Digestion of Vitamins & Minerals

Vitamins and minerals are digested, broken down and absorbed similarly in your body. There are a variety of vitamins and minerals you need in your diet to support each and every function. Vitamins are organic compounds made by plants, animals and humans. Minerals are inorganic elements, occurring naturally in soil and water. Plants absorb minerals through their roots and you absorb the minerals when you eat the plant food. Animals also eat plants, so you can also get some minerals indirectly by consuming foods originating from animal sources.

Vitamins and minerals rely on each other for absorption. Credit: Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Vitamins vs. Minerals

All minerals are stored in your body, but only some vitamins actually stay in your body. Vitamins are broken up into two categories: fat soluble, such as A, D, E or K, and water soluble, including all of the B vitamins and vitamin C. Fat-soluble vitamins stay in your body, whereas water-soluble vitamins are absorbed immediately, with any excess being excreted in urine. Organic compounds are considered vitamins when lacking that particular nutrient results in a deficiency, causing negative health effects, explains the Linus Pauling Institute. Minerals can also be broken up into two categories: trace and macro-minerals. Trace minerals include iron, copper and zinc; and some of the macro-minerals are calcium, phosphorous and magnesium. While these categories of minerals are equally important, trace minerals are needed in smaller amounts than macro-minerals.

Absorption and Storage

Digestion of vitamins and minerals begins in your mouth, when you chew your food. When food enters the stomach, hydrochloric acid and other stomach enzymes help release its nutrients. Your pancreas helps by releasing bile that aids with digestion. From this point, the vitamins and minerals travel to the small intestine, where they are absorbed into the bloodstream. Your blood carries the nutrients to your liver, where they are used up immediately, stored for later use or sent to the kidneys for excretion through urine.

Factors Affecting Absorption

Damage to organs from heavy alcohol use can affect your body's ability to absorb and store vitamins and minerals. Years of excessive alcohol consumption can damage liver, stomach and intestinal cells that aid in vitamin and mineral digestion, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explains. Additionally, having an intestinal disorder, such as Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome or diverticulitis, can inhibit the absorption of vitamins and minerals. These types of intestinal problems cause food to rapidly pass through your digestive tract before it fully has a chance to absorb. Even if you consume adequate amounts of each nutrient, your body may not get a chance to absorb them.

Nutrients Working Together

Some minerals need vitamins in order to be absorbed, and vice versa. Vitamin C aids in the absorption of nonheme iron, the type of iron stemming directly from plant food sources. Taking a vitamin C supplement while taking an iron supplement can cause a toxicity of iron, since your body can absorb higher amounts of the mineral. Calcium, needed for strong bones and teeth, relies on vitamin D for absorption. Additionally, minerals need other minerals, and vitamins need other vitamins. For example, B vitamins, including thiamine and pantothenic acid, all rely on each other to break down food into energy, reports MedlinePlus. Some minerals are electrolytes that work together to balance fluid and help pass electricity that aids in normal heart rhythm and muscle contraction. Potassium, an electrolyte, balances fluid inside cells, while sodium balances fluid on the outside of cells.

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