Vitamins are a group of organic substances that are essential to normal metabolism of the body in small quantities. They are key nutrients that the body requires in order to grow and stay strong. The body uses these small molecules in order to carry out certain chemical reactions. And, because the body has no way to create these molecules itself, vitamins must be acquired through food or supplements.
At this time researchers have identified 13 different vitamins which are required by the body and they include:
Vitamin A, vitamin B (which includes six different sub vitamins), vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, pantothenic acid, biotin
Once inside the body vitamins are used in unique ways that are specific to the chemical compositions which make them up. For instance, vitamin A. is important in the production of retinol which is used in the eyes to sense light. Without the retinal we cannot see and without vitamin A the body cannot produce retinol. (1)
There are two types of vitamins that are available within the body: fat-soluble and water-soluble. Fat soluble vitamins are stored within the fat tissue of the body and the liver and are available when the body requires them. Some can be stored for up to six months.
Water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body and travel through the bloodstream. Whatever is not used during that period of time the body filters through the kidneys and excretes through the urine. Water soluble vitamins need to be replaced often and include vitamin C, many of the B vitamins and pantothenic acid.
Although dietary supplements are available which help to supply some of these needed vitamins the body is able to use vitamins that it extracts from food in a much more effective and efficient manner than those which are produced in the laboratory. How available those vitamins are is called “bioavailability”. This means that the more bioavailable a particular vitamin is the more that vitamin is available at the cellular level for the chemical reactions required.
Vitamins and minerals also work within the immune system, will support normal growth and development and help the organ systems do their job. Because of the increased rate of growth and development during both infancy and the teen years nutrition plays an important role in how healthy and individual will grow up.
Eating a variety of foods each and every day is the best way to get all of the vitamins and minerals your body requires in order to function appropriately. The best options are whole foods or unprocessed foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains and lean meats.
Remember that moderation is key. While the majority of the time it is important to choose healthy foods, eating potato chips and cookies once in a while will not change your overall health.
Many individuals wonder whether or not they should take a vitamin or a mineral supplement on a daily basis. Unfortunately, while some individuals are able to be adequate amounts of raw fruits and vegetables in order to obtain good levels of vitamins and minerals the soil in which these plants have been grown is now sadly depleted. This means that while the vitamins in these foods are much more bioavailable than a dietary supplement might be, it is also important to take a dietary supplement in order to augment the vitamins your body has available.
When taking a supplement it is important not to get more than 100% of the recommended daily allowance for any particular vitamin or mineral. This is because you are probably already receiving these vitamins through your food and taking greater than 100% can actually be harmful, especially when those vitamins are fat-soluble.
Vitamins are not substitutes for food and should never be taken in lieu of eating a balanced diet. They also cannot be assimilated well without taking in food. They have no energy value on their own and are not components of bodily structure which means that you cannot live on a multivitamin supplement without eating food. By eating a well-balanced diet on a daily basis and taking a multivitamin supplement you are ensuring that your body is receiving the necessary vitamins and minerals that requires in order to function at an optimal level.
(1) University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin A