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Confused man with question marks around his headGlossary of Definitions

Sometimes trying to figure out which vitamins, minerals, and supplements are important to you (and which ones you should actually buy), is rather like swimming in a sea of question marks.  If one does not know what these things are exactly, they might end up buying and using a product that might not be quite right for them – or perhaps miss out on a type of vitamin or supplement that might work better.

That said, I have created an alphabetical list of definitions to make it easy to understand what vitamins, minerals, supplements and herbs are exactly – and to be able to tell the difference between them.

Notes: 

  • This is a work in progress; I have been adding (and will continue to add) terms and their definitions over time.
  • I find that it is often not necessary to include technical words within definitions, so where possible, I have avoided this to keep the definitions simple and relatively easy to understand.
  • Sources for each defintion on this page are noted and can be found just below the definition.

Amino Acid

Amino acids contain carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen, are joined in change to create protein.  (In fact, they are often called “the building blocks of protein.”)  Some types of amino acid are created by the body (called “nonessential amino acids“), and others must be obtained through nutritional resources (“essential amino acids“).

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Antioxidant

An antioxidant is a substance which will “give away” one of its electrons, thus halting the effect of oxidation (oxygen combining with other molecules and destabilizing them).  While many substances will destabilize when they lose a electrons, antioxidants will remain stable which makes them not only safe, but are healing to the cells of the body.

(The unstable atoms – the atoms with only one electron that cause destruction to the cells of the body – are called free radicals.)

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Free Radical

A free radical is basically an atom with one electron instead of two. Atoms “don’t like” this – there is a need for them to have two electrons, so the atom will locate the closest molecule in the cell and take one of its electrons away.

This is de-stabilizing for the molecule that had its electron “stolen” from it.  It then becomes a free radical, and begins on its own search for an electron, etc., etc.

Most commonly found and referred to happening with oxygen in the body.

As you might see, this causes what I would call a “domino effect” in the cells body, and can cause a great deal of disruption and damage.  In fact, free radicals are thought to be the basis of a number of serious diseases, including cancer.

Note:  This is why antioxidants are quite an important part of a healthy diet and supplement regimen, since they neutralize the effects of free radicals by supplying the electrons free radicals need in order to halt the “domino effect,” yet they themselves remain stable even after losing one of their electrons.

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Herb

An herb is a flowering plant that does not have a wooden stem.  

Additional definition:  Such a plant that is often used for its properties such as fragrance, flavor (seasoning for food), medicinal and other health benefits.

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Metabolism

In living organisms, metabolism is the chemical process of building living tissue and creating energy for life. 

In humans, this means the utilization of food and other nutrients in order to build tissue and grow, as well as break down molecules in the body, resulting in a release of energy. 

Basically, metabolism is the process of burning “fuel” in the body in order to produce energy for normal functioning.

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Mineral

In terms of nutrition, mineral means any inorganic (not coming from a live source) and natural substance that is necessary for normal functioning of the human body.

Some examples of such minerals include calcium, magnesium, iron, iodone and sodium.

Mineral supplements can be found in various forms, including tablets, capsules, liquids and powders.

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Natural

The word “natural” – when it comes to nutrition from food and supplements – means coming from nature.

While the definition might seem self-evident, when it comes to the subject of nutritional supplements, there are some important connotations to the definition that should be understood.

“Natural” vs. “Organic”:

Some may think that these two words are interchangeable, but when it comes to nutritional supplements, they are not.

The word “natural” means – as stated above – that some or all of a product comes from nature.  It does not necessarily mean that the product is grown completely naturally or that it is organic – some “natural” products are created with synthetic and/or chemical methods or other ingredients.

On the other hand, “organic” on a label means that something not only comes from nature, but that – at least to some degree –  it is raised or created without artificial methods or ingredients.  In other words, it truly comes from nature to the “nth degree.”

“Natural” on Product Labels:

When a nutritional supplement (or food item) says “natural” on the label, it could mean a couple of things.   It might mean that some of the contents in the product are natural or it might mean that all of the ingredients are natural.

If this is a concern to you, make sure to read labels carefully, and choose products which have 100% natural ingredients.

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Organic

Basically, organic means coming from living matter.

Another related definition of organic is quite commonly used when it comes to food and other types of nutrition:  Coming from only natural living matter, and grown or created without artificial chemicals or processes. 

Note:  Foods and other nutrition that are strictly organic are best used (metabolized) by the body, which results in a more efficient metabolism, which means the body can better create tissues, have higher levels of energy and better overall health.

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Probiotics

Basically, probiotics are micro-organisms that are ingested into the body for their health benefits.  They consist of beneficial bacteria that are normally in the body, which fend off destructive influences in the body.

While there are more than one type of these “good bacteria,” they are best known to help the body through the gut (digestive system) and are known to not only have good effects on the digestive tract, but are also known to give a boost to the immune system in general, helping to fight off colds and other types of infections and maladies.

When the body is short on probiotic types of bacteria, it is more susceptible to become ill or have other types of problems.

Note:  While antibiotics have their place in the world of health, they also will kill off the “good bacteria” in the body.  Because of this, it is recommended to take a really good probiotic supplement during and right after taking antibiotics.

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Protein

Protein is a substance that is formed from chains of amino acids.

Given the fact that all living organisms are largely made up of protein, it is considered an absolutely essential part of nutrition for all life forms.

Foods that contain a lot of protein include meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, but it can also be found in plant form in foods such as grains (including wild rice and quinoa), beans, nuts and seeds.  A number of vegetable sources of protein include broccoli, asparagus, brussel sprouts and spinach.

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Supplement

The definition of a nutritional supplement is very much related to the word’s more general definition: “something added to complete a thing, supply a deficiency, or reinforce or extend a whole.”

Some consider that a supplement is something separate from a vitamin, and some believe that the terms “vitamin” and “supplement” are interchangeable.  Neither of these ideas is correct.

When it comes to the subject of nutrition, a supplement could be anything taken to supply some sort of nutritional deficiency, and includes vitamins, minerals, herbs and food.

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Synthetic

Things that are synthetic (including nutritional supplements) are made by synthesis:  the combining of simpler elements to create a whole by chemical reaction.

In other words, synthetic vitamins or other supplements are man-made by chemical means (artificial).

Note:  Some people – including myself – believe that while synthetic vitamins and other supplements may have their place, and they are better than nothing, they simply are not as good as “the real thing.”  Nutritional supplements that are made with real food and other unaltered-by-man ingredients, by my experience (and many others’), are taken in and assimilated better by the body.  Sort of like getting more “bang for the buck” in terms of providing nutrition to the body.

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Vitamin

A vitamin is an organic substance that is necessary for the normal function and metabolism of the body. 

Some vitamins are created by the body itself, some are only available through foods or other nutritional supplements in the form of tablets, capsules, liquids, etc.

An insufficient amount of any vitamin results in a deficiency in the body, which can result in further physical problems.

*Interesting fact:  The word “vitamin” originates from the Latin word “vita,” meaning life, plus “amine,” with the incorrect idea (at the time the word was coined) that vitamin substances were comprised of amino acids.

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