Every day, your body produces skin, muscle, and bone. It churns out rich red blood that carries nutrients and oxygen to remote outposts, and it sends nerve signals skipping along thousands of miles of brain and body pathways. It also formulates chemical messengers that shuttle from one organ to another, issuing the instructions that help sustain your life. To do all this, your body requires raw materials. These include vitamins that your body needs but cannot manufacture on its own in sufficient amounts. A vitamin is“…any of a group of organic substances other than proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and organic salts which are essential for normal metabolism, growth, and development of the body. Vitamins are not sources of energy, nor do they contribute significantly to the substance of the body. They are indispensable for the maintenance of health. They are effective in minute quantities. They act principally as regulators of metabolic processes…” (Taber, 1993, pg. 2141).
In general, none of the vitamins can be formed in the body but must be obtained from animal or plant sources. Exceptions to the above are the formation of vitamin A from carotene, the formation of vitamin D by the action of ultraviolet light on the skin, and the formation of vitamin K by symbiotic bacteria of the intestine (Merck Research Laboratories, 1992, pg.2139). There are two broad classifications of vitamins. The first, fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), must dissolve in fat (or lipids) before they can enter the bloodstream. These vitamins are stored in the liver and fat cells to be released as needed. Because fat-soluble vitamins can be stored, excess amounts can build up over time causing serious toxic reactions. Toxicity rarely occurs from eating foods containing vitamins A, D, E, and K, but rather occurs from taking too many vitamin supplements.
The following chart shows the nutrient sources, functions, and effects of deficiency as well as toxicity of each fat-soluble vitamin. Fat-Soluble Vitamins| Nutrient Sources| Functions| Effects of Deficiency| Effects of Toxicity| Vitamin A| Fish liver oils, liver, egg yolk, butter, cream, carrots, dark green leafy vegetables, yellow fruits| Supports immune system, vision, reproduction, cell growth and differentiation | Night blindness, low iron, risk of infections, decreased organ function, organ failure| Headache, peeling of skin, bone thickening, dizziness, nausea, joint pain, coma, liver damage| Vitamin D| Fortified milk, fish liver, oils, butter, egg yolk, liver, salmon, tuna, mackerel, cheese| Calcium and phosphorus absorption, bone growth, cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, reduction of inflammation|
In children-Rickets (failure of bone tissue to properly mineralize resulting in soft bones and skeletal deformities)In adults- Osteomalacia (weak bones), osteoporosis (structural deterioration of bone tissue)| Anorexia, renal failure| Vitamin E| Vegetable oil, wheat germ, leafy vegetables, egg yolk, margarine, legumes| Intracellular anti-oxidant, scavenger of free radicals, immune function, inhibits platelet aggregation (blood clots)| Neurologic damage, immune response impairment, lack of muscle control (ataxia), diseases of the retina| Increased risk of infection, increased risk of stroke| Vitamin K| Leafy vegetables, pork, liver, vegetable oils, broccoli, asparagus, green beans| Normal blood coagulation, prevents bone fractures, assists vitamin D in creating strong bones, keeps calcium out of the arteries| Nose bleeds, bleeding gums, stroke, blood in urine or stool, easy bruising. Heavy menstruation in women. | Cell damage, excessive blood clotting, jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)In infants-destruction of red blood cells|
(National Institute of Health, 2012)
The second classification, water-soluble vitamins (B-complex group and vitamin C), must dissolve in water before they can enter the blood stream. Because they are so easily broken down, the body absorbs what it needs and excretes the rest in the urine via the kidneys. Our bodies cannot store water-soluble vitamins, therefore they need to be replenished daily. These vitamins are not as likely as fat-soluble vitamins to reach toxic levels from supplementation. Niacin, vitamin B6, folate, choline, and vitamin C have upper consumption limits (WebMD, 2011). The following chart shows the nutrient sources, functions, and effects of deficiency as well as toxicity of each water-soluble vitamin. Water-Soluble Vitamin| Nutrient Sources| Functions| Effects of Deficiency| Effects of Toxicity| Vitamin B complex| Pork, whole-grain or enriched breads and cereals, legumes, nuts and seeds, dairy products, leafy green vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, peanut butter, Part of an enzyme needed for energy metabolism; important to nerve function, digestive system, and skin health, helps make red blood cells, part of an enzyme needed for making DNA and new cells| Organ failure, enlarged heart, weak muscles, short-term memory loss, confusion, irritability, weight loss, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, aggression, insomnia, dementia, hallucinations, behavioral disorders, etc.
Headache, irritability, trembling, rapid pulse, insomnia, itching, numbness, light sensitivity, Skin flushing, headaches, tingling, burning, liver damage| Ascorbic acid (vitamin C)| Found only in fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits, vegetables in the cabbage family, cantaloupe, strawberries, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, papayas, mangoes, kiwifruit| Antioxidant; part of an enzyme needed for protein metabolism; important for immune system health; aids in iron absorption| Fragile bones, joint pain, poor wound healing, frequent infections, skin spots, spongy gums, pinpoint hemorrhages, bleeding mucous membranes, loose teeth, muscle loss and pain, hysteria, rough skin and blotchy bruises.
Diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps, skin rashes
Per the recommendations of the My Plate Super Tracker web site, my diet has been improved by eliminating the packaged and pre-packaged food items, eating a large variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and five fish meals per week. These dietary changes are consistent with the information in the above charts as the way to ensure all of the needed nutrients are ingested. It is interesting to note from the above charts that a deficiency in the vitamin B group and vitamin C can cause insomnia and depression, which I have suffered from for many years.
As a result of this discovery I will be adding vitamin B and C supplements to my new way of eating along with journaling my feelings and energy levels to determine if the supplementation is alleviating my symptoms. Vitamins are essential nutrients because they perform hundreds of roles in the body. Water-soluble vitamins must be replenished daily but fat-soluble vitamins do not. Ingesting too much or too little can lead to health problems. Unless supplementation is recommended by your doctor, the best way to acquire sufficient amounts of vitamins is to eat a healthy diet.
Merck Research Laboratories (1992). The Merck Manual (16th ed.). Rathway, NJ: Author. National Institute of Health. (2012, July). Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin A. Retrieved from http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/ National Institutes of Health. (2012, July). Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin E. Retrieved from http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/ National Institutes of Health. (2012, July). Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D. Retrieved from http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/ National Institutes of Health. (2012, July). Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin K. Retrieved from http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminK-HealthProfessional/ Taber, C. W. (1993). Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary (17th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: F.A. Davis Company. WebMD. (2011, February). Vitamins and Supplements: Vitamins and Their Functions and Sources. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-and-supplements/vitamins-and-their-functions-and-sourc