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Despite having a well-balanced diet and taking additional supplements, your body may not be getting the nutrients it needs.
Vitamins are a group of organic compounds present in a variety of natural foods. The body requires vitamins in small amounts to function correctly and remain healthy. Vitamins are crucial for many different bodily functions such as aiding the formation of new blood cells, keeping our eyes healthy and strengthening our immune systems. When the body does not get a sufficient supply of a vitamin, a deficiency will occur. We need to obtain vitamins from our diet because the body cannot synthesise them quickly enough to meet our daily needs.
There are currently 13 recognised vitamins that are either fat or water soluble. Thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folate (B9) and cobalamin (B12) are all water-soluble vitamins, while vitamins A, D, E and K are all fat soluble. When there are excess levels of fat-soluble vitamins in the body, they are stored in fat cells. In contrast, the body does not store water-soluble vitamins, instead, it excretes excess water-soluble vitamins as waste.
Vitamins and minerals are not one and the same. Vitamins are organic and can be broken down when exposed to heat and air, whereas minerals are inorganic and therefore not so easily changed. This means minerals are more easily transported from plants, animals and liquids than the more fragile vitamins.
The majority of people should get most of the nutrients they need through eating a balanced and varied diet. There are, however, circumstances where an individual may not get all the vitamins they need from diet alone, vitamin D for example. There are a limited number of foods that contain vitamin D, including the flesh of fatty fish (mackerel, tuna and salmon), fish liver oils, egg yolks, beef liver and cheese. However, these food types are not enough to provide the body with optimum vitamin D levels. Because of this, many in the UK are vitamin D deficient. It is recommended that everyone (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) should look at taking a daily 10mcg vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter months.
People with hypothyroidism have an increased risk of pernicious anaemia which makes it difficult to absorb vitamin B12. Vegetarians and vegans are also at risk of low vitamin B12 as there are almost no plant sources of this vitamin.
Where vitamin intake is restricted such as the case with vitamin D and B12 for many people, the use of supplements is a good way to ensure the body is receiving the necessary nutrients. There are also times in life where an individual’s vitamin requirement may change, as is the case during pregnancy. It is recommended that pregnant women supplement 400 mcg folic acid daily from the time they stop using contraception until they're 12 weeks pregnant. This is to help prevent birth defects, such as spina bifida.
Just because our diets are nutritious and well-balanced, doesn't necessarily mean we're getting all the nutrients we need. Several factors impact how well the body absorbs nutrients from foods ingested, including how the food is prepared, age, health status, time of day, and other foods eaten at the same time. To make sure the body is absorbing the maximum amount of nutrients, there are a number of handy tips to follow which help increase vitamin absorption.