Are Vitamins…. Essential To The Human Body?

March 14, 2018

We see and hear the term “vitamins” around us on a daily basis whether it is through commercials or the product information on our purchases. But, what exactly are they and why are they essential to our body?

 

What are Vitamins?

There are 7 essential nutrients required in order to maintain a balanced diet. One of such nutrient group are the organic substances, called vitamins, that are required for our diet. These are particularly essential for us as the human body does not produce enough of them or does not produce any at all. Vitamins are important for the normal metabolism in the human body and ensure the well-being and fully-functioning of body mechanisms.

 

How Many Vitamins Are There?

With varying benefits and functions, there are currently 13 recognised different vitamins:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B (Thiamine)
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
  • Vitamin B5 (Pathothenic acid)
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
  • Vitamin B9 (Folic acid or folate)
  • Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin)
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K

 

Vitamins can be separated and classified into two categories:

  • Fat-soluble vitamins

These are stored in the oil and fats of body tissues and mainly in the liver. They can be stored in the body for many days and even sometimes months for later usage. There are four vitamins in this category: vitamins A, D, E and K.

  • Water-soluble vitamins

These are used by the body as soon as they enter the body and any leftovers are excreted immediately from the body. There are nine vitamins in this category: vitamins B, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12 and C.

 

Functions and Sources of Vitmins

Vitamin A

  • Maintains healthy teeth, bones, soft tissue, mucus membranes and skin and promotes good vision through the production of the retina pigments.
  • Sources include:
    • Eggs;
    • Meat;
    • Dairy products such as milk;
    • Organ meats such as liver and kidney;
    • Cod liver oil;
    • Orange and yellow vegetables and fruits; and
    • Dark green and leafy vegetables.

 

Vitamin B (Thiamine)

  • Helps the body convert carbohydrates into energy, which is essential for the function of the heart and of the nervous system.
  • Sources include:
    • Whole grain products such as bread, cereals, rice, pasta and flour;
    • Meat products from beef and pork;
    • Trout and tuna;
    • Egg;
    • Vegetables such as asparagus, kale, cauliflower and potatoes;
    • Oranges;
    • Legumes such as beans, peas and lentils; and
    • Nuts and seeds.

 

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

  • Induces body growth, red blood cell production and also participates in the conversion of energy from proteins.
  • Sources include:
    • Dairy products such as yoghurt, cottage cheese and milk;
    • Eggs;
    • Fish;
    • Bananas;
    • Green vegetables such as asparagus;
    • Lean meats;
    • Organ meats such as liver and kidney;
    • Legumes such as okra; and
    • Nuts.

 

Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

  • Helps the digestive system, skin, the nervous system to function and also participates in the conversion of food to energy.
  • Sources include:
    • Milk;
    • Eggs;
    • Breads, cereals and rice;
    • Fish such as tuna and salmon;
    • Lean meats;
    • Vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes and asparagus
    • Tomatoes;
    • Avocados;
    • Dates;
    • Legumes such as peanuts; and
    • Poultry.

 

Vitamin B5 (Pathothenic acid)

  • Assists the body in the break down of food for metabolism and growth and it is also required in the production of fatty acids, hormones and cholesterol.
  • Sources include:
    • Animal proteins such as fish ovaries;
    • Avocado;
    • Vegetables in the cabbage family, broccoli and kale;
    • Eggs;
    • Legumes such as lentils;
    • Dairy products;
    • Mushrooms;
    • Organ meats such as liver and kidney;
    • Poultry;
    • White and sweet potatoes;
    • Whole-grain cereals; and
    • Yeast.

 

Vitamin B6

  • Contributes to the production of antibodies and haemoglobin for red blood cells, maintains nerve function and blood sugar levels, assists in the breakdown of protein.
  • Sources include:
    • Avocados;
    • Bananas;
    • Legumes such as beans and chickpeas;
    • Beef and pork;
    • Nuts;
    • Poultry;
    • Whole grains
    • Fortified breads and cereals

 

Vitamin B7 (Biotin)

  • Helps the body break down food for metabolism and growth, and is required in the production of fatty acids.
  • Sources include:
    • Cereals;
    • Chocolate;
    • Egg yolk;
    • Legumes;
    • Milk;
    • Nuts;
    • Organ meats such as liver and kidney;
    • Pork; and
    • Yeast.

 

Vitamin B9 (Folic acid or folate)

  • Ensures tissue growth and cell work, breaks down protein and helps in the formation of red blood cells and the production of DNA.
  • Sources include:
    • Leafy vegetables;
    • Meat organs such as liver;
    • Sunflower seeds;
    • Fortified grains;
    • Citrus fruits; and
    • Legumes such as beans.

 

Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin)

  • Works with the body to metabolise protein, contributes to the production of red blood cells and maintains the central nervous system.
  • Sources include:
    • Organ meats such as beef liver;
    • Shellfish such as clams;
    • Poultry;
    • Eggs;
    • Dairy products;
    • Breakfast cereals; and
    • Nutritional yeasts.

 

Vitamin C

  • Essential for overall body growth and repair of tissues. It helps produce collagen, which is used to make skin, ligaments and blood vessels, and participates in the healing and repairing process of wounds, bones and teeth. Additionally, vitamin C is also a popular remedy for the common cold and it can also act as an antioxidant and block harm caused by free radicals such as tobacco and radiation.
  • Sources include:
    • Fruits:
      • Kakadu plums;
      • Camu camus;
      • Cantaloupes;
      • Citrus fruits and juices, such as orange and grapefruit;
      • Kiwi fruits;
      • Mangoes;
      • Papayas;
      • Pineapples;
      • Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries; and
      • Watermelons.
    • Vegetables:
      • Broccolis, Brussels sprouts and cauliflowers;
      • Green and red peppers;
      • Spinach, cabbage, turnip greens, and other leafy greens;
      • Sweet and white potatoes;
      • Tomatoes and tomato juice; and
      • Winter squash.
    • Cereals; and
    • Fortified foods and beverages.

 

Vitamin D

  • Reacts with the body to absorb calcium, which is needed for bone formation.
  • Sources include:
    • Exposure to sunlight (the main source of vitamin D);
    • Fatty fish such as tuna, salmon and mackerel;
    • Beef liver;
    • Cheese;
    • Egg yolks; and
    • Some mushrooms.

 

Vitamin E

  • Protects against free radicals such as radiation and tobacco and also believed to play a role in ageing. It also aids in the production of red blood cells and helps the body combat bad bacterias and viruses.
  • Sources include:
    • Vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, corn and soybean oils;
    • Nuts such as almonds, peanut and hazelnuts;
    • Sunflower seeds;
    • Green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli;
    • Fortified breakfast cereals;
    • Fruit juices; and
    • Margarine.

 

Vitamin K

  • Assists the blood to clot and maintains bone rigidity.
  • Sources include:
    • Green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, collards and parsley;
    • Vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage;
    • Fish;
    • Fruits such as avocados and kiwis;
    • Meat such liver
    • Eggs; and
    • Cereals.
    • Vitamin K can also be produced in the body by gut bacteria.

 

Symptoms of Vitamin Deficiency/High Doses

Vitamin A

  • Deficiency can cause night-blindness, dry, scaly skin and eye disorders such as keratomalacia and xerophthalmia.

 

Vitamin B

  • Deficiency can cause weakness, fatigue, psychosis and nerve damage. It can also lead to the cardiovascular disease beriberi and brain damage in the form of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
  • Large doses can cause the skin to turn yellow or orange and will return to normal once intake is reduced.

 

Vitamin B (Thiamine)

  • Deficiency can cause anaemia, mouth or lip sores (ariboflavinosis), skin disorders, swelling of mucus membranes and growth failure.

 

Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

  • Deficiency can cause pellagra with digestive symptoms such as diarrhoea, skin problems such as dermatitis and mental disturbance.
  • Large doses can cause increased blood sugar levels, damage to the liver, stomach ulcers and skin rashes.

 

Vitamin B5 (Pathothenic acid)

  • Deficiency can cause a tingling feeling, known as paresthesia.
  • Large doses can causes diarrhoea.

 

Vitamin B6

  • Deficiency can cause mouth and tongue sores, weakness and pain from nerve damage known as peripheral neuropathy and mental disturbances such as confusion, irritability and depression.
  • Large doses can cause difficult movement coordination, numbness and changes in the sensory system.

 

Vitamin B7 (Biotin)

  • Deficiency can cause muscle pain, dermatitis and the inflammation of the intestine or tongue.

 

Vitamin B9 (Folic acid or folate)

  • Deficiency can cause diarrhoea, greying hair, ulcers in the mouth and stomach, poor growth and swollen tongue. Low levels of vitamin B9 in the body can also cause anaemia and can cause birth defects during pregnancy.

 

Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin)

  • Deficiency can cause anaemia, loss of balance, numbness or tingling in the arms and legs and overall body weakness.

 

Vitamin C

  • Deficiency can cause symptoms such as anaemia, decreased ability to fight infection and would-healing, dry hair and skin, gum inflammation and painful joints. A severe lack of vitamin C can cause the disease of scurvy.

 

Vitamin D

  • Deficiency can cause osteoporosis in adults and rickets in children, which are diseases linked to the weakening and fragilizing of bones.
  • Large doses can cause confusion and disorientation, damage to kidneys through kidney stones, nausea, vomiting, weakness and weight loss.

 

Vitamin E

  • Deficiency is not common but can cause hemolytic anemia in newborns, where white blood cells are destroyed.
  • Large doses can cause an increased risk of bleeding in the brain and increased risk of birth defects.

 

Vitamin K

    • Deficiency is very rare but can cause increased risks of bruising and bleeding

 

Frequently Asked Questions About Vitamins:

1.What vitamins do bananas contain?

Bananas are one of the most consumed fruits globally. Not only is this fruit a great source of fiber, but it is also a source of essential minerals such as iron and potassium, and amino acids such as tyrosine. Additionally, bananas also contain vitamins A, B2, B6, B12 and C, which support the well-being of the cardiovascular and immune system.

 

2. What vitamins do mangoes contain?

Mangoes are native to South Asia but are consumed worldwide for their delicious taste and various health benefits. They are beneficial in as cancer prevention, skin clearing and improved vision, as they contains five vitamins in abundance.: A, B, B2, B9, C and E.

 

3. What vitamins do watermelons contain?

Watermelons are fruits that were originally found in Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa but are now extremely loved and found all over the globe. What makes them extremely desirable is not only the very sweet and watery taste but also their excellent nutritional values. Aside from being an excellent source of antioxidants such as lycopene and amino acid citrulline, which are necessary for wound healing, watermelons contain vitamins A, B, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, C and E.

 

4. What vitamins do potatoes contain?

Potatoes are the fourth largest food crop in the world and are an essential part of the global food supply. Aside from being an excellent source of the mineral potassium, which helps conduct impulses between our muscles and the brain, potatoes contain large amounts of vitamins B3, B5, B6, B12 and C, with a very high concentration of vitamin B6

 

5. What vitamins do mushrooms contain?

Available in various sizes and shapes, mushrooms are fungi that sprout above the soil. They are greatly loved as they can be cooked and consumed in various ways. They are very healthy because they contain vitamins B, B2, B3, B6, B9, D and small concentrations of vitamins B12 and C.

 

6. What vitamins do I need to intake?

In essence, all vitamins are required in our body to avoid any health complications and to ensure our well-being. If a balanced diet consisting diverse fruits, vegetables and other nutrients is consumed, it should not be challenging to obtain all vital vitamins for the body. However, some vitamins will be beneficial to be taken as supplements. These vitamins are:

  • Vitamin A and C

These vitamins are recommended for children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years as a precautionary measure as they could be for poor eaters.

  • Vitamin B9

This vitamin is particularly beneficial for women who are pregnant or who want to become pregnant. It decreases the risks of birth defects in the baby’s central nervous system and reduces risks of neural tube defects.

  • Vitamin B12

Supplements for this vitamin are recommended especially for people above the age of 50, who lose the ability to absorb vitamins. This would also be the case for followers of a vegan/vegetarian diet, people who have had gastrointestinal surgery or who have digestive disorders as they may also not  be able to absorb enough B12 or may have lost the ability to absorb it completely.

  • Vitamin D

This vitamin is hard to get from food sources and is required for strong bones. This is essential for babies, children between the ages of one and four and people that do not go outdoors often and are not exposed to sunlight.

 

7. What vitamins are good for the skin?

All vitamins are needed for a healthy skin. However, vitamins C, D, E and K are specifically beneficial for the skin.

  • Vitamin C helps treating wound healing, dryness, redness, wrinkles and for anti-ageing;
  • Vitamin D is essential for the creation of healthy cells and can prevent diseases such as psoriasis;
  • Vitamin E protects the skin from harmful UV rays and can treat skin inflammation; and
  • Vitamin K speeds up skin healing and can reduce swelling and bruising.

 

Doctor Consultation

Vitamin supplements are very easy to obtain, therefore, it is highly recommended to consult a GP or a dermatologist prior to intake in order to ensure that you take the right vitamins. At Ubuntu Medical, our  friendly GPs can do a small blood test that will help determine whether you have any vitamin deficiencies and they will happily discuss with you possible plans regarding your dietary vitamin intakes and give you other medical advice regarding your health.

For more information and guidance, you can book an appointment with our GPs, Dr. Julie O’Connor and Dr. Kathy O’Sullivan.