Our bodies work like a complex machine; and like all machines, they have to be maintained. We need a consistent supply of nutrients working together for growth and good health. Not all needed nutrients, though, are produced by our body on its own. And that’s when our bodies need our help. We see all sorts of supplements and vitamin-fortified processed foods, but do we really know what they do and how much of these we really need? Before you devour that bowl of vitamin fortified cereal, read further’ because you’re probably having too much of a specific vitamin and lacking with others.
Vitamins are chemical compounds that the body needs to function properly. Some of them can be produced by the body and some can be derived from external sources.
Let’s have a look at the vitamins our bodies use, their benefits and their most common sources:
Vitamin A-more commonly known as the eye vitamin(Retinol , but also consists of the alpha–, beta– and gamma– carotene or carotenoids). Vitamin A, when converted into its active visual form, helps our eyes distinguish light from dark which improves our ability to see in the dark and distinguish color. Vitamin A is also believed to battle age-related ocular diseases such as glaucoma,cataracts and macular degeneration. It also helps in strengthening our teeth because it is also a component of Dentin (a calcerous material harder and denser than bones and is the main component of our teeth).
As Vitamin A is also an antioxidant, it helps in fighting free radicals, which,when oxidized,may cause health problems such as cancer,obstructive pulmonary diseases,skin dryness, acne and skin wrinkling. Studies have also shown that Vitamin A helps in reproduction because of its role in testis and embryonic development.
The human body does not produce Vitamin A but it can derive this vitamin from converting carotenoids from plant foods such as carrots,spinach,pumpkin and squash. Vegetables, notably the dark,green ones, and fruits are also sources of beta-carotene.
Deficiency of this vitamin could lead to night blindness, Xeropthalmia(inability of the eye to produce tears) and complete blindness.
Vitamin B Complex-consists of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, and B12. All components of this group are made up of unique structures and have unique functions for the development, growth and regulation of the human body.
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) converts carbohydrates into energy and aids the nervous system in functioning properly. Food rich in Thiamine are liver, heart,kidney meat, nuts, legumes,green vegetables,wheat germs,brown rice and berries. Recommended daily intake is 1/4 mg for an adult. Deficiency of this vitamin can lead to fatigue,irritability,stress,anxiety,loss of appetite,sensation of pins and needles and numbness of legs. Extreme deficiency can lead to Beriberi, a condition with which the body is unable to take up and use Thiamine. There is no known toxic when taken in high dosage.
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) also helps in synthesizing carbohydrates to energy and helps in the metabolization of fats and respiratory proteins. It is also important in the maintenance of the skin,nails,eyes,tongue,lips and liver. Lack of this vitamin causes a condition called Ariboflavinosis with symptoms of sore throat,cracking of the lips and corners of the mouth,tongue discoloration,scaly skin and a decrease in red blood cells. Vitamin B2 is abundant in meat,liver, mushrooms,milk,cheese,eggs,yogurt,whole-grain products,peas and dark green vegetables. Suggested intake for an adult for a day is 1.6 mcg and consumption more than 200 mg may lead to urine color alteration.
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin)also known as nicotonic acid and vitamin PP, helps release energy from nutrients to the cells and promotes normal mental functions. Niacin can be found in protein-rich foods such as meat,peas, peanuts,sunflower seeds,cold-water fishes, beans, brewer’s yeast,eggs and milk. The recommended daily intake is 18 mg for an adult. Severe deficiency can lead to Pellagra, commonly described with the 4ds: diarrhea,dermatitis,dementia and death. Other symptoms are insomnia,weakness,skin lesions,loss of appetite,and high sensitivity to light. When untreated,the disease can kill a patient within four to five years after its diagnosis. Too much niacin in the body,though,may result to itching,skin eruptions,headaches,cramps,nausea,gastric irritation and liver damage.
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) is a component in the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and amino acids. Suggested minimum intake is 6 mg. Lack of this vitamin causes paresthesia,characterized by tingling, numbness and pricking sensation felt by the skin. This condition has no long-term effect, but this symptom may also be a manifestation of another disease. Legumes and whole-grain wheat are rich in Vitamin B5. Consumption of up to 1200 mg in a day may cause nausea and heartburn.
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) Aside from its role in the conversion of carbohydrates,fats and protein,pyridoxine also helps in the production of red blood cells. It is also required in a women’s body when hormonal changes happen. Mood swings, depression, and loss of sexual drive may happen in women when there is not enough supply of this vitamin. Lack of it may also manifest in dermatitis,acne and allergies. Vitamin B6 is found in many sources. Liver,meat,butter,brown rice,fish,whole grain and wheat germs have abundant quantities of this vitamin. The recommended daily dose is 2 mg.
- Vitamin B7 (Biotin or Vitamin H)- aside from the function of the B vitamins family of aiding in the conversion of carbohydrates,fats and protein, Biotin is also credited in strengthening the hair and nails, and is often found in cosmetic products for hair and skin. In pregnant women,it is critical for embryonic growth. It is rare to be deficient in this vitamin. Biotin is found in brewer’s yeast, sardines,butter, cooked eggs (specially the yolk),different types of nuts(almonds,walnuts,pecans),whole grains,cauliflowers, bananas and mushroom. The suggested daily intake is 30 mcg.
- Vitamin B9 or Folic Acid,also helps in the breakdown of carbohydrates,fats and proteins but is more known to aid pregnant women in the development of neural tubes which eventually become the baby’s brain and spinal cord. The recommended daily dosage of folic acid is 400 mcg but should be increased up to 600 mcg once pregnant. Folic acid is abundant in green vegetables such as asparagus,broccoli,Romaine lettuce; lentils,peanuts and organ meats. Try to consume these sources fresh or uncooked as the amount of folic acid decreases once food is stored or cooked. Deficiency of this vitamin rarely happens.
- Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) maintains healthy nerve cells and works with Folic Acid for production of red blood cells and S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) for stronger immune system. It is also responsible in the production of the body’s genetic materials, the DNA and RNA. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal sources like fish,shellfish,organ meats and dairy products. Vegetarians may get their dose of Vitamin B12 by taking supplements. Lack of this vitamin can result to fatigue,diarrhea,nervousness,numbness, tingling sensation in the toes and fingers. Severe deficiency can result to nerve damage. The suggested daily intake is 6mcg and exceeding 3000mcg may result to eye conditions.
Vitamin C or Ascorbic Acid is best known for battling colds,although experts say that there’s little proof that Vitamin C is the main cure for it. It helps, though, in preventing serious complications of colds such as flu, pneumonia and lung infection as it helps in fortifying our bodies’ immune system. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant and helps produce collagen for skin’s elasticity which prevents wrinkling and sagging thus giving the skin a youthful appearance. Studies have also shown that it also prevents heart diseases, cardiovascular diseases and stroke.
You may find ample supply of Vitamin C in citrus fruits but can also be found in vegetables such as broccolis,cabbage, potatoes, Brussels sprouts and bell peppers.
Severe deficiency of this vitamin may result to Scurvy with symptoms such as bleeding gums, inability to heal wounds, anemia,skin hemorrhage and gum diseases. Recommended daily consumption is: 75 mg (women) and 90 mg (men), lesser for infants and children and when taken in excess (more than 2000mg as established by USDA) can result to diarrhea,cramps, fatigue, headaches and nausea.
Vitamin D ,known as the Sunshine Vitamin as fifteen minutes of sun exposure can give you ample supply, helps in the development of teeth and bones. It also reduces muscle tension by lessening muscle spasms and strengthens the cardiovascular system by providing protective lining for the blood vessels. The recommended daily intake for adults is 15 mcg (lesser for children-5mcg but more for ages 71 and up-20 mcg) and aside from sun exposure, can also be derived from food sources such as fatty food species such as sardines, mackerel, tuna, catfish and salmon; fish liver oils, egg and beef liver.
Deficit of this vitamin causes Rickets (impeded growth and deformity of the long bones) for children and Osteomalacia (bone thinning and fragility and proximal muscle weakness).
Vitamin E is the main skin vitamin. It is a powerful antioxidant and lessens free radicals (which causes skin aging and wrinkling) from forming. It reduces the appearance of fine lines and stretch marks and contributes to the skins’ moisture and smoothness. Vitamin E is best absorbed by the skin when applied directly but can also be taken orally as it also enhances antibody formation which strengthens the body’s immune system and neurological functions. The suggested daily intake is 10 mg for adults.
Deficiency can lead to muscle instability and damage to the nerves such as weak or absent reflexes; limb ataxia or gross lack of coordination, and nystagmus or involuntary eye movement which later could result to reduced or limited vision.
Vitamin E overdose can result to fatigue, nausea,headache,flatulence or abdominal pain. Watch out for these symptoms if you’re taking Vitamin E supplements as you are probably getting enough supply for your food.
Vitamin E is generally available in plant sources such as nuts(peanuts,hazel nuts, pine nuts, brazil nuts, almonds), vegetables(pumpkin,broccoli,asparagus,spinach,turnip greens, beet, collards, dandelion greens),and fruits(mangoes,papayas, avocados, kiwifruit).
Vitamin K converts proteins into gamma-carboxyglutamic acid which helps in blood clotting and ensure that calcium is passed on to your bones and doesn’t get into your arteries. Deficit of this vitamin is manifested through bruising easily,frequent nose-bleeding,gum bleeding, and blood in the stool and urine.
The recommended daily dosage for Vitamin K is 80 mg and can be acquired from food sources such as green leafy vegetables,milk,dairy products,meat, eggs cereal.
Are they water-soluble or fat-soluble? This is one important information that you need to know.Water-soluble vitamins, the B Vitamins and Vitamin C, are flushed out by the body so chances of overdosing on them is almost impossible. Excess of Vitamins A, D, E and K, the fat-soluble ones gets stored in your fat cells and liver. These may pose a potential threat as they build up over time.
When it comes to vitamins, more isn’t necessarily better. It would be helpful to learn how much you really need and where to get them. Healthy eating is still the best way to go but should your physician advised intake of supplements, always read the label and strictly follow instructions.