energy, counter a drop in estrogen levels, make you proficient in Cantonese (okay, maybe not this one) and so on.
Since vitamins, minerals and other supplements go under the Natural Health Product category, make sure you purchase products with an NPN, as this number demonstrates that the supplement you’re using is licensed by Health Canada (and is safe, effective and of high quality).
It’s important to keep in mind that there’s lots of research for Natural Health Product ingredients, and the body of scientific evidence continues to grow as more work is done. The below information outlines some of the many benefits for a variety of natural health products. The following claims vary based on product make up and the evidence submitted through Canada’s world leading pre-market assessment system. While all products available on the Canadian market have been reviewed and approved for safety, efficacy and quality (double check for that NPN or DIN-HM), it’s up to you to do your research when choosing to take any natural health product. Make sure you read and follow the label, understand what is in the product, and how it should be used. To learn more about the products you select, visit the Licensed Natural Health Product Database, which will provide you with information on the ingredients, the approved claims, and any warnings you should be aware of. This information should also appear on the product label, for you to compare as a final check to determine if it’s right for you.
Below is a brief overview on some common/popular vitamins, minerals and other supplements, to help give you a better understanding of what they do.
Vitamin A is a group of compounds that include: retinol, retinaldehyde, retinoic acid, and provitamin A carotenoid which include beta-carotene, alpha carotene, gamma-carotene and cryptoxanthin.
Vitamin A is involved in the modulation of skin health, vision, and supports the immune system (different forms serve different functions). For example: retinoic acid is involved in the maintenance of skin health; retinaldehyde binds certain proteins to the cones and rods of the eye, allowing the eye to function in low-light environments.
Vitamin B1 is also called thiamine. It helps support energy production and is involved in supporting normal growth.
Vitamin B2 refers to the riboflavin molecule. It’s an essential vitamin that helps with energy metabolism and in the formation of tissue. It also helps maintain normal red blood cells and in the metabolism of iron.
Vitamin B3 is also called niacin. It plays a role in normal growth and development and also helps in energy metabolism and tissue formation.
Vitamin B5 is also called pantothenic acid. It helps the body’s ability to metabolize nutrients and helps in tissue formation. Deficiencies in this vitamin are rare.
Vitamin B6 refers to pyridoxine. It helps the body metabolize nutrients and has a role in forming red blood cells and in tissue formation.
Vitamin B12 is also called cyanocobalamin. It’s a water-soluble essential vitamin known to play roles in the function of the immune system and in energy metabolism.
Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid. It’s a water-soluble essential vitamin, popular for its antioxidant properties and also helps in the development and maintenance of bones, cartilage, teeth and/or gums.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble essential vitamin that our skin synthesizes when exposed to the sun. In addition to the sun, it is also found in fish and eggs and is added to dairy products.
Supplementation of vitamin D is associated with a wide range of benefits, including supporting immune health, bone health and helps in the absorption and use of calcium and phosphorus.
Vitamin E refers to 8 molecules (divided into 2 categories: tocopherols and tocotrienols). Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps to protect against the oxidative effects of free radicals.
Vitamin K is an essential fat-soluble vitamin. It can be found in dark green vegetables, matcha tea and fermented soybeans. Vitamin K2 can be found in animal products (since it is a result of bacterial fermentation). Vitamin K supports bone health.
Biotin is the commonly used name to refer to vitamin B7. It’s one of the essential B vitamins used by the body to help maintain healthy nail, skin and hair aesthetics.
Folate is another name for Vitamin B9 and also commonly called folic acid (the synthetic form of folate). It has an essential role in the growth of neonates, making it known as the “pregnancy supplement”. At doses of 400 micrograms or more per day folate helps to reduce the risk neural tube defects (NTDs) when taken daily at least three months prior to becoming pregnant and during early pregnancy. It’s also known for supporting normal early fetal development (brain and spinal cord). It can be found across most food products of plant origin, it is also added in wheat (due to fortification).
Calcium is a dietary macro-mineral used primarily to support bone health. It also has a role in maternal and cardiovascular health. The major benefit of calcium is preventative; mitigating the risk of developing osteoporosis during the aging process.
Calcium is found in dairy products (high amounts) and to a lesser extent in vegetables.
Chromium is an essential mineral. It provides support for healthy glucose metabolism and helps maintain normal blood glucose levels.
It can be found in plant products, specifically grains.
Copper is an essential mineral that helps produce and repair connective tissue and helps to maintain normal iron transport in the body. Copper can be found in nuts, seeds, liver, oysters, cereals, meat, fish and water.
Iodine is a mineral that helps in the function of the thyroid gland.. Iodine can be found in iodized table salt, fish and seaweed.
Iron is an essential mineral best known for allowing blood to carry oxygen between tissues. It helps to prevent iron deficiency anemia and associated tiredness and fatigue. Additionally, it can be found in prenatal products, and when available at doses of 16 mg or more per day, can help pregnant women meet the recommended intake for iron.
Great sources of iron are plants (notably grains, legumes) and meat (in the form of heme).
Magnesium is a dietary mineral that helps in the development and maintenance of bones, teeth, proper muscle function and tissue formation. Great sources of magnesium include nuts, leafy vegetables, dark chocolate and so on.
Manganese is an essential mineral in the diet that helps the development and maintenance of bones, and helps the body’s ability to metabolize nutrients.
Phosphorus is an electrolyte for the maintenance of good health. It also helps in the development and maintenance of bones and teeth.
Great sources of phosphorus include dairy products, meat, poultry, fish, and cereal products.
Potassium is an essential mineral. It’s the counterpart to sodium in terms of its role with blood pressure and water regulation in the body. It’s a factor in normal growth and development.
Great sources of potassium include bananas, avocados, sweet potatoes, etc.
Selenium is an essential mineral known for its anti-oxidant capabilities, helps protect against oxidative stress, and also helps to maintain normal function of the thyroid gland. It plays a role in many things ranging from reproduction to fighting infection.
Great sources of selenium include brazil nuts, fish ham, enriched foods etc.
Zinc is an essential mineral involved in energy metabolism and tissue formation. It’s known for its antioxidant capabilities and for helping to support immune function. It’s important for healthy hair skin and nails.
Great sources of zinc include meat, eggs, legume products, oysters etc.
5-Htp is the precursor to serotonin. It is used to help promote healthy mood balance and has also been shown to help reduce the severity and duration of migraine headaches when taken as a preventative.
Also known as Witheria Somnifera. It is an Ayurvedic herb, that has been used traditionally as a sleep aid. As a herbal medicine, it is an adaptogen that helps increase energy and resistance to stress in cases of mental and physical fatigue related to stress.
Astaxanthin is an aquatic carotenoid—the red pigment in salmon and krill. It’s used as an antioxidant and for skincare—and may be considered a better carotenoid than the more researched lutein and zeaxanthin.
Astragalus membranaceus is one of the fifty fundamental herbs in traditional Chinese medicine. It is used in TCM to tonify the spleen and augment the qi (vital energy) as well as to tonify the lungs and is used for frequent colds.
This is a pineapple extract. It is used as a digestive enzyme and has been used in herbal medicine to help relieve minor pain, swelling and inflammation.
Caffeine is an ingredient that is used to help promote alertness and wakefulness and to enhance cognitive performance. It can help to temporarily relieve fatigue, promote endurance and to enhance motor performance. It can also be used temporarily as a mild diuretic.
Chlorella is a freshwater alga commonly supplemented by vegan populations (similar to Spirulina). Chlorella is an excellent source of antioxidants as well as a variety of vitamins and minerals.
Chlorophyll is present in plants and in the form of supplements. It’s available in the form chlorophyllin (contains copper instead of magnesium). Its benefits include, getting rid of and controlling bad odours.
Choline is a molecule used to help support liver function. Found in high amounts in eggs—the yolks in particular.
Coconut oil is a highly saturated oil derived from coconuts, made up primarily of lauric acid and other medium chain triglycerides, and is a great source of antioxidants. It’s also a popular cosmetic.
Cod liver oil:
Cod liver oil is an incredibly nutritious type of fish oil supplement. It contains a great combination of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A and vitamin D.
Cod liver oil may help in the development of bones and teeth, support cognitive health and/or brain function and help to support the development of the brain, eyes and nerves in children up to 12 years of age.
Also referred to as Ubiquinone-10, CoQ10 may help to maintain and/or support cardiovascular health and is also associated with helping to reduce the frequency of migraine headaches and associated nausea and vomiting when taken as a preventative. It is also a source of antioxidants.
Collagen is a popular ingredient and is available in a variety of formats. As a source of both essential and non-essential amino acids, it can help with collagen formation and also to help reduce joint pain associated with osteoarthritis.
Cordyceps is a mushroom that is used as an antioxidant to help fight against the oxidative effects of free radicals. It is also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is touted to be anti-aging and pro-vitality; although these claims have yet to be looked at closely in humans.
Creatine is among the most well-researched and effective supplements. Creatine increased muscle mass when used in conjunction with a resistance training regime and can improve strength in repetitive bouts of brief, highly-intense physical activity.
Damiana Leaf is a part of the Tunera Diffusa plant, which is traditionally used in Herbal Medicine to help relieve restlessness and/or nervousness (nervine/calmative). There isn’t much evidence on this plant, but it may be slightly effective in rat models of aphrodisia when coupled with fatigue.
Echinacea is a herbal supplement that is traditionally used to help relieve cold systems. It has also been used in herbal medicine to help relieve symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections and to help fight off infections in the upper respiratory tract. It helps to also shorten the duration of upper respiratory tract infections. There are three different species for this supplement: Purpurea, pallida and angustifolia.
Fenugreek is a popular herb in Arabic regions and India. Traditionally, fenugreek has been used to stimulate appetite and to aid digestion. In herbal medicine it is used as a mild laxative and to help relieve dyspepsia and gastritis. It has also been traditionally used in herbal medicine to as a galactagogue to help promote milk production. It also is a herbal medicine that supports the promotion of healthy glucose levels and can help reduce elevated blood lipid levels.
Fish oil is used as a source of omega-3 fats. Fish oil provides a variety of benefits when supplemented, including supporting cognitive health and/or brain function, supporting cardiovascular health, and helping to reduce serum triglycerides/triacylglycerols. At certain doses, fish oils can also be used in conjunction with conventional therapy to help reduce the pain of rheumatoid arthritis in adults. The average diet (red meat, eggs, and so forth) are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which is why fish oil is recommended (to balance the ratio).
Gaba (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid):
GABA is the ‘downer’ neurotransmitter that counters glutamate (upper), as the two mediate brain activation in a Ying and Yang manner. Supplementing with GABA will help to temporarily promote relaxation.
Garlic is a popular vegetable. Using garlic traditionally or in herbal medicine can benefit cardiovascular health and help relieve symptoms associated with upper respiratory tract infections.
Ginger is a spice that has traditionally been treated as medicine in both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. It can help prevent nausea and vomiting associated with motion and/or sea – sickness and can relieve digestive upset including lack of appetite, nausea, digestive spasms, indigestion, dyspepsia and flatulent colic. It also has traditional claims for providing relief for bronchitis and coughs and colds.
Ginkgo has several beneficial properties, including helping enhance cognitive function and enhance memory in adults, It also helps support peripheral circulation.
Available as either American or Panax, Ginseng, depending on the species has a variety of benefits. Panax is used in herbal medicine as a supportive therapy for the promotion of healthy glucose levels. It also helps support cognition and enhance physical capacity/performance. American Ginseng has been used traditionally in herbal medicine to relieve nervous dyspepsia and to help digestion in cases of nervousness and/or stress. It may also act as an adaptogen to help maintain a healthy immune system.
Glucomannan is a water-soluble dietary fibre extracted from the roots of the elephant yam (konjac). It helps to lower cholesterol levels, is a bulk forming laxative and provides gental relief of constipation and/or irregularity.
Traditionally used in Ayuveda to help relieve cough and colds and respiratory mucus buildup. It has also traditionally been used to aid digestion and stimulate appetite.
Hyaluronic acid supplements can be safely taken by most people and provides many health benefits. Often used in combination with other ingredients, it’s well known for its skin benefits and helping to maintain healthy. It can also help relieve joint pain. Another notable application is that hyaluronic acid can be included in eye drops to help relieve dry eye.
Krill oil is a mixture of fatty acids high in EPA and DHA (fish oil fatty acids) in the form of phospholipids, mostly as phosphatidylcholine and is used for the maintenance of good health.
Also referred to as Arginine. It’s a conditionally essential amino acid, that helps support a modest improvement in exercise capacity in individuals with stable cardiovascular diseases (CVD). It is also involved in protein synthesis.
L-Carnitine is used as a workout supplement to aid in muscle recovery by reducing muscle tissue damage associated with resistance training. It also helps support fat metabolism, fat oxidation, and delay fatigue during physical activity.
Lecithin is used to help support liver function. Great sources of Lecithin: sunflower seeds, eggs, soybeans.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a lemon-scented herb that comes from the same family as mint. Lemon balm has traditionally been used in herbal medicine as a sleep aid and to help relieve digestive disturbances, such as dyspepsia.
Licorice is the common name for plants of the Glycyrrhiza family. It may contain protective flavanoids. Glycyrrhetic acid (a component of licorice), and is traditionally used in herbal medicine as an expectorant to help relieve chest complaints, such as mucous buildup, coughs and bronchitis. Herbal medicine data also supports its use to help relieve inflammatory conditions of the gastrointestinal tract, such as gastritis in adults.
Lutein, as well as the related zeaxanthin, are carotenoid structures similar to pre-vitamin A (β-carotene) and involved in eye health. A dietary component of eggs—lutein is also a general antioxidant.
Maca is a vegetable belonging to the broccoli family. It resembles a turnip and is used to help support healthy mood balance during menopause and emotional aspects of sexual health.
Also referred to as Pinus pinaster, Pine Bark Extract or pycnogenol. Pycnogenol is investigated for its general health and antioxidant properties. It may also provide relief to symptons of osteoarthritis of the knee including pain and stiffness.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted in the brain that regulates sleep. It appears to be highly sensitive to light therapy and dark therapy. Oral ingestion of melatonin may be used to help with sleep
Moringa oleifera is available as an antioxidant that helps fight against the oxidative effects of free radicals.
Oolong tea is derived from the leaves of Camellia sinensis¸similar to other types of teas like black, green and white tea. Oolong tea is from partially fermented leaves whereas black tea is from the fermented leaves of Camellia sinensis; green tea is from the non-fermented leaves and white tea is from dried, non-fermented young leaves and buds of Camellia sinensis. Tea extracts have been shown to be a good source of antioxidants and may also help in weight management, when used with a program of reduced intake of dietary calories and increased physical activity.
Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid found in many foods, used by your body to produce proteins and other important molecules. It is typically used in a workout supplement and can assist in building lean muscle tissue when combined with regular weight training and a healthy diet.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is an amino acid derivative compound, largely found in fish, that is fat-soluble and found in high amounts in the brain, where it contributes to cognitive functioning.
It is a compound produced by bees from the sap on evergreens. Propolis is used traditionally in herbal medicine to help relieve sore throat and/or other mouth and throat infections. It is also a source of antioxidants.
Rhodiola rosea is an herb that’s popular for its “adaptogenic” properties (reducing fatigue and exhaustion in prolonged stressful situations). It is used in herbal medicine to help support cognitive function (such as mental focus and mental stamina).
Royal jelly is a nutritious jelly with a composition similar to pollen, created by worker bees. It is used in herbal medicine as a nutritive tonic and is also a source of antioxidants.
Serrapeptase is an enzyme derived from silkworms. It is a proteolytic enzyme that helps to reduce symptoms such as pain, quantity of secretion, inability to perceive smell and stuffy nose from ear, nose and/or throat infections. It also helps to reduce and/or relieve postoperative cheek swelling and/or pain after dental surgery.
Slippery elm, or Ulmus rubra, is a tree native to the central and eastern United States and Ontario, Canada. It is known for its ability to protect irritated areas in the throatFurther research is needed to learn more about its beneficial properties.
Taurine is an organic acid with a sulfur in it. It’s found in foods— in highest amounts in meats—is used to help support cardiovascular function.
Tea Tree Oil:
Tea tree oil is an essential oil that comes from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia (a small tree native to Queensland and New South Wales, Australia). It is found in some topically applied cosmetic products and can be used in aromatherapy.
Tribulus terrestris is a plant from Ayurveda where the root and fruits are used as a diuretic, aphrodisiac and for haemorrhoids and difficult/painful urination. From a TCM perspective, it is used for headache, dizziness, distending pain in the chest and vertigo.
Valeriana officinalis, also known as valerian, is commonly used in herbal medicine to help relieve restlessness and/or nervousness. It is also used traditionally as a sleep aid to promote sleep.
Whey and casein protein are both derived from milk. Whey protein powder is extremely popular due to its high digestibility and well-researched muscle-supporting benefits. It is a source of all essential amino acids as well as minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. Whey protein is an excellent source of protein which helps build and repair body tissue and helps build antibodies.
Witch hazel is an astringent that is often used as a natural topical remedy. It contains several compounds that are used in herbal medicine as an astringent to help treat varicose veins.
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