Comprehensive Guide To Vitamins
The function of vitamins was not properly understood until the early part of the 20th century. Prior to the discovery and categorisation of vitamins there was wide-ranging speculation regarding the cause of certain illnesses and diseases, but the exact correlations remained a mystery.
The health implications of vitamins were only truly understood between 1913 and 1941 with the last of the vitamins discovered being Vitamin B3; which is better known today as folic acid.
Within a mere thirty years, scientists made great strides that forever changed the face of health and medicine and the knowledge of vitamins that was uncovered continues to be of benefit to the wider world today.
Categories of Vitamins
Of the 13 known vitamins, a total of 8 of these are referred to as B complex vitamins. Various functions within the body depend on a delicate balance of vitamins and any deficiency can lead to serious health issues, including death if left unaddressed.
Scientists have identified two distinct methods that the body uses to process, store and utilise vitamins. Vitamins are primarily categorised as being either fat-soluble or water-soluble.
Water-soluble vitamins are not stored within the body but are utilised as they travel through the organism. That which the body does not need is excreted through the kidneys via the urinary tract. Because these water-soluble vitamins are not stored, the body needs to continually replenish them in smaller doses.
Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the various cells of the body, particularly the liver and other fatty deposits. These vitamins are not easily excreted and therefore need to be consumed less frequently. It is important not to exceed recommended dosages, as toxicity is possible due to the manner in which these vitamins are cumulatively stored.
Vitamins and their properties
Vitamin A is also known as Alpha-carotene, Beta-carotene and Retinol. This vitamin helps build the rods and cones in the eyes, promoting healthy eyesight. Vitamin A plays a role in boosting the immune system and regulates the production and division of red and white blood cells. The health of teeth, bones, soft tissue, skin and mucous membranes are all dependent upon adequate levels of vitamin A.
Vitamin B1 or Thiamine, Thiamin and Aneurin promote healthy metabolic activity and helps nerve cells and heart muscles to function well. Vitamin B1 assists in the processing of carbohydrates and certain complex proteins. Hair, skin, muscles, brain and thyroid functions rely on Vitamin B1 to be optimally maintained and regulated.
Vitamin B2 is better known as Riboflavin and is responsible for the production of red blood cells, the oxygenation of tissues and for metabolising energy from food sources. Vitamin B2 plays a key role in antibody protection, body growth and the health of a range of functions related to hair, skin, muscles, eyes and the brain.
Vitamin B3 or Niacin and Nicotinic acid serves to metabolise food into energy and assists in the lowering of cholesterol, as well as helping to build a healthy digestive tract. One’s skin, eyes, hair, blood cells, brain and nervous system are also intricately linked with this important vitamin.
Pantothenic Acid or Vitamin B5 regulates nerve functions, neurotransmitters and various hormones including adrenal production. Haemoglobin and cholesterol also rely on healthy levels of vitamin B5 to function efficiently.
Vitamin B6 is also known as Pyridoxine. This complex compound plays a vital role in the central nervous system and with many functions of the brain. Vitamin B6 facilitates the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin and other neurotransmitters, breaks down proteins and stored sugars, and also balances sodium, phosphorous and potassium levels. Vitamin B6 encourages healthy antibodies, interacts with many enzymes and influences the formation of red blood cells.
Vitamin B7 or Biotin maintains cell growth including that of bone and hair. It assists with the metabolism of food into energy, glucose synthesis and also in breaking down fatty acids. Vitamin B7 works in combination with vitamin K to balance the coagulation and clotting functions of the blood.
Known as Folic acid and Folacin, vitamin B9 is key to healthy DNA replication, cell division and renewal and is known to help minimise the incidence of birth defects. The formation of red blood cells and muscles are also influenced by vitamin B9 as well as the health of one’s heart.
Also known as Cyanocobalamin and Cobalamin; vitamin B12 helps to metabolise amino and fatty acids and to strengthen the immune system. Cell division, red blood cells, healthy brain function and the central nervous system are all dependant on an adequate levels of vitamin B12 in the body.
Vitamin C, aka Ascorbic acid, is an antioxidant that helps to metabolise protein and plays a key role in the absorption of iron. Ascorbic acid helps the body to heal wounds, strengthen blood vessels and improve skin elasticity via the production of collagen. Vitamin C assists with healthy brain function, stronger teeth, gums and tissues and also strengthens the immune system.
Vitamin D maintains the correct levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood. This mechanism allows for the absorption of calcium that is essential for ensuring healthy formation and density of bones. The presence of vitamin D regulates heart activity and provides support to the immune system.
Vitamin E or Alpha-tocopherol is a complex antioxidant with a range of components that help to strengthen cell walls and protect cells from damage by free radicals. Vitamin E improves blood circulation and helps the body utilise vitamin K. Vitamin E also functions to protect vitamin A and certain lipids so that they remain more effective in the body.
Vitamin K is also known as Phytonadione and its presence enables the proper clotting of blood, which assists in the healing of wounds through scab formation. Vitamin K is also integral to the growth of healthy bones.
The complex nature of vitamins and their function in every aspect of human biology is incredible to contemplate. That such balance occurs with very little intervention and can evoke a true sense of wonder and gratitude for something as mundane and mysterious as the human body.
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