Science Questions

Do we really need vitamins?

Mon, 12th Jan 2015

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Sarah asked:

Weíre always told that we need vitamins and minerals in our diets because I've been wondering what they really are. What happens to them when they get inside our bodies if we can store them and what happens if we donít get enough of them?



John - Vitamins and trace minerals are more than just the spice of life. Most of them are essential for human life, but are only needed in small amounts. They all have very different jobs to do but are essentially helping the cells in your body to read your DNA correctly, allowed proteins like enzymes to work properly and reduce the damage to your body caused by stress.


Khalil - Vitamins and minerals are important for some pretty fundamental functions in your body. Alas! Man cannot live on bacon alone. But what actually are these nutrients that we can't live without?


John - Minerals are mostly metal elements like zinc and iron whereas vitamins are molecules made up of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and sometimes nitrogen.


Khalil - These four elements are the most abundant in the human body. But because we donít have the right biochemical machinery to make vitamins from scratch, we need to get them from our diet. But is it possible to stop piling nutrients or do we need a constant supply?


John - Some like vitamins A and B12 can be stored in the body, usually in the liver. But others such as zinc must be constantly supplied in your food.


Khalil - The reason that some nutrients can be stored and others can't is down to their solubility. Fat soluble nutrients like vitamin A can be stored whereas water soluble ones like vitamin C are too readily excreted to keep hold of. What happens if your supply runs out or your intake isnít enough? Scurvy ridden pirates and Victorian children with rickets spring to mind.


John - Severe deficiencies can cause dramatic visible effects such as loss of hair, skin cells, birth defects and even death. But mild deficiency may cause for example slow growth, poor eyesight, weak immunity and decreased resistance to cancer and heart disease.



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