1. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is found in everyday foods such as fortified milk and cereal, eggs, salmon, and tuna, yet over 40% of Americans don’t get enough of it on a regular basis.1 Vitamin A supports eye health by accumulating in the retina and helping to make it possible to see in low light.
Vitamin A also supports immune function by maintaining the integrity of the skin, and the linings of the digestive system, urinary tract, and lungs which help maintain the physical barriers in the body. In addition, vitamin A is necessary for reproduction and plays a role in developing and activating white blood cells, which help destroy harmful bacteria and viruses.
2. Vitamin C
Here’s a little-known fact about vitamin C: it helps support the formation of collagen, a structural component of blood vessels, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, bone, and skin.
Vitamin C’s more well-known function is its role in immunity support—its antioxidant abilities play a role in the protection of white blood cells from damage, and vitamin C may also support the production and function of white blood cells.
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays a role in helping the body to absorb and use calcium to support bone health and other functions. It also plays a role in cell function, and maintaining your nervous and immune systems.
Your body makes vitamin D when skin is exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from the sun. However, it’s virtually impossible for many people to make enough vitamin D for a variety of reasons, ranging from necessary sun exposure to overall aging.
There isn’t a great deal of variety when it comes to vitamin D-rich foods. Choices such as salmon, tuna, and milk are great sources of this nutrient, but few people consume enough of these foods on a regular basis to meet their vitamin D needs. For example, it takes six eight-ounce glasses of vitamin D-added milk to satisfy most adults’ daily requirement.
It’s more reasonable to get the vitamin D you need through a combination of healthful foods and a complete dietary supplement that includes vitamin D.
4. Vitamin E
Almost 90% of Americans fall short of needed vitamin E2—your “cellular bodyguard.” It functions primarily as an antioxidant to protect cells from damage due to normal daily metabolism and from exposure to pollution, UVB rays, and cigarette smoke. Vitamin E supports heart and brain health as well as immune function.
Top vitamin E sources include wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, sunflower oil, almonds, and hazelnuts.
Calcium supports skeletal strength by serving as the major structural component of bones, yet more than 40% of adults in the United States fall short on their calcium intake.1
While nearly all of the body’s calcium resides in bones, the small amount found in the bloodstream and in soft tissues is extremely important because it helps to maintain normal heart rhythm, normal muscle contraction, and efficient communication among nerve cells. If there isn’t enough calcium available, the body borrows calcium from bones to maintain levels in the blood and soft tissues.
Consuming adequate calcium every day helps maintain bone calcium levels and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis; a disorder characterized by fragile bones that are prone to fracture. Yogurt, milk, cheese, and fortified soymilk or orange juice are excellent calcium sources.
As you age, your body absorbs calcium less efficiently and you need more of it from food, supplements, or both. Women under the age of 50, and men ages 19 to 70, need 1000mg (or three servings of dairy) daily to satisfy calcium needs. Women older than 50 years of age and men older than 70 years of age, need 1200mg (or four servings) daily.
Magnesium doesn’t generate much buzz, but it’s a nutrient workhorse. Your body relies on magnesium for more than 300 reactions that include supporting the body to make proteins, produce energy, metabolize carbohydrates, maintain normal nerve cell communication, support muscle contraction, and support a regular heart rhythm.
Like calcium, magnesium contributes to bone health; about 50% of the magnesium in your body is in bone tissue. Some scientific evidence suggests that a magnesium deficiency may be a risk factor for osteoporosis after menopause. More than half of Americans (52%) don’t get the magnesium we need, probably because we don’t eat adequate amounts of plant foods such as spinach, black beans, and avocado.
Now you know how vitamins A, C, D, and E, calcium, and magnesium support health, and how often most of us come up short for these six important vitamins and minerals. You’re making efforts to live healthy, and there’s always room for improvement!
In addition to a balanced diet, a complete multivitamin helps you get these vital nutrients—along with many others—and helps you be at your best.
Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D., is a writer and a nutrition consultant who specializes in family nutrition, women's health, and weight control.