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Vitamins: List of Types and Health Benefits

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  • Synopsis: Last Updated: 2017-01-09 - Information on the 13 vitamins that are essential to the normal functioning of the human body

Definition: Vitamins

A vitamin is defined as an organic compound and a vital nutrient that an organism requires in limited amounts. An organic chemical compound (or related set of compounds) is called a vitamin when the organism cannot synthesize the compound in sufficient quantities, and must be obtained through the diet; thus, the term "vitamin" is conditional upon the circumstances and the particular organism. For example, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is a vitamin for humans, but not for most other animal organisms. Supplementation is important for the treatment of certain health problems, but there is little evidence of nutritional benefit when used by otherwise healthy people.

Main Document

A vitamin is an organic compound required as a nutrient in tiny amounts by an organism. A compound is called a vitamin when it cannot be synthesized in sufficient quantities by an organism, and must be obtained from the diet. Thus, the term is conditional both on the circumstances and the particular organism. For example, ascorbic acid functions as vitamin C for some animals but not others, and vitamins D and K are required in the human diet only in certain circumstances.

All natural vitamins are organic food substances found only in living things, that is, plants and animals. With few exceptions, the body cannot manufacture or synthesize vitamins. They must be supplied by the diet or in dietary supplements. Vitamins are essential to the normal functioning of our bodies. They are necessary for growth, vitality, health, general well being, and for the prevention and cure of many health problems and diseases.

Vitamins are classified by their biological and chemical activity, not their structure.

Thus, each "vitamin" may refer to several vitamer compounds that all show the biological activity associated with a particular vitamin. Such a set of chemicals are grouped under an alphabetized vitamin "generic descriptor" title, such as "vitamin A," which includes the compounds retinal, retinol, and many carotenoids. Vitamers are often inter-converted in the body. The term vitamin does not include other essential nutrients such as dietary minerals, essential fatty acids, or essential amino acids, nor does it encompass the large number of other nutrients that promote health but are otherwise required less often.

There are 13 vitamins your body needs.

They are vitamins A, C, D, E, K and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and folate).

You can usually get all your vitamins from the foods you eat.

Your body can also make vitamins D and K. People who eat a vegetarian diet may need to take a vitamin B12 supplement.

Vitamins are classified as either water-soluble or fat soluble.

In humans there are 13 vitamins: 4 fat-soluble (A, D, E and K) and 9 water-soluble (8 B vitamins and vitamin C).

  • Water-soluble

    Water-soluble vitamins dissolve easily in water, and in general, are readily excreted from the body, to the degree that urinary output is a strong predictor of vitamin consumption. Because they are not readily stored, consistent daily intake is important. Many types of water-soluble vitamins are synthesized by bacteria.

  • Fat-soluble

    Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed through the intestinal tract with the help of lipids (fats). Because they are more likely to accumulate in the body, they are more likely to lead to hypervitaminosis than are water-soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamin regulation is of particular significance in cystic fibrosis.

Vitamin A

Important for vision, reproductive function, and normal cell reproduction. Beta-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A, helps to fight disease-causing free radicals. Vitamin A is found in milk products, organ meats, and fish oils. Beta-carotene is found in colorful vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, spinach, and sweet potatoes.

Vitamin A Sources:

  • Egg yolk
  • Dark-colored fruit
  • Dark leafy vegetables
  • Liver, beef, and fish
  • Fortified milk and dairy products (cheese, yogurt, butter, and cream)

Vitamin B-1

Vitamin B-1 (Thiamin) processes carbohydrates into energy and is necessary for nerve cell function. Breads and cereals are often fortified with thiamin, though it is also found in whole grains, fish, lean meats, and dried beans.

Thiamine (vitamin B1) Sources:

  • Egg
  • Peas
  • Dried milk
  • Lean meats
  • Organ meats
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes (dried beans)
  • Enriched bread and flour

Vitamin B-2

Vitamin B-2 (Riboflavin) - Helps the production of red blood cells and is important for growth.

Vitamin B-3 (niacin) - Helps control cholesterol, processes alcohol, maintains healthy skin, and converts carbohydrates to energy.

Niacin (vitamin B3) Sources:

  • Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Potato
  • Poultry
  • Avocado
  • Legumes
  • Lean meats
  • Fish (tuna and salt-water fish)
  • Enriched breads and fortified cereals

Vitamin B-5

Vitamin B-5 (pantothenic acid) serves several bodily functions, such as converting fats to energy and synthesizing cholesterol.

Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) Sources:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Poultry
  • Avocado
  • Mushroom
  • Organ meats
  • Legumes and lentils
  • Whole-grain cereals
  • White and sweet potatoes
  • Broccoli, kale, and other vegetables in the cabbage family

Vitamin B-6

Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) is important in the production of hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, and melatonin, as well as for processing amino acids.

Pyroxidine (vitamin B6) Sources:

  • Nuts
  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Banana
  • Avocado
  • Legumes (dried beans)
  • Whole grains (milling and processing removes a lot of this vitamin)

Vitamin B-12

A crucial component of DNA replication and nerve cell regulation. It is found in milk products, poultry, meat, and shellfish.

Vitamin B12 Sources:

  • Meat
  • Eggs
  • Poultry
  • Shellfish
  • Milk and milk products
  • Fortified foods such as soymilk
  • Organ meats (liver and kidney)

Animal sources of vitamin B12 are absorbed much better by the body than plant sources

Vitamin C

Important in wound healing and acts as an antioxidant. It also helps the body absorb iron. It's found in citrus fruits, potatoes, and greens.

Vitamin C Sources:

  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Cauliflower
  • Citrus fruits
  • Strawberries
  • Tomato juice
  • Brussels sprouts

Vitamin D

Helps the body absorb calcium, which creates healthy bones and teeth. The body can synthesize Vitamin D after exposure to sunshine, but it can also be found in fortified milk products and cereals, as well as in fish.

Vitamin D Sources:

  • Fortified cereals
  • Fish liver oils (cod's liver oil)
  • Fortified milk and dairy products (cheese, yogurt, butter, and cream)
  • Fish (fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and orange roughy)

Vitamin E

Helps to combat free radicals, which can damage our cells. It's found in nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, corn, asparagus, and wheat germ.

Vitamin E Sources:

  • Avocado
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Papaya and mango
  • Wheat germ and wheat germ oil
  • Oils (safflower, corn, and sunflower)
  • Margarine (made from safflower, corn, and sunflower oil)
  • Dark green vegetables (spinach, broccoli, asparagus, turnip greens)

Vitamin K

What makes the blot clot. While our bodies produce some Vitamin K, it can also be found in vegetables like cauliflower and cabbage.

Vitamin K Sources:

  • Cabbage
  • Cereals
  • Cauliflower
  • Fish, liver, beef, eggs
  • Dark leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, collards, turnip greens)
  • Dark green vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus)

Biotin Sources:

  • Milk
  • Nuts
  • Pork
  • Yeast
  • Cereal
  • Egg yolk
  • Legumes
  • Chocolate
  • Organ meats (liver, kidney)

Folate Sources:

  • Beets
  • Lentils
  • Wheat germ
  • Peanut butter
  • Peanut butter
  • Brewer's yeast
  • Fortified cereals
  • Asparagus and broccoli
  • Oranges and orange juice
  • Dried beans (cooked pinto, navy, kidney, and lima)
  • Green, leafy vegetables (spinach and romaine lettuce)

Deficiencies of vitamins are classified as either primary or secondary.

  • A primary deficiency occurs when an organism does not get enough of the vitamin in its food.
  • A secondary deficiency may be due to an underlying disorder that prevents or limits the absorption or use of the vitamin, due to a "lifestyle factor", such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, or the use of medications that interfere with the absorption or use of the vitamin.

People who eat a varied diet are unlikely to develop a severe primary vitamin deficiency.

In contrast, restrictive diets have the potential to cause prolonged vitamin deficits, which may result in often painful and potentially deadly diseases.

Dietary supplements, often containing vitamins, are used to ensure that adequate amounts of nutrients are obtained on a daily basis, if optimal amounts of the nutrients cannot be obtained through a varied diet. Scientific evidence supporting the benefits of some dietary supplements is well established for certain health conditions, but others need further study.

The best way to get enough vitamins is to eat a balanced diet with a variety of foods. In some cases, you may need to take a daily multivitamin for optimal health. However, high doses of some vitamins can make you sick.

Quick Facts: Vitamin

  • Vitamins are substances that your body needs to grow and develop normally. There are 13 vitamins your body needs.
  • Vitamins are essential for the normal growth and development of a multicellular organism.
  • The best way to get enough vitamins is to eat a balanced diet with a variety of foods.
  • Dietary supplements often contain vitamins, but may also include other ingredients, such as minerals, herbs, and botanicals.
  • In those who are otherwise healthy, there is no evidence that supplements have any benefits with respect to cancer or heart disease.
  • In 1747, the Scottish surgeon James Lind discovered that citrus foods helped prevent scurvy.
  • The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for vitamins reflect how much of each vitamin most people should get each day.
  • Humans must consume vitamins periodically but with differing schedules, to avoid deficiency.
  • Each vitamin has specific jobs. If you have low levels of certain vitamins, you may get health problems.
  • In large doses, some vitamins have documented side-effects that tend to be more severe with a larger dosage.
  • Anti-vitamins are chemical compounds that inhibit the absorption or actions of vitamins.
  • The best way to get all the daily vitamins you need is to eat a balanced diet that contains a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, fortified dairy foods, legumes (dried beans), lentils, and whole grains.
  • Most countries place dietary supplements in a special category under the general umbrella of foods, not drugs.
  • The European Union and other countries of Europe have regulations that define limits of vitamin (and mineral) dosages for their safe use as food supplements.
  • The ancient Egyptians knew that feeding liver to a person would help cure night blindness, an illness now known to be caused by a vitamin A deficiency.
  • The reason that the set of vitamins skips directly from E to K is that the vitamins corresponding to letters F-J were either reclassified over time, discarded as false leads, or renamed because of their relationship to vitamin B, which became a complex of vitamins.


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