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all about vitamins

Updated: Sep 19, 2019



Vitamins... It’s a term we use so frequently, but how much do we really know about them?  This post is going to be a crash course on a variety of Vitamins and the benefits they have. Once you've read this you can go impress all of your friends and family with your new found expertise! 


Let’s start with how they are categorized: water soluble vs non water (fat) soluble 



Soluble means the vitamins ability to dissolve entirely in either water or fat. Here is an example: everyone knows that water and oil don't mix right? If we poured oil into a glass of water, we could distinctly see the oil droplets sitting on the surface of the water. This is because water is water and oil is fat. But if we mixed oil with melted butter (fat) it would dissolve just fine. This concept is similar to how these vitamins work.


water soluble

  • vitamin B

  • vitamin C


fat soluble

  • vitamin A

  • vitamin D

  • vitamin E

  • vitamin K


What does this mean?


Water soluble means that these vitamins dissolve and travel through the body with water. This means they can be used immediately as water is easily absorbed in our body. However, it also means that they can be excreted just as easily. Basically, once our body gets all the water soluble vitamins it needs, we pee them out and we are now back at square one. Therefore, we need to intake water soluble vitamins on a regular basis to ensure our body has a sufficient amount.


Fat soluble means that these vitamins dissolve, travel or get stored alongside fat in our body. As a result, these vitamins also get absorbed better when ingested with fat. Unlike our water soluble vitamins that we pee out, these vitamins can be stored in the liver and fat for various amounts of time. Let’s use Vitamin D as an example. Those of us living in Vancouver certainly don’t see the sun everyday (get me to California). But on the days we do our body is able to store enough Vitamin D to last us months. BUT on the flip side, this also means that we have to be careful we don't supplement TOO much of them.


Now that you have an understanding of fat versus water soluble vitamins, lets dive into each Vitamin a little deeper.



Vitamin A:



Otherwise known as retinol, retinal, retinoic acid and carotenes (ever heard of beta-carotene?), Retinol is usually found in animal sources while carotenes are found in plants and later converted (meaning our body alters them) to form retinol.


Why is Vitamin A good for us?

  • Vision: Vitamin A makes up our visual pigments that allow us to see. Without enough we can end up with difficulty seeing at night

  • Bone health: Without enough we end up creating weak bones that constantly build up and break down

  • Immune system: Vitamin A plays a key role in many of our mighty immune cells as well as our cell surfaces to fight off infection

  • Mucous membrane health: It provides stability to our mucous membranes (this includes our mouth, nose, throat, respiratory, urinary and digestive tracts)

  • Skin: Vitamin A is often used for many skin conditions as it promotes the growth of healthy skin

What happens if we have too little?

  • Poor night vision

  • Dry and itchy skin

  • Dry eyes

  • Weak immune system

What happens if we have too much?

  • Dry and itchy skin (^look familiar?)

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea

  • Jaundice (when skin turns a yellow colour)

  • Headaches

  • Birth defects

When to be cautious:

  • Early pregnancy – can be harmful to baby

  • Liver dysfunction

Foods to find it in:

  • Plant sources (carotenes): colourful vegetables

  • Animal sources: liver, fish, eggs


Vitamin B:




There are actually 8 B vitamins, which is quite misleading since we technically have a B12. I will work on getting this back story to you on a later post. Stay tuned for further posts on each individual B vitamin as well, as there is just too much information to dive into in one post!

For now, here is a bit of info on B vitamins:


B1: Thiamin ~ plays a big role in energy and supporting our nervous system


B2: Riboflavin ~ plays a big role in energy as well as the synthesis of our neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine (otherwise known as adrenaline)


B3: Niacin ~ plays a big role in energy, breaking down alcohol and making other vitamins


B5: Pantothenic acid ~ plays a big role in energy, and our body's ability to make fats, ketones (ever heard of the keto diet?), acetylcholine and our red blood cells


B6: Pyridoxine ~ helps our steroid hormones (such as cortisol our stress hormone as well as our sex hormones) do their job, keeps our immune system strong, as well as metabolizes amino acids, fats and carbohydrates


B7: Biotin ~ think healthy hair, nails and nerves


B9: Folate ~ Important during pregnancy due to it's role in DNA synthesis, neurotransmitter synthesis and nervous system support


B12: Cobalamin ~ plays a big role in energy, the metabolism of our food, DNA and red blood cell synthesis as well as brain and nervous system support.


What happens if we have too little?

Depends on the type of B vitamin but can cause any of the following: fatigue, insomnia, brain fog, depression, anxiety, headaches, muscle weakness, PMS, run down immune system, hair loss, dry skin, cracked lips to carpal tunnel syndrome and cardiovascular disease.


What happens if we have too much?

Have you ever heard of the Niacin flush? Vitamin B3 can be used for cardiovascular purposes but has side effects such as heat, redness and itching.

In general, when these vitamins are taken in excess they can cause nausea, diarrhea and vomiting


Foods they can be found in:

This depends on the specific B vitamin but in general: fish, oysters, clams, beef, chicken, eggs, leafy green vegetables, enriched grains, nuts and dairy (yogurt, cheese, etc). These vitamins are also found in high quantities in animal liver products (for those of you that are adventurous...).


Vitamin C:



As humans we are unable to make this vitamin on our own. It is a remarkable antioxidant which aids to support every cell in our body. It is essential for the synthesis of three very important products: Collagen, Carnitine and Norepinephrine.

  1. Collagen is the substance that makes up our bones, muscles, ligaments, blood vessels and more.

  2. Carnitine plays a major role in our energy pathways including breaking down our fats for energy (and who doesn’t want the breakdown of fats?!).

  3. Norepinephrine is what we think of as adrenaline. This is our fight or flight hormone that both our body and brain needs to respond to stress.

Vitamin C also helps us absorb iron, also critical in our energy levels.


What happens if we have too little?

  • Fatigue

  • Pain and swelling in our joints

  • Bruises and easy bleeding

  • Hair loss

  • Changes in the health of our teeth

What happens if we have too much?

  • Diarrhea

When to be cautious?

  • Iron overload (hemochromatosis)

  • G6PD deficiency

  • If doing any type of blood, urine or stool (poop) tests – as it can change results

Food sources:

  • veggies such as bell peppers, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, snow peas, kale and sweet potato

  • fruits such as guava, papaya, kiwi, orange, strawberries, pineapple, grapefruit, mango and avocado



Vitamin D




Our sunshine vitamin! As we read with Vitamin A, there are two forms: one we can get from plant products (D2) and one we can get from animal products (D3). Both of these need to be worked on by the body (liver and kidneys) before they can become active. Surprisingly, Vitamin D is actually very similar to a steroid in terms of its structure.


Functions:

  • Genes (DNA): helps with something called gene transcription which takes our DNA and allows it to be read similar to a computer program to form proteins.

  • Bone health : reabsorbs calcium from the digestive system for bone production.

Sources:

  • Plant: mushrooms

  • Animal: fortified dairy, eggs, liver, fish oils

  • OR just hangout in the sun – with sunscreen on!

What happens if we have too little?

  • Malformation of bones. Known as Rickets in children and Osteomalacia in adults.

  • Cavities in our teeth

  • Osteoporosis

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

What happens if we have too much?

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Too much calcium and phosphate in our bodies



Vitamin E




Vitamin E is a family of many different compounds. One of them being Tocopherol which actually stands for “to bear off-spring" which implies it's action in fertility. Vitamin E likes to travel to our adipose (fat) and adrenal glands. More specifically it likes to travel to our mitochondria: otherwise known as the powerhouse of our cell (high school biology at its finest!).


Functions:

  • Antioxidant: Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant which will support every cell in our body. It works well with Vitamin A and C as well. This is used to help with or improve cardiovascular health, cataracts, diabetes and infection.

Sources:

  • Plants: grains, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, avocado, asparagus, dark leafy greens

What happens if we have too little?

  • Dry skin, eczema, swelling

  • Brittle hair and hair loss

  • Poor wound healing

  • Low libido

  • PMS

  • Premature aging

What happens if we have too much?

  • Blood thinning

  • Increased blood lipids

  • Decreased thyroid hormone levels

Interactions:

  • Unlike Vitamin C (which promotes Iron absorption), if we take Vitamin E with iron, the iron will inactivate our Vitamin E (making it useless).

Foods to find it in:

  • Many types of nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pine nuts, brazil nuts) as well as seeds (sunflower), oils (vegetable, sunflower, safflower) and wheat germ contain Vitamin E


Vitamin K



K is for K(c)oagulation. These compounds are known as quinones and are needed for our bodies clotting mechanism. This includes cuts on our skin that turn to scabs or any type of bleeding that must come to a stop. There are two main types, K1 and K2. Similarly to Vitamin A&D, we can get Vitamin K1 from plant sources and Vitamin K2 from animal tissues. Interestingly, Vitamin K2 can be synthesized by the bacteria in our gut. For this reason, babies are given vitamin K at birth since they don’t have as extensive of gut bacteria to synthesize their own.


Sources:

  • K1: leafy green vegetables

  • K2: cheeses such as brie and gouda, natto, animal liver products

What happens if we have too little?

  • Longer blood clotting time

  • Increased bone fractures in elderly

What happens if we have too much?

  • Viewed as relatively non-toxic unless used in IV therapy



If you made it to the bottom of this post : thank you! I hope you enjoyed reading this information whether it is new to you, explained or broken down differently, or you are already an expert on Vitamins. There will be a lot more vitamin info to come in the near future xo


Please remember this post is purely educational. Consult your doctor with any questions regarding your own health or before starting any treatment.


Sources:


S., Cooper. (2018). Nutrition notes. The Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine.


Mahan, L. Kathleen., Escott-Stump, Sylvia., Raymond, Janice L.Krause, Marie V. (Eds.) (©2012) Krause's food & the nutrition care process /St. Louis, Mo. : Elsevier/Saunders,


Gaby, A. R., (2011). Nutritional medicine. Fritz Perlberg Publishing, Concord NG.


Dieticians of Canada. (2019). B vitamins. Retrieved from https://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/B-Vitamins.aspx

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