Vitamins are nutrients that keep your body healthy, but that your body cannot produce by itself; they must be supplied by your diet or in dietary supplements. Vitamins are essential for normal functioning of our bodies and are needed for our bodies to grow, stay healthy, and to prevent and cure many diseases and potential health problems.
There are two categories of vitamins:
* Water-soluble vitamins – are not stored in your body and must be replaced every day. Your kidneys work to remove excess water-soluble vitamins that are not needed.
* Fat-soluble vitamins – are stored in the liver and fatty tissues, which are eliminated more slowly. Because they are not as easily eliminated, taking excessive fat-soluble vitamin supplements can be toxic.
There are two primary sources of vitamins:
* Synthetic vitamins are developed in the lab from coal tar derivatives. Most of the food supplements sold today are synthetic, which are cheaper to make than natural vitamins.
* Natural vitamins are a concentrated nutrient obtained from a natural source; no preservatives or artificial colors are used.
There is an ongoing debate about synthetic versus natural vitamins. Many natural food proponents say that synthetic vitamins are ineffective because the body does not absorb the nutrients, and that they do not contain the necessary co-factors that occur in nature. For example, in natural sources, bioflavonoids are present with vitamin C. In synthetic vitamin C, these bioflavonoid co-factors are not present. The other side of the debate says that synthetic vitamins have the identical molecular structure as natural vitamins, and that they are just as effective.
Your body needs at least 13 vitamins to promote growth and development, but in different amounts and for different reasons. They include vitamins A, C, D, E, K and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, and folate).
Here’s some information about each of these important vitamins.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin important for bone growth, reproduction, vision, and cell division. It helps regulate the immune system, and may help white blood cells fight infections. There are two main types of Vitamin A, depending on whether it comes from a plant or an animal source. Vitamin A from plant sources is known as carotenoids and is obtained from colorful vegetables such as spinach and carrots. Vitamin A from animal sources is absorbed as retinol, found in foods such as liver and whole milk. Without enough Vitamin A, it is harder for your body to fight infections. Vitamin A deficiency is not common in developed countries, and is usually associated with strict dietary restrictions, Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or excessive alcohol use. Excessive Vitamin A is a risk factor for osteoporosis, as it can hinder the absorption of Vitamin D.
The B Vitamins are a group of 8 different vitamins: thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), cyanocobalamin (B12), folic acid, and biotin. These vitamins are important for providing energy for the body, breaking down fats and proteins, and developing healthy muscle tone, skin, hair, eyes, mouth, and liver function. The B-complex vitamins can be found in whole-grain cereals, nuts, milk, eggs, meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables. These vitamins are water soluble, so excess doses are not common. Niacin is now being prescribed for reducing high cholesterol; side effects may include flushing, itching, and nausea. Folic acid protects against birth defects by helping regulate embryonic and fetal nerve cell formation so it’s normally included in Prenatal Vitamins.
Vitamin C, known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin necessary for healthy bones, cartilage, muscles, and blood vessels. Iron transports oxygen in the body and Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron. Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables, particularly citrus fruits, and a deficiency is associated with scurvy. Research indicates that Vitamin C may also be helpful for treatment or prevention of asthma, cancer, diabetes, and the common cold, although results are not conclusive. High levels of vitamin C have multiple side effects, including kidney stones, diarrhea, nausea, and gastritis.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found naturally in few foods, so it is now routinely added to such foods as milk. Sunlight helps the skin absorb it, however, the use of sunscreen to prevent sun damage and skin cancer also prevents the absorption of Vitamin D. This vitamin is necessary for the body to absorb calcium and to prevent rickets, and without Vitamin D and calcium, bones become weak or brittle. People at risk for Vitamin D deficiency include babies who are exclusively breastfed, older adults, those with limited exposure to sunlight, and obese persons. Excess levels of Vitamin D can cause nausea, constipation, weakness, and weight loss.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble, super antioxidant, which protects cells against free radicals, which are molecules that contain an unshared electron. Antioxidants can safely interact with these free radicals that can damage cells and might contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Many foods provide vitamin E including nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils. Green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals also contain significant amounts.
Vitamin K allows blood to clot, helps prevent osteoporosis, and prevents cell damage. It is found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, as well as in peas and carrots. It is rare to develop a Vitamin K deficiency, although severe levels of deficiency could lead to anemia. High doses of natural forms of vitamin K have not produced symptoms of toxicity.
Vitamins work together to regulate many processes within the body. A lack of vitamins or a diet that does not provide adequate amounts of certain vitamins can upset the body’s natural internal balance. Vitamin pills can’t replace eating healthy food. However, taking vitamins and supplements is a great way to ensure that your body is getting everything it needs to keep you healthy.