A vitamin is an organic compound and a vital nutrient that an organism requires in limited amounts. An organic chemical compound (or related set of compounds) is called a vitamin when the organism cannot synthesize the compound in sufficient quantities, and it must be obtained through the diet; thus, the term “vitamin” is conditional upon the circumstances and the particular organism.
For example, ascorbic acid (one form of vitamin C) is a vitamin for humans, but not for most other animal organisms. Supplementation is important for the treatment of certain health problems, but there is little evidence of nutritional benefit when used by otherwise healthy people.
The term vitamin includes neither other essential nutrients, such as dietary minerals, essential fatty acids, or essential amino acids (which are needed in greater amounts than vitamins) nor the great number of other nutrients that promote health, and are required less often to maintain the health of the organism.
Dietary elements (Minerals)
Dietary elements “minerals” are the chemical elements required by living organisms, other than the four elements C, H, N and O present in common organic molecules.
The term “dietary mineral” is archaic, as the substances it refers to are chemical elements, rather than actual minerals.
Chemical elements in order of abundance in the human body include the seven major dietary elements calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. Important “trace” or minor dietary elements, necessary for mammalian life, include iron, cobalt, copper, zinc, manganese, molybdenum, iodine, bromine, and selenium.
Over 20 elements are necessary for mammals, and several more for various other types of life. The total number that are absolutely needed is not known.
Ultratrace amounts of some elements (e.g., boron, chromium) are known to clearly have a role – but the exact biochemical nature is unknown, and others (e.g. arsenic, silicon) are suspected to have a role in health, but without proof.
Essential fatty acids
Essential fatty acids, EFAs, are fatty acids that humans and other animals must ingest. The body requires them for good health, yet cannot synthesize them.
Only 2 are known to be essential for humans:
alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid)
linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid).
Some other fatty acids are “conditionally essential” – they can become essential under some developmental or disease conditions.
When the two EFAs were discovered in 1923, they were designated “vitamin F”, but in 1929, research on rats showed that the two EFAs are better classified as fats rather than vitamins.
Phytochemicals are a large group of plant-derived compounds. They are hypothesized to be responsible for much of the disease protection conferred from diets high in fruits, vegetables, beans, cereals, and plant-based beverages such as tea and wine.
Based on their chemical structure, phytochemicals can be broken into the following groups:
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Anti-inflammatory activity of natural dietary flavonoids
Min-Hsiung Pan, Ching-Shu Laia and Chi-Tang Ho
Should We All Take a Bit of Lithium?, ANNA FELSSEPT. 13, 2014, The New York Times, Sunday Review