Vitamin your life !
What are vitamins ? How many exist ? People think they give energy… What are their functions really ?
What are vitamins ?
For now 13 vitamins have been discovered and labeled as essential organic substances. Needed to come from the food ingested, they are known as A, B’s ( they are 8 of them ), C, D (could be synthesized from sun exposure), E and K (could be partially created in our body). We call them micronutrients not because they are not important but because we need them in small amount compare to macro-nutrients. (1)
Some can be partially synthesized in our body but mostly should come from food and deficiency will lead to diseases that can only be reversed by ingesting vitamins through food or supplementation in severe cases.
Example of vitamin D: Deficiency can be caused by low sunlight exposure ( dark skin need more than light skin), malabsorption or counteraction with medications. The result is called ricket in children and osteomalacia in adults (poor mineralization) (2)
The role of vitamins in your body.
Little is still known on the roles vitamins play in our body, talking again about vitamin D, it is essential for thyroid health and research shows autoimmune Hashimoto disease is paired with vitamin D deficiency. (3)
The RDI are constantly changing depending on new research and can vary from one country to another.
The correlation between our vitamins and health has been determined by the result of deficiency and biochemical reactions where that particular vitamin is needed as co-factor.
You have the anti oxidants : A, C and E. So far research proved they can reduce oxidative damages by sharing hydrogen to transform free radicals in molecule that can be excreted by our body. A combination of vitamin C and E like in kiwi fruits show even better result especially on protecting against lung cancer, skin and prostate cancer as well as Cardiovascular disease and cirrhosis (4)
The vitamin B’s and C play a major part in our energy production, if they do not give us energy, without them we can not transform our macro-nutrients into energy. That is why people complaining from fatigue could feel more energetic with a supplementation in those particular vitamins, which usually mean they were not present in adequate amount in their diet. (5)
Research proved that vitamins are active parts of most of our biochemical equation in our body development, repair, protect… Each of them has specificity and can target a different area of action.
Like A for teeth, bones, soft tissue, mucus membranes, and skin health, most of the B’s will be involved in red blood formation and central nervous system health and function, vitamin K helps coagulation, folate is needed for DNA formation…
What are the differences ?
You find two major groups of vitamins, fat soluble and water soluble.
The body will use the water soluble vitamins immediately and except for B12 that could be stored in the liver, we need to get them from our daily diet. The excess will be excreted in our urine and toxicity is rare. Some new research may show that a supplementation over 2gr of vitamin C a day could lead to kidneys stones in men. (6)
The fat soluble can be stored to a certain extend. They need fat to be absorbed and used in our cell, deficiency usually occur when fat absorption from the intestine is impaired or lacking pancreatic enzymes due to cystic fybrosis for example.
An healthy person having a divers diet should not be deficient in fat vitamins, knowing they are not alterated by cooking process unlike the water soluble vitamins which are extremely fragile and could easily be destroyed by sunlight exposure, storage and over cooking method.
And just to summarize here are the different names used for vitamins:
Vitamin A or Retinol, beta-carotene and various other carotenoids
Vitamin B1 or Thiamine
Vitamin B2 or Riboflavin, E 101 on label
Vitamin B3 or Niacin, nicotinic acid, niacinamide
Vitamin B5 or Pantothenic Acid
Vitamin B6 or Pyridoxine, pyridoxal, other forms
Vitamin B12 or Cobalamin
Vitamin B7 or H or Biotin
Vitamin B9 or Folic acid Folate, folacin
Vitamin C or ascorbic acid, E 300 on label
Vitamin D or vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol)
Vitamin E or Tocopherol, Tocotrienols, E 306 on label
Vitamin K or vitamin K1 (phylloquinone; phytonadione; phytomenadione) and vitamin K2 (menaquinone; menatetrenone)
The E numbers indicated are natural vitamins, you can get E 301 as another type of C but chemically made.
How much do we need ? Can we replace them by supplementation ?
As said previously those numbers are constantly changing and can differ from one country to another.
Here are the RDI from USA and France, there are some drastic differences, literature differs in both countries in the way nutrition is taught to people, not saying one is better than the other… Just makes you think.
Except when major deficiencies have been diagnosed through proper testing or under special cases that create a poor digestive environment, it has been proved using supplementation on healthy people can not replace a divers diet. It is the biochemistry complex of our food that makes it valuable. (7) And in any case consult your health practitioner before taking supplementation.
As an example in a reasonable meal with one raw carrot, 80 gr of chicken, 1 onion, 0.5 cup of peas and mushrooms, 1 piece of bread, 0.5 cup of cooked beans, 1 greek unsweetened yogurt and one apple will give you about 40 mg of vitamin C (8)
To be able to reach your daily intake as per the American RDI you should consume 60 gr of salmon and 50 gr of Swiss cheese to meet your B12 requirement, which includes also some B2, B3, B5, B6 and D… Combined with divers grains, fruits and vegetables it is fair to say you will easily meet your RDI for each of the vitamins required.
One single fruit or vegetable will not cover your RDI. Each color is a marker for different nutrients, it is why we say that you must eat a rainbow!
The ecological note.
Knowing our vitamins can be destroyed by storage and cooking method, research has not been conclusive on how much nutrients loss we got from industrial farming and soil depletion.
We can easily say that buying already peeled and cut fruits or vegetables that lay on shelves for days will give us close to none of the water soluble vitamins. (9)
In order for us to have nutrient rich food it would be wiser to produce less to avoid long term storing and waste. And for the one who can, why not growing your own ? Or sprouting ?
And keep in mind that supplementation is a short term solution. Whole food contains what we really need in a balanced way that human creation did not match yet.
(1) Byrd-Bredbenner, C., Moe, G., Beshgetoor, D., & Berning, J. R. (2013). Wardlaw’s perspectives in nutrition (Ninth edition /). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
(3) Mackawy, A. M. H., Al-ayed Bushra Mohammed, & Al-rashidi Bashayer Mater. (2013). Vitamin D Deficiency and Its Association with Thyroid Disease. International Journal of Health Sciences, 7(3), 267–275.
(4) S. Li., G. Chen. , C. Zhang., M. Wu., S. Wu. and Q. Liu.
(5) Kamangar, F., & Emadi, A. (2012). Vitamin and Mineral Supplements: Do We Really Need Them? International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 3(3), 221–226.
(7) Kamangar, F., & Emadi, A. (2012). Vitamin and Mineral Supplements: Do We Really Need Them? International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 3(3), 221–226.
(8) Byrd-Bredbenner, C., Moe, G., Beshgetoor, D., & Berning, J. R. (2013). Wardlaw’s perspectives in nutrition (Ninth edition /). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.