The What & Why of Vitamins
Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Vitamins are organic compounds that are necessary to sustain life. They are considered organic because they contain carbon molecules. Most vitamins are considered essential as well. This is because the body cannot produce them, and they must be ingested.
There are 13 vitamins, each with different roles and requirements. Over the course of this post we will go over the key points of each vitamin and why this information may be important to you. We have determined that there are 13 individual vitamins, but there are 2 major types; Fat-Soluble and Water-Soluble Vitamins.
Fat Soluble Vitamins
Fat-soluble vitamins are more easily stored in the body than water-soluble. Because they are fat-soluble they also do not dissolve in water. This gives some advantages as well as disadvantages. Because they are more easily stored they can remain in the system for longer durations, but this also means there is a greater likelihood of toxicity. Because they do not dissolve in water fat sources in the diet help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
The four major Fat-Soluble Vitamins are A, D, E, and K.
Vitamin A is most known for its support of vision and the immune system. Although it is called a vitamin, it is actually a collection of compounds called retinoids. This is important because some can be readily used and others need to be converted in order to be used.
Deficiency in this vitamin could cause night blindness or a total loss of sight if worsened. Deficiency is most common in individuals who follow plant-based diets and those who suffer from cystic fibrosis.
Vitamin A can be found in both plant and animal sources. However, the animal sources are often pre-formed and ready to use. Those found from plant sources require conversion before use.
Liver, Fish liver oils, carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, pumpkin, broccoli, spinach, eggs, and milk.
Vitamin D is a very unique vitamin because it can be produced through the skin if exposed to ultraviolet light. There are also two types that occur naturally D-2 and D-3. Vitamin D plays a major role in both the support of the immune system and the maintenance of bone health.
Deficiency of Vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis (loss of bone mass), osteomalacia (softening of bone), and increased risk of infections. Deficiency is most common in individuals who do not spend much time outdoors, people with darker skin, and obese individuals.
Vitamin D can be produces from exposure to sunlight but it is often ingested as well. Vitamin D-3 is most commonly found in animal fat sources where as vitamin D-2 is most commonly found in mushrooms.
Fish Oils, Beef Liver, Eggs, Mushrooms, and Fortified dairy products.
Vitamin E is most known as a powerful antioxidant. It has been linked to decreased risk of heart disease, improved vision, and can help to reduce inflammation. Interestingly, there are 8 total forms but only 1 form meets the needs of the human body.
Deficiency in Vitamin E can result in nerve and muscle damage, loss of coordination, worsened vision, and a weakened immune system. Deficiency is very rare but could affect individuals with Crohn’s Disease as it affects the liver’s ability to absorb vitamin E efficiently.
Sunflower Seeds, Almonds, Peanuts, Spinach, Broccoli, Kiwi, Mango, and various cooking oils.
Vitamin K is essential for the body to form blood clots. It can also reduce the buildup of calcium in the blood and increase overall bone health.
The human body is not able to store Vitamin K as easily as other fat-soluble vitamins. Because of this, individuals need to intake vitamin K more frequently. Deficiency in vitamin K is rare but could result in excessive bleeding or decreased bone density in the long run.
Kale, Spinach, Butter, Liver, Egg Yolks, and Parsley.
Water-Soluble Vitamins are not able to be stored in the body. Because of this they need to be ingested more frequently than their fat-soluble counterparts. There are 9 total water-soluble vitamins, 8 B vitamins and Vitamin C.
Also known as Thiamine, Vitamin B is required for many metabolic processes.
Deficiency in Vitamin B is extremely rare but can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome which has many side-effects such as; numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, memory loss, and decreased cognitive ability.
Whole grains, Pork, Black Beans, Nuts, Mussels, Cereal
Also known as Riboflavin, Vitamin B-2 is needed for the production of energy. Along with this it helps the body break down fats and drugs in the blood stream.
Deficiency in riboflavin is rare, but usually found in individuals who have endocrine or thyroid disorders. Individuals who are deficient usually have signs of skin disorders, hair loss, and sores in the mouth, lips, and throat. A severe deficiency could lead to anemia or cataracts as well.
Almonds, Oatmeal, Milk, Mushrooms, and fortified breakfast cereals.
Also known as Niacin, Vitamin B-3 is converted into Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NAD) in the body. NAD is involved in 400+ enzyme reactions with some of the most important being, expression of DNA in cells, converting energy from macronutrients into a useable form, and communication between cells.
Niacin deficiency is fairly rare but if untreated it can lead to pellagra. Pellagra has many side-effects such as headaches, digestive issues, fatigue, memory loss, and depression. Deficiency is also most found in individuals who are malnourished, anorexic, alcoholic, or suffer from AIDs.
Meat is often rich in NAD which is easily used by the body. Niacin can also be found in nuts and grains but this form is harder for the body to convert and ultimately use. Many cereals have been fortified with niacin in a form that is easier to use.
Also known as Pantothenic Acid, vitamin B-5 is used in the body to create new coenzymes and fats. On top of this it is also important for many metabolic processes and energy related processes.
Deficiency in vitamin B-5 can lead to headaches, restlessness, and numbness or tingling in the hands and feet. It is extremely rare to be deficient in B-5 and only really occurs in individuals who are severely malnourished.
Avocado, Tuna, Chicken, Mushrooms, Sunflower Seeds, and fortified breakfast cereals.
Vitamin B-6 is extremely important for the metabolism of amino acids, the development of the brain, and proper immune function.
Deficiency in vitamin B-6 is very rare but is characterized by a weakened immune system, depression, and mild anemia. This is usually found in individuals who suffer from kidney diseases or transplants and those with Crohn’s or celiac diseases.
Tuna, Chickpeas, Potatoes, Poultry, and fortified cereals
Also known as Biotin, vitamin B-7 is needed for the breakdown of macronutrients, regulation of DNA, communication between cells, and is believed to help with the growth of hair, skin, and nails.
Deficiency in Biotin can lead to the thinning of hair, depression, brittle nails, and various skin rashes. Deficiency is rare but is most commonly found in individuals who suffer from alcoholism of those who are pregnant or lactating.
Eggs, Salmon, Sunflower Seeds, Pork, and Beef.
Also known as Folate, vitamin B-9 is essential for the replication of DNA, Metabolism of other vitamins as well as amino acids, and helps with the division of cells. Folic Acid is a synthetic form of vitamin B-9 that is often used to fortify some foods and supplements. Folate is also extremely important for pregnant women. The CDC recommends all women wishing to conceive take 400mcg daily. This has been linked to a much lower risk of birth defects that affect the brain and spinal cord.
Deficiency in Folate is often characterized by headaches, body weakness, and heart palpitations. Because Folic acid is often added to foods deficiency is rare and only really seen in people with alcoholism and/or celiac disease.
Orange Juice, Avocado, Leafy Vegetables, Beans, Nuts, and Eggs.
Vitamin B-12 is used in the synthesis of DNA, creation of new red blood cells, metabolism of fats and proteins, and important for optimal brain function.
Deficiency in B-12 can lead to a condition called megaloblastic anemia. The symptoms are fatigue, weight loss, constipation, depression, and memory problems. The most at-risk individuals are those with Crohn’s or celiac diseases and those who have had a gastric bypass surgery.
Salmon, Milk, Yogurt, Clams, fortified breakfast cereals, nutritional yeast.
Vitamin C is an extremely important vitamin. It is paramount in the growth, development, and repair of all body tissues. It is also directly related to the formation of collagen, healing of wounds, and proper functioning of the immune system.
Just Like Vitamin B-12 a deficiency in Vitamin C can lead to megaloblastic anemia but it can also lead to Scurvy. Vitamin C deficiency is extremely rare as it is present in most foods.
Most Vegetables and Fruits.