What are Vitamins?

A vitamin is a group of organic compounds which are needed for the sustenance of life. Most vitamins which the human body needs are derived from food. Vitamins are vital for metabolism since they contain all the essential nutrients. Apart from natural vitamins, there are also artificial vitamins which have synthetic ingredients. Vitamin supplements can contain artificial or natural vitamins or both. This article explains the different types of vitamins, their sources, and the effects of their deficiency.

Quick Facts on Vitamins

  • There are about 13 known types of vitamins.
  • A vitamin can be fat soluble or water soluble.
  • The body finds it easier to store fat-soluble vitamins.
  • Vitamins are termed as “organic” as they contain carbon.
  • The best sources of vitamins are foods. However, a physician may advise a person to use vitamin supplements.

Types of Vitamins

Vitamins are divided into two categories i.e. water soluble and fat soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins are normally stored in the liver and the fatty tissues. The body finds it easier to store fat-soluble vitamins compared to water-soluble vitamins and they are normally absorbed via the intestinal tract and they can stay as reserves in the body for days or months. Water-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, cannot be stored in the body and they easily get excreted in urine. Because they don’t stay in the body for long, water-soluble vitamins need to be constantly replenished.

Water Soluble Vitamins

Vitamin B (Thiamine)

Sources: Asparagus, cauliflower, whole-grain rye, sunflower seeds, pork, mushrooms, eggplant, tomatoes, liver, spinach, lentils, soybeans, and others.

Deficiency: Symptoms may include elevated heart rate, anorexia, gastrointestinal problems, fatigue and weakness, burning feet, swelling, nausea etc.

Toxicity: Unknown.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

Sources: Spinach, mushrooms, soybeans, yogurt, liver, eggs, whole wheat, spinach, almonds, bananas, green beans, okra, milk, asparagus, and cottage cheese etc.

Deficiency: May cause sores, fissures or cracks on the lips and the corner of the mouth, photophobia, fatigue, loss of appetite, anxiety, conjunctivitis, and dermatitis

Toxicity: Large amounts of riboflavin in the body may turn the color of urine to bright yellow. In addition to that, it may cause the DNA strands to break.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin or Niacinamide)

Sources: Tuna fish, poultry meat, dates, leafy greens, avocados, milk, whole grains, nuts, carrots, legumes, asparagus, sweet potatoes, and mushrooms.

Deficiency: Mental problems such as dementia, diarrhea and pellagra.

Toxicity: High amounts of vitamin B3 in foods isn’t known to have any side effects. However, consuming vitamin supplements which have nicotinic acid may cause itching, skin flushes, stomach upset, liver toxicity, and nausea.

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)

Sources: Strawberries, eggs, liver, sunflower seeds, avocados, cauliflower split peas, mushrooms, whole wheat, and leafy greens.

Deficiency: A deficiency if vitamin B5 is highly unlikely. However, in case of severe malnutrition one may have paresthesia i.e. tingling feet.

Toxicity: Heartburn, diarrhea, and nausea.

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxamine, pyridoxine or pyridoxal)

Sources: Good sources of Vitamin B6 include whole grains, nuts, vegetables, and meats. Note that when milk is canned or frozen, it ends up losing half of the vitamin B6 content.

Deficiency: Lack of it may cause peripheral neuropathy, anemia, sleeplessness, and nervousness, lack of coordination in movements, dermatitis, stomatitis, cheilosis and irritability.

Toxicity: An overdose of vitamin B6 may cause pain or damage to the nervous system.

Vitamin B9 ( folic acid)

Sources: Some of the best sources of vitamin B9 are sunflower seeds, liver, legumes, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, avocado, organ meats, banana, spinach, green peas, citrus fruits, and many others.

Deficiency: Fatigue and weakness, redness of the tongue, cracking mouth, diarrhea, sprue, anemia, weight loss, thrombocytopenia among others. Pregnant women who lack sufficient amounts of vitamin B9 risk preterm delivery or low birth weight.

Toxicity: Megaloblastic anemia.

Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin)

Sources: Poultry, fish, meat, milk, eggs, some cereals which are fortified, liver, fortified soy products, and nutritional yeast.

Deficiency: Megaloblastic anemia, sprue, and neurological problems

Toxicity: Unknown.

Vegans are usually advised to take the B12 supplements.

Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)

Sources: Lemon juice, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, papaya, strawberries, orange, kale, bell pepper, grapefruit, guava, parsley, pineapple, and sweet potato.

Deficiency: Symptoms of lack of vitamin c include dental cavities, gum infections, bruising bleeding gums, anemia, scurvy, dry eyes, joint pains, hair loss, edema, dry skin among others.

Toxicity: High amounts of vitamin C may lead to rebound scurvy, excess absorption of iron, erosion of the dental enamel, kidney stones, increased oxidative stress among others.

Fat-soluble vitamins

Vitamin A (Retinoids)

Sources: Sweet potato, bell pepper, leafy greens, cantaloupe, squash, pumpkin, carrots, peaches, beef, Chinese cabbage eggs, and many others.

Deficiency: Dry or rough skin and difficulty in seeing especially in dim lights.

Toxicity: Fatigue, headache, nausea, dizziness, dry skin, loss of appetite and others. Note that taking large amounts of Vitamin A, while you are pregnant, can result in certain birth defects.

Vitamin D (cholecalciferol)

Sources: They include exposure to the ultraviolet B via sunlight. Other good sources include mushrooms, beef, eggs, fatty fish, liver, sardines, and many others.

Deficiency: Weakened bones, rickets, retarded growth, soft teeth, spontaneous fractures, tooth decay, and deformed bones. Most people who are at risk of vitamin D deficiency are dark-skinned persons, the elderly, infants and those with minimal exposure to the sun’s rays.

Toxicity: Vomiting/ nausea, joint pains, itching, excessive urination, disorientation, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and increased calcium levels in the blood.

Vitamin E (Tocopherols)

Sources: They include leafy green vegetables, wheat germ eggs, almonds, milk, avocado, kiwi fruit, eggs, vegetable oils (unheated), whole grains, tomatoes, blueberries, sunflower seeds among others.

Deficiency: Vitamin E deficiency is very uncommon but it may result in hemolytic anemia, a condition that is common in newborns.

Toxicity: There is no known toxicity of vitamin E in high doses but it might interfere with blood clotting especially in infants.

Vitamin K (menaquinones)

Sources: Leafy green vegetables, parsley, kiwi fruit, avocado among others.

Deficiency: Anemia, hemorrhage or bleeding diathesis.

Toxicity: Unknown toxicity in very high doses but it might interfere with glutathione.

Benefits of Vitamins

Overall, vitamins are essential for healthy growth. Although most vitamins are acquired through eating foods, because of different preparation methods they foods may end up with lowered with natural vitamins intake. Some of the benefits of nutrients include:

1. Healthy Metabolism

Vitamins help to support a healthy metabolism. The rate of metabolism helps to determine how the body utilizes food and the energy levels in the body. For instance, vitamin Bs help to enhance the production of energy and repairing of cells. It’s for this reason that there regarded as vitamins for weight loss because they help to promote healthy metabolism.

2. Maintenance Of Cell Structure and Membrane

Vitamin A and Vitamin C help to ensure that the vital cellular contents don’t leak out. They enhance the structure of the cells by promoting collagen synthesis. Collagen is an important material which helps to keep the cellular content where they’re supposed to be.

3. Production of the Red Blood Cells

Lack of vitamins such as B6, B9, and B12 may lead to anemia. They are essential in the production of iron which helps to manufacture red blood cells.

4. Promoting the Immune System

An important role that vitamins play in promoting the immune system. Vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E help to stimulate the production of immune mediators and antibodies. They are rich in antioxidants which help to eliminate toxins and wastes from the body.

5. Hormone Production

Hormones are responsible for various functions in the body. Vitamins D, for example, is important for the production of testosterone hormone. Research reports show that men with low amounts of vitamin D in the body also have low levels of testosterone. In addition to that, low amounts of vitamin D in women is also associated with low levels of estrogen. Furthermore, it also disrupts the menstrual cycle. The easiest and the best way of getting vitamin D is by simply spending about 15 minutes in the sun daily.

6. Nervous System Health

The nervous system has neurotransmitters and nerves which work alongside each other to ensure that there is effective communication between all processes and organs. Vitamin B, for instance, helps to regulate the production of brain neurotransmitters. It’s for this reason that doctors usually recommended pregnant women to take folic acid. This helps to prevent disorders such as neural or spinal problems in babies.

Final Thoughts

It’s important for you to take sufficient amounts of nutrients every day. This helps to ensure that you are healthy. Additionally, there are vitamins which promote wellness, for instance, vitamins for weight loss. Note that getting your daily vitamin requirements is an easy task. Simply ensure that you consume a balanced diet that is rich in whole foods or plant-based foods. Junk foods also have vitamins but they are usually fortified with synthetic products which are very harmful. Furthermore, if you can’t easily meet your daily vitamins requirements from foods, there are various vitamin supplements which are made using plant-based products. However, vitamin supplements should only be used as boosters and not be used as a way to avoid eating healthy.

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