Vitamins are merely organic compounds that the body uses for essential functions. There are two categories of vitamins: water-soluble and fat-soluble. The body requires nine water-soluble vitamins. Many of the water soluble vitamins are precursors for coenzymes for the enzymes of intermediary metabolism. Water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body. What is not used will be excreted in the urine.
Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin that is essential for protein and red blood cell formation. Folic acid is essential during pregnancy for healthy development of baby’s brains and nervous system. Deficiencies in folic acid during pregnancy lead to spina bifida and anencephaly. Proper vitamin supplementation before and during pregnancy can prevent this.
Vitamin B12 also known as cobalamin is an essential water-soluble vitamin. Vitamin B12 is essential for DNA synthesis. Vitamin B12 is also part of the red blood cell ring that carries oxygen. Pernicious anemia is a related to a vitamin B12 deficiency. Deficiency of vitamin B12 is rarely a result of the vitamin’s absence in the diet. Many who develop pernicious anemia lack intrinsic factor, which binds to the vitamin for absorption purposes.
Vitamin C also known as ascorbic acid is an essential water-soluble vitamin. Vitamin C is required for the maintenance of normal connective tissue and the formation of collage. This vitamin can be found in skin care products. Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron in the diet. Vitamin C is an essential anti-oxidant (free radical damage). Scurvy is a disease associated with vitamin C deficiency.
Vitamin B6 known as pyridoxine is also a water-soluble vitamin. Pyridoxine is essential for protein digestion and utilization. This vitamin is essential for brain function and hormone production.
Vitamin B1 known as thiamine is a water-soluble vitamin. Thiamine plays a key role in energy metabolism of most cells (ATP), particularly the nervous system. Beriberi and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome are diseases caused by a severe thiamine deficiency.
Niacin (vitamin B3) is an essential water-soluble vitamin. Niacin functions as a precursor to NAD and NADP. Niacin is essential for energy production, brain function, and healthy skin. A deficiency in niacin causes pellagra and type IIb hyperlipoproteinemia. Niacin also helps to lower LDL’s in the blood.
Riboflavin (vitamin B2) is a water-soluble vitamin that assists in turning fats, sugars, and protein into energy. Riboflavin is needed to repair and maintain healthy skin. Riboflavin also assists in regulating bodily acidity. There are no diseases associated with a riboflavin deficiency. However, riboflavin deficiencies commonly accompany other vitamin deficiencies.
Biotin is an essential water-soluble vitamin that is needed for healthy childhood development. Biotin helps the body use essential fats. Biotin promotes healthy skin, hair, and nerves. Biotin deficiency does not occur naturally because the vitamin is widely distributed in food.
Pantothenic acid or vitamin B5 is essential for energy production. Vitamin B5 also controls the body’s fat metabolism. This vitamin helps make antistress hormones (steroids) during stressful times. Pantothenic acid is essential for a healthy nervous system. This vitamin helps maintain healthy skin and hair. Deficiency in this vitamin is not well characterized in humans and no RDA (recommended dietary allowance) has been established. The body also requires four fat-soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed, released, and transported with the fat of the diet. Fat-soluble vitamins are not readily excreted in the urine. Because fat-soluble vitamins travel with fat, significant quantities of these vitamins are stored in adipose tissue (fat) and the liver.
Vitamin A or retinol is an essential fat-soluble vitamin. Vitamin A is an anti-oxidant that protects the body from free radical damage. Vitamin A also protects against many infections. Vitamin A is essential for vision at night. Those deficient in vitamin A suffer night blindness. Many who suffer from psoriasis and acne are effectively treated with retinoic acid or a derivative. It is possible to become toxic with fat-soluble vitamins because of how the body stores these vitamins. Toxicity of vitamin A leads to hypervitaminosis A. Symptoms of this disorder include dry, pruritic skin; cirrhotic, enlarged liver; and increased intracranial pressure. Pregnant women should not take excess of vitamin A due to potential to cause congenital malformations to the fetus.
Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin. This vitamin has hormone like functions. This vitamin helps to maintain strong and healthy bones by retaining calcium. This is why milk is usually fortified with vitamin D for increased calcium absorption. The body also produces vitamin D in the skin when exposed to sufficient sunlight. A vitamin D deficiency causes a net demineralization of bone, results in the disorder rickets (children) and osteomalacia (adults). Other disorders such as renal rickets and hypoparathyroidism are seen with a vitamin D deficiency. Like all fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin D can be stored in the body and is slow metabolized. So there is a risk for toxicity. Toxic levels can cause nausea, thirst, stupor, and loss of appetite. Hypercalcemia can result from enhanced calcium absorption which can lead to calcium deposits in many organs, especially the kidneys and arteries. Vitamin K is an essential fat-soluble vitamin needed for proper clotting of the blood. Vitamin K is a byproduct created by the normally harmless bacteria in the intestine (E.coli). A true deficiency is unusual because of adequate amounts produced by the bacteria in the intestine and the diet. However, antibiotics can destroy necessary flora in the intestine which can decrease vitamin K production. Hypoprothrombinemia is seen in a vitamin K deficiency.
Vitamin E is an essential fat-soluble vitamin. The primary function of vitamin E as an anti-oxidant is to prevent non-enzymatic oxidation of cell components by molecular oxygen and free radicals. Vitamin E also helps to prevent blood clots, thrombosis, and atherosclerosis. Vitamin E is essential for healthy skin, fertility, and improves wound healing. Deficiencies of vitamin E have been seen with abnormal cellular membranes. No toxic effects have been seen with this vitamin.
All essential vitamins are necessary for good health. Understanding what vitamins are essential and how the essential vitamins benefit health is only half the battle. Today many can buy vitamins online. Buying vitamins online might just be the answer to nutrition needs.
Copyright 2005 Kristy Haugen