The Essentials


Vitamin A

  • Key nutrient for the eyes, skin, and immune function.
  • Keeps tissues and skin healthy.
  • Plays an important role in bone growth.
  • Diets rich in the carotenoids (i.e., alpha-carotene and lycopene) seem to lower lung cancer risk.
  • Carotenoids act as antioxidants. Foods rich in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin may protect against cataracts.
  • Both adults and children need vitamin A to support healthy immune function, to decrease susceptibility for catching colds and the flu during the winter months.

Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)

  • Helps convert food into energy
  • Needed to allow for some of the essential amino acids to build muscle
  • Needed to metabolize carbohydrates and three amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, valine)
  • Too little is called beri-beri, and leads to weight loss, irritability, confusion, and muscle weakness
  • Needed for healthy skin, hair, muscles, and brain
  • Excessive alcohol intake reduces the blood thiamin levels

Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

  • Helps convert food into energy
  • Essential for healthy skin, blood cells, brain, and nervous system
  • Works as a co-substrate to foster chemical reactions in the body
  • Involved with energy production and DNA repair
  • Too little causes pellagra, which is characterized by a rash, indigestion, and depression
  • Extremely important for making DNA
  • Used to lower cholesterol
  • Too much may cause flushing

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

  • Helps convert food into energy
  • Needed for healthy skin, hair, blood, and brain
  • Is a catalyst for energy production and redox reactions (removal of oxygen) to make vitamins and co-enzymes
  • Too little causes changes to the tongue, cuts on the sides of the mouth, scaly skin, and anemia
  • Important for people with cancer, diabetes, or heart disease get enough riboflavin

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)

  • Helps convert food into energy
  • Helps make lipids (fats), neurotransmitters, steroid hormones, and hemoglobin
  • Nearly all cells use it for vital functions
  • Involved in fatty acid metabolism
  • In adequate amounts lead to sleep disturbances, fatigue, and numbness

Vitamin B6

  • Aids in lowering homocysteine levels and may reduce the risk of heart disease
  • Helps convert tryptophan serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays key roles in sleep, appetite, and moods.
  • Helps make red blood cells
  • Influences cognitive abilities and immune function
  • Functions as a co-enzyme in the metabolism of glycogen and amino acids
  • Helps support healthy homocysteine levels and cognition
  • May be useful for carpal tunnel syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, and asthma

Vitamin B12

  • Without B12, there is no cell growth, especially of those cells in the GI tract, bone marrow, and nervous system
  • Aids in lowering or maintaining healthy levels of homocysteine; this may lower the risk of heart disease
  • Assists in making new cells and breaking down some fatty acids and amino acids
  • Protects nerve cells and encourages their normal growth
  • Helps make red blood cells
  • With aging, absorption may be less than a that of a younger person
  • Needed for blood cell and nerve function
  • Too little leads to anemia, fatigue, and shortness of breath

Biotin (Vitamin B7)

  • Helps convert food into energy and synthesize glucose
  • Helps make and breakdown some fatty acids.
  • Needed for healthy bones and hair
  • Involved with the synthesis of fatty acids and glucose

Vitamin C

  • Anti-oxidant that neutralizes unstable molecules that can damage cells
  • Deficiency is called scurvy, and is characterized by bleeding gums, muscle weakness, and red dots on the skin
  • Foods rich in vitamin C may lower the risk for some cancers, including those of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and breast
  • Long-term use of supplemental vitamin C may protect against cataracts.
  • Helps make collagen, a protein connective tissue that knits together wounds and supports blood vessel walls.
  • Helps make the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine
  • Bolsters the immune system


  • Helps make and release the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which aids in many nerve and brain activities like memory storage
  • Plays a role in metabolizing and transporting fats
  • Needed to transport fat and cholesterol, to make the structure of cell membranes, and for cell signaling
  • Helps with muscle control
  • Important for breathing; it helps the lungs easily expand and contract
  • Keeps your mind sharp and your body moving

Vitamin D

  • Helps maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus, which strengthen bones
  • Helps form teeth and bones
  • Supplements can reduce the number of non-spinal fractures
  • Acts like a hormone and affects tissues in the brain, pancreas, intestine, and kidneys
  • Too little results in weak bones, termed in children, as rickets
  • Based on large epidemiological studies, people with higher vitamin D levels were healthier, and had less heart disease and cancer

Folic Acid (Vitamin B9)

  • Without it, you can’t make the nucleic acids used for DNA synthesis
  • Vital for new cell creation
  • Helps prevent brain and spine birth defects in the fetus, when taken early in pregnancy. Should be taken regularly by all women of child-bearing age since women may not know they are pregnant in the first weeks of pregnancy.
  • Can lower levels of homocysteine and may reduce heart disease risk
  • May reduce risk for colon cancer
  • Offsets breast cancer risk among women who consume alcohol
  • Assists with the formation of amino acids
  • Support healthy homocysteine levels
  • Too little intake leads to anemia

Vitamin E

  • Acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing unstable molecules that can damage cells.
  • Protects vitamin A and certain lipids from damage
  • Diets rich in vitamin E may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease
  • Immune system protector
  • Today’s dietary intakes of vitamin E are very low

Vitamin K

  • Activates proteins and calcium essential to blood clotting.
  • May help prevent hip fractures
  • Helps with blood clotting
  • From diet, but also made by intestinal bacteria



  • Most abundant mineral in the body and 99% is found in the bones
  • Aging produces bone loss, which leads to fractures
  • Builds and protects bones and teeth
  • Helps with muscle contractions and relaxation, blood clotting, and nerve impulse transmission.
  • Plays a role in hormone secretion and enzyme activation.
  • Helps maintain healthy blood pressure


  • Balances fluids in the body.
  • A component of stomach acid, essential to digestion
  • Too little affects blood flow
  • Too much increases blood pressure
  • Maintains pH of the blood


  • Enhances the activity of insulin, by facilitating glucose uptake from the blood
  • Helps maintain normal blood glucose levels, and is needed to free energy from glucose
  • Helps with carbohydrate and fat metabolism


  • Plays an important role in iron metabolism, which helps form collagen to support bone and muscles
  • Helps metabolize foods into energy
  • Helps make red blood cells
  • Works to support enzyme function to make blood proteins, collagen for wound healing, and nerve tissues
  • A disruption in one of these copper enzyme systems causes Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is characterized by progressive muscle weakening


  • Key to keeping your energy levels up
  • Part of thyroid hormone, which helps set body temperature; influences nerve and muscle function, reproduction, and growth; and making blood and nerve cells.
  • Prevents goiter and congenital hypothyroid disorder
  • Too little or too much results in goiter, which is characterized by sluggishness and weight gain


  • Key to keeping your energy levels up
  • Helps hemoglobin in red blood cells and myoglobin in muscle cells ferry oxygen throughout the body.
  • Needed for chemical reactions in the body and for making amino acids, collagen, neurotransmitters, and hormones
  • Too little in the diet results in anemia, which is characterized by fatigue, headaches, weakness, apathy, and poor tolerance to cold weather


  • Needed for many chemical reactions in the body (over 300 reactions inside the body)
  • Works with calcium in muscle contraction, blood clotting, and regulation of blood pressure.
  • Helps build bones and teeth
  • Assures that sodium and potassium move around the blood freely, so that muscles can contract and nerves can send messages
  • Mostly in the bones, but is also found in the muscle and heart
  • Acts in the cells to foster protein synthesis and energy release
  • Deficiency can cause severe muscle cramps


  • Helps form bones
  • Helps metabolize amino acids, cholesterol, and carbohydrates
  • Helps make the enzymes that protect vulnerable cells in the body, like those in the mitochondria
  • Involved in bone formation
  • Helps metabolic processes of protein, fat, and carbohydrate


  • Second most abundant mineral in the body after calcium
  • Used to make DNA and RNA
  • Used for energy production
  • Helps build and protect bones and teeth
  • Helps convert food into energy
  • Part of phospholipids, which carry lipids in blood and sit on cell membranes to help shuttle nutrients into and out of cells


  • Part of several enzymes, one of which helps ward off a form of severe neurological damage in infants that can lead to early death
  • Involved with making the amino acids, methionine and cysteine
  • Makes part of DNA


  • Acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing unstable molecules that can damage cells.
  • Helps regulate thyroid hormone activity
  • Anti-oxidant, which protects cells from damage by oxygen-free radicals
  • Can substitute for vitamin E
  • Too little can cause heart problems


  • Balances fluids in the body.
  • Helps send nerve impulses
  • Needed for muscle contractions
  • Impacts blood pressure; even modest reductions in salt consumption can lower blood pressure
  • Too little affects blood flow
  • Too much increases blood pressure
  • Maintains pH of the blood


  • Balances fluids in the body
  • Helps maintain steady heartbeat and sends nerve impulses.
  • Needed for muscle contractions.
  • A diet rich in potassium seems to lower blood pressure.
  • Getting enough potassium from your diet may benefit bones
  • Low intakes may cause cardiac arrhythmias, stroke, muscle weakness, glucose intolerance, increased blood pressure, kidney stones, and increased bone loss
  • Often low in the diet


  • Helps form many enzymes and proteins to create new cells
  • Frees vitamin A from storage in the liver.
  • Needed for immune system, taste, smell, and wound healing.
  • When taken with certain antioxidants, zinc may delay the progression of age-related macular degeneration
  • Numerous zinc-requiring enzymes work in the function of the eyes, liver, kidneys, muscle, skin, bones, and male reproductive organs
  • Too little in children results in dwarfism and mental retardation
  • Too little in adults: loss of appetite, poor immune function, and abnormal taste
  • Males who don’t get enough during childhood have stunted growth and can’t reproduce

Fatty Acids


  • Part of membranes in all cells in the body and particularly important in the nerves and eyes
  • Immune boosting
  • If lacking, leads to neurological abnormalities and poor growth
  • High ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, and death


  • Part of the membrane of all cells in the body
  • Involved with cell signaling
  • If lacking, leads to dry skin, scaly rash, and poor growth
  • Lowers bad cholesterol

Amino Acids

  • The building blocks that make protein
  • The functional and structural component of all the cells. Amino acids make enzymes, blood transport molecules, hair, fingernails, skin, and hormones
  • 20 total amino acids  – 9 are essential and need to come from the diet; the body can make the remaining 11
  • Too few of just one essential amino acid is detrimental to health –  consequences are malnutrition, poor immune function, and adverse effects on all organs


  • Stimulates protein metabolism and insulin release
  • Improves exercise performance, reduces muscle breakdown, and lessens fatigue
  • Supports growth hormone synthesis
  • Weight loss


  • Improves exercise performance, reduces muscle breakdown, and lessens fatigue
  • Hemoglobin synthesis
  • Regulation of blood sugar levels


  • Used to make carnitine, which carries fat around the body
  • Helps calcium get absorbed
  • Makes hormones, enzymes, and antibodies


  • Used to make carnitine, which carries fat around the body
  • Aids in attaching sulfur to various proteins
  • Helps the body make phospholipids
  • Detoxifies the liver


  • Supports fat and carbohydrate metabolism
  • Helps with occasional soreness
  • Makes tyrosine that makes hormones, which support mood and memory
  • Supports energy levels, memory problems, and alertness


  • Precursor for brain neurotransmitter, serotonin, which controls occasional soreness, blood pressure, and body temperature
  • Also, precursor for niacin and the pineal gland, and melatonin
  • Helps with anxiety, PMS, depression, insomnia, and restless leg syndrome


  • Neutral amino acid and works with glycine to control muscle spasms
  • For strong bones and teeth
  • Needed for healthy immune, digestive and cardiac systems
  • Supports wound healing
  • Helps liver digest fat


  • Improves exercise performance, reduces muscle breakdown, and lessens fatigue because it serves as energy for the muscles
  • For cognitive function
  • Helps with nervousness, insomnia, and is an appetite suppressant


  • Helps bind and control function of iron, copper, zinc, and other trace elements
  • Part of hemoglobin in the blood, which transports iron throughout the body
  • Creates compounds that bind toxic metals (e.g., mercury, cadmium, lead) to protect vital organs like the brain, liver, and kidneys


  • Makes up 60% of the body
  • Needed by blood to transport essential nutrients around the body
  • Brain, kidneys, lung, and intestine regulates hydration
  • Amount needed daily is about 3 quarts for men and 2-1/2 quarts for women.
  • Water can come from foods, beverages, and water itself


  • Normalizes bowel movements
  • Helps maintain bowel health
  • Lowers cholesterol levels
  • Helps control blood sugar levels
  • Aids in achieving a healthy weight

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