Vitamins take over vital functions in our body, but for the most part, cannot be produced by ourselves. We take in some vitamins as provitamins. If necessary, they convert into an active form in the body (e.g., beta-carotene becomes vitamin A). But what if we can’t get the vitamins we need from food? Should I replace missing vitamins with Health Supplements?
There are 13 vitamins in our body – 4 fat-soluble and nine water-soluble.
Due to their chemical structure, vitamins E, D, K and A are readily soluble in fats. Therefore we find them in our food only in fatty foods. Except for vitamin K, you can store them in larger quantities in your body (liver, depot fat). Short-term deficits set with the absorption. Fat-soluble vitamins are involved in protein synthesis.
Vitamin C, the B vitamins, and folic acid use water as a solvent. Except for vitamin B12, you cannot store them in significant quantities in your body. The body can therefore not compensate for lack of supply for long. Water-soluble vitamins become co-enzymes in the body, the so-called “helpers of enzymes.”
Vitamin supply in the USA
The US is not a vitamin deficiency country – only the vitamin D supply and the folic acid intake is insufficient in large parts of the population. Slight forms of vitamin deficiency are called hypovitaminosis. Worse flaws are called avitaminosis. Mostly, they caused by malnutrition, resorption disorders (acute diarrhea) or by the destruction of the intestinal flora (e.g., by antibiotics). In the following, a selection of vitamins is examining in more detail.
Vitamins A, C, E – the antioxidants
Free radicals (oxygen radicals) produce in metabolism. Free radicals are an essential signal generator for adaptation processes, but can also lead to damaging chain reactions. These chain reactions lead to cell damage and are causally responsible for cancer and aging processes. Antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and E can “intercept” and neutralize free radicals.
Vitamin A – The “Eye Vitamin”
Vitamin A is an indispensable component of the visual process. It is also an antioxidant and radical scavenger and thus a protective factor for the skin and mucous membranes. Vitamin A is only occurring in animal foods. But you can form it from the precursor beta-carotene, which occurs in plant foods.
Sources of vitamin A are liver, liver sausage, tuna, egg yolk, dairy products, carrots, spinach, pumpkin, and apricots. An overdose of vitamin A can have health consequences. Symptoms of overdose include headache, nausea and vomiting, peeling skin, and redness of the mucous membranes. [LINK – Article Carrots make good eyes]
Vitamin C – ascorbic acid
Vitamin C is a radical scavenger and antioxidant. It contributes to the support of the immune function and the connective tissue structure. Sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits, acerola cherries, black currants, sea buckthorn, broccoli, paprika, potatoes, and cabbage. Vitamin C often used in the food industry as a preservative (ascorbic acid). The absorption of iron from food promoted by vitamin C.
Symptoms of deficiency include fatigue, susceptibility to infections, and scurvy.
Vitamin C deficiency – scurvy
Scurvy is the so-called seafaring disease. It used to be widespread among seafarers and was the most common cause of death. A vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy after about 2-4 months. Symptoms: bleeding gums, poor wound healing, muscle atrophy, and high fever. The ship’s doctor James Lind recognized in 1754 that scurvy cured with citrus fruits. Scurvy no longer occurs in modern civilization.
Vitamin E acts as a radical scavenger and antioxidant in cell membranes by preventing the destruction of cell walls. Due to its antioxidant properties, vitamin E is essential for athletes to reduce stress-induced tissue damage. The vitamins intercept radicals. An early symptom of a vitamin E deficiency is a shortened lifespan of the red blood cells, the so-called hemolysis tendency. Good sources of vitamin E are vegetable oils, nuts, soybeans, and eggs.
Vitamin D – The prohormone
Vitamin D has hormone-like properties. It is indispensable for bone health, i.e., it is a so-called bone vitamin. The vitamin takes over essential functions in many other tissues. It is formed by sunlight from cholesterol in the skin and kidneys and absorbed through food. However, intake through diet is less important. Sources of vitamin D are high-fat sea fish, milk and dairy products, butter, egg yolk, and mushrooms. Symptoms of deficiency are very varied and range from fatigue and depression to skeletal pain.
Micronutrition – Vitamins and Minerals
The bone deformities typical of vitamin D deficiency occurred mainly in industrialized countries in the 19th century. In Boston at the beginning of the 20th century, about 80% of children from the poorer classes showed bone deformities. It was not until 1919 until discovered that these vitamin D deficiency symptoms could prevent with cod liver oil and increased exposure to sunlight.
A vitamin D deficiency is also associated with an increased incidence of type II diabetes. Until recently, Finland had the highest incidence rate of type II diabetes due to low exposure to sunlight. For some years now, dairy products enriched with vitamin D, which has reduced the incidence of new diseases.
Vitamin D – Solar radiation
Vitamin D synthesized in the skin. Besides, sunlight is necessary. Production of vitamin D depends on several factors; such as the season, the daytime, and the position of the sun. In the northern latitudes, an adequate vitamin D synthesis is more challenging to achieve than in the southern latitudes. It is due to the lower angle of incidence of the sun in northern latitudes, which must be greater than 35° to stimulate vitamin production effectively.
In these countries, vitamin D synthesis via the skin is hardly possible in winter, even at midday. South of 37° latitude (Los Angeles, Sicily), light waves hit the earth’s surface in such a way that a year-round synthesis is possible. In the USA, the combination is only possible from March to September in the midday hours. Practical tip: “Vitamin D synthesis is possible when your shadow is shorter than you are tall.” Sun exposure of at least 30 minutes recommended.
B Vitamins – participation in metabolism
Numerous B vitamins involved in the functioning of the metabolism. A lack of B vitamins leads to a loss of performance. That is, why they often add to energy drinks. Supply via healthy food is, however, very well possible. Due to the increased metabolism, the need of athletes increased.
Vitamin B12 – a particularly essential B vitamin
Vitamin B12 involves in the formation of red blood cells. Together with folic acid and vitamin B6, vitamin B12 supports the body in the breakdown of homocysteine. The amino acid is a by-product of the metabolism. Homocysteine is toxic and can damage blood vessels and nerves. Vitamin B12 also helps to break down fatty acids and build proteins. Vitamin B12 only absorbed by the help of the intrinsic factor formed in the stomach. If this protein is deficient due to a gene mutation, vitamin B12 uptake is also not possible.
Microorganisms can only produce vitamin B12. Sources of vitamin B12 include animal foods such as meat, fish, and milk. You’ll also found in small amounts in fermented vegetable foods such as sauerkraut or beer (yeast).
A B12 deficiency leads to a disorder of cell division in the bone marrow. The result is anemia and degeneration of spinal cord regions. A B12 deficiency often occurs in vegans and vegan-nourished children; in vegetarians, the B12 supply depends on the proportion of animal products in the diet.
Folic acid (folates)
Folic acid is essential for growth, development, and metabolism change processes as well as for hemoglobin formation. Sources of folic acid include green leafy vegetables, meat, and fruit. The supply of folic acid in the USA is usually too low. Undersupply can lead to increased homocysteine levels and contribute to anemia in the long term. Pregnant women generally take folic acid supplements to prevent damage to embryonic development. Folic acid may increase the protective factor against colon cancer.
Vitamins supply via pills?
A healthy diet usually ensures a sufficient supply of vitamins. Nevertheless, about one in three people in the USA consume vitamin supplements. However, vitamin supplements recommended in certain situations (such as folic acid for pregnant women). Since some vitamins may overdose (e.g., vitamin A), they should not be consumed in excessive quantities.