Vitamins are organic food substances or nutrients found only in living things, plants and animals. They are needed to maintain normal body functions. The body cannot synthesize its own vitamins in sufficient quantities so we must get our vitamins from the foods we eat, from dietary supplements, or sunlight in the case of vitamin D. Vitamins are essential for metabolism, growth, and physical well-being. They provide a wide range of functions essential to the vitality of our systems, organs, tissue, cells and DNA.
The term vitamin does not include other essential nutrients such as dietary minerals, essential fatty acids, or essential amino acids, nor does it encompass the large number of other nutrients that promote health but are otherwise required less often.
Why do you need to make sure you’re getting enough vitamins?
It’s simple. They’re essential for health. Without adequate intake, our health will begin to deteriorate. Whatever our age, sex, level of activity, adequate nutrition is necessary for normal body function.
Having a good daily supply of vitamins and nutrients has always been important for our health. However, most of us never really consider the ramifications of not getting enough of one of these nutritional elements. Yet, those consequences can be serious.
There are currently 14 essential vitamins listed by the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board.
Fat Soluble Vitamins: A, D, E, K. Fat soluble vitamins can be stored in the body and are not readily excreted. Since fat soluble vitamins are stored in the body, it often takes more time deplete the vitamin reserves and show the symptoms of a nutritional deficiency.
Water Soluble Vitamins: B-Complex, C. Water soluble vitamins are quickly absorbed and eliminated, and are not stored in the body in sufficient quantities. They are regularly discarded by the body. Therefore, daily intake is essential in maintaining optimal nutritional levels.
Here are some of the common vitamins and some general information on why we need them and where to find them. In order to understand nutrition, we must first become familiar with the individual pieces that form the complex nutritional system. And keep in mind that this list only includes vitamins. There are many other nutrients that are essential to our well being.
Vitamin A (retinoids/ carotenoids) Vitamin A, also called retinol, helps your eyes adjust to light changes when you come in from outside and also helps keep your eyes, skin and mucous
membranes moist. Vitamin A mostly comes from animal foods, but some plant-based foods supply beta-carotene, which your body then converts into Vitamin A. Bright orange, yellow and green vegetables such as carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, apricots, cantaloupe, broccoli, spinach, beef liver and egg yolk provide a good supply of beta carotene, which is not toxic to the human body. The general rule is that the darker the color, the more beta carotene the vegetable contains. Supplementing with retinol can be toxic and should be done under the supervision of a health practitioner or doctor. Vitamin A also has antioxidant properties that neutralize free radicals in the body that cause tissue and cellular damage.
Vitamin Bp (Choline) Choline was not recognized as an essential nutrient until 1998. Choline technically is not a B vitamin but it is often included in the B-vitamin family because it works with other B vitamins like folic acid (Vitamin B9) and cobalamin (Vitamin B12) to process fat and keep the heart and brain healthy. Choline is also needed for gallbladder and liver function, lecithin formation, hormone production, and regulate the central nervous system, treatment of cholesterol buildup, memory loss, and Alzheimer’s. Choline has a key role in proper nerve impulses, so researchers conclude it may help slow the effects of age-related memory loss, improve reaction times, and reduce fatigue. You get choline in your diet from foods that contain lecithin, which the body breaks down into choline. Some foods that contain lecithin are rice, eggs, red meat, liver, cabbage, cauliflower, soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, green beans, split peas, tofu, almonds and soy lecithin. Lecithin is also a common food additive; it’s used in ice cream, margarine, mayonnaise and chocolate bars to help bind the fat in these foods with water.
Vitamin Bh (Inositol) Another B complex factor that has an unclear status as a B vitamin is the compound called inositol. Inositol is a fundamental ingredient of cell membranes and is necessary for proper function of nerves, brain, and muscles in the body. Inositol is a direct precursor of phospholipids which are a major component of cellular membranes. Inositol is required in the formation of Lecithin, which protects cells from oxidation and is an important factor in the building of cell membranes. Inositol helps to maintain proper electrical energy and nutrient transfer across the cell membrane. It also acts as a lipotropic which converts fats into other useful products. Inositol helps establish healthy cell membranes, which facilitate nerve impulses. Inositol, also has a metabolic effect in preventing too much of fats to be stored in the liver, which is why it is called a lipotropic and is a vital part in maintaining good health. Used with choline, inositol helps to metabolize fats and cholesterol in the arteries and liver.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine/ Thiamin) Thiamin helps maintain a normal metabolism of fat and protein. It helps the body to be able to use carbohydrates as an energy source as well as for metabolizing amino acids. A person’s requirements for vitamin B1 are increased when they are relying heavily on carbohydrates for their main source of energy. It prevents oxidation and neutralizes free radicals Supplemental thiamin can help protect against some of the metabolic imbalances caused by heavy alcohol consumption. Vitamin B1 is found in most whole grains, fortified breads, cereals, pasta, lean meats, fish, dried beans, peas, soybeans, wheat germ, pasta, nuts, eggs, and most vegetables.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) It is required by the body to use oxygen and the metabolism of amino acids, fatty acids, and carbohydrates. It is further needed to activate vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), helps to create niacin and assists the adrenal gland. It may be used for red blood cell formation, antibody production, cell respiration, and growth. It eases watery eye fatigue and may be helpful in the prevention and treatment of cataracts. Vitamin B2 is required for the health of the mucus membranes in the digestive tract and helps with the absorption of iron and vitamin B6. Although it is needed for periods of rapid growth, it is also needed when protein intake is high, and is most beneficial to the skin, hair and nails. A shortage of this vitamin may manifest itself as cracks and sores at the corners of the mouth, eye disorders, inflammation of the mouth and tongue, and skin lesions. Dermatitis, dizziness, hair loss, insomnia, light sensitivity, poor digestion, retarded growth, and slow mental responses have also been reported. Burning feet can also be indicative of a shortage. Extra might be needed when consuming alcohol, antibiotics, and birth control pills or doing strenuous exercise. If you are under a lot of stress or on a calorie-restricted diet, this vitamin could also be of use. Organ meats, nuts, cheese, eggs, milk and lean meat are great sources of riboflavin, but is also available in good quantities in green leafy vegetables, fish, legumes, whole grains, and yogurt.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) Niacin is the common name for 2 very different compounds: “nicotinic acid” and “niacinamide”. High doses of niacin (as nicotinic acid) can lower cholesterol levels (although the exact mechanism of action is still not known). The other form of niacin (nicotinamide or niacinamide) does not open blood vessels wider nor provide a cholesterol-lowering effect. Like all the B-complex vitamins, it is important for converting calories from protein, fat and carbohydrates into energy. But it also helps the digestive system function and promotes a normal appetite and healthy skin and nerves. Vitamin B3 is required for cell respiration, helps in the release of energy, proper circulation, healthy skin, functioning of the nervous system, decreasing cholesterol, promote detoxification, and normal secretion of bile and stomach fluids. It is used in the synthesis of sex hormones, treating schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, and a memory-enhancer. A shortage of niacin may be indicated with symptoms such as canker sores, depression, diarrhea, dizziness, fatigue, halitosis, headaches, indigestion, insomnia, limb pains, loss of appetite, low blood sugar, muscular weakness, skin eruptions, and inflammation. Consuming alcohol and not having enough protein in your diet may increase your need for niacin. Some good food sources include: liver, lean meat, poultry, fish, rabbit, nuts, peanut yeast, meats including liver, cereals, legumes, asparagus, seeds, milk, green leafy vegetables, and fish.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) B5 is very important for the metabolism and also for balancing hormones and is essential for maintaining good health. It is also necessary for the health of the skin and also the nervous system. There have been tests that seem to show that Vitamin B5 might be useful to treat some types of acne. It is really essential for helping the body to process carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Pantothenic acid is also helpful in making essential steroids and one of the neurotransmitters in the brain. If you do not get enough B5 you can suffer from fatigue. It can also affect your general health and make you much more prone to catching infections. It is also possible to suffer from poor sleep and cramps. Vitamin B5 is a very common vitamin and it is found in nearly all foods although sometimes in very small quantities. Vitamin B5 is also made by bacteria in the body and it is found in good amounts in a lot of cereals. It is also found in large amounts in meat and eggs. Another good source of B5 is some nuts, yeast, fish and fresh vegetables.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) B6 plays a vital role in the function of approximately 100 enzymes that catalyze essential chemical reactions in the human body Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is required for the synthesis of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine and for myelin formation. Pyridoxine deficiency in adults principally affects the peripheral nerves, skin, mucous membranes, and the blood cell system. It helps the formation of new red blood cells and helps transport oxygen around the body. This vitamin is important for reducing risk of Parkinson’s diseases, aid muscle toning, stabilizing blood pressure and increasing immunity, much like the family of Vitamin B. Vitamin B6 is thought to be useful in treating seizures, diabetes, heart disease, varicose veins, and Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). You can easily obtain your required dose from leafy greens, legumes, wheat germs and avocados. In animal sources, you can easily find it in chicken, tuna, turkey and liver.
Vitamin B7 (Biotin, Vitamin H) Biotin is essential for the maintenance of bones, nerves, and blood. It can boost the health of sweat glands, blood cells, nerve tissues, male sex glands, and bone marrow. Biotin also plays an important role in the metabolism of fats, glucose, and protein. Vitamin H also plays an important role in maintaining the health of mind, memory, and emotional well-being of a person. It helps in maintaining the health of cognitive function by producing of neurotransmitters in brain. Biotin is naturally produced by yeast, bacteria, fungi, and algae. Biotin is used in hair growth and alopecia treatments because one of the main symptoms of biotin deficiency is hair loss. Other symptoms of deficiency include brittle nails, depression, fatigue, or rashes on the facial areas. Nutritional supplements of biotin are thought to overcome the deficiency of biotin, however genuine deficiencies of biotin are rare. Biotin deficiency is rare because usually, intestinal bacteria produce an excess of the body’s recommended daily requirement.
Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid) Folic acid plays an essential role in human growth and development, in particular cell division and DNA synthesis. Folic acid is essential for cell duplication because DNA can not be produced without sufficient folic acid because it is essential to make the critical base pairs needed by DNA molecules. The demand for folic acid increases when human cell growth is very active, such as in pregnancy, during breastfeeding, growth and some cancers e.g., leukaemias. Folic acid is crucial for proper brain function and plays an important role in mental and emotional health. Folic acid also works closely together with vitamin B12 to regulate the formation of red blood cells and to help iron function properly in the body. Folic acid is necessary for the proper differentiation and growth of cells and for the development of the fetus. Folic acid increases the appetite and stimulates the production of stomach acid for digestion and it aids in maintaining a healthy liver. Folic acid helps protect the chromosomes, is needed for the utilization of sugar and amino acids, promotes healthier skin and helps protect against intestinal parasites and food poisoning. Folic acid helps to eliminate homocysteine, a blood toxin known to affect heart muscle and influences cholesterol to deposit in heart muscle. Additionally, folic acid may play an important role in prevention of certain cancers: lung, colon, and cervical. Folic acid found in foods is called folate. Natural folates are found in dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, escarole, chard, arugula, beet greens, bok choy, dandelion green, mache, radicchio, rapini or broccoli de rabe, Swiss chard), oranges, lentils, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, asparagus, orange juice, broccoli, cauliflower, liver and brewer’s yeast.
Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalmin) One of the primary vitamin B12 benefits is its crucial role in energy metabolism. It is a vital component in the creation of healthy red blood cells. That’s because the vitamin helps to create the DNA needed for cell division, especially in cells which are rapidly dividing which is what happens in the bone marrow when red blood cells are being produced. Without sufficient DNA, the cells could not divide properly and red blood cell production would be slowed and/or abnormal blood cells known as megaloblasts form. In either event, the individual with the B12 deficiency suffers from anemia. Most have no problems with adequate B12 levels but some have B12 deficiencies. Because B12 is found in lots of meat and animal products, many people who lead a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle may suffer from it.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic
acid, is necessary for the growth, development and repair of all body tissues. It’s involved in many body functions, including formation of collagen, absorption of iron, the immune system, wound healing, and the maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth. Vitamin C is one of many antioxidants that can protect against damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals, as well as toxic chemicals and pollutants. Research has shown that adequate levels of vitamin C can lessen the severity of colds, prevent cataracts, reduce histamine levels (allergic reaction), decrease the risks from cancer, heart disease, hypertension, and can help regulate blood sugar levels. Foods that provide a lot of vitamin-C are: broccoli, strawberries, citrus fruits, green peppers, brussels sprouts, honeydew, and cantaloupe. The effect of vitamin C is decreased by aspirin, tobacco, alcohol, barbiturates, mineral oil, oral contraceptives, salicylates, sulfa drugs and tetracyclines. Low vitamin C levels are known to cause swollen and/or bleeding gums, slow healing of wounds and easy bruising. Excess vitamin C is usually excreted by the body but sometimes excess amounts may cause nausea and diarrhea. Cooking and canning destroy vitamin C. Vitamin C from fruit and vegetables should be consumed raw to maximize benefit.
Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol) Vitamin D3 is produced in the
skin when sunlight makes contact with it. Technically not a “vitamin,” vitamin D is in a class by itself. Its metabolic product, calcitriol, is actually a secosteroid hormone that targets over 2000 genes (about 10% of the human genome) in the human body. Current research has implicated vitamin D3 deficiency as a major factor in the pathology of at least 17 varieties of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects, periodontal disease, asthma and more. There are only a few foods that are good sources of vitamin D, so vitamin D supplements are often recommended unless you are exposed to sunlight on your skin regularly. Some good sources include salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, milk, egg yolk, cereal, and other fortified products. Although milk is fortified with vitamin D, dairy products made from milk, such as cheese and ice creams, are generally not fortified with vitamin D. It is difficult to obtain the necessary vitamin D from your diet.
A 6 minute video of an interview with Dr. John Cannell on Vitamin D: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–NqqB2nhBE
More on the latest vitamin D research at: http://www.vitamindcouncil.org.
Vitamin E (Tocopherols/ Tocotrienols) Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin with antioxidant properties. Antioxidants protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals, which are molecules that contain an unshared electron. Free radicals damage cells and might contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer. In addition to its activities as an antioxidant, vitamin E is involved in immune function and cell signaling, regulation of gene expression, and other metabolic processes. Naturally occurring vitamin E exists in eight chemical forms (alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol and alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocotrienol). Alpha-tocopherol is the most active form in humans. Numerous foods provide vitamin E. Nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils are among the best sources of alpha-tocopherol, and significant amounts are available in green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals. Vitamin E supplements are available in natural or synthetic forms. The natural forms are usually labeled with the letter “d” (for example, d-gamma-tocopherol), whereas synthetic forms are labeled “dl” (for example, dl-alpha-tocopherol).
Vitamin K1 (Phylloquinone), K2 (Menaquinone) Vitamin K is essential for the functioning of several proteins involved in blood clotting and bone metabolism . It is found in chicken egg yolk, butter, cow liver, certain cheeses and fermented soybean products such as natto. Very little vitamin K is stored by the body; small amounts are deposited in the liver and in the bones, but this amount is only enough to supply the body’s needs for a few days.
Remember that we all have different lifestyles, diets and nutritional intakes. But we all share something in common: we all need the same nutrients to not only survive, but thrive.
Give your body the fuel (nutrients) it needs and it will reward you with a priceless gift: better health!