Vitamins and minerals are both very important for human health. Vitamins are substances that are made by plants and animals, while minerals come from the earth and are absorbed or consumed by plants and animals. You get both of these from the food that you eat. Together, vitamins and minerals are known as micronutrients. This means that they’re substances that you need in relatively small amounts in order to be healthy.
Some people don’t get enough of these micronutrients through their diets. The lack of vitamins and minerals can lead to a variety of different symptoms. It can be difficult to know whether you’re eating enough healthy foods (especially fruits and vegetables) to get the vitamins and minerals that you need to maintain optimal wellness.
People who are concerned about whether they’re getting enough vitamins and minerals may think about getting a nutrition panel blood test to check their levels of different nutrients.
What are the essential vitamins and minerals?
Essential vitamins and minerals are those that a human needs to consume (through food or supplements) in order to be healthy. The essential vitamins and minerals include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxal)
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Folate (folic acid)
For some of the nutrients on this list, deficiency is extremely uncommon in the developed world. For example, virtually no one in the US is deficient in sodium. In fact, most people eat too much sodium, because it’s found in common table salt (sodium chloride). For other nutrients, however, deficiency is more likely to occur, even among people in the US who are relatively well-fed.
It’s usually not recommended to take supplements of vitamins and minerals, unless a test has shown that you’re deficient in a specific one. Most people can get enough nutrients through the food that they eat. Getting too much of a specific nutrient can actually be dangerous, so it’s generally better not to take supplements unless a test has shown that your levels are low.
What’s included in a comprehensive nutrition panel?
The specific tests included in a vitamin test profile can vary. There are some testing panels available that will test for every essential vitamin or mineral. Other testing panels only test for the ones that are most commonly deficient. For example, deficiencies of vitamin D and vitamin B12 are relatively more common, so these are often included in a nutrition panel. Minerals like magnesium and zinc are also often included.
If you have concerns about specific vitamins or minerals, check to be sure that they’re included in your test panel. You can choose to order vitamin tests on their own, mineral tests on their own, or a panel that includes both.
Research has not shown that it’s necessary to test for every micronutrient. However, for some nutrients, testing your levels may be a useful way to check whether you’re getting enough.
Can you get a comprehensive vitamin panel from your doctor?
If you have symptoms that may indicate a deficiency of a certain vitamin or mineral, then your doctor may order tests for your levels of that particular nutrient. However, if you don’t have obvious symptoms, then doctors usually don’t order vitamin and mineral testing. It’s simply not cost-effective for medical insurance to pay for these tests for everyone, so they generally don’t pay for the testing in the absence of symptoms. Your doctor may not consider it medically necessary for you to be tested. If you want to have a complete vitamin profile test, then you’ll likely need to order this privately.
How can you get vitamin level testing?
If you want to get tested for your levels of various micronutrients, then you can order a home testing kit. You’ll need to choose which kit includes the tests that you’d like to have. The kit will be mailed to your home. You then collect a blood sample through a fingerprick, and send it back to the lab. You’ll get your results online a few days later.
There are also testing services that allow you to order and pay for the test yourself, but then go to a laboratory for your blood draw. Although this is less convenient, some people might prefer it, because it doesn’t require you to take your own blood sample.
If your test shows that your levels are low, you should consult with a medical professional. Some people may be able to adjust their diets in order to normalize their levels, while others may need supplements. Most home testing services will offer you a consultation via telemedicine with a medical professional, who can advise you on the next steps that you should take.
Micronutrient Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/micronutrient-malnutrition/micronutrients/index.html. Accessed 23 August 2022.
Nutrition – Guidelines and Recommendations. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/strategies-guidelines/index.html. Accessed 23 August 2022.
Vitamins and Minerals. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/vitamins-and-minerals. Accessed 23 August 2022.