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VITAMINS

Vitamins are nutrients your body need for normal daily functioning and fight off disease. Your
body cannot produce all the vitamins by itself, so you must get them through food you eat or in
some cases supplements. There are 13 vitamins that are essential for your body to work well.
Knowledge of the different types and understanding the purpose of these vitamins are important
for good health.

Vitamins are categorised into:

1. Fat- soluble vitamins


2. Water- soluble vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins are soluble in fats. They are absorbed by fat globules that travel through
the small intestines and into the general blood circulation within the body. Unlike water-soluble
vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body when they are not in use. Typically, they are
stored in the liver and fat tissues. Vitamin A, D, E, K are known as the fat soluble vitamins.

Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water, which means that these vitamins and nutrients
dissolve quickly in the body. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, water-soluble vitamins are carried to
the body’s tissues, but the body cannot store them. Any excess amounts of water-soluble
vitamins simply passes through the body. Vitamin C and vitamin B are known as the water-
soluble vitamins. Vitamin B is further divided into three main types based on their functions,
namely, energy releasing vitamins, hematopoietic and others.

Vitamin A
The first vitamin to be discovered was vitamin A. Initially, it was known only as an important
dietary element for growth. However, it was later discovered that it also plays a major role in the
vision of a human being, in regulation of gene expression and differentiation of tissues.

Preformed vitamin A is found only in the foods of animal origin. The richest source of vitamin A
is the liver. The amount of vitamin A is so high in liver that in some cases it can cause an
overdose in pregnant women. Vitamin A is also found in green, yellow and red fruits and
vegetables, margarine, milk and other milk products.

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Retinol, retinaldehyde and retinoic ( pre-formed vitamin A) and a variety of carotenes are
collectively known as carotenoids. These carotenoids are precursors of vitamin A. Apart from
being precursors to vitamin A, they perform useful anti- oxidant activities.
Around the world, deficiency of vitamin A is found in vast population. The first signs of vitamin A
deficiency is associated with impaired vision. It starts with loss of sensitivity to green lights, this
is then followed by inefficiency to adapt to dim lights and then the complete inability to see the
dim lights which is also called as night blindness. Vitamin A deficiency also increases the
chances of the occurrence of infectious diseases since it plays a major role in the differentiation
of immune system cells.

There is only so much vitamin A that the body can metabolize. Excess vitamin A consumed gets
accumulated in the liver and other tissues. This can lead to liver damage, hair loss, headache
and vomiting. Apart from this, a person consuming vitamin A in excess amounts will also face
skin problems like excessive dryness, chapping and scaling of the skin and alopecia. These
symptoms were seen in adults having close to 7.5-9 mg/ day by adults regularly.

Vitamin D
If you consider a strict definition of vitamin D then it is not a vitamin as it can be synthesized in
the skin and in the most conditions endogenous synthesis is the major source of vitamin D. An
exogenous consumption of dietary vitamin D is required only when there is inadequate
exposure to sunlight. Compared to the other vitamins, there are few dietary sources of vitamin
D. They are mainly found in the oily fish, eggs, liver and butter. This is one of the reasons why
the vegans in the regions with low to no sunlight are found to be deficient in vitamin D.
Vitamin D is absorbed by the fat molecules. The main function of vitamin D is to maintain the
homeostasis of calcium which in turn regulates the concentrations of calcium and phosphate.
There are three ways by which vitamin D maintains the concentrations of calcium:
A] By increasing the absorption of calcium in the intestines
B] By reducing the excretion of calcium
C] By mobilizing the bone mineral.
There is also some evidence that associates the deficiency of vitamin D with impaired glucose
tolerance, insulin resistance and non- insulin dependent diabetes mellitus and obesity. There is
also evidence that associates poor levels of vitamin D with some cancers.

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Vitamin D deficiency causes problems for children and adults like rickets and osteomalacia.
Rickets is a disease of toddlers where their bones are under-mineralized because of poor
absorption of calcium which was a result of deficiency of vitamin D. When these children begin
to walk, the long bones of the legs are deformed which lead to bow- legs or knock knees. The
more serious repercussion of this is that this can lead to collapsing of the ribcage and
deformities of the bones of the pelvis. These problems can also be seen in adolescents. The
reason for this is that during the growth phase in adolescents, there is a high demand of calcium
for formation of new bones and vitamin D deficiency causes the insufficient supply of calcium.
Osteomalacia can be called as the rickets for the adults. This happens as a result of
demineralization of bones as opposed to the inadequate mineralization of the bones to start
with in the case of rickets. Women who do not get sufficient exposure to sunlight and have had
multiple pregnancies are at a higher risk of getting detected with osteomalacia. This is so
because pregnancy causes a strain over the calcium reserves in the system. This is not to say
that vitamin D deficiency is the only reason behind the occurrence of osteomalacia. It is mainly
the low levels of calcium reserves that is caused by vitamin D deficiency.
Toxicity or overconsumption of vitamin D also is detrimental to one’s health. Toxicity of vitamin
D can cause increased concentration of calcium in the system which then results in contraction
of the blood vessels which then leads to extremely high levels of blood pressure and
accumulation of calcium salts in soft tissues, kidneys, heart, lungs and blood vessel walls.
Vitamin D toxicity is caused only by overconsumption of dietary vitamin D and never by
excessive exposure to sunlight.

Vitamin E
Vitamin E is another vitamin that is absorbed by the fat molecules in the body. Vitamin E can be
found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, most green leafy vegetable and a variety of fish.
The main role of vitamin E is that of an antioxidant. In the course of various processes in the
body, free radicals are created. These free radicals have the capability of starting various
different reactions in which can be terminated by vitamin E.
Vitamin E also has been used to treat and prevent the age related macular degeneration which
causes blindness especially in the older population. Poor intake of antioxidants like vitamin C
and vitamin E has been shown in many studies to be associated with development of cataracts
and age- related macular degeneration.

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Deficiency of vitamin E happens very rarely. However most commonly seen symptoms of
vitamin E deficiency are skeletal muscle pain and weakness, degenerative neurological
problems and loss of coordination between the limbs. Deficiency of vitamin E in female animals
has caused death and reabsorption of the fetuses whereas, the deficiency of vitamin E in male
animals has caused testicular atrophy.
Toxicity of vitamins will very rarely be observed. In cases where one consumes vitamin E
between 200 mg to 800mg per day, the individual may observe gastrointestinal problems.

Vitamin K

In the 1920s an experiment was carried out where chicks were fed low- fat and cholesterol -free
diets which later became hemmorhagic (their bleeding was excessive) and their blood took a
long time to clot. This problem was corrected by vitamin K in the early 1940s. H. Dam was the
person behind this discovery and he was awarded with a Nobel Prize for this discovery.

Vitamin K plays an important role in blood clotting and bone mineralization.


Vitamin A and E are antagonists to vitamin K. Over- consumption of vitamin A and E interfere
with the absorption of vitamin K.

Vitamin K deficiency very rarely happens amongst healthy adults. The deficiency of vitamin K is
mainly seen in the new born babies, elderly, people who are being treated chronically with
antibiotics and people with severe gastrointestinal malabsorptive disorders. There are health
disorders like malabsorption of fats and in such cases too, deficiency of vitamin K is found. So
individuals with fat malabsorptive disorders like cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s disease, liver disease,
obstructive jaundice, intestinal bypass surgery and chronic pancreatitis are at high risk of being
deficient in vitamin K. Extreme cases of vitamin K deficiency will also see episodes of bleeding
(hemorrhage).

Toxicity of vitamin K usually does not happen. However, if vitamin K3 is consumed in large
amounts, it is known to cause hemolytic anemia and liver damage

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