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A Complete Guide To Vitamins & Its Importance For Human Body

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When we discuss ways to improve our health, we mostly talk about lifestyle changes and the need to exercise regularly. While these are pro-tips and can really turn your health around, what we often overlook is the importance of a special group of nutrients. We are referring to VITAMINS!

Vitamins are a bunch of organic compounds. They are found naturally in plants and animals. They function the same way as minerals, with the main difference being minerals are inorganic matter that we source from the earth and water. 

Vitamins are absolutely crucial for the growth and the maintenance of good health. In this context, let us share a fun fact – The word ‘Vitamin’ is derived from 2 Latin words – ‘Vita’ means Life and ‘Amine’ means amino acid (initially vitamins were incorrectly thought to be amino acids). 

Let us explore these wondrous nutrients.

Types of Vitamins, their sources and deficiency symptoms

We know of 13 types of vitamins. Let’s learn more about them:

Types of VitaminsSourcesFunctionsDeficiency symptoms
Vitamin A  Cheese, eggs, oily fish, milk and yoghurt.Maintenance of bones, eyesight and immune function. Dry skin and eyes, night blindness, throat and chest infections.
Vitamin C Citrus fruits, berries, peppers, broccoli and potatoes.Acts as an antioxidant and helps in the absorption of iron keeping skin healthy and helps in wound healing.Weakness and bleeding gums.
Vitamin D Sunlight, egg yolk, oily fish and red meat.Is needed for the utilization of calcium and for maintaining the balance of calcium and phosphorus.Muscle and bone pain, bony deformities in children and mental health-related problems.
Vitamin E Plant seed oil, almonds, peanuts, peanut butter, wheat germ, egg yolk, pumpkin and red bell pepper.An antioxidant that helps in immune function.Deficiency is rare – muscle and nerve damage, inability to control muscle movements and loss of sensation in the limbs.
Vitamin K Leafy green vegetables, whole grains and vegetable oils.Helps in the formation of blood clots in case of injuries to prevent haemorrhage.Frequent bruising, heavy menstrual flow and excessive bleeding from wounds.
Vitamin B1 (also known as thiamine) Whole grains, peas, bananas, oranges, liver and nuts.Helps to transform carbohydrates into energy. Loss of appetite, irritability, muscle weakness and blurry vision. 
Vitamin B2 (also known as riboflavin) Milk, eggs, mushroom and yoghurt.Aids in the collaboration of other vitamins and also helps to keep RBCs healthy. Swelling of the mouth and throat, swollen lips, hair loss and skin disorders.
Vitamin B3 (also known as niacin) Saltwater fishes, liver, turkey and chicken.Helps in the utilization of proteins and fats, also keeps the skin and hair healthy.Scaly skin, rashes, headache, diarrhoea and vomiting.
Vitamin B5 (also known as pantothenic acid) Mushroom, avocados, broccoli, peanuts, chickpeas, eggs, milk and sunflower seeds.Acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and helps in the healing of wounds. Insomnia, vomiting, stomach pain and depression.
Vitamin B7 (also known as biotin) Sweet potatoes, avocado, salmon, eggs, seeds and nuts.Helps the body produce vital enzymes that are essential for our metabolism.Scaly skin, hair loss, conjunctivitis and lethargy.
Vitamin B6 Bananas, oats, peanuts and chicken.Crucial for brain growth and function.Seizures, compromised immunity, confusion and depression.
Vitamin B12 (also known as cyanocobalamin) Milk, cheese, eggs and meat.Helps in red blood cell formation and the nervous system.Tingling sensation in hands and feet, yellowness of skin, swollen tongue, mouth ulcers, anaemia and depression.
Folate (also known as folic acid or Vitamin B9) Spinach, beet, asparagus, turnip and beans, whole grains and cereals.It is important for cell division and the maturation of blood cells. Fatigue, lethargy, pallor and anaemia.

These types of vitamins can be further classified as:

  • Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the fatty tissues of our bodies. Vitamins A, D, E and K are the 4 fat-soluble vitamins.
  • Water-soluble vitamins cannot be stored in the body for long and need to be consumed daily. Any leftovers are expelled from the body through urine. The other nine vitamins are water-soluble. Vitamin B12 is an exception to the rule. Our liver can store it for years. 

There are two more compounds that resemble and act like vitamins without being labelled as vitamins:

  • Choline
  • Carnitine

The need for Vitamin supplements

There could be several reasons why people do not consume the right proportions of all the different vitamins:

  • They could be fussy eaters who avoid certain foods that they do not like the taste of.
  • Vegetarians often miss out on many vital vitamins that are present in meat, fowl or eggs.
  • They could be too busy to carefully plan their meals.
  • Some health conditions may lead to poor absorption of certain vitamins despite adequate dietary intake.
  • While some vitamin deficiencies require a specific amount of vitamin intake which cannot be fulfilled by dietary sources.
  • This is where vitamin supplements come in. They are carefully formulated to make up for the shortfall of vitamins in your body. Speak with a doctor and start taking vitamin supplements at his/her recommendation.

How to measure Vitamin Levels 

If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of vitamin deficiency and wondering how to check vitamin levels,  you can opt for these tests:

How to interpret test results

Test results are easy to interpret. Usually, reports contain columns for expected levels of the vitamins for which you got tested and the actual levels in your system as revealed by the test. This can tell you if your level is lower, higher or at par with the normal level.

For further clarity, you can ask your doctor to go over the reports.

Why is it important to test the vitamin levels? 

It is important to keep a tab on your vitamin levels whether you are taking supplements or not. Sometimes symptoms don’t show up until very late and a test is like a preventive healthcare check. It will tell you if you need to increase the intake of specific vitamins.

Similarly, even if you are taking vitamin supplements, vitamin level checks are just as important to ensure that there isn’t too much of a particular vitamin in your system because that leads to toxicity.

Tips to maintain good vitamin levels and what to do if you are deficient

Methods of preventing and treating vitamin deficiencies are practically the same:

  1. Your diet should comprise:
  • Whole grains
  • Soy products
  • Vegetables of all colours
  • Fruits 
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Poultry, fish and meat 
  1. Lifestyle changes:
  • Get some sunshine
  1. People with deficiencies can also take vitamin supplements but only on being recommended by their doctors.

Be mindful of your diet. A proper diet is more than enough to meet your daily requirement of the different vitamins. Paired with a few healthy lifestyle choices, you can easily avert major disorders.

Eat and maintain good levels of vitamins and get tested time to time to check the lack of same.

Disclaimer: The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.

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