Vitamins are vitally important for our health. Each one having multiple functions. So many things within our bodies rely on them for proper development and growth. Right from the time we are conceived (a lack of any vitamin, no matter how minor, during a child’s development can result in a deficiency disease) and beyond to ensure the integrity of our tissues, organs and cells.
Without vitamins we have trouble extracting energy from the food we eat. Without vitamins we would have trouble processing carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Without vitamins we would have trouble synthesising tissues, hormones, enzymes and many other compounds required for health. The majority of vitamins we need are found in the foods we consume and a few are obtained by other means. Some vitamins can be manufactured in our bodies from precursors.
We have all seen vitamin supplements on the market shelves and in our health food stores. Most people turn to these to safeguard against a shortfall. Unfortunately, many of these supplements are made from synthetic ingredients and are not in the form nature intended for us because elements of the vitamins complex will be absent. In this form the body doesn’t recognise it and will treat it as if it was a foreign substance. We should always try our best to obtain ALL the vitamins we need from the food we consume (preferably high quality organic food). If there is still a need to take a supplement then that supplement should be one that derives vitamins from natural sources (from whole food sources such as fruits and vegetables) the way nature intended, and not synthetically simulated. Furthermore, you should always consult with a doctor prior to taking any form of supplementation to ensure it is right for you and your specific needs. Caution should be taken when consuming vitamins as some can be toxic if recommended dietary allowances are exceeded.
Importance of Vitamin A – Retinol
A fat soluble vitamin. Exists in groups of organic compounds. Vitamin A has a number of functions in the body. It is needed by our retina (specifically the retinal compound) to help maintain good vision. It is important for the development and maintenance of our immune system to protect us against infections. It also plays a role in maintaining healthy skin, mucus membranes, soft tissues, teeth and bones. Some of the things you will find vitamin A in are liver, carrots, dark coloured fruits, leafy vegetables and dairy products.
Importance of Vitamin B1 – Thiamine
A water soluble vitamin. Vitamin B1 plays a role in a number of cellular processes. It helps the cells of our body to convert the carbohydrates in our food into energy. It helps maintain the integrity and structure of our brain cells to support brain function as well as aiding the nervous system to function properly. It also plays a role in heart and muscle function. Some of the things you will find vitamin B1 in are liver, lean meats, eggs, nuts and seeds.
Importance of Vitamin B2 – Riboflavin
A water soluble vitamin. Vitamin B2 plays a role in the manufacture of red blood cells. It is important for the healthy growth of our body. It helps with energy production by being a key ingredient in nutrients which are involved in the production of energy. In particular, it helps break down proteins, carbohydrates and metabolises fat molecules into energy that can be used by the body and in the electron transport chain. It is an antioxidant and a key element for antioxidant protection, making it an immune system booster. The bodies most important antioxidant is glutathione. B2 assists in the recycling of glutathione (read more about the importance of Glutathione HERE). It is used for hormone production and proper development of many parts of the body, such as our skin, hair, nails and digestive tract (by maintaining a healthy mucus membrane). It also helps prevent the development of cataracts. Some of the things you will find vitamin B2 in are bananas, dairy products and asparagus.
Importance of Vitamin B3 – Niacin
A water soluble vitamin. Vitamin B3 plays a role in numerous metabolic processes that take place in our body including the utilization of sugars, fats and proteins. These processes will help with energy production. Vitamin B3 also is key in the activation of a number of different enzymes. The digestive system uses vitamin B3 to help it function properly due to the role it plays in the formation of hydrochloric acid (an important acid used for digestion as well as guarding the health of the pancreas). Vitamin B3 supports healthy skin (including acne conditions). It helps the body to eliminate harmful chemicals and toxins. Certain adrenal and sex hormones production is facilitated with vitamin B3. Vitamin B3 also plays a significant role in maintaining a healthy functioning circulation and nervous system. Many people who suffer from a high cholesterol level may experience benefit from the vitamin B3. It can raise good (HDL – high density lipoprotein) and lower bad (LDL – low density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Vitamin B3, combined with chromium, supports proper insulin function, which helps regulate blood sugar levels. It has been linked with reducing the risks of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, type 1 diabetes, cataracts and osteoarthritis. Some of the things you will find vitamin B3 in are meat, eggs, some vegetables, fish and grains.
Importance of Vitamin B5 – Pantothenic Acid
A water soluble vitamin. An important vitamin for synthesizing and metabolising carbohydrates, fats and proteins. A well known vitamin in the beauty industry, which can be found in a number of beauty treatments. This is down to its ability to keep our skin and hair healthy. It can delay some of the visible signs of aging (age spots and wrinkles) and may also delay the loss of pigment in our hair. It helps to keep our sodium and potassium blood levels in balance. Vitamin B5 assists in the production of cholesterol. This vitamin will help the body to manufacture vitamin D as well as stimulating adrenal hormones. Vitamin B5 is a useful vitamin to help lower the bloods level of bad cholesterol. This vitamin may be good for accelerating the healing process (particularly after surgery in conjunction with vitamin C). Vitamin B5 shows potential in combating acne, hair loss, skin disorders, asthma, allergies, anxiety, stress (and other mental issues like depression), heart problems and respiratory disorders. Vitamin B5 helps to maintain a healthy functioning nervous system and helps boost our immune system, increasing our resistance some types of infections. This vitamin plays a role in manufacturing red blood cells as well as certain hormones which are produced in our adrenal glands. It helps to keep our digestive tract healthy. It may help with conditions like osteoarthritis and diabetes. Active people may benefit from vitamin B5 due to its ability to support your stamina and reducing our level of fatigue by helping our body to perform more efficiently. Much more can be said of this vitamin due to its versatility. Some of the things you will find vitamin B5 in are meat, avocados and broccoli.
Importance of Vitamin B6 – Pyridoxine
A water soluble vitamin. Vitamin B6 has a catalogue of health benefits associated with it. Vitamin B6 will help protect us from heart disease due to its ability to retard the build up of homocysteine. This substance will damage the linings of our blood vessels which leads to plaque build up. Preventing this will reduce the possibility of having a heart attack. This vitamin will help to lower blood pressure and the level of bad cholesterol. It plays a role in the formation of red blood cells and stops blood platelets from being too sticky, so they won’t clump together further aiding the health of the heart. Vitamin B6, in conjunction with magnesium, can prevent the formation of kidney stones. People who suffer from PMS (PreMenstrual Syndrome) may receive relief from some of the symptoms with the aid of this vitamin (due to the vitamin’s role in regulating hormones and prostaglandin). Vitamin B6 plays a role in preserving healthy nerve function and nerve cell communication, the production of neurotransmitters and serotonin, which means this vitamin has been linked with aiding mental depression along with improvements in memory and generally maintains healthy brain functioning. This vitamin is considered to keep the immune system from becoming sluggish with a vital role in the synthesis of disease fighting antibodies. Vitamin B6 has been shown to have positive effects on asthma symptoms, the metabolism, premenstrual syndrome, influenza, carpal tunnel syndrome, kidney disorders, skin conditions, anaemia, hormone control and multiple sclerosis. Vitamin B6 has a close relationship with the enzymatic systems of our body and helps them to function in the required manner, which impacts on the nervous system, immunity and specific problems such as arthritis. Some of the things you will find vitamin B6 in are meat, vegetables, nuts and bananas.
Importance of Vitamin B7 – Biotin
A water soluble vitamin. Vitamin B7 is a great vitamin to help keep your skin and nails healthy. It also has been linked with healthy hair and restoring hair loss. Vitamin B7 promotes the healthy functioning of our kidneys, liver and heart. It helps with healthy growth of our bone marrow. Vitamin B7 is an important precursor to the formation of a number of crucial components that are essential to health, such as fatty acids, amino acids and hormones. This vitamin will help with the maintenance of our metabolic activity and bodily tissues. It aids heart problems, weight loss (helping to reduce surplus fat) and in the reduction of bad cholesterol levels (reducing the likelihood of suffering from atherosclerosis, strokes and heart attacks). Anything which helps blood sugar levels will be beneficial to sufferers of diabetes. Vitamin B7 will help maintain a healthy blood sugar level. As well as diabetes, Vitamin B7 has also been linked with being beneficial for other conditions like Rett syndrome, seborrheas dermatitis, Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s disease, vaginal candidiasis and peripheral neuropathy. For those who lack energy, vitamin B7 may help due to its ability to be a biocatalyst for numerous metabolic reactions responsible for energy extraction. Other benefits include maintenance, repair and growth of muscle tissues. Healthy functioning of tissues of the nervous system require vitamin B7. Vitamin B7 also helps in the intricacies of protein and DNA synthesis, replication and gene expression (aiding the transcription and translation processes). Some of the things you will find vitamin B7 in are organ meats, leafy green vegetables, nuts and raw egg yolks.
Importance of Vitamin B9 – Folic Acid
A water soluble vitamin. Vitamin B9 is of great importance for expectant mothers. Pregnancy causes a tremendous amount of changes to occur inside a mother’s body. Many chemical and physiological transformations will be going on. By ensuring an adequate amount of vitamin B9 is consumed will reduce the chances of birth defects in the unborn child (such as spina bifida and neural tube defect) and will help the mothers body to cope whilst carrying their child. It further helps protect the mother and foetus from anaemia and will reduce the chance of a miscarriage. Vitamin B9 aids the production of healthy red blood cells (haemoglobin formation – the oxygen carrier of the blood. This helps our energy levels and improves metabolic efficiency), enhances cells (replacing old for new, repairing and building skin cells) and helps build muscles. It will help our body to digest foods and helps with energy production. It works alongside enzymes (as a coenzyme) to perform important tasks like synthesizing DNA. Vitamin B9 will help to strengthen our nervous system, which means it is good for emotional and mental health and will also be effective against anxiety and depression. Vitamin B9 is a great immune system booster. This vitamin may also help reduce the risks of suffering from fatal diseases like lung cancer, colon cancer, cervical cancer, liver disease, strokes (can be fatal to our brains), heart disease (due to its ability to lower the levels of the chemical homocysteine in the blood, which has been linked to heart disease, strokes and weak bones. Additionally it will also control the levels of cholesterol to further protect the cardiovascular system from various disorders) and ulcerative colitis. Other conditions vitamin B9 is thought to help are Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss, hearing loss (age related), osteoporosis (weak bones), macular degeneration (age related eye disease), sleep problems, restless leg syndrome (jumpy legs), signs of aging, nerve pain, muscle pain and vitiligo (a skin disease). Some of the things you will find vitamin B9 in are leafy vegetables, liver and fortified cereals.
Importance of Vitamin B12 – Cyanocobalamin
A water soluble vitamin. Without this vitamin, you increase your chances of being susceptible to a number of illnesses such as pernicious & megaloblastic anaemia (due to its association with a substance known as intrinsic factor), weakness (fatigue), weight loss, constipation, tinnitus, depression, loss of appetite, poor memory, asthma, problems with your vision and a low sperm count. Vitamin B12 plays a role in keeping your red blood cells and nerves healthy. The maintenance, formation and repair of many of the cells in our bodies will be helped by the presence of vitamin B12. This vitamin helps with energy production as it aids the conversion of carbohydrates into glucose. The nervous system is regulated by this vitamin as well as helping with reducing stress and shrinkage of the brain. Vitamin B12 aids healthy digestion. It looks after the heart protecting it from heart disease and high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels (reducing chances of strokes). This vitamin helps to keep your hair, skin (aiding constant skin renewal) and nails healthy. Vitamin B12 has been linked with protecting us from certain cancers like colon, breast, lung and prostate cancer. Our DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid) is our genetic blueprint. It is an important molecule which encodes our genetic instructions used in our development. Vitamin B12, along with other elements, is used by the body for the formation of DNA. This vitamin helps with your mental capacity and functioning. It has a role in the production of the hormone melatonin (aids a good night’s sleep). Some of the things you will find vitamin B12 in are meat, organ meats, shellfish and milk.
Importance of Vitamin C – Ascorbic Acid
A water soluble vitamin. Probably the most popular and familiar of all the vitamins. When we want to reduce the chance of catching a cold or when we actually have a cold, we reach for the vitamin C to reduce the severity of the cold and to reduce the duration of the cold. The reason for this is vitamin C is one of the most important nutrients of our immune system. Well know for the treatment and prevention of scurvy. However, vitamin C actually has a vast array of health benefits. It supports the health of our teeth and gums. It supports the absorption of iron. It plays a role in the production of collagen (the main constituent of connective tissue. Used in our ligaments, tendons, blood vessels, skin and organs) and for growth and repair of our bodies tissues. Vitamin C helps all kinds of wounds to heal. It is a very potent antioxidant (protects against oxidative stress), supporting and nourishing our immune systems, which protects us from disease as well as our cells and the DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid) of our cells from mutation and damage and also acts as a powerful protector against certain cancers (lowering the risk of developing virtually all types of cancers) and neutralises numerous cancer causing compounds before they can form in the body. Our sight is protected with the aid of vitamin C as it reduces the chance of developing cataracts (a condition which causes clouding of the lens which can lead to blindness. Vitamin C increases blood supply to the bodies ocular areas). The health of our hearts and overall cardiovascular health is benefited from this vitamin as it helps to prevent heart disease by stopping the damaging effects free radicals have on our artery walls (causing formation of plaque). It may also help keep blood pressure in check and neutralises the effects of cholesterol by keeping it from oxidising in the bloodstream (further reducing the risks of heart disease and suffering from a stroke). Its antioxidant properties also benefit the health of the lungs so it may help reduce the symptoms of asthma (reducing inflammation by reducing the amount of histamine the body produces). Diabetics may benefit from additional vitamin C as it has a positive effect on the regulation of blood sugar levels. Iron absorption is improved in the presence of vitamin C. Vitamin C is found in many skin care products. It has a shielding action against the harmful effects of the sun. It further benefits the texture and appearance of the skin due to its role in the production of elastin and collagen (providing structure to blood vessels aiding the transport of nutrients and oxygen to the skin keeping it healthy and maintaining its elasticity). Vitamin C also improves the health of our hair by protecting it from free radicals that can cause it to become thin (improves blood circulation. Repairs and strengthens capillaries to help strengthen and thicken the hair) and brittle. It reduces the chance of hair loss and fights dandruff. Lead toxicity can be a serious concern causing abnormal growth, behavioural problems, kidney damage, raised blood pressure and learning disabilities. Vitamin C can reduce the levels of lead in the blood. This vitamin supports neurotransmitter production, which affects our mood and proper functioning of our brains. Some of the things you will find vitamin C in are most fruits and vegetables.
Importance of Vitamin D – Cholecalciferol
A fat soluble vitamin. Vitamin D is a vitamin which we can manufacture in our bodies from sunlight exposure. One of the primary functions of vitamin D is to facilitate the communication of cells throughout our bodies and to regulate absorption of the minerals calcium and phosphorus for healthy bones. Without vitamin D, calcium absorption, bone formation, repair and growth would not be possible. A deficiency of this vitamin can result in the crippling condition known as rickets (deformed bones as a result of them becoming weak and soft) osteomalacia and rachitic rosary. All these conditions can be treated with supplementation of vitamin D. This vitamin plays a role in improving the function of our muscles. Vitamin D is able to activate production of the hormone called leptin. This hormone (manufactured by fat cells) regulates the amounts of fat which our body stores. This is achieved by altering our feeling of hunger and altering our energy expenditure. As a result, vitamin D will indirectly help us to slim down. Our lung function is protected by vitamin D. This vitamin helps regulate the immune system. Vitamin D has been linked with lowering the chances of developing multiple sclerosis. It has also been linked with maintaining our cognitive function. The frequency and severity of asthma symptoms may be reduced with the help of vitamin D. Vitamin D has been linked with reducing the chances of suffering from conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and certain types of cancer. Vitamin D also has the ability to protect us from peripheral arterial disease, cardiovascular disease, getting bone fractures and the damage caused by low levels of radiation. Some of the things you will find vitamin D in are fish, eggs, fortified cereals and dairy products.
Importance of Vitamin E – Tocopherols
A fat soluble vitamin. Vitamin E is a vitamin with exceptional antioxidant and immune boosting properties and the majority of its benefits are derived from these qualities. It is a protector of cell membranes, such as lung cells and white blood cells (responsible for fighting disease) and DNA. This vitamin is thought to protect us against heart and cardiovascular disease (protecting artery walls by preventing bad cholesterol from becoming oxidised, which leads to clogged arteries), cataracts, strokes (has a thinning effect on the blood, which prevents clumping together of blood platelets. This lowers the chances of suffering from a stroke or non fatal heart attack) and fibrocystic breast disease. Vitamin E may also help slow down the deterioration of aging. As with other powerful antioxidants, vitamin E has strong links with helping to prevent many cancers (helping to prevent the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines). Tumour growths are reduced and the function of the immune system is enhanced to prevent precancerous substances turning into carcinogens. Vitamin E is thought to benefit diabetics by enhancing the activity of insulin and improving the metabolism of glucose by decreasing oxidative stress. The myelin sheath gets protection from vitamin E, which means a healthier nervous system. This vitamin appears to retard mental degeneration, so reduces the chance of suffering from conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. Many people apply vitamin E to cuts and stretch marks due to the vitamins ability to minimise the oxidation reactions within the wound. This can increase the healing rate and minimise scaring. Some of the things you will find vitamin E in are many oils (wheat germ, sunflower, safflower and corn), nuts and seeds and a number of fruits and dark green vegetables.
Importance of Vitamin K – Phylloquinone / Menaquinone
A fat soluble vitamin. Vitamin K plays a critical role in the blood clotting response, which causes blood to coagulate (preventing loss of blood following an injury). It is a key part of glumatic acid. This is an amino acid which enables a process called carboxylation. Carboxylation is a reaction that allows our blood (from open wounds) to adhere to its surrounding tissue, which leads to the clotting of an open wound, thus preventing any further loss of blood out of the body and blocking the entry of any harmful bacteria. Vitamin K is an important vitamin for bone health. It inhibits the overproduction of osteoclasts (bone cells). This would result in minerals being taken from the bones (demineralization). Additionally, carboxylation (which vitamin K is a key ingredient of the amino acid that allows carboxylation to occur) also allows osteocalcin (a protein in our bones related to the mineral density of our bones) to be chemically modified so it may strengthen the composition and health of our bones. It acts like a glue by helping to plug the many important bone minerals into our bone matrix. This makes vitamin K a great vitamin to reduce the chance of suffering from osteoporosis. Vitamin K can reduce the risk of hardening of the arteries, cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis and strokes by helping to prevent calcium build up inside our tissues (calcification). Once again, carboxylation comes into play by producing MGP (matrix gla protein), which is a protein that restricts calcium from building up in our tissues. Vitamin K exhibits antioxidant qualities and has been shown to offer protection to our cells from harmful oxidative stress. This vitamin has been shown to reduce the release of interleukin-6 (a glycoprotein) making it beneficial as an anti-inflammatory. Vitamin K promotes proper nervous and brain function due to the role it plays in the synthesis of sphingolipids (an important fat). Sphingolipids are needed to allow proper formation of the myelin sheath (the outer layer of nerves). Studies have linked vitamin K as being effective against a number of different types of cancers and Alzheimer’s disease. It also helps to reduce menstrual pain (by ensuring the associated hormones proper functioning at the correct time for the menstrual cycle), excessive menstrual bleeding (reducing the flow of blood out of the body), reduce the severity of symptoms associated with pregnancy, regulate blood sugar levels, enhance liver function, maintain cardiac muscles and generally improves our vitality. Some of the things you will find vitamin K in are leafy green vegetables, liver and eggs.
So much more can be written on the importance of vitamins due to the number of important things they do for our health. This is just a short summary of some of the main roles vitamins plays within our bodies. Minerals are equally as important as vitamins with regards to essential nutrition required by the body. Additionally, vitamins cannot be fully utilised by the body if the many minerals needed by the body are not present.
One should never focus on any individual diet or program to achieve overall good health. It is actually vitally important that our bodies receive a full spectrum of nutrients and actions to have a chance of functioning properly and to help us remain disease free.