Wait, what are vitamins and when should I take them?Supplements
Vitamins are compounds that are essential to cellular function and the growth and development of human beings. Although the body doesn’t produce them, each vitamin fulfills a mission, to the point that a vitamin deficiency can lead to health problems.
The main source of essential vitamins should be a balanced diet. In some specific cases it may become necessary to take vitamin supplements.
Among all the vitamins, there are 13 essential vitamins – without them, the body simply can’t function.
The 13 essential vitamins are:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin)
- Pantothenic acid
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Folate (folic acid)
But not all vitamins are the same. According to the United States National Library of Medicine, vitamins fall into two categories:
- Fat-soluble vitamins, which dissolve in fat and are stored in the body’s adipose tissue, especially in the liver, so they stay in the body for some time. For this reason it’s not necessary to consume these vitamins constantly. Fat soluble vitamins are essential for the basic functions of the human body, especially that of the nervous system. The four fat-soluble vitamins are: A, D, E and K.
- Water-soluble vitamins,which easily dissolve in water and are therefore quickly excreted from the body, so their adequate, frequent consumption is fundamental. Thenine water-soluble vitaminsleave the body through urination and are easily lost in cooking.
Vitamins at a glance
Visit our visual guide on vitamins
What do essential vitamins do?
- Vitamin Ahelps in the formation and maintenance of teeth, bone and soft tissue, and in keeping mucous membranes and skin healthy.
- Vitamin B6, which is also called pyridoxine, helps in the formation of red blood cells and the maintenance of brain function. It plays an important role in the proteins that take part in many of the body’s chemical reactions. Consuming great quantities of protein may lower the levels of vitamin B6 in the body.
- Vitamin B12, just like the other B-complex vitamins, is important for metabolism. It contributes to the formation of red blood cells and the maintenance of the central nervous system.
- Vitamin C, known as ascorbic acid. It’s an antioxidant that promotes healthy gums and teeth. This vitamin helps the body absorb iron, helps keep tissue healthy and promotes the formation of scars over wounds.
- Vitamin D, also known as “the sun vitamin” because the body produces it after absorbing sunlight. Between 10-15 minutes of exposure to the sun three times a week is enough to produce the body’s requirement of this vitamin that helps the body absorb calcium, which is fundamental to the normal development and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. It likewise helps to keep stable the appropriate levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood.
- Vitamin Eis an antioxidant. Known as tocopherol, it plays an important role in the formation of red blood cells and helps the body use vitamin K.
- Vitamin Kis responsible for the clotting of blood. Some studies suggest that it’s important for promoting healthy bones.
- Biotinis essential for protein and carbohydrate metabolism as well as hormone and cholesterol production.
- Niacinis a B-complex vitamin that helps keep skin and nerves healthy; it likewise has the ability to reduce the concentration of cholesterol in the blood.
- Folate or folic acidworks with vitamin B12 to help in the formation of red blood cells and is necessary for the production of DNA, which controls tissue growth and cellular functions. Pregnant women must make sure to consume adequate quantities of folate, since low levels of this vitamin are linked to birth defects such as spina bifida. Many foods now come enriched with folic acid.
- Pantothenic acidis essential for the metabolism of food and likewise plays a role in the production of hormones and cholesterol.
- Riboflavin(vitamin B2) works with the other B-complex vitamins and is important for the growth of the body and the production of red blood cells.
- Thiamin(vitamin B1)helps the cells in the body convert carbohydrates into energy. Obtaining many carbohydrates is very important during pregnancy and lactation. It is also essential to heart and neuron function.
The Daily Recommended Allowance (RDA) of essential vitamins is the quantity of each vitamin that one person should consume daily, and that dose depends on your sex and age. Other factors such as pregnancy and your overall health are also important aspects.
Check with your health professional to determine if you have any vitamin deficiencies and how each vitamin should be supplemented in your diet.