Comprehensive Guide to Vitamins

The word vitamins is derived from a combination of vital amines. It was soon discovered after their christening that vitamins were not amines, but the fact that they are as vital for the functioning of the human body as they have always been remains true to this date and will always remain so. This is because the human body needs small amounts of these vital substances for the facilitation and regulation of hundreds of chemical processes ranging from food digestion to energy consumption.
Unlike other enzymes and amino acids that are formed in the human body, vitamins are not naturally formed in the human body and therefore we need to take them through food or other dietary supplements. While someone taking a well balanced diet and keeping proper health may not need any vitamin supplements, people who leave out certain food groups from their diet and those suffering from specific medical conditions should definitely take vitamin supplements in order to be healthy.
Remember that vitamins all by themselves do not provide energy, but if you feel fatigued in spite of taking a balanced diet then most probably you are suffering from a vitamin deficiency that is hindering food absorption and synthesis and making you feel tired all day. Similarly, vitamins influence and help in hundreds of vital body processes throughout the day. Apart from this, their deficiencies also cause a number of serious diseases.
Let’s take a look at all the 13 vitamins, their vital functions and where you can find them. Water Soluble Vitamins: These are vitamins that are easily digested and easily rejected by the body since they are soluble in water. Because of this reason, one needs to constantly replenish these vitamins every day.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): Required by the body for metabolizing carbohydrates, vitamin B1 can be found in eggs, nuts, red meat, wheat germ, liver, yeast and whole grain cereals. While a severe deficiency can lead to beri-beri, regular deficiencies are a major cause of fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite and irritability in otherwise healthy individuals.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Aids the body’s intracellular mechanism and its deficiency causes dry flaky skin, especially at the corners of the mouth, chapped lips and tongue fissures or boils. Rich sources of vitamin B2 are fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, cereals, liver and yeast.
Vitamin B12: Essential for the production of genetic matter in cells and erythrocytes. Its deficiency leads to pernicious anemia. Rich sources are red meat, fish, liver and dairy products.
Vitamin B6: Helps in the production of antibodies, proteins and red blood cells. Major sources of vitamin B6 are whole grains, meat, fish, nuts, beans and eggs. B6 deficiency can lead to mouth sores, nausea, dizziness, fatigue and even convulsions in rare cases.
Biotin: Biotin is a part of the vitamin B complex group and is required by the human body for the synthesis of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Biotin can be had from meat, liver, yeast, egg yolks, peanuts and yeast. Hair loss, muscle weakness and pain, loss of appetite and fatigue are the main symptoms of a biotin deficiency.
Pantothenic Acid: Another B vitamin that helps in the production of hormones, red blood cells, cholesterol, fats, bile and nerve regulating chemicals. The best sources of pantothenic acid are organ meat, legumes and pulses, fish, poultry, red meat, egg yolks and green vegetables.
Niacin: An extremely important vitamin without which food cannot be converted into energy by the human body. Sources are legumes, fish, poultry, organ meat and fortified grain products and a deficiency may result in weakness, insomnia, swollen tongue, headaches, digestion problems, dementia and loss of appetite.
Folic Acid Or Folate: Required for the production of neurotransmitters and has been known to prevent cancers when taken with other nutrients and vitamins. Rich sources are fortified bread, pastas and cereals along with organ meats, legumes and citrus fruits. A deficiency may result in depression, dementia, irritability and cause fertility problems in women.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid): An essential vitamin that not only keeps the immune system in shape but is also required for maintaining healthy bones, teeth, ligaments, collagen and blood vessels. A severe deficiency causes scurvy. Rich sources of vitamin C are fresh fruits and vegetables especially citrus fruits, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes and dark green vegetables. Fat Soluble Vitamins are those that are synthesised in the intestine and stored in the fat tissues and liver. These vitamins can be stored in your body for months and an excess of fat soluble vitamins can also cause severe diseases.
Vitamin A: Required by the body for keeping skin, tissues, membranes and teeth healthy. It is extremely important for the eyes as it acts on the retina’s adaptation mechanism. It is also required for maintaining the health of the epithelium. Its deficiency leads to night blindness, keratinisation of the respiratory and nasal epithelium and it is also related to infertility in women. Vitamin A can be found in meat, liver, eggs, cheese and cream. The body can also derive vitamin A from the beta carotene found in carrots, spinach, broccoli, cantaloupe and other green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin E: Promotes growth and development of cells and tissues, protects them against damage and helps in the formation of red blood cells. A deficiency can lead to muscular dystrophy and is normally characterised by poor skin, hair and nails. The best sources of vitamin E are vegetable oils, nuts, sunflower seeds, eggs, cereals and wheat germ.
Vitamin D: Essential for maintaining healthy bones since it is required for the absorption of calcium and other minerals. Deficiency leads to rickets. While it is found in some dairy products and fish liver oil, it is best formed in the human skin on exposure to sunlight.
Vitamin K: Helps in producing a number of proteins required for blood, bones and the kidney. A deficiency can lead to osteoporosis and skin wounds and present problems in the clotting of blood and healing of wounds. Sources of Vitamin K are green leafy vegetables, eggs, some fruits and dairy products.
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