Vitamins are small amounts of nutrients that are necessary for metabolism and good health. Only three vitamins, D, K and Biotin (part of the B complex) are manufactured in the body; most vitamins must be provided by the diet or supplements.
Vitamin A (retinol, beta-carotene) is essential for growth, bone development, night vision, reproduction, and healthy skin. Taking more than the recommended dose of this vitamin may be unsafe.
The B vitamins (B Complex) have a wide and varied range of functions in the human body. Most B vitamins are involved in the process of converting blood sugar into energy. Diets rich in B vitamins are particularly important for pregnant and breast-feeding women and for other people who require more energy, such as athletes and heavy-labor workers. (I recommend B Complex vitamins to almost everyone). Alcohol interferes with these vitamins, and some of the physical and mental problems that alcoholics experience may be attributed to a deficiency of B vitamins. Elderly people are also at risk for deficiencies, because of inadequate diets and potential interference with B-vitamin absorption by medications. When taking B vitamins (B-Complex), vitamin C helps in their absorption.
Thiamin (B1): is essential for converting blood sugar into energy, and is involved in metabolic activities in nerves, heart, and muscles, also in the production of red blood cells.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Like thiamin, riboflavin is important in the production of energy. Deficiencies affect the skin and mucous membranes and can cause cracks on the lips or corners of the mouth, eczema of the face and genitals, a burning sensation on the tongue, or eye irritation.
Niacin (B3): Also known as nicotinic acid, helps break down blood sugar for energy and acts as a vasodilator, widening blood vessels and increasing blood flow. This vitamin may be prescribed for improving cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Even mildly high doses of niacin can cause hot flushing of the face and shoulders, headache, itchiness, and stomach problems. These effects are usually not of consequence and will disappear as the body gets used to the vitamin. It is important if you are taking niacin, even though you can buy it without prescription, to have regular check-ups especially liver function tests, as almost any drug that lowers cholesterol has the potential to harm the liver.
Vitamin B6 or Pyridoxine: Has an effect on over 60 proteins in the body, those that play a role in the nervous system, in red and white blood cell production, and in heart disease. Deficiency is associated with increased levels of the chemical homocysteine, which is turn has been associated with heart disease, birth defects, and possibly Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables and supplemental folic acid may reduce homocysteine levels.
Vitamin B12, (cobalamin): Is essential in the production of blood cells, manufacturing genetic material and for healthy functioning of the nervous system. Deficiencies are rare in young people, although the elderly may have trouble absorbing natural vitamin B12 and require synthetic forms from supplements and fortified foods. Symptoms of mild B12 deficiency include memory loss, instability, disorientation, decreased reflexes, and possibly hearing loss. Deficiencies also elevate homocysteine.
Folic Acid: IS a B vitamin compound, is important for many metabolic processes in the body, and is added to commercial grain products. Many experts now recommend that adults have 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily to help prevent problems such as heart disease and neural birth defects. Women who are planning to be pregnant should take 400 mcg (or more) of folic acid before conception as well as when they are pregnant or breast- feeding.
Vitamin C: Acts as an antioxidant. It is essential in the production of collagen, the substance that forms the body’s connective tissues (bones, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments), and it may help to boost the immune system. Surprisingly, a recent study suggested that many healthy middle-class Americans were deficient in vitamin C.
Vitamin D: Is essential for maintaining healthy bone structure because of its role in the absorption and metabolism of calcium. It is manufactured in the body from a chemical reaction to the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight and is found in a few food sources, including vitamin D fortified milk, fatty fish, egg yolk, and liver. Some experts believe that many people now may require supplements to achieve the recommended levels, and when taking calcium, it is recommended to take this vitamin with it. Since supplemental calcium has been found to maybe cause heart problems in some people, it’s even more important to take some vitamin D. Dietary calcium is the way to go, which, by the way does not affect the heart. Low fat dairy products and green leafy vegetables are a good source. Research in mice is currently ongoing for a possible link between Vitamin D and lower risk of colon tumors.
Vitamin E: Is a fat-soluble antioxidant vitamin that helps prevent cell membrane damage, and by inhibiting the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and heart attacks. Recent studies, however, have disputed this.
Vitamin K: Is primarily important in blood clotting and prevention of bleeding. The vitamin also contributes to maintaining healthy bones and healing fractures.
Although they’ve been recognized for a long time, vitamins have come to the forefront recently, partly because of their anti-oxidant content. Studies are ongoing and new facts concerning vitamins are continually surfacing.