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What is the role of vitamins and minerals in the body?

Dariush Mozaffarian, MD
Internal Medicine
Every day, your body produces skin, muscle, and bone. It churns out rich red blood that carries nutrients and oxygen to remote outposts, and it sends nerve signals skipping along thousands of miles of brain and body pathways. It also formulates chemical messengers that shuttle from one organ to another, issuing the instructions that help sustain your life.

But to do all this, your body requires some raw materials. These include at least 30 vitamins, minerals, and dietary components that your body needs but cannot manufacture on its own in sufficient amounts. Acting in concert, these essential vitamins and minerals perform hundreds of roles in the body, ranging from shoring up bones and healing wounds to bolstering your immune system, converting food into energy, and repairing cellular damage.

These essential vitamins and minerals are often called micronutrients because your body needs only tiny amounts of them. Yet failing to get even those small quantities virtually guarantees disease. Old-time sailors learned that living for months without fresh fruits or vegetables -- the main sources of vitamin C -- causes the bleeding gums and listlessness of scurvy. In some developing countries, people still become blind from vitamin A deficiency. And even in the United States, many people aren't getting enough vitamin D, possibly putting themselves at greater risk of a number of health problems.

Just as a lack of key micronutrients can cause substantial harm to your body, getting sufficient quantities can provide a substantial benefit. For example, a combination of calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K, magnesium, and phosphorus protects your bones against fractures.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.