Vitamins are nutrients that help us stay healthy and function properly. The body can’t make vitamins on its own, so we need to get them from our diet or other sources, such as multivitamins. But not all vitamins are created equal, so it’s important to know the different types of vitamins and their benefits before taking any of them. That’s exactly what this article is about.
What are vitamins
Vitamins are essential micronutrients that the body needs to function correctly. They are involved in different processes, including cell function, growth, and development.
There are 13 essential vitamins. By essential it means, you need to acquire them through food. This is because either the body cannot produce them at all or insufficient amounts.
Vitamins can further be classified into two depending on their solubility. They include water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins. These two work differently but towards the same goal of maintaining health and wellbeing.
Different Types of Vitamins and Their Benefits
Water-soluble vitamins easily dissolve in water and are quickly absorbed into the tissues for immediate use. These vitamins cannot be stored in the body, and any extra amount is excreted in the urine. So they require regular replenishment to avoid deficiencies.
They include vitamin C and all the B vitamins
1. B1 (thiamin)
Thiamine was the first B vitamin to be discovered by scientists. It’s needed by every cell in your body for the conversion of food into energy. And since it cannot be synthesized in the body, it must be obtained from thiamine-rich foods such as whole grain, pulses, nuts, and thiamine-fortified foods.
Other benefits of thiamine include
- Promoting memory
- Anti-aging benefits
- Ensures proper digestion
- Prevents Alzheimer’s disease
- Lowers the risk of cataracts
- Improves appetite
- Maintains a healthy heart
- Promotes red blood cell production
Thiamine deficiency may result in loss of appetite, fatigue, irritability, tingling and pricking sensation of the upper and lower limbs, muscle weakness, blurry vision, delirium, nausea and vomiting, and changes in heart rate.
Although thiamine deficiency is rare, especially in developed countries, conditions such as diabetes, old age, HIV/AIDS, alcohol dependency, bariatric surgery, and high dose diuretic use may increase the risk.
2. B2 (riboflavin)
Riboflavin is another B vitamin essential for energy production, maintaining a healthy digestive tract lining, promoting proper skin development, enhancing red blood cell production, enhancing wound healing, and promoting brain health.
A deficiency may result in anemia, inflammation of the mouth and tongue, migraines, chronic diarrhea, dry skin, cracked red lips, bloodshot eyes, and sore throat.
Best sources include:
- Cruciferous vegetables like spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, watercress, and dandelion greens
- Sweet potatoes
- Whole-grain bread
- Legumes such as lima beans, peas, and navy beans
3. B3 (niacin)
Also known as nicotinic acid, niacin helps keep the digestive system, nervous system, and skin healthy. It’s also important in controlling cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, supporting digestion, relieving migraines, and improving mental health.
High niacin foods include avocados, mushrooms, green peas, brown rice, and mushrooms.
4. B4 (pantothenic acid)
Like other B vitamins, pantothenic acid converts carbohydrates, fat, and protein into energy needed for different cell functions.
It’s also used in cholesterol synthesis, stress and sex hormone formation, and the production of red blood cells and coenzyme A (CoA). This CoA promotes different enzymatic activities, including the production of fatty acids.
B5 is less known due to its very rare deficiencies, mainly because your colon lining may produce some of it.
Best sources include
- Whole grains
- Legumes such as split peas, lentils, and soybeans
- Vegetables including sweet potatoes, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and tomatoes
- Sunflower seeds
5. B6 (pyridoxine)
Pyridoxine is commonly used to treat peripheral neuropathy (a nerve condition) caused by isoniazid, a common tuberculosis medication.
B6 is vital for the production of neurotransmitters and red blood cells and it helps the body store energy from fat, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism.
It promotes health by:
- Boosting mood
- Reducing the signs of depression
- Promoting brain health
- Lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s
- Increased hemoglobin production, which prevents anemia
- Reducing the risk of heart disease
- Promoting eye health and preventing eye-related conditions
Best sources include potatoes and other starchy vegetables, chickpeas, bananas, and fruit other than citrus.
6. B7 (biotin)
Also known as vitamin H, biotin is one of the B complex vitamins widely used to treat hair loss, scaly skin, and brittle nails. Biotin is known to stimulate keratin production. Keratin is a type of protein that makes up your hair, nails, and skin.
Other benefits include:
- Increased body metabolism
- It’s essential for the growth and development of the nervous system.
- Better digestion and absorption of nutrients.
- Reduced risk of cataracts and other eye diseases.
- Faster recovery from burns or injuries.
- Stronger immune system
- Improved communication and coordination skills
- Better cognitive function
- Reduced risk of certain types of cancer
The best dietary sources include legumes, seeds, nuts, sweet potatoes, avocados, and broccoli.
7.B9 (folic acid or folate)
Folate is the natural form of B9, while folic acid is its synthetic form. It’s naturally found in many foods such as legumes, asparagus, leafy greens, beets, citrus fruits, Brussels sprouts, avocado, and fortified grains.
Vitamin B9 is essential for the production of the body’s genetic material (DNA and RNA), for cell division and growth during infancy, adolescence, and pregnancy, for the production of red blood cells and white blood cells, and the conversion of carbohydrates into energy.
A deficiency in B9 can result in anemia and lowered immune system making you susceptible to infections, and neural tube defects for the unborn child.
8. B12 (cobalamin)
Vitamin B12 is necessary for normal brain and nervous system function. It’s also essential for the formation of red blood cells, which helps prevent megaloblastic anemia, a condition associated with abnormally large but immature red blood cells.
Animal foods are high in B12, while plant foods have minimal to none. This puts vegans or anyone on a plant-based diet at risk of B12 deficiency.
Nonetheless, vegan foods such as sauerkraut, nutritional yeast, or fortified foods can improve your levels however, a vegan B12 supplement is always better.
9. Vitamin C
Whether you know it or not, your body is probably in need of more vitamin C than you’re getting right now. Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) is an essential nutrient that provides numerous health benefits and protects your body from free radicals and other damaging substances.
Here are some more benefits to expect
- It can increase calmness which can help relieve stress
- The antioxidant ability of vitamin C can help maintain eye health. It can even delay the development of cataracts or slow their progression
- Vitamin C can help fight various infections, including those of a viral or antibacterial origin. This in turn helps boost the immune system.
- Vitamin C increases nitric oxide production, which increases blood vessel vasodilatation. This causes blood pressure to drop, which keeps the blood vessels dilated and relaxed, resulting in healthy blood flow to the heart and the rest of the body.
- Vitamin C is an antioxidant that fights free radicals that can otherwise cause cell damage, causing mutations that may result in cancer.
- Vitamin C accelerates elastin and collagen production which keeps the skin firm and plump. It also helps prevent premature aging while promoting a youthful and smooth appearance.
- Vitamin C can promote healthy hair by fighting off dandruff, combating hair loss and preventing premature greying of hair. It can also prevent your hair from growing thin, weak, and brittle.
While most people think of citrus fruits like oranges and lemons when they hear the word vitamin C, there are actually many other great sources of this healthy nutrient. They include:
- Kiwi fruit
- Bell peppers
- Snow peas
- Sweet potato
Unlike water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins need fat to be dissolved, absorbed, transported, and stored. So they are often stored in the fatty tissues of the body or the liver. And since they can be stored for long periods in the body, fat-soluble vitamins may increase the risk of toxicity if taken in massive amounts, especially when supplements are used.
Otherwise, they are largely available in various plant foods. They include:
1. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is essential for good health and longevity. As an antioxidant, vitamin A protects cells from free radicals that can cause damage, leading to various health conditions. The vitamin also helps fight inflammation and maintain healthy skin, mucous membrane, skeletal and soft tissue, teeth, bones, and blood vessels. It’s also essential for eye health—without it, you could develop cataracts or even blindness.
Best plant sources include
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for regulating phosphate and calcium, the two crucial minerals in maintaining healthy muscles, teeth, and bones. It also promotes immunity and promotes heart health.
It’s produced on the skin in response to sun exposure. However, during the cooler months when there is no sun or if you rarely soak in the sun, a supplement or fortified foods may be good for you.
A deficiency in vitamin D may cause rickets, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and even several types of cancer. While too much is toxic, most people don’t get enough. In fact, studies have shown that up to half of Americans have low levels of vitamin D in their blood—and many aren’t even aware they should be supplemented with more. S
If you’re concerned about your vitamin D intake, talk to your doctor about having your levels checked. If you need supplementation, take care not to overdo it: Too much vitamin D can lead to hypercalcemia (high blood calcium), which causes nausea, vomiting and constipation, muscle weakness, and frequent urination. Talk to your doctor if you experience these symptoms while taking supplements.
3. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and a common ingredient in most skincare products. It plays a role in numerous bodily functions.
Here are some of the benefits of vitamin E:
- Protects your skin from the harmful effects of the sun.
- Helps keep your eyes healthy and free from harmful infections.
- It can prevent the development of heart disease and stroke.
- Improves your memory and cognitive function.
- Vitamin E can fight inflammation and boost your immune system.
- It can keep your bones strong and healthy.
- Protects against cancers such as prostate, breast, and colon cancer.
- It promotes a healthy functioning nervous system (the ability of the body’s nerves to carry impulses correctly)
- Helps balance cholesterol in the body
- It can help balance hormones
Best plant sources include
- Sunflower seeds
- Red bell peppers
4. Vitamin K
Vitamin K is another fat-soluble vitamin necessary for blood clotting processes that help prevent excessive bleeding. In healthy adults, a daily intake allows for the synthesis of plasma proteins. This helps to prevent clots from forming in the veins, arteries, and other body parts.
Vitamin K also helps maintain bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. It helps form calcium matrix in bones and teeth and helps transport calcium to the bones. It’s also necessary for the production of certain proteins that protect cells from damage. Additionally, vitamin K helps regulate blood sugar levels and contributes to a healthy nervous system.
Foods high in vitamin K include
- Leafy green vegetables
- Green beans
- Green peas
- Brussels sprouts
Vitamins are essential elements present in food that the body needs to function correctly.
They are generally classified into water-soluble and fat-soluble.
Water-soluble vitamins include all the B complex vitamins and vitamin C, while the fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K.
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