Essential Vitamins

WHAT ARE ESSENTIAL VITAMINS?

Vitamins are organic compounds that are essential for health and that are needed in very small amounts by the body. Essential vitamins and minerals must be provided in the diet because, like essential amino acids and essential fatty acids, they cannot be synthesized in the body. They perform at least one specific metabolic function in the body. Vitamins are necessary co-factors in virtually all biochemical processes of the body. Foods or food supplements should supply vitamins in quantities sufficient for meeting metabolic demands, and in amounts that support optimum biochemical functioning of all cells and tissues which result in optimum health. Vitamins are necessary for the normal physiological functions of the body, serving as co-factors or catalysts in many metabolic activities that are vital to life and good health. Deficiencies result in well-defined symptoms. Sub-optimal supply of vitamins may produce vague and undefined symptoms.  

Vitamins belong to two groups, according to their special properties: 

  1. Fat-soluble: Lipids transport the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and their absorption is affected by the digestion and absorption of dietary fats and oils. Storage of fat-soluble vitamins is quite efficient and physiological utilization is virtually the only means of their depletion. This group of vitamins is generally measured in International Units (IU), often noted as (U).  
  2. Water-soluble: These include vitamin B-complex and vitamin C (ascorbic acid), which are not stored in appreciable quantities. Due to their high solubility in water, they are lost in urine and perspiration during normal physiological processes. As a result, daily consumption of water-soluble vitamins is required to ensure that they are present in our tissues. The continuous biochemical activities in which they are involved require their continuous presence. We measure water-soluble vitamins by weight, in milligrams (mg - thousandths of a gram) or micrograms (µg - millionths of a gram).  

DAILY CONSUMPTION ALLOWANCES 

What quantities of vitamins should be consumed on a daily basis continues to be a topic of debate. Experts in the nutritional field agree that individuals differ in their vitamin requirements.  Although there are essential vitamins and minerals needed for optimum health and longevity, no single quantity of a particular vitamin is suitable for the entire population.  

Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) are statistics of average intake levels of the essential vitamins and minerals needed, as set by a government committee. RDAs are the quantities that were thought to keep an average, healthy individual with an average physical activity level in an average environment, from developing deficiency symptoms. RDAs do not consider genetic differences, age, pregnancy, growth, stress, convalescence, or athletic activity. RDAs could be looked upon as the minimal level of essential vitamins and minerals necessary to sustain life. A new measuring standard, the DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) was introduced in 2000-2001. After 15 years of scientific research and 53,000 pages of documentation, this new standard - which encompasses higher levels of essential vitamins and minerals - has become the new, acceptable nutrient guideline for the general population. Another measure, SONAs (Suggested Optimum Nutritional Allowances) are under consideration by the U.S. government. These are averages for optimum levels of health. Being higher than the RDAs and the DRIs, SONAs are considered by health professionals and research scientists to be the ‘gold standard’ for optimal health and increased longevity.  

(Click HERE to read about the SONA Study, and what it means for you.)

Due to differences in genetics, life style (food habits and activity levels), age, stress level, and environmental factors, optimum intake of vitamins will vary for each individual from time to time.  These factors necessitate a wide range of vitamin intake levels to adequately provide for the nutritional well-being of the entire population.

 

VITAMIN A - (Beta-Carotene, Retinol) 

Functions of Vitamin A

  • Necessary for health of all cells;
  • Involved in vision, smell, hearing, taste, growth, bone development, cell differentiation, and reproduction;
  • Required for protein synthesis, RNA synthesis, cell division, cell membrane stability, production of light-sensitive visual pigments, mucus production, sexual and reproductive processes, sperm production, egg development, functions of adrenal and thyroid glands (metabolic rate, energy level, body temperature, growth rate), skin integrity, functions of inner lining of digestive tract, bone development and remodeling, liver function;
  • Protects against infections in nose, throat, lungs, digestive tract, urinary tract;
  • Involved in wound healing;
  • Beta carotene (anti-oxidant) traps free radicals, protecting against damage from pollution and cigarette smoke; quenches singlet oxygen; protects skin from UV sunlight damage;
  • Functions impeded by low thyroid may result in vitamin A depletion by slowing down conversion of beta-carotene; diabetes also interferes with conversion. 

VITAMIN D -  (D-3: Cholecalciferol; D-2: Ergocalciferol)

 Functions of Vitamin D

  • Functions as hormone; stimulates synthesis of calcium and phosphorus binding proteins, that increase absorption of these elements; regulates absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorus; acts in conjunction with parathyroid hormone to stimulate release of calcium from bone into blood; stimulates re-absorption of calcium and phosphorus from kidneys;
  • Especially important in infancy and childhood for bone development;
  • Co-enzyme in metabolic processes in bone, kidney, liver and intestine;
  • Regulates growth, hardening and repair of bone;
  • Regulates eruption, growth and hardness of teeth;
  • Helps synthesize mucosal enzymes used in active transport of calcium;
  • Maintains stable nervous system and heart action;
  • Functions impeded by sedatives, tranquilizers, anticonvulsants. 

VITAMIN E - (Tocopherol)

 Functions of Vitamin E

  • Chief activity in all cells and tissues is anti-oxidant; prevents oxygen from destroying many other compounds, including vitamin A and C, unsaturated fatty acids, and membranes (phospholipids)    (Note: While oxygen is vital to cell respiration, it will damage cells if antioxidants fail to keep it under control);
  • Vital to digestion and metabolism of unsaturated fats; protects cells from damaging pollutants, peroxides, and free radicals formed from organic molecules during normal metabolic processes; protects lungs against air pollution;
  • Protects membrane integrity of cells in circulatory, digestive, respiratory, excretory, and nervous systems; protects vitamin A against destruction by free radicals;
  • Stimulates development and tone of skeletal, heart, and digestive tract muscles;
  • Retards aging processes of cells; prolongs life of red blood cells;
  • Vitamins E and C reduce the formation of nitrosamines (carcinogen) in bacon;
  • Gamma tocopherol plays a critical role in the defense against cancer and cardiovascular disease by inhibiting the process of inflammation more effectively than alpha tocopherol. 

VITAMIN K -  (Methyl Napthoquinone) 

Functions of Vitamin K

  • Co-enzyme in liver’s synthesis of protein clotting factors in the blood (prothrombin and factors VII, IX and X);
  • Converts precursor of prothrombin (glutamic acid) to gamma-carboxy-glutamic acid;
  • prothrombin catalyzes conversion of fibrinogen to fibrin and therefore determines rate that blood clots;
  • Required for function of proteins in bone and kidney; vitamin K appears to have function in calcium metabolism, transport and deposition;
  • Co-enzyme involved in activation of glucose in liver (phosphorylation); conversion of glycogen to glucose in energy metabolism and respiration. 

VITAMIN B-1 -  (Thiamine) 

Functions of Vitamin B-1

  • Predominant role of B-1 is as co-enzyme (TPP - thiamine pyrophosphate or co-carboxylase) to “extract” energy from carbohydrates; required for carbohydrate metabolism, along with B-2, B-3, and B-5;
  • Necessary to synthesize neurotransmitter (acetylcholine), which allows nerve impulses to travel from one nerve cell to another; has role in maintaining nerve cell membranes;
  • Involved in synthesis of RNA, fat and niacin (from tryptophan);
  • A principal co-enzyme in liver chemistry; metabolizes acetaldehyde made from alcohol;
  • Required for health of nerve, heart, muscle and digestive tissues;
  • Promotes growth and repair of all tissues;
  • Essential for production of stomach acid (HCl), required for digestion of proteins;
  • Assisted by other B-complex vitamins and anti-oxidant vitamin C. 

VITAMIN B-2 - (Riboflavin) 

Functions of Vitamin B-2

  • Essential respiratory co-enzyme flavin adenine di-nucleotide (FAD) and flavin mono-nucleotide (FMN) in all cells; contributes to the capacity of several co-enzymes to accept and transfer hydrogen atoms or positive charges;
  • Converts protein into usable energy;
  • Helps cells use oxygen; prevents free radical damage by involvement with glutathione;
  • Maintains good vision; helps prevent development of cataracts;
  • Helps convert amino acid tryptophan to vitamin B-3; also activates B-6 and folic acid, affecting DNA synthesis, cell division and growth, that require B-3, folacin and B-6;
  • Necessary for synthesis of glycogen;
  • Maintains integrity of skin, nails and hair;
  • Required for synthesis of: somatotrophic hormone (STH) that regulates growth; thyroxine that regulates metabolic rate; adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) that stimulates adrenal hormone production and growth; insulin that regulates energy metabolism;
  • Enhances uptake of iron and B-6;
  • Necessary to synthesize red blood cells in bone marrow;
  • Controls growth and development of unborn fetus;
  • Co-factor in breakdown of fatty acids for energy;
  • Works together with vitamin A to maintain healthy mucous membranes;
  • Important for providing energy necessary for tissue repair; important during pregnancy for normal development of fetus;
  • May help protect against oesophageal cancer;
  • Functions helped by other B-complex factors, and antioxidant vitamins C and E. 

VITAMIN B-3 - (Niacin = Nicotinic Acid; Niacinamide = Nicotinamide) 

Functions of Niacin & Niacinamide

  • Co-factor (NAD, NADP), energy-producing reactions of carbohydrates, lipids, proteins;
  • Maintains normal growth rates; needed in synthesis of DNA, fats, proteins and cholesterol;
  • Promotes production of bile salts and metabolism of fats and fat soluble vitamins;
  • Regulates synthesis of sex, thyroid and pancreatic (insulin) hormones;
  • Maintains healthy nervous system and brain function, skin, mouth and digestive tract;
  • Niacin, but not the amide form, increases blood flow to the extremities, accompanied by “flush” reaction; improves circulation and skin health;
  • Reduces cholesterol production in the body;
  • Part of dehydrogenase (hydrogen acceptor) enzymes, carrying out many vital reactions within all cells;
  • Functions impeded by alcohol, excess carbohydrates, stress, prescription antibiotics, strenuous physical exertion, and pregnancy. 

VITAMIN B-6 - (Pyridoxine) 

Functions of Vitamin B-6

  • Required for normal growth; necessary for functions of more than 60 enzymes;
  • Helps in B-12 absorption;
  • Necessary for immune function and cancer protection; improves immune function in elderly;
  • Role in heart and artery health; converts toxic, atherogenic homocysteine into methionine;
  • Main function of B-6 is transamination and deamination reactions (move amine {NH2} groups between molecules; B-6 links amino acid {protein} and energy metabolism); also involved in decarboxylation reactions;
  • PLP is a co-enzyme in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats;
  • Co-factor in the physiology of muscle, lymph and nerve tissues;
  • Regulates energy production in cells; necessary for glucose tolerance; involved in breakdown of glycogen for energy;
  • Converts essential fatty acids into prostaglandins (linoleic acid to arachidonic acid);
  • Regulates water retention/excretion; maintains proper sodium/potassium ratios;
  • Co-enzyme in synthesis of lipids from fatty acids and proteins from amino acids;
  • Necessary for formation of vitamin B-3 from tryptophan;
  • Improves oral health by maintaining integrity of teeth and facial bones;
  • Vital for forming red blood cell pigment (heme), nucleic acids, bile salts, hormones, brain chemicals and immune antibodies;
  • Necessary to produce neurotransmitters (epinephrine, serotonin, histamine) from amino acids; low B-6 during brain development results in permanent impairment;
  • Plays part in thyroid hormone metabolism and in insulin and growth hormone synthesis;
  • Plays part in DNA, RNA and elastin (connective tissue) synthesis;
  • Synergized by B-2, B-3 and biotin, that help convert B-6 into its active form;
  • Impeded by increased intake of lipids or proteins; stress; pregnancy; aging; more than 40 drugs, including some antibiotics (cycloserine), oral contraceptives (estrogens), tuberculosis drug isoniazid, penicillamine, blood pressure lowering drugs (hydrallazine), anti-metabolites (desoxypyri-doxine) and others. 

 VITAMIN B-12 - (Cobalamin, Cyanocobalamin) 

Functions of Vitamin B-12

  • Participates in physiological activities basic to growth and division of all healthy cells; especially important in rapidly dividing cells;
  • Involved in synthesis of nucleic acid (DNA);
  • Essential for function of several enzymes involved in amino acid and fatty acid metabolism;
  • Involved in fat and carbohydrate metabolism;
  • Involved in metabolism of liver, kidneys, nervous system, heart, skin, muscle and bone;
  • Maintains healthy nervous tissue; keeps anti-oxidant glutathione — involved in several enzymes of carbohydrate (brain energy) metabolism — in active (reduced -SH form);
  • Necessary for metabolism of iron, folic acid and glucose; helps turn folic acid into active form; aids in formation of folic acid; produces single-carbon units which folic acid transfers from one substance to another; releases folacin from methyl folacin stored in liver (B-12 deficiency produces folacin deficiency); helps folic acid to make choline;
  • Together with folic acid, B- 12 regulates formation of healthy red blood cells, providing methyl (CH3) groups for DNA of dividing cells; lack of CH3 prevents cell division and produces undivided giant red blood cells (megaloblasts);
  • Promotes nitrogen retention and raises biological value of proteins, leading to more rapid growth per unit of food (animals); antibiotics in feeds may speed animal growth by killing bacteria that destroy B-12;
  • Growth factor in underweight children, along with improvement in diet;
  • Maintains fertility, normal growth and development;
  • Closely related to functions of 4 amino acids (methionine-homocysteine, glycine, serine, glutamic acid), and vitamins B-5 and C; improves iron function;
  • Helps bring vitamin A into tissues; helps absorb and convert carotene to vitamin A.

VITAMIN B-5 - (Pantothenic Acid) 

Functions of Vitamin B-5

  • Component of co-enzyme A(CoA) and acyl carrier protein (ACP), vital for 70+ enzyme reactions, including central role in carbohydrate, lipid, protein, amino acid and energy metabolism;
  • Necessary for formation of part of hemoglobin molecule (porphyrin);
  • Needed for normal functioning of intestinal tract;
  • Source or acceptor of acetate groups (CH3COO-); provides acetate for acetylcholine (neurotransmitter) and used to detoxify some drugs;
  • Virtually all physiological functions and biochemical reactions in cells are affected by B-5;
  • Necessary for: synthesis of bile salts, neurotransmitters and growth hormone (STH); uptake of free amino acids by cells; synthesis of fats from fatty acids; synthesis of cholesterol and adrenal steroid hormones (cortisone); tissue water balance; synthesis of red blood cells;
  • Stimulates immune antibody response; stimulates intestinal absorption of nutrients;
  • Vital to all energy-requiring processes in all cells. 

BIOTIN 

Functions of Biotin

  • Main activity occurs in the liver, in carbon dioxide transfer reactions;
  • Involved in synthesis of nucleic acids and energy carrier ATP;
  • Part of several enzyme systems involved in normal growth and maintenance of nervous system tissue, bone marrow, sweat glands, male sex glands, skin tone, hair quality and blood cells;
  • Involved in the synthesis and oxidation of fatty acids;
  • Takes part in stimulating protein synthesis and deaminating several amino acids;
  • Involved in oxidation of carbohydrates for energy; involved in insulin activity;
  • Involved in synthesis of Vitamin B-3, digestive enzyme (pancreatic amylase), immune antibodies;
  • Involved in utilization of protein, folic acid, B- 12 and pangamic acid;
  • Important in metabolism of branched chain amino acids;
  • Necessary for glycogen formation;
  • Required for healthy hair and skin. 

VITAMIN B-9  -  (Folic Acid/Folacin )

Functions of Folic Acid

  • Involved in all cells; indirectly affects all protein and enzyme metabolism;
  • Necessary to convert phenylalanine into tyrosine and to oxidize and decarboxylate tyrosine;
  • Required to form part of hemoglobin (porphyrin);
  • Required for metabolism of long-chain fatty acids in brain;
  • Involved in all biological reactions that involve transfer of methyl (CH3) groups: includes formation of methionine, serine, choline (from ethanolamine); synthesis of histidine; preparation of niacin for excretion; synthesis of all DNA and RNA bases;
  • Especially important in the functions of rapidly dividing cells: red and white blood cells, tongue, intestinal wall, developing fetus;
  • Co-enzyme in: forming red blood cells; synthesizing enzymes that control cell division; regulating embryonic development of nerve cells; amino acid metabolism; maintaining healthy cells in nervous system, sex organs, intestinal tract and blood;
  • Essential for optimal functioning of nervous system and bone marrow;
  • Involved in production of HCl;
  • Essential for mental and emotional health; helps liver function (mobilizes fat from liver);
  • Required to convert toxic homocysteine into the essential amino acid methionine;
  • Pregnancy increases demand for folacin, for neural development of fetus;
  • Synergies by vitamin C and other B-complex vitamins;
  • Impeded by alcohol, contraceptives, antibiotics, many drugs, stress, and pregnancy. 

VITAMIN C - (Ascorbic Acid) 

Functions of Vitamin C

  • Required for synthesis of connective tissue substances chondroitin sulphate and collagen, that are structural and cementing materials of the body and give structure to muscle, vascular tissue, bone, cartilage and scar tissue;
  • Necessary for wound healing; aids in forming red blood cells;
  • Hydroxylates (OH addition) lysine to hydroxylysine and proline to hydroxyproline;
  • Prevents capillary bleeding into intercellular spaces (gums, skin);
  • Keeps bone matrix (mainly of collagen) capable of holding Ca and P for strong bones;
  • Keeps cartilage (mainly collagen) able to hold bones in place at joints;
  • Critical to certain time in dentin layer formation during tooth development;
  • Antioxidant (reducing agent), protects vitamins B-1, B-2, folic acid, B-5, A and E from oxidative destruction; enhances immune system function; protects brain and spinal cord from damage by free radicals; many beneficial effects of vitamin C result from its antioxidant rather than its vitamin properties;
  • Prevents harmless substances from being oxidized to carcinogenic state (e.g. nitrates to nitrites, to nitrosamines);
  • Promotes synthesis of mucopolysaccharides, that inhibit growth of cancer cells;
  • Ascorbic acid sulphate may provide sulphates for mucopolysaccharide synthesis; crosses blood- brain barrier; mobilizes cholesterol from tissues for removal from body; lowers cholesterol;
  • Protects against stress of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy (cancer treatment);
  • Detoxifies histamine, relieves symptoms of niacin flush, hay fever, frostbite, poisoning;
  • Necessary for synthesis of carnitine, transporter of fats into mitochondria, that “burn” fats to produce energy;
  • Required to make neurotransmitters (tyrosine to noradrenaline, tryptophan to serotonin);
  • Necessary for phenylalanine and tyrosine metabolism; indirectly involved in thyroid hormone production;
  • Required to make peptide (protein) hormones which stimulate synthesis of pigment-producing hormone and adrenal steroid hormones;
  • Required to convert cholesterol to bile acids; helps regulate blood fats;
  • Catalyzes conversion of folic acid to its active form;
  • Helps calcium absorption by preventing formation of insoluble calcium complex;
  • Enhances absorption, storage and use of dietary iron; keeps iron in reduced (Fe++ ferrous form); activates some iron-containing enzymes; improves iron absorption up to 400%;
  • Synergists: vitamin E, beta carotene, B-complex (esp. B-6, B-12, folic acid, B-5), testosterone, somatotrophin, and bioflavonoids;
  • Impeded by alcohol, air pollutants, industrial toxins, heavy metals, tobacco smoke; aspirin, antidepressants, diuretics, indomethacin, prednisone, estrogens.