What is the Difference Between Vitamins and Minerals?


How many times have you heard, “Make sure you get your vitamins and minerals?”

Have you ever thought to yourself, “Wait, what ARE vitamins and minerals exactly? What is the difference between the two? And why do we need them??”

Essential vitamins and minerals are micronutrients required by the body for life.

In order to be classified as an essential vitamin or mineral, an absence of the substance must cause deficiency symptoms that are only corrected by including the substance in the diet again. A total absence of the nutrient for a long period of time would lead to death.

They differ from macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fat, and alcohol) because they do not provide energy for the body.

They cannot be broken down to release energy. Another way to think of it: vitamins and minerals contain no calories.

Essential vitamins and minerals cannot be synthesized or cannot be synthesized in large enough quantities needed by the body for survival, and so must be consumed in the diet.

This is why it is important to eat a well-rounded and varied diet to get all of the essential nutrients our bodies need. A diet full of processed or fast foods will eventually starve your body of many vitamins and minerals it needs for optimal health.

So what’s the main difference between vitamins and minerals? It comes down to chemistry.

Vitamins are organic.

In chemistry, ORGANIC means ‘carbon containing’. Any substance that contains the element carbon is considered organic. This is not to be confused with the laypersons term ‘organic’, meaning free of pesticides. Totally different!

Vitamins are non-energy providing nutrients that contain carbon, and so are considered organic.

The essential vitamins are:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
  • Thiamin (Vitamin B1)
  • Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
  • Niacin (Vitamin B3)
  • Vitamin B6
  • Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5)
  • Folate
  • Choline
  • Biotin
  • Vitamin B12

Minerals are inorganic.

Minerals do NOT contain carbon, and so are classified as inorganic nutrients. They are similar to vitamins because they don’t provide energy for the body, but they are different because they do not contain carbon.

The essential minerals are:

  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium
  • Sodium
  • Chloride
  • Potassium
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Manganese
  • Iodine
  • Selenium
  • Fluoride
  • Molybdenum
  • Cobalt
  • Other ultratrace minerals such as chromium, boron, silicon nickel, arsenic and vanadium are suggested to be essential, but this has not conclusively been determined.
  • Additional ultratrace minerals with limited research on essentiality include aluminum, bromine, cadmium, germanium, lead, lithium, rubidium, and tin.

Where can you get your vitamins and minerals?

Eat everything! Don’t limit your diet to a few foods. Eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains (refined grains have fewer vitamins and minerals) and lean meats. Supplements usually aren’t necessary if you eat a well-rounded diet [but it’s important to consider medications & illnesses that impact nutrient status as well!! Check out this post for more info, and consider booking a session for personalized advice]

If you are interested in learning the vitamin and mineral content of specific foods, I highly recommend the World’s Healthiest Foods website. It’s fabulous!


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Should you be taking vitamins?

Should you be taking vitamins

Here’s a question I get ALL THE TIME:

“Should I be taking multivitamins or supplements?”

I wish the answer was simple…

In general, I am a fan of getting your nutrients from a well-balanced diet.

One that includes about 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, high-quality proteins, healthy fats, and lots of fiber. I believe in real food, mindful eating, and self-care to help your body absorb and utilize the nutrients it needs.


Most people are NOT eating a well balanced diet.

Only about 13% of American adults eat enough fruit each day, and only about 9% eat enough vegetables. Yikes!

Fruits and vegetables are one of the main sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. If you’re not eating enough of them (at least 2 1/2 cups of fruit & 3 cups of veg), there’s a high likelihood that you’re not getting enough of one or more nutrients.

Even if you eat a well-balanced diet, you could have issues with digestion/absorption, medical conditions or medications that affect your nutrient status, or genetic polymorphisms that change how your body utilizes certain micronutrients, leaving you functionally deficient.

Sometimes people can go for years without realizing they are undernourished.

Symptoms vary widely, depending on which nutrient(s) you are deficient in, but common symptoms include fatigue and lack of energy, low immunity, or feeling a little “off” & not at your best.

Other less-obvious symptoms can include weak or brittle nails, cracking/scaly skin, excessive bruising, poor wound healing, infertility, increased inflammation, cataracts/macular degeneration, numbness/tingling in hands & feet, night blindness, & muscle spasms or cramps.

Often, people who struggle with chronic diseases like depression & anxiety, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and hypothyroidism also suffer from micronutrient deficiencies.

Medications can also cause nutrient depletions.

You’d be surprised how common this is! I always check my client’s meds, and I’d say roughly 80% of the time they have a drug-nutrient interaction that the client is unaware of.

Some common meds that can cause nutrient deficiencies include:

  • Antacids & Ulcer Meds
  • Antibiotics
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-inflammatory Drugs
  • Antiviral Drugs
  • Birth Control Pills
  • Blood Pressure Lowering Meds
  • Cholesterol Lowering Drugs
  • Diabetes Meds
  • Diuretics
  • Estrogen / Hormone Replacement

In case that wasn’t enough, your genetics also play a role.

Even if you are doing everything right, you could have genetic polymorphisms (SNPs) that impact how you utilize nutrients within your body.

For example, many people have mutations in their MTHFR gene that affects how their body metabolizes folate and vitamin B12, and can lead to elevated homocysteine levels (a risk factor for heart disease). For these clients, supplementing with methylated folate and methylated cobalamin can help their bodies utilize these nutrients properly. Some may also need to avoid synthetic folic acid (which is tough to do, since it is added to fortified flours & thus in almost every commercial baked good!).

You may never know if you have these conditions without micronutrient testing to give you more insight.

But once you know, you are empowered, and have the ability to nourish your body & get its nutrient levels back up to optimum!

If you’re not sure if you could benefit from micronutrient testing, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables every day?
  • Do I eat fish twice a week?
  • Do I make sure at least half the grains I eat are whole grains?
  • Do I curb my alcohol intake to moderate limits? (no more than 1 drink/day for women, or 2 drinks/day for men)
  • Do I get at least 15 minutes of direct sunlight on most of my body each day?
  • Do I feel vibrant, well, and full of life and vitality?

If you answered “No” to any of the above questions, it is likely that you could benefit from micronutrient testing & a multivitamin or specific supplement (like fish oil or vitamin D).

*Please note* This is not intended to be specific medical advice for any individual. Please see a doctor or dietitian if you would like personalized recommendations.

If you are interested in getting your micronutrient levels checked…

I am now a provider!!


So freaking excited.

I can order the Spectracell Micronutrient Test for you.

If you’re interested in having the test done (it can be done remotely, you don’t need to live in the Los Angeles area), shoot me an email at erica@ericajulson.com. 

Here’s how it works:

  • I order the test & paperwork to be sent to your home.
  • We chat & I explain the paperwork & collection procedures.
  • You head to an approved blood draw center and get your blood drawn.
  • You bring a copy of your insurance card & all the appropriate paperwork with you, and pay $190 for the exam. If you don’t have insurance, the cost is $390.
  • The blood draw center preps your sample & sends it off to Spectracell laboratories the same day.
  • After 2-3 weeks, the results are sent to me, & we schedule an appointment to go over the results & discuss recommendations! ($295/ 1hour custom consultation)
  • After 6 months, you can get retested to see if your micronutrient levels/ antioxidant status has improved (if desired).

How does the test measure your nutrient levels?

The lab extracts the lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) from your blood sample, and then grows them under different conditions.

First, they let your lymphocytes grow with an unlimited amount of every micronutrient available, to see how quickly they can grow under optimal conditions.

Then, they repeat this roughly 30 times, each time removing just ONE nutrient from the growth medium, so that the lymphocytes have to rely on their own internal stores of that nutrient to grow.

If your lymphocytes have high levels of the nutrient, then they will be able to grow just fine using their own supplies.

If, however, you have low levels of that nutrient, your lymphocytes will grow much more slowly.

By comparing the growth rates, the lab is then able to determine whether you have optimal, sub-optimal, or deficient levels of each nutrient.

They give you an awesome printout showing the functional levels of each nutrient:

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 10.50.51 AM

By doing this test, you will know which nutrients you are deficient or borderline deficient in.

Then we work together to talk about the best ways to replenish your body & get your nutrient levels into desirable ranges so you can feel your absolute best.

They test the following micronutrients:

B-Complex Vitamins:

  • Vitamin B1
  • Vitamin B2
  • Vitamin B3
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Folate
  • Pantothenate
  • Biotin

Amino Acids:

  • Serine
  • Glutamine
  • Asparagine


  • Choline
  • Inositol
  • Carnitine

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic Acid

Other Fatty Acids:

  • Vitamin D3
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin K2


  • Calcium
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese

Carbohydrate Metabolism:

  • Glucose-Insulin Interaction
  • Fructose Sensitivity
  • Chromium


  • Glutathione
  • Cysteine
  • Coenzyme Q-10
  • Selenium
  • Vitamin E
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid
  • Vitamin C


  • Total Antioxidant Function (whether you have enough antioxidants to prevent harmful oxidation inside your body)


  • LPI (lymphocyte proliferation index- how well your immune system is functioning)

So you have a very comprehensive image of your health.

How awesome is that??

Email me at erica@ericajulson.com for more information & to book your test!

Can’t wait to join you on your personalized journey towards better health.

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Is Your Gut Microbiome Affecting Your Health?

gut microbiome

Did you know that bacteria make up the majority of your poop??

Yep, that’s right. Roughly 60% of the dry weight of your feces comes from bacteria.

Sounds kind of crazy, right?

But actually, these gut bacteria are more important than you might think.

They live within our intestines, and we have a pretty neat mutualistic relationship with them (both the bacteria and ourselves benefit).

We provide the bacteria with food (undigested remnants of what we ate), and the bacteria do the following for us:

  • Create vitamins! Gut bacteria are most famously known for producing vitamin K2 (an essential vitamin critical for blood clotting), which we absorb from the gut into our blood stream, but they also produce smaller amounts of biotin, vitamin B12, folic acid, and thiamine.
  • Break down fiber & keep our gut lining strong. Humans lack the digestive enzymes to break down the fiber found in plant foods. Luckily, the bacteria in our gut take care of that job. Once the undigested fibers reach the large intestine (where most of our gut bacteria live), they get to work breaking down the fibers and producing short chain fatty acids (butyrate, propionate, and acetate), which lowers the pH of the gut, creating an environment less favorable to pathogens. Butyrate is used as an energy source by the cells that line your colon (known as colonocytes). Some studies suggest that ulcerative colitis (an inflammatory disease that causes ulcers in the colon) is associated with low levels of butyrate-producing bacteria, and that eating more fermentable fibers (like those found in oat bran) can increase butyrate concentrations in the colon and reduce abdominal pain & reflux. So feeding those butyrate-producing bacteria is important!
  • Break down & recycle compounds. Some compounds that are metabolized in the liver and then secreted into the gut (ike bilirubin and bile acid, cholesterol, estrogens, vitamin D metabolites, and some medications), are broken down by the gut bacteria into new forms that can be reabsorbed through the gut wall and sent back to the liver. This process saves the body so much time and energy, since it can essentially “recycle” these components and not have to build them from scratch again.
  • Protect us from pathogens. The ecosystem of gut bacteria is relatively stable. The good bacteria that live there want to stay there, and actively fight off the colonization of other pathogenic bacteria and parasites. Thanks gut bacteria!
  • Keep our immune system strong. When we are infants, the lymph (immune) tissue in the gut learns to recognize healthy gut bacteria that lives there, and will not mount an immune response against them. In contrast, when a new type of bacteria enters the body, the immune system recognizes it as foreign and launches an attack against it. Without the hundreds of species of healthy gut bacteria living in our bodies, the immune system would have a much greater likelihood of launching an unnecessary immune response against harmless bacteria. There is exciting new research suggesting that there is a “critical window” of colonization, during which time the gut must be properly colonized by a wide range of bacteria, or else it may increase the risk of developing atopic diseases later in life (asthma, eczema, and allergies). How fascinating is that?? PS- guess where you get a significant portion of your colonizing bacteria?? During vaginal birth. Yep. It’s exactly what you think it is. Bacteria from the mom’s vaginal area enter the mouth of the baby & colonize their gut. In contrast, infants born via C-section get their gut bacteria from the environment (the skin of the mom & nurses, the air, and the hospital environment) & tend to have a harder time colonizing their gut properly (it can take them 6 months to have a stable gut, compared to 1 month in vaginally born babies). (There is newer research suggesting that a small amount of bacteria exists in the placenta, so technically the gut is colonized pre-birth by bacteria from the mother, but environmental exposure upon birth plays a significant role.)

These awesome gut bacteria are often referred to as “the microbiome” or “microbiota”.

This name makes sense, since “micro” means “small” (and bacteria certainly are tiny!), and “biome” or “biota” means “a community of organisms that occupies a distinct region” (aka your gut).

There are up to 1,000 different species of bacteria in your gut, and they outnumber our human cells by 10:1!

So yep, there are 10x more bacteria in your gut than human cells in your entire body! (Kind of creepy!)

To put that number into perspective, that’s 100,000,000,000,000 (100 trillion) bacteria hanging out inside your intestines at any given moment.

Now here’s a key point:

The number, types, and relative proportions of these gut bacteria change over time, depending on how we treat our bodies.

When the balance of your gut bacteria gets out of whack, you have gut dysbiosis.

When you have gut dysbiosis, you may experience gastrointestinal upset (gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain), irritable bowel syndrome, decreased immunity, inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), or even leaky gut or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

This can happen for a lot of reasons:

  1. Eating an unbalanced diet. Different types of bacteria feed off of different types of macronutrients. To keep all your gut bacteria healthy & happy, you need to feed them! This means you need to eat a well rounded diet containing a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fat, & fiber. If you get too crazy & eliminate (or excessively eat) one of these macronutrients, your gut will get out of whack, and you’ll feel it!
  2. STRESS. Are you surprised? We keep discovering more and more toxic effects of chronic stress. When you’re psychologically stressed out (worried about bills, your relationship, your job), you activate what’s known as the HPA axis (the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis), which essentially is a pathway from your brain to your cortisol-releasing adrenal glands, located on top of your kidneys. High levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) circulating around your body wreak havoc on many bodily systems, and the gut is no exception. When you’re stressed, your body assumes your life is in danger, and mundane functions like digestion are put on the back burner. The sympathetic “fight-or-flight” nervous system is in overdrive, and the parasympathetic “rest-and-digest” nervous system is out of commission. Blood is shunted away from the digestive tract and towards the muscles (you might have to run for your life, right??), and digestive health suffers. Really interesting new studies have shown changes in the gut flora of mice from exposure to social stressors and early life maternal separation. For even more ways on how stress affects the gut, check out this article.
  3. Consumption of antibiotics (and birth control pills?). Antibiotics can be essential and life-saving in many situations, but they do have a dark side. While they do a great job killing pathogenic bacteria inside your body that cause diseases, they ALSO kill the good bacteria! (oops, talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater). When the antibiotics wipe out the bacteria in your gut, your body has to re-colonize with whatever bacteria enters your body. Hopefully, you are consuming probiotics (healthy bacteria that colonize the gut) via fermented foods or supplements, and providing your body with a good supply of beneficial bacteria. But if you’re not, unhealthy bacteria that make us feel yucky can take over and colonize the digestive tract. They can be tough to get rid of once they’re there, so it’s important to take probiotics in conjunction with antibiotics! Some articles online also claim that birth control pills disrupt the gut flora, but I couldn’t find any studies to back this up. Comment below if you can find something!
  4. Serious illness can also throw off your gut flora, even if you aren’t taking antibiotics. If you are seriously ill, you may not be eating the same diet, which could disrupt your microbiome. Certain conditions (like certain cancers, or blood pressure or blood clotting disorders) could reduce blood flow to the gut, and many diseases affect the immune system, which we know is intricately linked to the gut.

Thankfully, once you are aware of the causes of gut dysbiosis, you can make diet and lifestyle changes to boost your gut health.

Some of the best ways to nurture a healthy gut are:

  1. Eat (or take) probiotics. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that colonize the gut & promote a healthy gut microbiome. They can be found naturally in fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, tempeh, and kimchi. Interestingly, the word “probiotic” literally means “pro-life”, how amazing is that? It’s definitely a true statement! In order to reap the benefits of natural probiotics, it’s important to get a large enough dosage. At the very minimum, you should consume 1-2 billion cfus (colony forming units, aka live bacteria) per day. A higher dose of 5-20 billion cfus per day might be even more effective, especially if you are experiencing GI discomfort & want to establish a healthier microbiome. For some perspective, 1 bottle of G.T. Dave’s kombucha contains 2 billion cfus, and 1 cup of Lifeway kefir contains 7-10 billion cfus. You can also take probiotics in supplement form, but this is probably not necessary unless you are actively experiencing gastrointestinal distress (like irritable bowel syndrome), in which case large dose probiotics might be helpful.
  2. Take the time to de-stress. The gut is intricately linked to the brain through the enteric nervous system, and specifically, the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve runs from brain to all the organs of the body (including the gut) and delivers parasympathetic (rest & digest) messages to the organs. Basically, when the vagus nerve is activated, it tells your body to slow down, relax, and focus on resting and digesting food. As you can imagine, if you are constantly stressed out, your sympathetic nervous system is always switched on, and you never give your body the opportunity to activate the rest & digest functions of the vagus nerve. You’ll certainly still digest some food, but not at optimal levels. Try to take a few deep breaths before meals to calm yourself and activate your vagus nerve. Sit at a table, and eat from a plate, without the distraction of television or cell phones. Let yourself relax, connect with loved ones, and truly enjoy and appreciate your meal. You won’t believe how much better you’ll feel after a slow, relaxed meal compared to a meal in front of the TV or on the run. Think about the stress levels in your life, and how you can try to enjoy more relaxation time. Your gut will thank you!
  3. Exercise regularly. Several animal studies have found that exercise is correlated with more diverse microbiomes (yay!). These results have yet to be replicated in humans (it would be hard to study, as you can imagine), but one study of full-time rugby players found a correlation between regular exercise and a more diverse gut flora (although this could also be explained by differences in diet). Diverse microbiomes are more robust, better able to ward off infections, and help maintain a healthier gut lining. Exercise is just one component of a healthy, happy, thriving body (gut included!).
  4. Consume a well-balanced diet (and don’t forget about prebiotics). The biggest problem with the typical American diet is that we simply don’t eat enough plant-based foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. We tend to go heavy on processed foods (which have simple sugars but usually not much fiber. Remember, fiber is one of the essential nutrients for your gut bacteria!), meat, and fats. One of the best things you can do for your gut is make sure you are eating enough high-fiber natural foods so that all of the healthy gut bacteria can survive and thrive. Of special importance are prebiotics. Prebiotics are the food for the probiotics (bacteria). They are usually types of carbohydrates that we humans can’t digest. Foods rich in natural prebiotics include chicory, jerusalem artichokes (also called sunchokes, not the same as regular artichokes), jicama, garlic, onion, leeks, and asparagus. Want some scientific evidence that diet really can impact your gut & overall health? Although this study was conducted in mice, it shows a really cool connection between diet & asthma risk! Mice fed high-fiber diets had a healthier, more diverse microbiome that produced more short chain fatty acids, leading to a healthier gut, stronger immune system, and reduced risk of developing asthma. Amazing what diet can do!!
  5. Deliver vaginally and breastfeed, if possible. This is the best way to set your baby up for a healthy gut from infancy. The general template of our microbiomes is established in the first three years of life, so it’s important to create a healthy gut from the start. Breastmilk provides healthy bacteria to the infant (both directly in the milk & from the skin of the breast) and contains prebiotics (food for the bacteria) that help nurture a healthy microbiome. Formula, on the other hand, lacks these natural bacteria and healthy prebiotics.
  6. Stop using hand sanitizer and don’t be afraid to get dirty. We consume bacteria from our environment ALL THE TIME. Usually, we get a balanced dose of healthy (and not so healthy) bacteria, and our immune system & gut microbiota are able to fight off infection. But what happens when you disrupt this natural process and douse yourself in sanitizer or prevent your kids from getting down & dirty in nature? Well, you kill all the bacteria (good and bad) and prevent your body from being exposed to a healthy diverse range of bacteria. If your body never gets exposed to these healthy bacteria, it could over-react when it finally is exposed to them, and increase your risk of unnecessary immune responses (like in allergies and other autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and type I diabetes). If you’re interested in learning more about this, check out the “hygiene hypothesis.” or, my favorite term, “microbial deprivation syndromes of affluence.”

So where is all this research headed?

Super interesting studies are being published as we speak, suggesting links between gut dysbiosis and obesity, type 1 diabetes, and even mental disorders like anxiety, depression, and autism, since a large portion of the peripheral nervous system is located in the gut. While this research is still new, it is certainly exciting.

Another hot topic right now? Fecal transplants. Yep. The transfer of fecal gut bacteria from one person to another. It is being investigated as a treatment for intestinal infections (like c. diff, which is common in hospitals and very tough to get rid of) & even as a treatment for obesity, since obese people have a less diverse microbiota with different proportions of bacteria than normal weight people.

Some animal studies have even suggested that fecal transplants can change the mood/behavior of the recipients to be more like that of the donor! Presumably this is because the fecal transplant changes the gut microbiota, which is closely connected to the brain and the rest of the central nervous system. This study found that fecal transplants from anxious mice to mice with sterile guts caused the inoculated mice to behave anxiously, like the mice from which they received the fecal transplant! This is some seriously amazing stuff!

Wow. How fascinating is your gut?

Hippocrates once said,

“All disease begins in the gut.”

While this is not entirely true, having a healthy microbiome clearly plays a large role in general wellbeing!

What tips do you have for maintaining a healthy gut? Share your stories & experiences below!

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