What you need to know about vitamins?
Vitamins are organic micronutrients essential for good nutrition and are found in plants and animals in small amounts. With depleted nutrition caused by our diet, it is unlikely that we are receiving anything like the levels we need.
Along with minerals, they are necessary as co-enzymes (in conjunction with enzymes) for many bio-chemical reactions. They help to convert the macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) into bio-available useful forms from which our energy is derived.
We need food and certain minerals to absorb them effectively. They are essential for digestion, elimination, the immune system as well as growth, general health and vitality. For this reason, a deficiency in one can lead to serious health problems because they work together with other vitamins, minerals, enzymes and co-enzymes.
How can vitamin supplements benefit you?
Our need for high levels is increased by stress, smoking and alcohol, eating sugar or drinking coffee. Special restrictive diets, surgery or trauma can also indicate the need for additional supplements. With the stress and frequent changes brought on by busy, high-tech lives, air and chemical pollution, we need all the nutritional support we can get.
The human body cannot produce most of them, apart from B-complex. They are usually classified as either fat-soluble or water-soluble. The fat-soluble ones are mainly vitamins a, D, E, F and K found in the lipid part of vegetables and animal food sources. The water-soluble ones are mainly B-complex and C.
Vitamin A (or its precursor beta-carotene) is contained in many vegetables and will help us to resist infection and gives protection to our cells. Vitamin D helps calcium absorption from the intestines and so it is important in maintaining bone density. Vitamin E found in grains, nuts and seeds is an antioxidant used by the body to protect us from harmful metabolic by-products (free radicals) and environmental pollutants. Vitamin F are the essential fatty acids important for resilience and lubrication of tissues as well as respiration of cells and organs. Vitamin K aids in blood clotting and prevention of bleeding.
These fat-soluble ones are stored in body tissue, so we can function for a time without obtaining more from our diet. Because of this method of storage, high intake of vitamins A, D and K may build up toxic levels that can cause problems.
These include B-complex and C and are most commonly found in vegetables and fruits rather than animal sources. They are easily destroyed through food processing and cooking.
Being water-soluble, they are not stored in large quantities in the body and therefore need to be regularly replenished in our diets. This means that toxic levels of them do not build up in the body. Most act as co-enzymes combining with a protein to make an active enzyme.
As we obtain our vitamins and minerals from vegetable and animal sources, it is important to regard them as “good supplements” and as such they should be eaten with, or following food. This is when they can be best digested and assimilated. People with weak digestions will find supplements easier to digest with food.
Availability of vitamin supplements
They are supplied in the form of: tablets, capsules, powders and liquids.
Tablets are easy to use and have a long shelf life, but many come with fillers and binding agents.
Capsules are readily digested and absorbed and are used for fat-soluble vitamins and powders. They can be opened and the powder sprinkled on foods, or those containing, say vitamin A or E oil and be applied to the skin. The casing of the capsules has usually been made from animal gelatine but is increasingly being made available in a vegetarian casing.
Powders These can be absorbed quickly when dissolved in water or juice, but they may not be so palatable as tablets or capsules. They are useful for people with either weak digestion, difficulty in swallowing pills, or who need a higher dose.
Liquids These work in a similar way to the powdered ones, and are often used for children and babies. It is advisable to read the labeling as many contain coloring and flavoring. In liquid form they are sometimes injected in hospitals.
To avoid vitamin deficiencies and to maintain good health a balanced scientifically formulated supplement is necessary.
What to be aware of when choosing vitamin supplements
- It is important to choose supplements that have been scientifically formulated in order to increase bio-availability (meaning that the body can easily assimilate them effectively).
- Ensure that supplements are produced to pharmaceutical standards.
- Poorly formulated supplements pass through the digestion and are excreted with little benefit to the body.
- There needs to be enough of a particular vitamin, mineral, antioxidant or herb to actually make a difference. Trace amounts of herbs are generally not going to be very effective.
- Be sure that the product does not contain any fillers, artificial colors, flavors or other additives.
- Many products contain ingredients that cancel each other out.
- Labels do not always exactly reflect the content of the bottle. There are wide variations in quality and pricing between synthetic and natural ingredients.
An effective nutritional supplement should be able to:
- Fortify our immunity
- Improve our brain function
- Produce more energy
- Improve the digestive system
- Assist with weight management and sugar control, where required
- And modulate our hormones to deter the aging process.
Popular vitamin supplements
Vitamin A – combats infection and is also important for vision and bone growth derived from beta-carotine or retinol.
Biotin – helps to normalize fat metabolism and reduce blood sugar levels.
Folic Acid – essential for cellular growth, such as in pregnancy and aids red blood cell production.
Vitamin B12 – helps to maintain healthy nerve and blood cells and required for the manufacture of the genetic material DNA.
Vitamin C – an antioxidant required for the immune system, wound-healing and adrenal function.
Vitamin D – helps in the formation of strong bones and known as the “sunshine” vitamin.
Vitamin E – a powerful antioxidant, which protects body cells from free radical damage and boosts the immune system.