Vitamins are organic compounds that are essential for your body to survive and stay healthy. They are needed in small quantities to enable smooth functioning of the body. For instance, vitamins help your body to resist infections, keep nerves healthy, help blood to clot, and to get energy from food. Vitamins are the micronutrients that promote good health and overall wellness. Human body does not produce vitamins in enough quantity, or it does not produce at all. So, the food we intake is the main source of this essential nutrient.
Types of vitamins
Currently there are 13 recognized vitamins – vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, B6, B12, and folate). Each of these vitamins play different roles in the functioning of your body and are required in different quantities.
Vitamins can be broadly classified into – fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins.
Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble. They are absorbed by your body in the intestinal tract using fats, or lipids; and stored in the liver and the fatty tissues as reserves.
Vitamin C and all the B vitamins are water soluble. They cannot be stored, so the body needs to replace them very often.
Here is a lowdown on the different types of vitamins, their role in your body and their natural food sources.
Vitamin A (Retinol)
Vitamin A is chemically known as retinol. This important fat-soluble vitamin helps to prevents certain medical conditions. For example, it’s vital for eye health as any deficiency in vitamin A may result in night blindness, and keratomalacia that results in a dry cornea.
Food sources: liver, cod liver oil, egg, carrots, kale, spinach, pumpkin, broccoli, sweet potato, collard greens, apricot and milk.
Vitamin B (Thiamine)
Chemically known as thiamine; vitamin B is water soluble. Deficiency of vitamin B may cause beriberi and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
Food sources: Pork, liver, yeast, eggs, cereal grains, whole-grain rye, cauliflower, potatoes, oranges, sunflower seeds, brown rice, asparagus and kale.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Vitamin B2 needs to be taken very often as it’s water soluble. Low amounts of this vitamin in your body may result in ariboflavinosis.
Food sources: meat, eggs, fish, bananas, okra, cottage cheese, milk, yogurt, green beans and asparagus.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Vitamin B3 must be replenished regularly as it’s water soluble. Any deficiency of this essential nutrient may cause pellagra.
Food sources: beef, liver, heart, kidney, chicken, fish, milk, eggs, mushrooms, leafy vegetables, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, avocados, tomatoes, nuts and legumes.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)
Another water-soluble B vitamin. Deficiency of vitamin B5 may cause paresthesia, also known as “pins and needles.”
Food sources: meats, un-milled whole-grains, broccoli and avocados.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
A water-soluble vitamin. Deficiency of Vitamin B6 may result into anemia or peripheral neuropathy, a health condition where parts of the nervous system (other than brain & spinal cord) are damaged.
Food sources: meats, bananas, vegetables, nuts and whole grains.
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
Vitamin B7 is an important water-soluble nutrient needed by the body. Low amounts of this vitamin may cause dermatitis or enteritis, that is inflammation of the small intestine.
Food sources: liver, egg yolk and a few vegetables.
Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)
Vitamin B9 plays an important role in human life, especially women. It is water soluble and must be replenished very often. Folic acid deficiency during pregnancy have been linked to birth defects. Low amounts of this nutrient in body causes anemia.
Food sources: liver, green leafy vegetables and sunflower seeds.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Vitamin B12 is vital to human life as it helps in the formation of red blood cells. It is water soluble and must be replenished very often. Low amounts of vitamin B12 may result in megaloblastic anemia, a health condition where unusually large, abnormal, immature red blood cells are formed by the bone marrow.
Food sources: meat, poultry, eggs, fish, milk and other dairy products.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)
Vitamin C is a vital micronutrient. Deficiency of this water-soluble vitamin may cause megaloblastic anemia.
Food sources: fruits and vegetables. Cooking of fruits or vegetables destroys vitamin C in it.
Vitamin D (Ergocalciferol, cholecalciferol)
Vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium and phosphorus. This vital micronutrient is fat soluble. Deficiency of this nutrition may cause rickets and osteomalacia, a condition characterized by softening of the bones. Human body produces Vitamin D when skin is exposed to the sunlight.
Food sources: beef liver, fatty fish, eggs and mushrooms.
Vitamin E (Tocopherols)
Vitamin E is an important nutrient essential for good health and wellness. This powerful antioxidant helps to repair damaged cells. It is fat soluble. Low amounts of vitamin E in new-borns may cause hemolytic anemia, a health condition characterized by abnormal breakdown of red blood cells.
Food sources: eggs, nuts, almonds, avocado, leafy green vegetables and wheat germ.,
Vitamin K (Phylloquinone, menaquinones)
Vitamin K plays a vital role in blood clotting and prevents excessive bleeding. This fat-soluble micronutrient is essential for life functions. Low levels of vitamin K may result in a health condition called bleeding diathesis, characterized by susceptibility to bleeding.
Food sources: parsley, green leafy vegetables and avocado.
Human body needs vitamins in small amounts. But any deficiency or low levels of these micronutrient can alter your health condition and overall wellness. The best way to get adequate amount of these vital nutrients is through a balanced diet comprising of plenty of fruits and vegetables. However, sometimes it becomes necessary to take vitamin supplements to eliminate deficiencies.
Pregnant women and older adults need more vitamins and other nutrients to sustain good health. In such cases, vitamin & other supplements help them to stay healthy and fit.
Calcium is vital for bone health of women after menopause. It’s also important for men to prevent bone loss in their senior years. Combining calcium with vitamin D supplement will enhance its absorption.
Vitamin B12 plays an important role in keeping the nerves and blood cells of your body healthy. Taking supplements of this micronutrient will prevent anemia and memory loss. All older adults develop a health condition called atrophic gastritis that prevents absorption of vitamin B12 from food and supplements, so it’s advisable to take sublingual B12.
Before adding supplements to the diet, it is a good practice to consult your doctor about its possible effects on your health. Too much of some vitamins – like vitamin A, vitamin D, and iron – can be toxic to your body. Precaution should be taken that you do not exceed the stated maximum dose of a supplement, as it may lead to health conditions. Some vitamin supplements may interfere with medication, so it’s important to keep your doctor informed.