Vitamins generally must be obtained from our diet. The bacteria in our large intestines can manufacture some B vitamins and vitamin K – but this may not be in sufficient amounts depending on the health of our intestines. Some vitamins such as vitamin C are used up very quickly by the body in various reactions and we need to refresh our supplies on a daily basis.
What Do Vitamins Do?
Vitamins act as COENZYMES. A coenzyme works in partnership with enzymes to carry out a variety of functions in the body.
Vitamins are essential to the health of the whole body but we cannot live on vitamins alone. We need the macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein and fat and vitamins support the metabolism of these.
Being deficient in vitamins can lead to general health problems like fatigue, but deficiencies can also lead to specific nutritional disorders such as pernicious anemia from a B12 deficiency, birth defects because of a B9 deficiency, osteoporosis related problems from a vitamin D deficiency as well as other vitamin deficiency diseases often seen in poorer countries. Even scurvy which is considered an historical condition still occurs today in developed countries when people have diets lacking in fresh fruit and vegetables.
Recommended dietary allowance numbers are set by the government for vitamins. You have probably seen on nutrition information labels on food that the serving size provides X% of your RDA for a particular vitamin.
The RDAs are guideline amounts to meet the nutritional requirements of MOST of the population to prevent disease. Remember, they are guidelines. Every individual’s needs may differ. For example, if you smoke or drink a lot of alcohol your needs for some vitamins will be increased. If you eat a high sugar diet your vitamin needs will be increased because sugar depletes vitamins from the body.
The majority of your vitamins should come from a diet of fresh, natural foods with lots of variety.
- to maintain or improve health
- to support other treatments
- if diet is poor
- if the diet has certain restrictions
Never focus just on one particular vitamin which may cause imbalances in others. Use a good quality multi-vitamin complex and regularly review and update your supplement plan.
Fat Soluble and Water Soluble Vitamins
Vitamins are grouped into those that are fat soluble and those that are water soluble. Fat soluble vitamins need fat to be transported by the body – another reason it is important to include healthy fats in your diet.
These are vitamins A, D, E and K. They are found in both plant and animal foods. They tend to be stored in the body so we can go for longer periods without obtaining them from food. But because they are more easily stored in the body it is easier to reach toxic levels if they are taken in too high doses.
The water soluble vitamins are the group of B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin P, also known as bioflavinoids. They are mostly found in the plant world and less so in animal food. They are not stored in the body to any great degree so this means they need to be obtained on a regular, daily basis. However, it also means they have far less potential to be toxic in high doses.
Water soluble vitamins are often very sensitive to heat and can be lost in cooking. They are also sensitive to light and air which means vitamins can be lost from raw fruit and vegetables if stored for too long.
Let’s have a brief overview of what each vitamin does in the body.