Vitamins: Their Functions, Sources Types & Roles

When you were a kid how many times did your mom give you vegetables on the pretext that it has vitamins which will help you get tall and become super strong? All the time? Yeah me too, but did you ever ask her what these vitamins are and how do they help us stay strong? No? Me too. Are you one of those people who only know about Vitamin C because you like orange juice? Bit Much? Well no matter what your level of knowledge about vitamins is, if you want to know what vitamins are and how they help you then you have come to the right place.

What are Vitamins?

Vitamins are substances that are present in various foods, these vitamins are essential for our body to grow and function properly and for the proper functioning of the metabolism. Every vitamin has its benefits and all of them are vital for us. These vitamins are especially important in our formative years that’s why it is important to give our children as much of every vitamin when they are young. These vitamins make our bones strong, enhance our eyesight, help in the healing of cuts quickly and give the energy to last all day.

Usually, we receive our vitamins through our food intake but our bodies also can produce Vitamins D and K. Each vitamin has a specific job in the body and it is vital for a person to consume a balanced diet so that he gets the nutrition of each Vitamin. Excess or lack of any Vitamin in the body can lead to deficiencies and many health problems. People who cannot have all the Vitamins through food can take them as supplements like vegan and vegetarians (who also avoid dairy products) don’t eat meat take Vitamin B12 as a supplement.

A balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and fats will give you the complete nutrition that you require to maintain a healthy body, but everyone can’t manage to eat this diet all the time, so here multivitamins come into play. As the name suggests, multivitamins are pills that provide different types of vitamins and minerals. These fulfil the nutritional requirement of the body that is not fulfilled through diet alone.

The term Vitamin was coined from the word vitamine (vital + anime) which was coined in 1912 by Polish biochemist Casimir Funk while he worked at the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine. The reason for this name was that in 1912 it was suggested that organic micronutrient food factors that prevent various dietary deficiencies might be a chemical amine. It was later found to be not true for every anime, hence the name was shortened to vitamin. 

Vitamins were consumed through food till the 1930s which is when supplements were developed. By 1950s many vitamins and multivitamins were available for the general public to protect them from many deficiencies and diseases.

What are the role of Vitamins

Do you feel tired often? Is it hard for you to be in motion for a long time? If yes then maybe you need some vitamins. Vitamins are very crucial for good health and the best part is they can be taken in much smaller portions than fats and carbohydrates. They help with many vital functions of the body like cell reproduction, cell growth and more importantly processing of energy in cells.

Before I get into the detail of what the role of vitamins is let me tell you first what our body does every day. Every day our body produces muscle, skin and even bone. It stirs up the blood to carry all the nutrients and oxygen to places in need, it sends signals to the brain every second and brings back messages from the brain through the motor units that hop from organ to organ, giving instructions to help us stay alive.

A human body cannot do all of this on its own, and just like a car needs fuel to run its engine, similarly, a human body needs various nutrients to function properly and one of the essential nutrients are vitamins. Vitamins are called micronutrients because they are consumed in small quantities but these small quantities lay a big impact on our bodies and failure to take any of these can result in serious insufficiencies in our body. 

These micronutrients help shore up bones, strengthen our immune system and rapid healing of wounds. When talking about the greater contribution they help convert food into energy and can even repair cell damage. Since our cells experience wear and tear gradually it boosts the ageing process in humans, but with proper care, nourishment and balanced consumption of vitamins ageing can be slowed down, if not reversed. Vitamins, like antioxidants, safeguard cells from environmental stress which helps in healthy ageing or as people say it helps in ageing like fine wine. 

So if you want to build a strong immune system (which we all need, given the current circumstance), support a healthy metabolism, develop and maintain strong bone structure and age like Queen Elizabeth II, then please take your vitamins, now.

How many types of Vitamins are there?

There are two types of vitamins, fat-soluble and water-soluble and we will explain both of them in the simplest way possible.

1. Fat-Soluble: 

As the name suggests fat-soluble vitamins when consumed, are stored in the fatty tissues and the liver. They are stored in the body for various durations, some last up to a few days while some last up to six months. Dietary fats help the body to absorb these vitamins through the intestinal tract. They are only carried out of these fatty tissues when they need to be used and when the time comes special carriers in our bodies take them to where are needed. Fat-soluble vitamins are vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K.

2. Water-Soluble: 

Water-Soluble vitamins are also consumed through food but they don’t have the capacity to get stored in our bodies like the fat-soluble vitamins. These vitamins keep on travelling through your bloodstream and the excess which is not used is discarded by the body through urine. As a result, it is vital to keep on replacing these vitamins because they can’t stay for long. Water-soluble vitamins are vitamin C, vitamins B including B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), niacin, B6 (pyridoxine), folic acid, B12 (cobalamin), biotin, and lastly pantothenic acid.

Both type of vitamins are essential for the healthy functioning of the human body and it must be seen that you are getting the best of both worlds. Having a balanced amount of both vitamins will not only help you prevent deficiencies but keep you fit and prolong your life span.

List of Vitamins

Now let’s give you a tour of each of the 13 vitamins and see how each of them help us stay healthy and alive.

1. Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and is primarily important for the proper functioning of our eyes. Lack of vitamin A in the body can result in keratomalacia and night blindness, which results in drying and clouding of the front layer of the eye. Cod liver oil, liver, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, butter, spinach, kale, pumpkins, some cheeses, collard greens, eggs, cantaloupe melon, apricots, and milk are some of the excellent sources of vitamin A.

2. Vitamin B1

Vitamin B1 or thiamine is a water-soluble vitamin that is responsible for producing enzymes that can break down blood sugar. A person lacking vitamin B1 in his/her system can be prone to diseases like beriberi and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Food items that are rich in vitamin B1 are pork, yeast, sunflower seeds, cereal grains, brown rice, asparagus, whole grain rye, kale, potatoes, cauliflower, oranges, liver & eggs.

3. Vitamin B2

The chemical name for this vitamin is riboflavin and it is also water-soluble. It helps in the developing and growth of cells in our body and maintain metabolism. Vitamin B2 deficiency can result in lip inflammation and fissures in the mouth and in case you want to avoid such inconveniences then you must consume bananas, asparagus, persimmons, chard, okra, milk, cottage cheese, yoghurt, green beans, eggs, meat, and fish.

4. Vitamin B3

It is a water-soluble vitamin that is essential for the growth and proper functioning of the cells of our body. People with vitamin B3 deficiency can suffer from pellagra causing, diarrhoea, intestinal infection and changes in the skin. Beef, chicken, salmon, tuna, milk, tomatoes, eggs, leafy vegetables, carrots, broccoli, nuts & seeds, lentils, and tofu are excellent sources of vitamin B3.

5. Vitamin B5

Another vitamin from the water-soluble family is the pantothenic acid, popularly known as the vitamin B5. This particular vitamin is a great source of energy and is responsible for producing hormones. The most common symptoms of vitamin B5 deficiency in your body is feeling “pins and needles” in some parts of your body, medically known as paraesthesia.

6. Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is essential for the proper formation of red blood cells and deficiency of this vitamin can lead to anaemia and peripheral neuropathy. Hence it is important to eat beef liver, chickpeas, bananas, nuts, and squash to stay fit and prevent vitamin B6 deficiency. By the way, this vitamin is also water-soluble and if you’re interested to know its chemical names, they are pyridoxine, pyridoxamine, and pyridoxal.

7. Vitamin B7

Vitamin B7 or biotin is an excellent source to gain proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. It is also an excellent producer of keratin, which is a structural protein in the skin, hair, and nails. It is also important to note that deficiency of vitamin B7 can cause dermatitis or inflammation of the intestines. So to avoid such painful diseases you must eat a lot of liver, egg yolk, spinach, cheese, and broccoli.

8. Vitamin B9

Folic acid is another name for vitamin B9. It is important in the construction of RNA and DNA. It is especially important for pregnant women as its deficiency can affect the nervous system of their baby. It is for this reason that doctors always prescribe folic acid to them during pregnancy. Leafy vegetables, peas, legumes, liver, and sunflower seeds etc. are some good source of vitamin B9.

9. Vitamin B12

If you want to strengthen your nervous system then you should include vitamin B12 in your diet. Vitamin B12 helps your body prevent various neurological disorders and also some types of anaemia. So if you want a healthy nervous system then make sure to eat fish, shellfish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk and other dairy products, fortified cereals, fortified soy products, and fortified nutritional yeast. Vegans and vegetarians can have vitamin B12 supplements.

10. Vitamin C

I’m sure many of you are already well versed with this vitamin having seen so many ads for orange juices. But do you know why it is an important nutrient? If not then let me tell you that it enhances collagen production, healing of wounds, and bone formation, toughens blood vessels, protects the immune system, helps the body in absorbing iron, and acts as an antioxidant. All you need to do is make sure you don’t cook the food that has vitamin C.

11. Vitamin D

After a long line of water-soluble vitamins here comes a fat-soluble vitamin. Its primary function is the healthy mineralization of bone. Any person having vitamin D deficiency can suffer from rickets, osteomalacia and softening of the bone. The best and the most abundant source of vitamin D is the sun, apart from that fatty fish, eggs, beef liver, and mushrooms also contain vitamin D.

12. Vitamin E

Vitamin E is also fat-soluble and has antioxidant properties which prevent antioxidant stress that can cause widespread inflammation and various other diseases. Although its deficiency doesn’t cause any common health issues, instead it causes a rare condition called haemolytic anaemia in new-borns which destroys their blood cells. Wheat germ, kiwis, almonds, eggs, nuts, leafy greens, and vegetable oils are good sources of vitamin E.

13. Vitamin K

Vitamin K is very vital for blood clotting otherwise a person suffering from vitamin K deficiency can face an uncommon vulnerability to bleeding or bleeding diathesis. Foods like natto, leafy green vegetables, pumpkins, figs and parsley are rich in vitamin K and must be taken regularly especially by children. it is a fat-soluble vitamin and its chemical names are phylloquinone and menaquinone.

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