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The ABCs of Vitamins – A Comprehensive Vitamin Guide

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Vitamins are organic compounds that are essential for normal metabolic functions. These functions include using proteins to repair injured tissue and converting fats and carbohydrates into energy. They do not supply the body with either energy or calories directly. Because vitamins (with the exception of Vitamin D) can not be synthesized by our body, they must be consumed through diet to prevent vitamin deficiency disorders. There are a total of 13 vitamins, which are divided into two categories: fat-soluble and water-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins, which include Vitamin C and B-complex group, can not be stored in the body. They constantly need to be replenished since they are quickly eliminated through urine. Fat-soluble, on the other hand, can be stored temporarily in the liver and fatty tissues.

History of Vitamins

Long before discovery of vitamins, many cultures were aware that certain foods had great health benefits on our body. During the times of the ancient Egyptians, they would feed their patients liver to cure night blindness. Recent evidence illustrates that night blindness is caused by Vitamin A deficiency.

From the 18th century, many doctors and scientists made profound discoveries on the nature and benefit of vitamins.

  • In 1747, Scottish naval surgeon Dr. James Lind discovered that a nutrient (now known as Vitamin C) found in citrus foods, helped prevent scurvy
  • In 1905, Dr. William Fletcher discovered that if you removed certain nutrients (now known as vitamins) from food, disease would occur. He made this observation while researching the causes of beriberi in Southeast Asia. Dr. Fletcher concluded that the husk of unpolished rice, contained “special factors” that prevented beriberi
  • In 1912, Polish scientist Casimir Funk, named the nutritional parts of our food, a “vitamine”, “vita” meaning life, ” amine ” a molecule found in thiamine He later concluded that if we were deficient in certain vitamins, associated diseases could occur.

Functions

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps us see in the dark. It is known as retinol because it produces pigments found in the retina of the eye. Vitamin A helps promote the health and growth of all cells and tissues found in our body. It assists in the formation and maintenance of healthy teeth, skin, tissues, and mucous membranes.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is found in certain foods and can be produced by our body after exposure to UV rays from sunlight. This vitamin aids in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus and helps deposit these minerals in teeth and bones. By promoting calcium absorption, vitamin D helps to form and maintain strong bones. Studies suggest that vitamin D also helps maintain a healthy immune system and helps regulate cell growth and differentiation.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin and powerful antioxidant that protects cellular tissues from the damaging effects of free-radicals. Free radicals are potentially harmful by-products of energy metabolism, which could contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Research has shown that Vitamin E may help prevent specific cancers such as colon, breast, and prostate. In addition, recent studies have demonstrated that Vitamin E boosts the immune system, improves brain function, and helps in the formation of red blood cells. It has been observed that Vitamin E helps reduce the risk of developing various vision disorders, such as cataracts or macular degeneration.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that is commonly known as the “clotting” vitamin. This vitamin’s primary responsibility is to regulate normal blood clotting (through the formation of prothrombin). Blood clotting occurs instantaneously when there is an injury or tear to any blood vessel. It regulates this process from helping the body transport calcium. Vitamin K participates in the synthesis of several proteins that are necessary for the functions such as coagulation and anticoagulation. Vitamin K, by preventing the hardening of arteries, can reduce occurrence of heart disease and heart failure.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that affects the body in many different ways. It is required for the synthesis of collagen, an important protein used to create blood vessels, scar tissue, skin, tendons, and ligaments. Vitamin C is necessary for the repair and maintenance of these parts and helps heal wounds. Vitamin C is actively involved in the formation of norepiephrine, a neurotransmitter that is critical in brain function. Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, in small amounts in can combat the damage created by free radicals, which are negative by-products of metabolic activity. The accumulation of these free radicals has been associated to the aging process. Studies over time have shown that free radicals contribute to the development of ailments such as heart disease, macular degeneration, and cancer.

Thiamin

Thiamin, a water-soluble B-complex vitamin, and helps the body to create energy by breaking down carbohydrates and fats. Thiamine, also known as Vitamin B1 is essential for the normal growth and development, it helps to main proper functioning of the heart, nervous, and digestive systems. Vitamin B1 helps maintain proper functioning digestive, nervous, cardiovascular systems. It can be stored in muscle tissue temporarily; depletion can occur as quickly as within 14 days.

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) is a water soluble vitamin that helps the body produce energy through the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. It also helps convert tryptophan (an essential amino acid) into niacin (another B vitamin) and activates vitamin B6. Riboflavin also aids the body’s antioxidant system to protect against free-radical damage. It is vital for the body’s various systems such as nervous, reproductive, and immune system.

Niacin

Niacin is a water-soluble, B-complex vitamin that plays an important role in energy metabolism, by converting carbohydrates and fats. It also helps the body to remove harmful toxins, to produce steroid hormones, and to repair DNA. Vitamin B3 plays an important role in our digestive tract by maintaining smooth muscle tone. Studies have shown that niacin is effective at reducing cholesterol-levels and improving cardiovascular circulation.

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid) is a water-soluble B-complex vitamin. It, like other members of the B-complex family, helps metabolize fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to produce and release energy. It is common known as the “anti-stress vitamin”, by supporting the adrenal gland in the release a stress hormone, cortisol. Pantothenic acid, helps the adrenal gland produce other important hormones, which aid the body to fight allergies and regulate metabolism. It is, also, very important in stimulating the immune system to produce more antibodies.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) is a water-soluble that helps produce proteins, which then create cell bodies. It helps convert tryptophan (an essential amino acid) into Niacin (Vitamin B3) and Serotonin, a biological neurotransmitter. Vitamin B6 helps the immune system by increasing WBC production to fight infection. The body needs Vitamin B6, to produce hemoglobin. Hemoglobin, a major component of red blood cells, bind to oxygen carrying it to all body tissues. It also increases the amount of oxygen carried by hemoglobin. Thus, vitamin B6 deficiency can result in a form of anemia. It also helps maintain blood glucose levels within normal range. When your glucose level is low, your body requires vitamin B6 to convert stored carbohydrates into glucose to maintain normal blood sugar levels. Recent studies have shown that vitamin B6 decreases homocysteine levels, which has been to heart disease.

Folate

Folate is a water-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in DNA and RNA production, which produce new cell bodies. Folate is required for DNA replication and can prevent change in DNA that may lead to cancer.. It is actively involved in rapid cell division and growth, during times of infancy and pregnancy. With the aid of vitamin B12, folate forms hemoglobin, found in red blood cells allowing effective oxygen transportation to surrounding body tissues. Folate plays a role in reducing homocysteine levels in blood.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin that is important in the production of red blood cells and healthy nerve cells. It is required in DNA and RNA replication. Vitamin B12, with the help of vitamin B6 and folate, control the body’s homocysteine levels. Excess amounts of homocysteine are associated with increased risks of heart disease and stroke. Similar to other water-soluble vitamins, vitamin B12 plays an important role in cell division and growth. It also increases our energy levels by metabolizing fats and carbohydrates. Vitamin B12 enters the body by binding to protein found in food. During digestion, hydrochloric acid releases vitamin B12 from the protein. After being released, vitamin B12 combines with a substance called instrinsic factor(IF). This complex is now capable of being absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract.

Biotin

Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin, generally classified as a B-complex vitamin. Like other B vitamins, it helps body cells to produce energy. It helps metabolize fats, proteins (amino acids) and carbohydrates in food. It is important in cell growth, the production of fatty acids, maintains a steady blood sugar levels, and strengthen hair and nails. It plays a role in the citric acid cycle, a process where biochemical energy in created during aerobic respiration. It also plays a role in the transfer of carbon dioxide found in the body. Preliminary studies show that biotin may help improve sugar control in those with diabetes, particularly Type 2 diabetes.

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