We all know what vitamins are good for our bodies. Food producers advertise that they contain them, people take vitamin supplements, and we are encouraged to eat fruits and vegetables so that we get enough of them. But what exactly are vitamins and what do they do for us?
Vitamins and You
A vitamin is an organic compound that your body needs in small amounts to maintain its health and function. Vitamins are necessary for growth, repair, and metabolism in your body. Vitamins are a type of nutrient because your body can't make them itself - it needs to obtain them from an outside source. While all vitamins are important, some are needed in greater quantities than others.
Water vs. Fat Soluble
Some vitamins are water soluble, meaning that they are stored in the water in your body. This means they are stored in small amounts and eliminated through sweat and urine. These vitamins can also be destroyed during cooking. Examples of water soluble vitamins and Vitamin C and B Complex vitamins.
Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the fat reserves of your body. They are not easily excreted from the body like water-soluble vitamins, and therefore they can build up in your body. If they get a chance to build up too much, they can reach toxic levels. This is why you should use caution when taking fat-soluble vitamin supplements, and ask your doctor how much you should be taking. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, stick to the recommended dietary allowance (RDA).
Types of Vitamins
Here are some different types of vitamins and what they do for you:
Vitamin A: Promotes good vision and growth and repair of bodily tissues. Promotes bone formation and the maintenance of healthy skin and hair.
Beta-carotene: Converted into Vitamin A by the body when needed. Contains antioxidant properties and may protect against certain cancers and heart disease.
Biotin (Vitamin B): Assists in the metabolism of proteins and carbohydrates. Essential in the utilization of B-vitamins.
Thiamin (Vitamin B1): Helps cells convert carbohydrates into energy. Necessary for the functioning of the brain, nerve cells, muscles and heart
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2): Releases energy from carbohydrates. Needed for the growth and for the production of red blood cells. Needed for vision and may help protect against cataracts.
Niacin (Vitamin B3): Crucial for conversion of food into energy. Maintains normal functioning of the skin, nerves and digestive system.
Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5): Used in metabolism. Helps synthesize various body chemicals, such as hormones and cholesterol.
Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6): Helps in the formation of red blood cells. Helps synthesize antibodies in the immune system. Involved in the synthesis of hormones.
Vitamin B12: Vital for blood formation and a healthy nervous system. Helps regulate metabolism.
Vitamin C: Antioxidant properties. Helps promote healthy gums and teeth, aids in mineral absorption, helps heal wounds, and promotes healthy cell development, and resistance to infections. Protects against certain cancers, cataracts, and heart disease. May reduce heavy menstruation.
Vitamin D: Promotes the absorption of calcium and helps maintain the proper levels of calcium and phosphorus in the body. Helps to build bone mass and prevent bone loss.
Vitamin E: Protects tissues from damage due to antioxidant properties. Helps in the formation of red blood cells and in the utilization of vitamin K. Needed for normal growth and development.
Vitamin K: Vital to blood clotting and bone health.
Folic acid: Important in the synthesis of DNA, tissue growth and the production of red blood cells. Reduces risk of neural tube birth defects. May reduce risk of heart disease and cervical dysplasia.