How Essential Nutrients Work for You

By Lillian Lin-Levitan a recent ASU nutrition student

Essential nutrients include various vitamins and minerals along with certain fatty acids and amino acids that your body must have to function and is not able to make on its own. That means you have to be getting these nutrients from the outside – via either food or supplements.


Check out what these essentials are doing for you!


Vitamin A

  • Helps make up a vital protein for eye health – this is why we associate carrots with improved eyesight!
  • Improves immune function
  • Builds and repairs body tissues – think skin, blood vessels, and all other organs!
  • Reproductive health


Thiamine (Vitamin B1)

  • Is a major player in your metabolism – changing the carbohydrates you eat into energy that your body needs to power every single cell!
  • Energy released by Thiamine is vital for your brain and nervous system function.
  • This energy also fuels cellular growth, development, and repair.


Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)

  • Prevents premature aging and disease by protecting our cells from oxidative stress (oxidation occurs in the energy creating processes within our body – it’s natural but it takes a toll on our cells)


Niacin (Vitamin B3)

  • A cofactor for hundreds of enzymes – these are processes that are responsible for life providing biochemical reactions that happen in our bodies. None of which would be possible without Niacin!


Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5)

  • Another cofactor that is responsible for making life providing biochemical processes possible!
  • Helps produce red blood cells and hormones that your body needs to function.


Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6)

  • Essential for making the amino acids that are so vital for brain and nervous system function usable.
  • Helps create mood boosting hormones!


Biotin (Vitamin B7)

  • Helps keep your outsides looking healthy – specifically promotes nail, hair and skin health.
  • Transforms macronutrients – carbs, proteins, and fats – into usable energy.
  • Regulates DNA activity and gene expression.


Folate (B9)

  • Carbon is necessary for thousands of reactions in your body – and we need folate to circulate that carbon throughout the body to make those reactions possible.
  • Carbon reduces risk of birth defects and aids in DNA replication, none of which could happen without carbons help.


Cobalamin (Vitamin B12)

  • Protects your brain and nervous system by maintaining the myelin sheath (the protective shield that surrounds these systems) and is required for proper brain and nerve function.
  • Needed for red blood cell formation and DNA synthesis.


Vitamin D

  • Plays a huge role in gene expression, literally shaping who we are.
  • Special because our bodies actually can make this nutrient on its own – our skin synthesizes Vitamin D from the sun.
  • Keeps bones strong by helping keep mineral levels balanced.


Vitamin K

  • Required for blood clot formation – the glue that seals you up when you need it!
  • Helps with bone health.



Vitamin E

  • Strengthens body cell membranes, which protect them from harmful free radicals (invading molecules that break healthy cells down).


Vitamin C

  • Another nutrient protecting us from the impact of free radicals – Vitamin C is an antioxidant (a special molecule that neutralizes free radicals before they can harm body cells).
  • Works with the immune system to strengthen the bodies defense against invading bugs.



  • The backbone of phosphatidylcholine and acetylcholine – two powerful compounds that help neurons communicate – allowing all of your body parts to coordinate with each other.



  • Vital for blood sugar regulation – helps insulin do its job.
  • Breaks down macronutrients (carbohydrates and fats) into a usable form of energy.



  • A cofactor that helps make all sorts of biological functions possible – notably important for connecting neurons and making communication possible.
  • Aids in energy production.
  • Supports tissue formation – such as bones, connective tissue and blood vessels.



  • Essential for bone health.
  • Required for life processes such as breathing and your heart beating.
  • Helps keep the electrical current required for all processes going.



  • Revs up your metabolism by stimulating hormone production in the thyroid.
  • Ensures proper formation of skeletal system and brain structures in utero.



  • This oxygen transporter brings oxygen molecules from the lungs to every single cell in your body.
  • Helps with energy production and DNA synthesis.
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