A-Z: Everything You Need to Know About Vitamins

Everyone knows vitamins and minerals are important. But what are they? Why are they important? What do they do? And most importantly, where can you find them? We reveal all in our ultimate guide to and catalogue of vitamins, minerals and trace elements.

Updated: Monday 24 January 2022


vitamins and minerals

For those of us who are trying to live healthier lives, there’s nothing better than giving your diet a good shake-up. Dropping the fast food, cutting out the sugary drinks and alcohol, and adding lean proteins, fibre and healthy carbs is a fantastic starting point on the road to feeling fitter and more energetic. But the reality is that, for most people, everyday life is too busy to stick to the perfect diet. And for those of us with vitamin deficiencies, foot allergies or special dietary requirements, no amount of food may give us all the nutrients we need.

In these instances, vitamin supplements are a fantastic way to keep your body nourished and topped up with all the good stuff it needs. But if you’ve got to this part, you might be thinking: what on earth is right for me? Picking the right supplements can be a nightmare if you don’t know your As from your Ks, and your zinc from your magnesium. That’s why we’ve gone to the trouble of compiling everything you need to know about each micronutrient - what it does, what it’s good for and why it’s important - so you can make an informed decision when choosing a supplement to purchase.

But before we get into the nitty gritty, here are some of the most common questions about vitamins in general.

What are vitamins and minerals?

Vitamins and minerals are nutrients your body needs to function properly and healthily. Most vitamins and minerals are not produced by the human body, and are therefore found in food. One exception to this rule is vitamin D, which the body produces when exposed to direct sunlight.

While a balanced diet is usually all that’s needed to get enough of these essential nutrients, some people may have to take supplements to do so.

What do vitamins and minerals do?

That usually depends on the vitamin or mineral in question. However, they typically contribute to the normal functioning of certain systems in the body, for example the immune system, red blood cell formation, and the conversion of food into energy.

Do vitamins and minerals actually work?

The idea of things like vitamins can often feel abstract and intangible, so it’s understandable to be skeptical about them. But the truth really is that these nutrients are essential. A severe lack of vitamin C - otherwise known as scurvy - for example, can cause weakness, fatigue, jaundice and even death if left untreated. Rickets - a condition caused by a vitamin D deficiency - can cause weak bones in children, stunted growth, bone pain and abnormal curvature of the spine if unaddressed. A severe deficiency in vitamin B12 can have a profound impact even on your mental health, causing deep depression, paranoia, delusions, and memory loss.

These are, of course, serious conditions caused by a severe lack of certain nutrients. However, even moderate deficiencies can cause troublesome symptoms. Low levels of vitamin E, though rare, can cause muscle weakness and vision problems. A magnesium deficiency can cause muscle cramps and contribute to high blood pressure. Low levels of iron can lead to symptoms such as extreme fatigue, weakness, rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath, which together are known as iron deficiency anaemia.

To avoid the symptoms of vitamin deficiencies, it’s crucial to ensure you get all the essential nutrients you need - first through your diet, and then with supplements if necessary.

What vitamins should I take?

Again, this is a question of what you’re trying to address. If you have the symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia, for example, your doctor will take a blood test and prescribe iron supplements if necessary. If you feel fatigued or weak with a low mood, it’s possible you may have a vitamin D deficiency. If you simply want to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need, a multivitamin might be the best option.

If you’re thinking about taking a vitamin supplement but aren’t sure what to go for, your GP will be able to help you pick the most suitable one.

The Vitamin and Mineral Catalogue

Here you’ll find a complete list of every vitamin and mineral, along with their benefits, which foods contain them, and signs of deficiencies.

Vitamin A

What does vitamin A do?

Vitamin A is crucial for maintaining healthy vision, a functioning immune system and cell specialisation - the process in which generic cells transform into specific cells designed to serve certain functions in the body. Vitamin A’s role in cell specialisation also makes it important for maintaining healthy organs.

Where can I find vitamin A?

Good dietary sources of vitamin A include:

  • Fish
  • Egg yolk
  • Dairy products
  • Cheese
  • Liver

What are the symptoms of a vitamin A deficiency?

Vitamin A deficiencies are quite rare in developed countries: more than three-quarters of people who eat a Western diet get more than enough vitamin A. In developing nations, however, vitamin A deficiencies are far more common. Mild forms of vitamin A deficiencies might be symptomless. However, severe vitamin A deficiencies can lead to:

  • Increased risk of infections
  • Stunted growth and bone development in children and teenagers
  • Infertility
  • Miscarriage
  • Vision problems
  • Dry skin and hair

What is the daily recommended intake of vitamin A?

Vitamin A has a daily recommended intake of 800µg.


Vitamin B1

What does vitamin B1 do?

Vitamin B1 - also known as thiamine - is important for the maintenance of a healthy nervous system. It also helps the body break down and release energy from food.

Where can I find vitamin B1?

There are many foods that contain vitamin B1, meaning you should get enough from a healthy and balanced diet. Foods that contain vitamin B1 include:

  • Peas
  • Fresh fruits such as oranges and bananas
  • Wholegrain breads
  • Nuts
  • Liver
  • Fortified breakfast cereals

What are the symptoms of a vitamin B1 deficiency?

Thiamine deficiencies are very rare in the developed world. If severe and left untreated, however, a B1 deficiency can lead to a condition called beriberi, which comes in four forms:

  • Dry beriberi, which primarily affects the nervous system
  • Wet beriberi, while primary affects the cardiovascular system and other bodily systems
  • Infantile beriberi, which affects the babies of malnourished mothers
  • Gastrointestinal beriberi, which primarily affects the digestive system and other bodily symptoms

What is the daily recommended intake of vitamin B1?

Vitamin B1 has a daily recommended intake of 1.1mg.


Vitamin B2

What does vitamin B2 do?

Vitamin B2, otherwise known as riboflavin, supports the nervous system and helps keep the skin and eyes healthy. Like vitamin B1, it also helps the body release energy from food.

Where can I find vitamin B2?

Riboflavin can be found in a number of inexpensive food staples, including:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Mushrooms
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Plain yoghurt

What are the symptoms of a vitamin B2 deficiency?

It is very rare to experience a riboflavin deficiency - also known as ariboflavinosis - without also being deficient in other B vitamins. However, a riboflavin deficiency can cause:

  • Skin disorders
  • Hyperemia (excess blood in the vessels supplying parts of the body)
  • Lesions at the corners of the mouth
  • Swollen, cracked lips
  • Hair loss
  • Reproductive problems
  • Sore throat
  • Swelling of the mouth and throat

What is the daily recommended intake of vitamin B2?

Riboflavin has a daily recommended intake of 1.4mg.


Vitamin B3

What does vitamin B3 do?

Vitamin B3 - also known as niacin - serves similar functions to riboflavin, including helping the body release energy from food and maintaining a healthy nervous system and skin.

Where can I find vitamin B3?

Niacin comes in two forms: nicotinic acid and nicotinamide. Both are found in a variety of common foods, including:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Wheat flour
  • Eggs

What are the symptoms of a vitamin B3 deficiency?

Like riboflavin, a niacin deficiency is very rare in the developed world. However, it isn’t unheard of for niacin deficiency outbreaks to occur in poor parts of the world. Symptoms of a vitamin B3 deficiency include:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Headache
  • Disorientation
  • Memory loss
  • Swollen mouth and bright red tongue
  • Thick, scaly pigmented rash on skin exposed to sunlight

What is the daily recommended intake of vitamin B3?

Niacin has a daily recommended intake of 15mg.


Vitamin B5

What does vitamin B5 do?

Vitamin B5 - also known as pantothenic acid - has a number of functions that include helping to release energy from food.

Where can I find pantothenic acid?

Vitamin B5 is common to a variety of different foods, including almost all vegetables, wholegrain foods and meat. Specifically, however, good sources of pantothenic acid include:

  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Beef
  • Liver and kidneys
  • Avocado
  • Mushrooms

What are the symptoms of a vitamin B5 deficiency?

In the developed world, pantothenic acid deficiencies are almost unheard of. However, people who are deficient in B5 can suffer a variety of very troubling symptoms. These include:

  • Numbness and burning in the extremities
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Headache
  • Restlessness
  • Stomach pain
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of appetite

What is the daily recommended intake of vitamin B5?

There is no recommended daily intake for pantothenic acid because it is found in almost every food. However, it is important to remember that pantothenic acid cannot be stored in the body - meaning you need it in your diet every day.


Vitamin B6

What does vitamin B6 do?

Vitamin B6 - also known as pyridoxine - is important for helping the body use and store energy from carbohydrates found in food. In addition, pyridoxine assists with the formation of red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body.

Where can I find vitamin B6?

Pyridoxine is easy to find for both meat-eaters and vegetarians or vegans. Foods that contain B6 include:

  • Meat, including pork and poultry
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Soy beans
  • Oats
  • Bananas
  • Milk
  • Wheatgerm
  • Fortified cereals

What are the symptoms of a vitamin B6 deficiency?

While severe pyridoxine deficiencies are rare, older people can develop moderately low levels of B6 if they don’t eat enough food. Symptoms of a pyridoxine deficiency include:

  • Scaly skin rashes that itch
  • Dry, cracked lips
  • Numbness in the hands and feet
  • Difficulty concentrating

What is the daily recommended intake of vitamin B6?

The daily recommended intake of B6 changes as you get older. For babies, it’s just 0.3mg a day. Adults over the age of 50, however, need around 1.6mg a day. Pregnant women need more B6 than other adults, so their recommended intake is 1.9mg a day.


Vitamin B7

What does vitamin B7 do?

Vitamin B7 - otherwise known as biotin - is important for helping the body make fatty acids. Unlike other vitamins, B7 is needed in such small amounts it isn’t measured.

Where can I find vitamin B7?

A wide variety of foods contain biotin, but only at very low levels.

What are the symptoms of a vitamin B7 deficiency?

Nutritional biotin deficiencies are exceedingly rare. For people who eat raw eggs, however, excessive consumption can cause a biotin deficiency because avidin - an antimicrobial protein found in raw eggs whites - prevents biotin being absorbed in the body. Symptoms of B7 deficiency include:

  • Thinning hair and loss of hair colour
  • Skin rash
  • Mood changes, such as depression and lethargy
  • Hallucinations

What is the daily recommended intake of vitamin B7?

Because biotin is only needed in such small amounts, there is no recommended amount. However, if you consume a lot of raw eggs or are concerned about a deficiency, you should see your doctor for assessment.


Vitamin B9

What does vitamin B9 do?

Vitamin B9 - otherwise known as folate or folic acid if it is man-made - is important for the healthy formation of red blood cells, proper brain function and aiding growth in children and teenagers. In addition, folate helps protect foetuses from neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

Where can I find vitamin B9?

Folate is found in many different foods in small amounts. These include:

  • Peas
  • Chickpeas and kidney beans
  • Leafy green vegetables, including spinach, cabbage, kale and spring greens
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Liver (avoid this if you’re pregnant)

What are the symptoms of a vitamin B9 deficiency?

A folate deficiency can lead to folate deficiency anemia - a condition where the body produces abnormally large red blood cells, resulting in fewer red blood cells in the body in total.

Symptoms of folate deficiency anaemia include:

  • Stunted growth
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Feeling faint
  • Heart palpitations
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tinnitus

What is the daily recommended intake of vitamin B9?

Vitamin B9 has a daily recommended intake of 200µg a day. For women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, a folic acid supplement of 400µg is recommended until you’re 12 weeks pregnant.


Vitamin B12

What does Vitamin B12 do?

Vitamin B12 is essential for maintaining high levels of energy, reducing fatigue, forming healthy red blood cells and helping the nervous system function properly. In effect, the function of vitamin B12 is very similar to that of B9, otherwise known as folate or folic acid.

Where can I find vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 is typically found in meat and dairy products, meaning vegetarians and vegans are more at risk of developing a deficiency. Foods that contain B12 include:

  • Beef
  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Liver
  • Cheese

What are the symptoms of a B12 deficiency?

Low levels of B12 can lead to a condition called B12 deficiency anaemia. The symptoms of B12 deficiency anaemia are identical to that of folate deficiency anaemia, and include:

  • Stunted growth
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Feeling faint
  • Heart palpitations
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tinnitus

What is the daily recommended intake of vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 has a daily recommended intake of 2.5µg.


Vitamin C

What does vitamin C do?

Vitamin C - also known as ascorbic acid - has a variety of important functions. It’s crucial for the growth, development and repair of all body tissues. It also assists with the absorption of iron, the normal functioning of the immune system and the formation of collagen - an essential protein that helps strengthen the bones and give your skin structure.

Where can I find vitamin C?

Vitamin C is easily found in foods that are perfect for vegans and vegetarians. These include:

  • Broccoli
  • Peppers
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Kiwis
  • Oranges
  • Sweet potatoes

What are the symptoms of a vitamin C deficiency?

It’s quite rare for people in developed countries to become deficient in vitamin C. Those at risk include people who suffer from alcoholism, poor diet, severe mental illness, smoking, dialysis and eating disorders.

Mild vitamin C deficiencies can cause symptoms including:

  • Rough, bumpy skin
  • Red hair follicles
  • Hair abnormalities, such as body hair shaped like corkscrews
  • Dry skin

Severe vitamin C deficiencies - otherwise known as ‘scurvy’ - can cause symptoms including:

  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Mood changes, such as irritability and depression
  • Severe joint or leg pain
  • Swollen, bleeding gums
  • Red or blue spots on the skin, especially on the shins
  • Easily-bruised skin

If you experience any of these symptoms and believe you may be at risk of scurvy, you should contact your GP immediately.

What is the daily recommended intake of vitamin C?

Vitamin C has a daily recommended intake of 40mg a day.


Vitamin D

What does vitamin D do?

Vitamin D is a crucial nutrient that aids a variety of bodily functions. It is the only nutrient primarily generated in the body, and contributes to healthy bones and teeth, supports the immune system, helps proper brain and nervous system function, and more.

Where can I find vitamin D?

Inside you! But your body can’t generate vitamin D by itself. Humans only generate vitamin D when exposed to direct sunlight. When standing in daylight, ultraviolet rays from the sun provide the energy for your skin to convert cholesterol into vitamin D. This is a process known as vitamin D synthesis.

What are the symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency?

In countries where the weather isn’t so great all year round, deficiencies or borderline deficiencies in vitamin D are actually quite common. According to national surveys, one in five people in the UK have low vitamin D levels.

If left untreated, low levels of vitamin D can lead to a number of troubling symptoms. These include:

  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes, such as depression
  • Muscle weakness, aches or cramps
  • Bone pain
  • Getting sick often
  • Hair loss

In children, severely low levels of vitamin D can cause a condition called rickets - a condition where a child’s bones become soft and bend. This can result in bone deformities if left untreated, which is why it’s important to see a GP as soon as possible if your child experiences these symptoms.

What is the daily recommended intake of vitamin D?

Vitamin D has a daily recommended intake of 5µg.


Vitamin E

What does Vitamin E do?

Vitamin E is crucial for strengthening the immune system, maintaining health skin and eyes and contributing to the normal reproductive function. Vitamin E is also an antioxidant, which protects cells from the detrimental effects of unstable atoms known as free radicals.

Where can I find vitamin E?

Vitamin E-rich foods include:

  • Nuts
  • Wheat germ
  • Sunflower oil

What are the symptoms of a vitamin E deficiency?

Vitamin E deficiencies are extremely rare in humans and are more likely to be caused by an underlying health condition than diet. In people who develop vitamin E deficiencies, symptoms tend to be severe and include:

  • Nerve and muscle damage
  • Loss of feeling in the extremities
  • Loss of body movement control
  • Muscle weakness
  • Vision problems

What is the daily recommended intake of vitamin E?

Vitamin E has a daily recommended intake of 15mg.


Vitamin K

What does vitamin K do?

Vitamin K is an essential nutrient the body needs to heal wounds properly. Vitamin K aids blood clotting by helping to produce the protein and clotting factor prothrombin. There is also some evidence to suggest vitamin K may contribute to healthy bones.

Where can I find vitamin K?

There are two main types of vitamin K: K1 and K2. K1, also known as phylloquinone, comes from plants. Phylloquinone can be found in:

  • Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, cabbage and spring greens
  • Soya beans

K2, or menaquinone, is a lesser source of vitamin K that comes from animal-based and fermented foods. Menaquinone can be found in:

  • Eggs
  • Milk

What are the symptoms of a vitamin K deficiency?

Although rare, in severe cases vitamin K deficiency leaves the blood unable to clot as effectively. This increases clotting times, and can cause hemorrhaging and excessive bleeding.

In addition, severe deficiencies in vitamin K can cause:

  • Bleeding from the intestinal tract
  • Oozing from the nose or gums
  • Easy bruising
  • Blood in urine or stool

What is the daily recommended intake of vitamin K?

Vitamin K has a daily recommended intake of 1µg for every kilogram of bodyweight. So for example, a person who weighs 70kg would need 70µg of vitamin K per day.


Minerals

Calcium

What does calcium do?

Calcium is a micronutrient that is crucial for developing and maintaining strong bones and teeth. In addition, calcium also supports the normal formation of blood clots, which makes wounds easier to heal.

Where can I find calcium?

You’ll probably already be aware that milk and cheese are good sources of calcium. If you’re vegan, however, hope is not lost - vegan-friendly sources of calcium include:

  • Nuts
  • Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale and cabbage
  • Dried beans

What are the symptoms of a calcium deficiency?

Calcium deficiencies - otherwise known as hypocalcemia - aren’t unlike serious vitamin D deficiencies in some ways. Symptoms of hypocalcemia include:

  • Easy fracturing of the bones
  • Weak and brittle nails
  • Muscle cramps
  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Hallucinations
  • Numbness and tingling in the extremities and face
  • Muscle spasms

What is the daily recommended intake of calcium?

Calcium has a daily recommended intake of 800mg.


Magnesium

What does magnesium do?

Magnesium is a mineral your body needs to be able to function properly. The human body cannot produce magnesium by itself, meaning it must be obtained through diet or supplements. Magnesium has a multitude of health benefits, including reducing blood pressure in people with hypertension, maintaining healthy brain function, keeping a healthy heartbeat, and helping the muscles relaxed.

Where can I find magnesium?

Magnesium-rich foods aren’t as easily come by as some micronutrients. However, good sources include:

  • Whole grains
  • Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, cabbage and kale
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Legumes

What are the symptoms of a magnesium deficiency?

Magnesium deficiencies aren’t uncommon. Obtaining the daily recommended amount of magnesium through diet alone isn’t as easy as, for example, doing the same with vitamin B6. Unaddressed magnesium deficiencies can cause:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Decreased appetite

Prolonged magnesium deficiencies can lead to serious symptoms, including:

  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Muscle cramps
  • Seizures
  • Muscle spasticity
  • Personality changes
  • Abnormal heart rhythm

If you experience any of these symptoms and suspect you may have low levels of magnesium, contact your GP immediately.

What is the daily recommended intake of magnesium?

Magnesium has a daily recommended intake of 375mg.


Phosphorous

What does phosphorus do?

The second-most plentiful mineral in the body, phosphorus is essential for filtering waste, repairing tissues and cells, maintaining strong and healthy bones and producing energy. In addition, phosphorus helps contribute to the normal functioning of the nervous system, muscle contraction and heartbeat regulation.

Where can I find phosphorus?

For meat-eaters, finding sources of phosphorus is a walk in the park. Phosphorus can be found in meats and animal products including:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Pork
  • Seafood
  • Dairy products such as yoghurt and cheese

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, however, there are other good sources of phosphorus to add to your diet. These include:

  • Garlic
  • Potatoes
  • Wholegrains
  • Broccoli
  • Dried fruit

What are the symptoms of a phosphorus deficiency?

Phosphorus deficiencies are extremely rare. So rare, in fact, that you’re more likely to have phosphorus levels that are too high rather than too low. In some cases - particularly in people with kidney problems - an excess of phosphorus can be toxic, and lead to serious health problems including:

  • Hardening of the organs and soft tissue
  • Inability to effectively absorb and use other minerals
  • Formation of mineral deposits in the muscles

On the other hand, certain medications can cause phosphorus levels to drop quite significantly. People who are taking insulin, ACE inhibitors, steroids, antacids or anticonvulsants might experience a fall in their phosphorus levels. Low levels of phosphorus can lead to the following symptoms:

  • Joint pain
  • Bone pain
  • Changes in mood, such as irritability and anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Poor bone development in children

What is the daily recommended intake of phosphorus?

Phosphorus has a daily recommended intake of 700mg.


Potassium

What does potassium do?

Potassium is a mineral vital for balancing fluid levels in the body and helping the heart function normally. In addition, potassium is crucial to normal muscle contraction and the transmission of nerve signals.

Where can I find potassium?

Vegetarians and vegans will be pleased to know that good sources of potassium tends to come from plants and fruit. These include:

  • Bananas
  • Spinach
  • Potatoes
  • Nuts
  • Dried fruits

What are the symptoms of a potassium deficiency?

Like phosphorus, potassium is another mineral that can cause serious health problems when too much or too little is consumed. Potassium imbalances are usually caused by pre-existing health conditions such as kidney disease and overuse of diuretics. Temporary reductions in potassium are usually nothing to worry about. Severe deficiencies, on the other hand, can be life-threatening - and present symptoms including:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Muscle spasms, weakness or cramping
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Constipation, nausea or vomiting

In addition to low levels of potassium, levels that are too high can cause temporary or long-term health conditions. Again, potassium excess is usually found in people with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes, people with severe burns and kidney disease. Potassium overdoses can also occur in people who take part in prolonged exercise, use cocaine or are undergoing chemotherapy. The primary symptom of potassium overdose is an irregular heartbeat, which in severe cases can be fatal. Contact your GP immediately if you have any of the symptoms of a potassium deficiency or overdose.

What is the daily recommended intake of potassium?

Potassium has a daily recommended intake of 2,000mg.


Chromium

What does chromium do?

Chromium is a metallic trace element that, in very small quantities, helps the body metabolise protein, carbohydrates and lipids more effectively. In addition, chromium can improve sensitivity to insulin, helping to maintain normal glucose levels in the blood.

Where can I find chromium?

Good sources of chromium include:

  • Whole grains
  • Dairy products
  • Broccoli
  • Grape juice
  • Potatoes
  • Green beans

What are the symptoms of a chromium deficiency?

Currently, there isn’t much evidence to confidently say how a chromium deficiency can impact the human body. However, it’s possible that low levels of chromium could reduce the control of blood sugar in people with type two diabetes, and reduce the level of control the body has over cholesterol.

What is the daily recommended intake of chromium?

Chromium has a daily recommended intake of 40µg.


Copper

What does copper do?

As a trace element, copper is essential for enabling the body to form healthy red blood cells. In addition, copper supports the maintenance of healthy bones, blood vessels, nerves and immune function. In addition, there is evidence to suggest copper may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis in sufficient quantities.

Where can I find copper?

Copper can be found in a range of foods suitable for both meat-eaters and vegetarians or vegans. These include:

  • Shellfish such as oysters
  • Potatoes
  • Beans
  • Yeast
  • Whole grains
  • Dark, leafy greens such as spinach, kale and cabbage
  • Dried fruits
  • Cocoa
  • Black pepper
  • Organ meats, such as kidneys and liver
  • Nuts

What are the symptoms of a copper deficiency?

Copper deficiencies are rare in humans, but can sometimes be caused by health conditions and factors such as genetic defects of copper metabolism, copper absorption problems, overuse of zinc and vitamin C supplements and conditions affecting the central nervous system.

Copper is stored in the liver, which means deficiencies develop gradually. Prolonged low levels of copper can cause symptoms including:

  • Anaemia
  • Low body temperature
  • Bone fractures
  • Osteoporosis
  • Loss of skin pigmentation
  • Thyroid problems

What is the daily recommended intake of copper?

Copper has a daily recommended intake of 1mg.


Iodine

What does iodine do?

Iodine is a trace mineral found in soil and the ocean that helps the body regulate hormones, supports thyroid health, improves cognitive function and helps the brain development of foetuses during pregnancy. In addition, radioactive iodine destroys cancerous thyroid cells - greatly improving the chances of survival in people with thyroid cancer.

Where can I find iodine?

Good sources of iodine aren’t as easily come by in food as other minerals. However, it can be found in:

  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Iodised salt

What are the symptoms of an iodine deficiency?

Though rare, iodine deficiencies can cause symptoms that range from troubling to severe. People most at risk of an iodine deficiency include pregnant women, people from countries with very little iodine in the soil (e.g. South Asia, Southeast Asia, New Zealand, European countries), people who don’t use iodised salt and vegetarians and vegans. Symptoms of iodine deficiency include:

  • Neck swelling, caused by the thyroid gland growing too large
  • Unexpected weight gain, caused by the underproduction of thyroid hormones
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Hair loss
  • Dry skin
  • Feeling cold
  • Pregnancy problems
  • Low heart rate
  • Heavy or irregular periods

What is the daily recommended intake of iodine?

Iodine has a daily recommended intake of 150µg.


Iron

What does iron do?

Although the body only needs very small amounts of it, iron is an extremely important mineral that people need to function properly. The reason why iron is so essential is that it’s needed to make haemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that helps transport oxygen around the body. In addition, iron is crucial to maintaining the body’s natural defence against disease.

Where can I find iron?

Iron is found in high quantities in foods typically enjoyed by people who eat meat, dairy and fish. However, there are some foods that contain good levels of iron that vegetarians and vegans can eat as well. Good sources include:

  • Red meat
  • Fish
  • Egg yolks
  • Oysters
  • Whole grains
  • Green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and cabbage

What are the symptoms of an iron deficiency?

Low levels of iron in the body can lead to a contain called iron deficiency anaemia. This is a condition where insufficient levels of haemoglobin prevent the creation of enough red blood cells, which hinders the transportation of oxygen around the body. Symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia include:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pale skin
  • Heart palpitations

Less common symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia include:

  • Headaches
  • Tinnitus
  • Food tasting strange
  • Cravings for non-food items, such as ice, paper and dirt
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Itchiness
  • Sore tongue
  • Painful ulcers in the corners of your mouth
  • Hair loss
  • Spoon-shaped nails
  • Restless legs syndrome

What is the daily recommended intake of iron?

Iron has a daily recommended intake of 14mg.


Manganese

What does manganese do?

Manganese is a trace mineral that in small amounts contributes to the normal functioning of the brain, nervous system and lots of enzyme systems in the body. In addition, manganese also has strong antioxidant properties, which can reduce damage to the cells and help fight disease.

Where can I find manganese?

Traces of manganese can be found in a variety of foods, most of which are suitable for vegetarians and vegans. These include:

  • Porridge
  • Wholegrain bread
  • Almonds
  • Pinto beans
  • Lime beans
  • Pecans
  • Spinach
  • Blacn and green tea
  • Peanuts
  • Brown rice

What are the symptoms of a manganese deficiency?

Low levels of manganese in the blood is very rare because the mineral is found in so many different foods. For that reason, there’s little strong evidence to show what the impact of a deficiency is. However, people who are deficient in manganese could experience:

  • Low fertility
  • Slow bone growth or bone defects
  • Stunted growth
  • Poor glucose tolerance
  • Abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and fat

What is the daily recommended intake of manganese?

Manganese has a daily recommended intake of 2mg.


Selenium

What does selenium do?

Selenium is a trace mineral that supports a multitude of bodily processes, including immune response, fertility and normal brain function. In addition, it supports the production of thyroid hormones and DNA synthesis, and has antioxidative properties.

Where can I find selenium?

Good food sources for selenium are varied but limited. They include:

  • Brazil nuts
  • Fish, especially tuna and halibut
  • Brown rice
  • Eggs
  • White bread

What are the symptoms of a selenium deficiency?

Because selenium is essential to such a wide variety of bodily functions, deficiencies can cause a number of health problems. Selenium deficiency is not uncommon worldwide - approximately one billion people across the globe have low levels of selenium. People who have low selenium levels can develop:

  • Infertility
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Hair loss
  • A weakened immune system

What is the daily recommended intake of selenium?

Selenium has a daily recommended intake of 55µg.


Zinc

What does zinc do?

Zinc is a trace element that contributes to a variety of important bodily functions. These include immune function, protein and DNA synthesis, enzymatic reactions, proper healing of wounds and healthy growth and development.

Where can I find zinc?

High levels of zinc can be found in a range of animal and plant foods, meaning vegans and vegetarians should just as easily be able to get adequate amounts in their diet. Good sources of zinc include:

  • Meat
  • Shellfish
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Legumes
  • Vegetables such as mushrooms, kale, peas and asparagus
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Whole grains

What are the symptoms of a zinc deficiency?

Because zinc can be found in a huge range of different foods, deficiencies caused by diet are very rare in the developed world. Across the developing world, however, it is estimated that around two billion people suffer zinc deficiencies due to inadequate diet. In addition, more than 450,000 children under the age of five are believed to die every year as a result of immune system impairment caused by insufficient zinc levels.

In developed countries, zinc deficiencies are more likely to be caused by underlying health conditions, including people with gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s, sickle cell anaemia, eating disorders, chronic kidney disease and alcoholism.

Symptoms of a zinc deficiency include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Impaired immune function
  • Thinning hair
  • Reduced appetite
  • Mood changes, such as irritability and depression
  • Dry skin
  • Fertility problems
  • Slower wound healing

What is the daily recommended intake of zinc?

Zinc has a daily recommended intake of 10mg.

Harry Walker

Authored by Harry Walker

Patient Care Specialist


After graduating with a degree in Journalism at City, University of London, Harry joined the Pharmica team as a Patient Care Specialist and content writer.

In addition to helping in the dispensary, Harry consults with our in-house pharmacists to produce engaging, informative and expert content for our patients.

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