VITAMINS - THE BASICS

Vitamins – an interesting topic, and a quite divisive one. Some say they are life and longevity itself. Other say, they are completly useless. Let’s examine the following questions together:


What is a vitamin? 
What is their function in our body? 
Are they really that important? 

Let’s starts with the first one.


What is a vitamin?


The name itself can imply what a vitamin is – it is a vital amine, an organic compound with an aminogroup in it, and this compound is essential to life. Theri discovery is connected to the sickness called beriberi. In Asia, the most common everyday food was rice – brown rice. When western technology arrived, Chinese people switched to white rice. As the proportion of white rice vs. brown rice increased, so did the prevalence of beriberi. After some research, the researchers found that during the process of making white rice from brown rice, some vital compounds are stripped away as well. After the isolation and identification of the compound, the name thiamine was give to it, also known as vitamin B1.


We all have heard about the sickness prevalent between sailors, called scurvy. To avoid scurvy, sailors would take pickled cabbage and lemon with them. The vitamin C content in the cabbage and the lemon helped prevent the dire conditions of this sickness. 
So, what is a vitamin? Every organic compound that is essential to life and our body can not synthesis is a vitamin. Due to that, a compound can be a vitamin in humans but not a vitamin in other species (e.g. vitamin C is a vitamin in humans, but goats can synthesise it, so it’s not a vitamin in goats).


So,

  1. Essential to life,
  2. Our bodies can not synthesise it,
  3. We have to consume it from external sources.

Essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, minerals and trace elements are not vitamins.


According to science there are 13 different kinds of vitamins. These are grouped based on the physiological effects in our body – that is why the name of a vitamin can consist of multiple different compounds, also known as vitamers. 


Basically, there are 2 big groups of vitamins: 

  1. water-soluble:
    • B1 – thiamine
    • B2 – riboflavin
    • B3 – niacin
    • B5 – pantotenic acid
    • B6
    • B7 – biotin
    • B9 – folic acid
    • B12 
    • C
  2. fat-soluble:
    • A
    • D
    • E


What are their roles in our body?


They have key roles in many functions of the human body. Vitamin C is essential to the synthesis of collagen, and is a strong anti-oxidant. Vitamin D is not considered a vitamin anymore, but rather a hormone. Out of the 18.500 genes in the human body, vitamin D has a direct effect on 2000-3000. Vitamin A is critical for our eyes, vitamin K is necessary for coagulation and healthy bones. Vitamin E is a strong anti-oxidant. B vitamins work as co-factors for lots of enzymes – a co-factor is necessary for the functioning of some enzymes. Folic acid is key in the development of the nervous system of fetus.


There are numerous books written on the effects and functions of vitamins. What is sure is that insufficient vitamin intake and vitamin deficiencies lead to diseases. Vitamins are essetial for health. 


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