Vitamins are essential nutrients that your body needs in small amounts to work properly. They are natural substances found in plants and animals. Vitamins are classified as either water-soluble, meaning that they dissolve easily in water, or fat-soluble vitamins, which are absorbed through the intestinal tract with the help of lipids (fats). When you eat foods that contain fat-soluble vitamins, the vitamins are stored in the fat tissues in your body and in your liver.
Fat-soluble vitamins are found mainly in fatty foods such as animal fats (including butter and lard), vegetable oils, dairy foods, liver and oily fish. Those vitamins are happy to stay stored in your body for awhile – some stay for a few days, some for up to 6 months.
Water-soluble vitamins are found in fruit, vegetables and grains and are easily absorbed by your body. When water-soluble vitamins are taken in excess, they are readily excreted in the urine and not usually associated with toxicity. Both water and oil soluble vitamins are considered essential as the body needs them to function properly.
Vitamin A helps you see in color, from the brightest yellow to the darkest purple. Vitamin A is very important for healthy eyes, especially for the formation of visual purple, which increases night vision. It also helps in the formation and maintenance of healthy teeth, bones, soft tissue, mucous membranes, and skin. Foods rich in vitamin A are:
• milk fortified with vitamin A
• liver (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish)
• orange fruits and vegetables (like cantaloupe, carrots, sweet potatoes)
• dark green leafy vegetables (like kale, collards, spinach)
• mango, apple, apricots, pumpkin
Historically, the B vitamins were once thought to be a single vitamin, but they are eight water-soluble vitamins. Here’s the list: B1, B2, B6, B12, niacin, folic acid, biotin, and pantothenic acid. The B vitamins are important in metabolic activity – this means that they help make energy and set it free when your body needs it. Foods rich in vitamin B are:
• whole grains, such as wheat and oats
• fish and seafood
• poultry and meats
• dairy products, like milk and yogurt
• leafy green vegetables
• beans and peas
Vitamin B1 (thiamine) plays an important role in helping the body metabolize carbohydrates and fat to produce energy. It is essential for normal growth and development and helps to maintain proper functioning of the heart and the nervous and digestive systems. Thiamine is water-soluble and cannot be stored in the body; however, once absorbed, the vitamin is concentrated in muscle tissue. A severe deficiency of this leads to the deadly disease known as beriberi, which causes paralysis and then death. Thiamine deficiency also include Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, diseases also common with chronic alcoholism. Vitamin B1 is found in pulses, whole-wheat and other breads, pork, liver, milk, oysters and potatoes.
Vitamin B2 is very important to the body’s metabolism, in freeing energy from carbohydrates, fats and proteins in our food. It is very common in milk, pulses, eggs, cheese, nuts, yeast, mushrooms, dark green leaves, liver and kidneys. Its lack of presence can cause dandruff, cracked lips, other skin disorders and an inflamed tongue. Vitamin B2 is not stored and must be replaced daily.
Niacin – Vitamin B3 is necessary for cell respiration it assists in releasing energy and metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, healthy skin, performance of the nervous system, and normal secretion of bile and stomach fluids. Vitamin B3 is not stored in the human body in significant amounts, so stores may only last a couple of weeks. Other functions of niacin include removing toxic chemicals from the body, and assisting in the production of steroid hormones made by the adrenal gland, such as sex hormones and stress-related hormones.
Vitamin B5, also called Pantothenic acid is a water-soluble vitamin required to sustain life. It is critical in the metabolism and synthesis of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Its name is derived from the Greek meaning “from everywhere” and small quantities of pantothenic acid are found in nearly every food, with high amounts in whole grain cereals, legumes, eggs, meat, and royal jelly.
Vitamin B6 is also known as pyridoxine. Vitamin B6 helps form red blood cells and maintains brain function, among other things. Vitamin B6 is very important to regulate mood and behavior, deficiency of Pyridoxine leads to irritation and anxiety, insomnia and nervousness. Vitamin B6 supplements helps women to get over with post menopause depression and anxiety.
Vitamin b9 (folic acid) is necessary for the production and maintenance of new cells. This is especially important during periods of rapid cell division and growth such as infancy and pregnancy. Both adults and children need folate to make normal red blood cells and prevent anemia. Deficiency of Vitamin B9 during pregnancy is associated with birth defects, such as neural tube defects. Food rich with vitamin B9 are spinach and turnip greens, dried beans and peas, fortified cereal products, sunflower seeds and certain other fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin B12 is important for the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system and for the formation of blood. It is involved in the metabolism of every cell of the body, especially affecting the DNA synthesis and regulation but also fatty acid synthesis and energy production. The best sources for vitamin B12 are naturally found only in foods of animal origin including meat (especially liver and shellfish) and milk products. Eggs are often mentioned as a good source; however they also contain a factor that blocks absorption. B12 deficiency is the cause of several forms of anemia and irreversible damage to the brain and nervous system.
Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is an antioxidant that promotes healthy teeth and gums. This vitamin also helps your body resist infection and helps you heal. This means that even though you can’t always avoid getting sick, vitamin C makes it a little harder for your body to become infected with an illness. Foods rich in vitamin C are:
• citrus fruits, like oranges
• kiwi fruit
• sweet red peppers
Vitamin D is also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” since it is made by the body after being in the sun. It is a fat soluble vitamin and can be produced in the skin with exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D is known to strengthen bones because it helps the body absorb calcium. It’s also great for forming strong teeth. Vitamin D is found in
• milk fortified with vitamin D
• egg yolks
• fortified cereal
Vitamin E is an antioxidant also known as tocopherol. This vitamin maintains a lot of your body’s tissues, like the ones in your eyes, skin, and liver. It protects your lungs from becoming damaged by polluted air. And it is important for the formation of red blood cells. Foods rich in vitamin E are: • whole grains, such as wheat and oats
• wheat germ
• leafy green vegetables
• egg yolks
• nuts and seeds
Vitamin K is not listed among the essential vitamins, but without it blood would not stick together (coagulate). Vitamin K is a fat soluble vitamin usually formed in the body by intestinal bacteria but also available from some plant and animal sources. Vitamin K deficiency has been reported in patients treated with antibiotics and placed on poor diets after surgery. Deficiency will result in hemorrhaging of wounds (an inability to stop bleeding). Foods rich in vitamin K are:
• leafy green vegetables
• dairy products, like milk and yogurt
• soybean oil
Supplements can be an inexpensive way to make sure you get all the vitamins and minerals you need, even if you get most of them from the foods you eat. Generally speaking, you can buy vitamins and nutritional supplements in 2 forms: pills or liquid. They can be taken as an all in one product (called “Multi-Vitamins”) or in separate forms such as Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin C, Vitamin E or Vitamin K. Dietary supplements, often containing vitamins, are used to ensure that adequate amounts of nutrients are obtained on a daily basis, if optimal amounts of the nutrients cannot be obtained through a varied diet.
In the United States, advertising for dietary supplements is required to include a disclaimer that the product is not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure disease, and that any health claims have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. In some cases, dietary supplements may have unwanted effects, especially if taken before surgery, with other dietary supplements or medicines, or if the person taking them has certain health conditions. Supplements should be taken only with some nutrition knowledge or the guidance of a nutritionist and dietitian.
Dietary supplements can lose potency over time, especially in hot and humid climates. Store all vitamin and mineral supplements safely in a dry, cool place out of sight and away from children. If your supplements have expired, discard them. You should read labels carefully before taking any nutritional supplements.
If a particular vitamin is missing from your diet you will suffer from a deficiency disease. You can develop health problems (deficiency disease) if you do not get enough of a particular vitamin. They are two types of deficiency: primary and secondary.
A primary deficiency occurs when an organism does not get enough of the vitamin in its food. A secondary deficiency may be due to an underlying disorder that prevents or limits the absorption or use of the vitamin, due to a “lifestyle factor”, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, or the use of medications that interfere with the absorption or use of the vitamin. For example, if you have absolutely no vitamin C you will end up with a deficiency disease called scurvy. Some of the other deficiency diseases are beriberi, pellagra, and rickets, anemia and night blindness.
Night blindness is an early symptom of a deficiency of vitamin A. The ancient Egyptians knew that feeding a patient liver would help cure night blindness, an illness now known to be caused by a vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin E deficiency may cause anemia, as a result of red blood cell destruction and neurological dysfunction, myopathies, and diminished erythrocyte life span. Vitamin K deficiency will result in hemorrhaging of wounds (an inability to stop bleeding).
Because human bodies do not store most vitamins, humans must consume them regularly to avoid deficiency. People who eat a varied diet are unlikely to develop a severe primary vitamin deficiency. Except in pregnancy, where supplementation of certain vitamins maybe recommended, there are no reports of normal persons eating a well-balanced diet developing vitamin deficiency diseases. The proper role of vitamin supplementation is in the treatment of deficiency in patients who have inadequate intake, disturbed absorption, or increased requirements because of an increased destruction or excretion.
All vitamins are beneficial to us in some manner or other. Vitamins are essential for healthy maintenance of the cells, tissues, and organs. Though vitamins are involved in converting food into energy, they supply no calories. Research and experience have shown that only 13 vitamins are known to be required for humans. Only tiny amounts of each of the 13 vitamins are needed to ensure metabolism, but these minimum amounts are absolutely essential. Because vitamins are needed only in small amounts, most people get more than enough from what they eat. Clinical research has shown that people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables are healthier in general and have lower chances of diabetes and cancer, but that hasn’t translated into the same effect for people taking vitamins without a healthy diet. Many people don’t receive all of the nutrients they need from their diet because they either can’t or don’t eat enough, or they can’t or don’t eat a variety of healthy foods. While taking vitamin supplements are not meant to replace a healthy diet, some individuals may need to take supplements because they are at risk for nutritional deficiencies. Used with knowledge, vitamins are enormously important for prevention and treatment of disease.