Vitamins are vital nutrients, indispensable to perform various tasks within the human body in order to promote optimal health and prevent various diseases.
How do Vitamins work?
Although required in minimal quantities these vitamins cannot be synthesised by the human body. Hence, they rely on easily available animal and plant sources for replenishment. These vitamins in conjunction with other nutrients help break down proteins, thereby stabilising metabolism, enabling growth of cells, tissues, bones and promoting a healthy immune system. Since each vitamin is vital to perform a specific task, a shortage in any one of them may lead to a host of health problems in the human body.
Different Types of Vitamin
The thirteen different kinds of vitamins required for effective functioning of the human body may be classified into two categories namely water and fat-soluble vitamins. Of them, nine vitamins such as eight B complex, comprising of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B6 (pyridoxine), folacin, B12 (cyanocobalamin), pantothenic acid, biotin and vitamin C, PABA, inositol and choline fall under the category of water soluble. The remaining four vitamins such as A, D, E and K Vitamins are all fat-soluble vitamins. Let us check all the different types of vitamins with details.
These types of vitamins require regular supply in the form of dietary sources or supplements. These are nontoxic and easily absorbed into the body through the gastrointestinal tract and then disseminated in the tissues. Any excess quantity of this vitamin consumed does not accumulate in the body and gets stored. However, with vitamin B12 and B6 as exceptions, these are flushed out during urination. Most B Vitamins act as coenzymes, playing a key role in the breaking down process of carbohydrates, fats and proteins and transforming them to energy. This regulates metabolism, besides promoting healthy digestive and immune system
Since water-soluble vitamins are easily dissolved in water, it would be advisable not to overcook them and use the left over cooking water as healthy options in soups and sauces.
Water-soluble vitamins and their functions
B complex Vitamins
Except Vitamin C, the other eight B vitamins belonging to the water-soluble group form the B complex family. All these vitamins act together and perform various processes in the body to ensure verve and vigour.
Functions of vitamin B complex
Vitamin B complex is imperative for promoting healthy nervous system. Pyridoxine (vitamin B6) Niacin (vitamin B3) are the main components strengthening the nervous system and improving cognitive health, thus preventing the risk of developing degenerative diseases such as Dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Vitamins B12, B6 and B1 are compulsory for effective functioning of the brain. Vitamin B5 is fundamental for the production of particular hormones enabling proper functioning of the adrenal glands. Vitamin B3 controls serotonin and the production of stress hormones, providing a “feel good” factor preventing symptoms of anxiety and stress. Vitamin B6, B3, B2 and B1 aid proper digestion and assist in manufacturing Hydrochloric acid, which in turn helps in the metabolic process of breaking down carbohydrates, fats and proteins thus encouraging weight loss. The other benefits include Vitamin B1 that improves appetite, Niacin B3, which keeps the tongue in shape helping in the process of digestion. VitaminB9 helps maintain healthy gastrointestinal tract and support the friendly bacteria in the digestive tract to create vitamin k, which plays an important part in the clotting of blood.
Vitamin B1 is involved in the process of breaking down food and converting to glucose while VitaminB7, Vitamin B6, B5, B3 and B2 are essential for the process of converting glucose to energy. VitaminB2 (Riboflavin) alleviates symptoms of migraine. VitaminB6 restrain the making of neurotransmitters, of which histamine has the effect of triggering migraines.
B6 vitamins promote cardiac health and prevent risk of a heart attack. VitaminB1 prevents formation of kidney stones. Vitaminb9 protect against pancreas, breast and colorectal cancers.
Food Sources of B complex Vitamins
B complex Deficiency
Skin disorders, hair fall, muscle spasm, pain in the abdomen, depression, anaemia and fatigue are some of the symptoms associated with B vitamin deficiency.
Vitamin C (Absorbic Acid)
Vitamin C or Absorbic acid, present in many fruits and vegetables is a potent antioxidant that combats infections.
Functions of Vitamin C
Vitamin C helps in the formation of collagen, vital for the development of strong bones, teeth and joints. A rich source of antioxidant, Vitamin C contains antiviral and antibacterial properties preventing infections, boosts the immune system by getting rid of unwanted toxins caused by free radicals during the oxidation process and protects the body from long-term illness and infections.
Vitamin C contains anticancer properties hence, reduces risk of cancer and prevents abnormal blood clotting. They also reduce potential risk of scurvy and cataracts.
Vitamin C improves cardiac health by maintaining healthy triglyceride, cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure levels. They enable easy absorption of iron and help convert food to energy. They are responsible for the production of anti stress hormones and facilitate appropriate adrenal function.
Food sources of Vitamin C
Berries such as cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and fruits such as pineapple, papaya, mango, kiwi, squash, blackcurrants, melon, tomatoes, Citrus fruits and leafy vegetables, red/green peppers, potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower and are a few of the foods loaded with vitamin C.
Vitamin C Deficiency
Low levels of vitamin in the body may lead to digestive disorders, periodontal disease, joint ache, bruises, fractures, slow healing of wounds, general weakness and loss of appetite.
A, D, E and K vitamins are fat-soluble due to their ability to dissipate in fat. In contrast to water-soluble vitamins, these types of vitamins do not require frequent replenishments. Fat-soluble vitamins absorb dietary fat in the small intestines with a tendency to accumulate the excess amounts in the liver and fatty tissues. As opposed to water-soluble vitamins, they are not discharged in the urine and the excess quantities consumed get stored in small amounts within the body making them toxic.
Types of Fat-soluble vitamins and their functions
Vitamin A (Retinol)
Vitamin A or retinol is a fat-soluble vitamin playing a crucial role in process of growth and development. In combination with carotenoids, they perform various important functions in the body.
Functions of Vitamin A
Due to their antioxidant properties, Vitamin A improves immune health; maintain healthy mucous membranes and battle against diseases. They help develop strong teeth, healthy bones, protect against cataracts, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, cardiac problems and age related macular degeneration. Vitamin A contains anti ageing properties that prevent formation of fine lines and wrinkles on the skin assisting in cell rejuvenation.
Food sources of Vitamin A
Dietary sources of vitamin A include milk, dairy products such as cheese, butter, yogurt, fish liver oils, eggs, chicken, liver, beef, kidney, fruits like mangoes, peaches, apricots, cantaloupe, winter squash, leafy vegetables, pumpkin, carrots and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin A Deficiency
Vision problems including night blindness, growth retardation, low resistance often leading to infectious diseases, fatigue, depression, anxiety, kidney stones, bladder problems, skin disorders, anaemia, sleeplessness, nerve damage and gum disease are some of the symptoms correlated with Vitamin A deficiency.
Vitamin D (Cholecalciferol)
Vitamin D is essential for appropriate utilisation of calcium and phosphorous in the body.
Functions of Vitamin D
Since Vitamin D is concerned with calcium metabolism, they control the absorption of phosphorous and calcium from the small intestine. Therefore is vital for the development of strong teeth and healthy bones.
Food sources of Vitamin D
Dairy products and milk are loaded with vitamin D in abundance. So also are cereals, liver, eggs, cod liver oils and oily fish such as sardines, salmon and herring.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency may lead to osteomalacia, rickets, sleeplessness, weak bones, muscles and osteoporosis.
Vitamin E (Tocopherol)
Another fat-soluble vitamin, laden with antioxidant properties Vitamin E, contains innumerable health and beauty benefits.
Functions of Vitamin E
Vitamin E supports cardiac health by maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. They protect the body of free radicals and prevent infections thereby enhancing the body’s immune system. Apart from this, they also reduce the risk of cancers of the prostrate and the breast.
Vitamin E when applied locally on the skin removes stretch marks, scars and relieves burns. Combined with Vitamin A and C they delay the process of ageing preventing formation of fine lines and wrinkles, keeping the skin soft, supple and smooth.
Sources of Vitamin E
Richly endowed with vitamin E are hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, Green leafy vegetables, liver, fortified cereals, mangoes, avocados, corn, broccoli, spinach, Sweet potatoes, asparagus, yams, soya, wheat germ oil, wheat germ, eggs, margarine, Butter, and oils like olive, safflower, peanut, sunflower and sesame.
Vitamin E deficiency
Vitamin E deficiency is not so common, as the body has the ability to store this fat-soluble vitamin. However, there are few symptoms suggestive of vitamin E deficiency, such as anaemia, problems of reproductive system, renal deterioration, cardiac problems and skin disorders.
Vitamin K (Phytonadione)
Vitamin K or phytonadione popularly known as known as the vitamin for “blood clotting” is required for the incidence of prothrombin of blood that helps prevent excessive bleeding from a wound or cut.
Functions of Vitamin K
Vitamin K keeps coronary artery diseases at bay, prevents formation of kidney stones, regulate calcium levels in the body that is responsible for building strong healthy bones and teeth. They help in elevation of bone mass thus preventing osteoporosis.
Food sources of Vitamin K.
Leafy green vegetables, soybeans, dairy products, meats, legumes and vegetables are some of the sources of Vitamin K.
Vitamin K deficiency
Vitamin K deficiency is generally identified in people with improper digestive health. People deficient in vitamin K are easily prone to injury and bruises, which becomes rather critical, due to the body’s inability to clot blood.
Hence, all types of vitamins are imperative for overall health. Therefore, in order to develop a healthy body and mind, consuming a healthy well balanced diet enriched with all the benefits of these vitamins is highly recommended. However, under certain conditions supplements may be required to be taken along with a healthy diet. In such cases, it would be wise to consult a medical practitioner, to avoid excessive doses often leading to a plethora of problems.