Basic Information on Vitamins

Vitamins are organic compounds that are necessary for life required in small amounts and must be obtained in the diet (except for vitamin D which can be made with the aid of sunlight) as the body cannot make them from other nutrients. In this definition, "organic" refers to the fact that they contain carbon atoms and has nothing to do with the fertilizers used to nourish the foods from which they are derived or whether or not they are grown with or without pesticides. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble vitamins. The B-complex vitamins and vitamin C are water-soluble vitamins.

Vitamin A has many different functions. First it is related to the maintenance of normal vision in dim light or the prevention of night blindness. It also aids in the growth and formation of body cells, making it essential for body growth. It is especially needed for bone growth. If the intake is not sufficient, bones will stop growing before the soft tissues are fully mature. Vitamin A is also needed for normal tooth development because the enamel-forming cells are affected by lack of vitamin A. It is also important in the maintenance of healthy epithelial tissues. There are two kinds of epithelial tissues: (1) those that cover the outer surface of the body -- the resistant, protective skin (epidermis), and (2) those that line all the mucous membranes. Without vitamin A, the epithelial cells become dry and flat and gradually harden to form scales that shed. Vitamin A is also necessary for the health of the membranes lining the stomach, intestinal wall, bladder and urinary passages and for the health of the sex glands and uterus. Lastly, vitamin A works better when there are sufficient body levels of zinc and an adequate intake of protein.

Vitamin C: Ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, aids in many functions of the body, including the absorption of iron. Large doses of C do not usually cause toxicity because, as a water-soluble vitamin, it is simply excreted in the urine. People who tend to form kidney stones may find their condition aggravated by vitamin C supplementation or mega dosing

Vitamin D is required for calcium and phosphorus absorption and utilization. It is necessary for growth, development and maintenance of bones and teeth in adults and children. In its active form, vitamin D works with calcium to control bone formation. Vitamin D is unique in that man and animals normally obtain it from two sources: the spontaneous formation in the skin by the sun via a photochemical reaction in the epidermis and the ingestion of a food source that contains vitamin D through the mouth.

Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) prevents saturated fatty acids and vitamin A from breaking down and combining with other substances that may become harmful to the body. Not surprisingly, fats and oils containing vitamin E are less susceptible to rancidity than those devoid of vitamin E. Vitamin E also has the ability to unite with oxygen and prevent it from being converted into toxic peroxides. This leaves the red blood cells more fully supplied with the pure oxygen that the blood carries to the heart and other organs.

Vitamin E plays an essential role in cellular respiration of all muscles, especially cardiac and skeletal. Vitamin E makes it possible for these muscles and their nerves to function with less oxygen, thereby increasing their endurance and stamina. It also causes dilation of the blood vessels, permitting a fuller flow of blood to the heart. Vitamin E also aids in bringing nourishment to the cells, strengthening the capillary walls, and protecting the red blood cells from destruction by poisons such as, hydrogen peroxide, in the blood.

The general term "Vitamin K" is used to describe a group of natural fat-soluble quinone compounds having anti-hemorrhagic effects. The designation vitamin "K" may have been selected because it was the first letter of the alphabet that was not in use for a proven or postulated vitamin at the time of discovery, but it is also the first letter of the German word, "koagulation," Vitamin K is important for proper blood clotting or coagulation in humans. It is essential for the synthesis by the liver of prothrombin, factors VII, IX and X, and proteins C and S, which are all involved in the regulation of blood clotting. Without vitamin K, the level of the blood clotting proteins in the blood is reduced and clotting time is prolonged. Vitamin K also has a role in the maintenance and health of bone (Gla calcium-binding proteins osteocalcin, MGP, and Protein S) and vascular biology (MGP, Protein S and Gas-6). Biochemically, vitamin K is involved in the conversion of glutamate residues into certain proteins called gamma-carboxyglutamic acids (Gla).

The first compound shown to have vitamin K activity is a complex molecule called 2-methyl-3-phytyl-1,4-naphthoquinone, which nutritionists simply call "phylloquinone" or "vitamin K1." The United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) calls this same compound "phytonadione." Vitamin K1 was first isolated from alfalfa. A second form of vitamin K was isolated from putrefied fish meal and called menaquinone or vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 now refers to any of the series of vitamin K compounds having unsaturated side chains, which are found in animals and bacteria. The first vitamin K2 isolated is now called menaquinone-7 (MK-7) as it has seven isoprenoid units. It is interesting to note that chemical structure of vitamin K2 is somewhat similar to the structure of coenzyme Q10. There is a synthetic compound called vitamin K3 that is approved for use in animals. Vitamin K3 is called menadione and is a simpler compound not having the isoprenoid side chain.

Vitamin K1 has a tendency to be transported to the liver, whereas vitamin K2 has a tendency to be transported to other tissues. The vitamin K transported to the liver become involved in the regulation of blood coagulation, whereas the vitamin K transported to other tissues becomes involved in regulation of cell growth and differentiation, and in metabolism and regulation of soft tissue calcification.

Vitamin K is found in both plant and animal sources in nature. Good plant sources of vitamin K1 include dark leafy greens, most green plants, alfalfa and kelp. Blackstrap molasses and the polyunsaturated oils such as, safflower, also contain some vitamin K. Good animal sources of vitamin K2 include liver, cheese, milk, yogurt, egg yolks nado, and fish liver oils. The best source for humans is that made by the intestinal bacteria which is why vitamin K supplementation is particularly important for those whose normal balance of intestinal bacterial flora has been disrupted. The B vitamins consist of a large number of substances that are involved in the metabolism of all living cells. Acting as coenzymes, they work together with proteins in the various enzyme systems of our body.

The functions of the B vitamins are closely synergistic and because of these interrelationships, an insufficient intake of one or more of them can cause deficiencies in the others by hampering their utilization. B vitamins are water-soluble and are not stored in the body. They must be replaced daily and any excess excreted.

Although the B vitamins do work together, some of their individual functions are as follows:

Vitamin B-1 (thiamine) acts as a coenzyme necessary for the conversion of carbohydrates into glucose, which is burned in the body for energy. It is essential for the functioning of the nervous system. A deficiency can cause beriberi, a disease marked by weakness, paralysis and edema.

Vitamin B-2 (riboflavin) acts as a coenzyme that activates the breakdown and utilization of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. It is essential for cellular oxidation. A deficiency can cause tissue inflammation and an over-sensitivity to bright light.

Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) plays a role as a coenzyme in the breakdown and utilization of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. It facilitates the release of glycogen for energy from the liver and muscles. It also participates in the utilization of energy in brain and nervous tissue and is essential for the regulation of the central nervous system.

Vitamin B-12 (cobalamin) is the only vitamin containing cobalt, a trace mineral. It is essential for the normal functioning of all body cells, especially those of the bone marrow, gastrointestinal tract and nervous system. It is also necessary for the formation of red blood cells.

Biotin is an essential coenzyme that assists in the making of fatty acids and in the burning of carbohydrates and fats for body heat and energy. It also aids in the utilization of amino acids, folic acid, pantothenic acid and vitamin B-12. It is also a potent stimulant to the growth of healthy cells.

Choline is usually considered part of the vitamin B complex. It is a component of lecithin, which facilitates the movement of fat from the liver and into cells, and it must be present before vitamin A can be stored. It is manufactured in the body from dietary phosphatides as found in lecithin.

Folic acid functions along with vitamins B-12 and C in the utilization of proteins. It has an essential role in the formation of heme, the iron containing protein in hemoglobin necessary for the formation of red blood cells. Some folic acid is produced by the intestinal bacteria. Folic acid is essential during pregnancy to prevent neural tubular defects in the developing fetus.

Inositol is usually considered part of the vitamin B complex. It is thought that, along with choline, inositol is necessary for the formation of lecithin within the body.

Niacin, also available in the form of niacinamide, is a coenzyme that assists in the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Niacin is essential for the health of the skin, tongue and digestive system. The disease, pellagra, is a result of a niacin deficiency.

PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) may be considered part of the vitamin B complex. It influences intestinal bacteria, enabling them to produce folic acid, which in turn, aids in the production of pantothenic acid. As a coenzyme, PABA functions in the breakdown and utilization of proteins, and aids in the formation of red blood cells.

Pantothenic acid is necessary for the normal functioning of the adrenal gland which directly affects growth. It is also essential for the formation of fatty acids. In addition, as a coenzyme, it participates in the utilization of riboflavin and in the release of energy from carbohydrates, fats and proteins.




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