WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The first vitamin was discovered in the late 19th century asscientists began to study foods that were well-known for preventing certain diseases (like orangesand scurvy). Many of the other vitamins were discovered in 1930sand 1940s. Most vitamins work as catalysts that speed up chemicalreactions in the body. Sixty years later scientists are stilllearning more about these amazing micronutrients.
"As co-enzymes," writes Dr. James F. Balch in Prescriptionfor Nutritional Healing, "vitamins work with enzymes, therebyallowing all the activities that occur within the body to be carriedout as they should." Vitamins are considered to be micronutrientsbecause we only need relatively small amounts of them to maintainbasic health.
Everything our bodies do, from digesting food to fighting invadingviruses, depends on vitamins. With the exception of a few B vitamins,the human body does not manufacture vitamins-they must be obtainedfrom outside sources. This makes the food we eat that much morecritical to our good health.
Water-soluble vitamins (C and B-complex) cannot be stored in thebody-excess amounts are flushed from the body via urine. Fat-or oil-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), are stored in the fattytissues for future use. Because they accumulate in organs likethe liver, megadoses of these over long periods of time can leadto toxicity. Megadosing is becoming more popular as a therapeuticmeasure, but can be dangerous and should be guided by your healthcareprovider.
The federal government has established basic guidelines for vitaminand mineral intake. Called the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA),the amounts vary according to factors such as age, weight, andsex. The National Academy of Sciences also publishes Dietary ReferenceIntake (DRI) values; the Food and Drug Administration also usesits Daily Value (DV). These values need to be modified for specificsituations, such as being a senior citizen, eating a vegetariandiet, recovering from surgery, being pregnant, or having a healthcondition such as alcoholism.
It is important to become the best expert that you know. Analyzethe vitamin content of your diet to determine which supplementsyou need to take.
Develop a vitamin strategy for when illness strikes, or if youhave specific health concerns. Most experts agree that naturalvitamins are better than synthetic ones. And stay informed-studythe latest findings in medical journals and health magazines.
Because vitamin A was the first to be discovered, it was namedsimply "A." This fat- or lipid-soluble nutrient is associatedwith oils in food; vitamin A works best when it is taken withfat-containing foods, which stimulate the digestive system tobreak down and utilize vitamin A.
Vitamin A (also known as retinol) is critical to many biochemicalreactions, including those involving the retina, cell growth,skin regeneration, and the immune system. Protein cannot be utilizedwithout vitamin A. One of the earliest observed benefits of vitaminA was how it improved night vision. In fact, vitamin A deficiencyis one of the leading causes of blindness in children in developingcountries.
Small amounts of vitamin E help the body store vitamin A for futureuse (amounts exceeding 600 IU [international units], however,can interfere with the absorption of beta carotene). Vitamin Aneeds proper levels of zinc, vitamins C, D, and E, and cholineto be effective.
Carotenoids are compounds that are structurally similar to vitaminA. Beta-carotene, which is actually a double vitamin A molecule,is the most well-known carotenoid and converted by the liver intovitamin A. Because beta-carotene is water-soluble, the body eliminatesexcess amounts, which means beta-carotene does not have the toxicpotential that vitamin A does.
Both vitamin A and beta-carotene are powerful antioxidants thatneutralize free radicals: molecules that scavenge electrons fromhealthy cells, creating abnormalities that can lead to diseaseslike cancer. If you smoke or are exposed frequently to sunlight,vitamin A/beta-carotene may be an important supplement to addto your diet.
Other conditions vitamin A can help are depressed immune systemfunction, infertility, weak tissues and bones, viral infectionslike measles, acne, psoriasis, and other skin conditions, andthe side-effects from radiation and chemotherapy. Because vitaminA protects the skin and keeps it supple, strengthens muscle andbone, and fights cancer, it also reduces the effects of aging.
Food sources: Vitamin A is found in animal fats, such asegg yolks. Beta-carotene is enriched in orange and yellow fruits(carrots, yams) and vegetables such as spinach and parsley.
Dosage: The DV for vitamin A is 5,000 IU (the RDA variesaccording to age, sex, and state of health). Toxic amounts canresult in vomiting, brain disorders, swelling of the liver, andbirth defects in fetuses. Deficiencies may weaken the digestiveand respiratory tracts, making them more susceptible to infection.Children, adults with liver problems or hypothyroidism, and pregnantwomen should be careful about taking too much vitamin A. Safeamounts of beta-carotene are considered to be between 10,000 and50,000 IU.
All the B vitamins are part of the body's chemical reactionsand serve as co-enzymes in energy production. They should be takentogether for the best synergistic results. Pyridoxine and folicacid are especially important for nerve function. B-12, pyridoxine,pantothenic acid, and folic acid support the immune system. Fertilityand sexual function can be enhanced with niacin and folic acid.
Because B vitamins are water-soluble and less stable in foods,they are easily destroyed during cooking and food processing.Fewer B vitamins are absorbed by the aging human body. Thus manyAmericans may be deficient in B vitamins, especially senior citizens.An adequate daily intake of B vitamins is extremely importantto maintain a healthy immune system and reduce the effects ofstress and pollutants.
Vitamin B-1 was the first B vitamin to be discovered (it is alsocalled thiamin). B-1 supports thousands of metabolic reactions,many of those in the nervous system. Proper glucose metabolism,brain neurotransmitter production, blood circulation, and cognitivedevelopment in children are dependent on proper B-1 absorption.B-1 also helps produce hydrochloric acid in the stomach to digestfood. As an antioxidant it combats the effects of aging, alcoholconsumption, and smoking. Other B vitamins, vitamins C and E,and manganese need to be present for the optimum absorption ofB-1.
Adequate amounts of B-1 can improve nervous system disorders suchas Bell's palsy, multiple sclerosis, and neuritis, various skinconditions, and speed healing after surgery. It may also slowor prevent Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, and diabetes. B-1'srole in the detoxification of lead and other heavy metals fromtissues and blood is currently being studied.
Food sources: Whole grains, rice, eggs, fish, legumes, liver,peanuts, and greens such as asparagus, broccoli, and kelp areexcellent sources of B-1.
Dosage: RDA is about 1-2 milligrams (mg.); the DV is 1.5mg. Most supplements contain 25-50 mg of B-1. Alcohol destroysthiamin. If you consume alcoholic beverages, B-1 supplements shouldbe part of your diet.
Deficiencies may also occur in people who consume carbohydrate-richdiets or too many manufactured foods, diabetics, senior citizens,and pregnant or lactating women. A serious condition that resultsfrom B-1 deficiency is beriberi (fatigue, weight loss, swelling).Consumption of daily amounts of B-1 in the 200-300 mg. range doesnot appear to have toxic effects. Absorption of B-1 may be reducedby antibiotics, sulfa drugs, and contraceptives.
Also known as riboflavin, this active B vitamin gives urine itsdistinctive color when it is excreted through the kidneys. Foundin very cell, it enhances the immune system by building red bloodcells and antibodies. B-2's main role as a co-factor helps convertfood into energy. Vitamin A and B-2 also work together to maintainthe mucous membranes in the digestive tract. Riboflavin is easilydestroyed by light, antibiotics, and alcohol.
B-2 is important for healthy skin, hair, nails, and eye tissue.It is also believed to prevent cataracts, migraine headaches,various skin conditions, and certain cancers. Well-known for reducingstress and fatigue, B-2, when combined with pyridoxine (vitaminB-6), can be an effective treatment for depression. Women usingestrogens or patients being treated with antibiotics need to consumehigher amounts of B-2. Marginal deficiencies tend to be foundin alcoholics, teen-agers (diets high in carbohydrates), smokers,and senior citizens.
Food sources: The best sources for B-2 are brewer's yeast,cheese, liver, salmon and other oily fish, eggs, legumes, milk,meat, and green vegetables. Grains and fruits contain B-2 in smallerquantities.
Dosage: RDA ranges from 0.5 to 1.8 mg; DV is 1.7 mg. Althoughonly a few milligrams are needed daily, most supplements contain10-50 mg. Larger amounts in this range have not proven to be toxic.Depleted B-2 levels can result in fatigue, skin rashes, soresat the corner of the mouth, reddened, bloodshot eyes, digestiveproblems, and nervous disorders. People who do physical work,such as athletes or construction workers, are more prone to developingB-2 deficiencies.
Also called niacin, vitamin B-3 is derived from nicotinic acid.Niacin creates the flush response of embarrassment by stimulatingthe small capillaries in the skin, which release histamine. B-3is critical for a healthy nervous system and circulatory system,healthy skin, the production of sex hormones, and the secretionof bile and stomach fluids in the digestive tract.
Tryptophan, an amino acid involved in many enzyme reactions, isconverted to niacin in the body with the help of vitamin B-6.
Megadose therapeutic amounts of B-3 can lower LDL (low-densitylipoprotein) cholesterol and triglycerides and increase the amountof good HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein) in the bloodstream.B-3 is also a factor in glucose metabolism, detoxifiying pollutants,and reducing allergic reactions, migraines, arthritis, and highblood pressure.
Food sources: Peanuts, organ meats, fish, poultry, whole grains,legumes, avocados, broccoli, carrots, cheese, dates, eggs, pork,potatoes, and tomatoes all contain B-3.
Dosage: RDA is 5 to 20 mg; DV is 20 mg. Supplements typicallycontain 25-50 mg. of B-3. Megadoses of up to 3,000 mg. are requiredfor balancing LDL/HDL and should be directed by a healthcare professional.Deficiency can result in skin rashes, bowel problems, and nervoussystem reactions. A red and swollen tongue may also be present.Large amounts of B-3 may be toxic to the liver. Smokers and womenwho are breast-feeding or using birth-control pills may need higheramounts of B-3. Pregnant women and those suffering with liverdisease, diabetes, glaucoma, or gastric problems should use niacinsupplements with caution.
Known officially as pantothenic acid, vitamin B-5 counters stressby supporting the adrenal glands and their manufacture of hormones.In conjunction with Vitamin C, B-5 assists cells in breaking downfats and carbohydrates for energy. B-5 is converted in the bodyto coenzyme A, which speeds up the metabolism of food and glucoseproduction. B-5 is found in every cell in the body and works bestwith other B vitamins and vitamins A, C, and E.
Pantothenic acid can reduce the effects of stress and fatigue,especially during recovery from an illness or surgery. It alsostrengthens skin, keeps scar tissue flexible, and can improveacne.
Food sources: Vitamin B-5 is very abundant and can be found inmost foods. It is also produced by intestinal bacteria. Brewer'syeast, whole grain cereals, egg yolks, fish, green beans, peas,dried beans, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, and avocados are allrich in B-5.
Dosage: Minimum daily requirements are about 5 to 10 mg.,although many people consume 100-500 mg. on a regular basis. Deficienciescan result in fatigue, irregular glucose levels, adrenal congestion,premature graying of hair, and diffuse neurological symptoms,such as muscle spasms or tingling. B-5 is also an active ingredientin lotions that soothe burns and cuts.
Pyridoxine is the workhorse of the B-complex family. Also knownas vitamin B-6, it comes in five other forms: pyridoxine phosphate,pyridoxal, pyridoxal phosphate, pyridoxamine, and pyridoxaminephosphate. B-6 is involved in thousands of metabolic reactionsthat are responsible for good physical and mental health, includingmaintaining the digestive tract, red blood cell formation, brainfunction, and production of nucleic acids and hundreds of differentenzymes. Because magnesium is crucial in mobilizing phosphate,people who are deficient in magnesium may also be lacking in vitaminB-6. B-6 also helps the body manufacture niacin (vitamin B-3)from tryptophan.
This hardworking vitamin helps to break down food into energy,manufacture protein, and maintain a healthy nervous system. B-6and its active coenzyme, pyridoxal-5-phosphate, is used to treatPMS, pregnancy-related problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, and variousnervous disorders.
Food sources: Small amounts of B-6 are found in most wholefoods, especially wheat products and organ meats. Other sourcesare brewer's yeast, chicken, carrots, fish, eggs, walnuts, meat,peas, spinach, and various seeds.
Dosage: RDA is 0.3 to 2.2 mg; DV is 2 mg. Dosages as highas 200-300 mg. have been used in clinical settings with no sideeffects. However, higher amounts over longer periods of time canlead to nervous disorders such as neuritis. B-6 deficiencies canresult in nerve problems, poor skin, fatigue, and depression.Senior citizens tend to need B-6 supplementation, as do thoseusing antidepressants, estrogens, diuretics, cortisone, and oralcontraceptives.
B-6 can interact with certain prescription drugs, including barbituratesand medications for hypertension and Parkinson's disease.
All the functions of B-12 have yet to be discovered. Also calledcyanocobalamin, it contains trace amounts of cobalt and is thoughtto be involved in the production of neurotransmitters, such asdopamine and serotonin. Emotions and sleep patterns are thereforeaffected by B-12. Folic acid and B-12 work together to maintainhealthy cell division and red blood cell formation (which preventsanemia). The myelin sheath, which covers nerves the way insulationcovers wires, will break down without enough B-12. Sometimes aB-12 injection is required to boost energy levels, help regainweight, and balance the nervous system. B-12 works the best inconjunction with folic acid.
Food sources: B-12 is only found in animal-based foods,such as eggs, dairy products, and meat (it also occurs in a fermentedsoy product called tempeh). Vegetarians, although they may beable to produce small amounts internally, generally need to takeB-12 supplements.
Dosage: RDA is 0.3 to 2.6 mcg. (micrograms); DV is 6.0mcg. A deficiency can result in pernicious anemia, which is characterizedby low red blood cell counts, fatigue, and neurological symptoms.Amounts as high as 200 mcg. appear to be safe. B-12 can interactwith certain prescription drugs, such as neomyacin.
Folic acid is often deficient in standard North American diets.Energy production, red blood cell formation, a strong immune system,and properly dividing cells are all dependent on folic acid. Inthe form of its co-factor tetrahydrofolic acid (THFA), folic acidhelps manufacture proteins and amino acids. It functions mostefficiently when combined with B-12 and vitamin C.
Food sources: Nutritional yeast, brown rice, barley, lamb,wheat germ, legumes, fish, whole grains, spinach, kale, chard,broccoli, legumes, corn, and bean sprouts are good sources offolic acid.
Dosage: RDA is 25-400 mcg; DV is 400 mcg. Pregnant womenmay require up to 800 mcg. of folic acid. Deficiencies can resultin anemia, fatigue, irritability, loss of appetite, mental andneurological symptoms, and neurological birth defects like spinabifida. Alcoholics, pregnant women, and those with heart diseasecan all benefit from folic acid supplementation.
Sometimes called vitamin H, biotin plays an important role infood metabolism. It acts as a catalyst in carbon dioxide fixation,an important biochemical reaction. Biotin also helps produce fattyand amino acids, make new cells, and utilize other B-complex vitamins.Nerve tissue, bone marrow, and sweat glands also benefit froman adequate supply of biotin. Besides maintaining healthy skinand hair, biotin is used by diabetics to regulate their carbohydratemetabolism and blood sugar levels.
Food sources: Biotin occurs in small amounts in many foods,especially yeast, egg yolks, and rice, and can be manufacturedby intestinal bacteria. Bifidobacterium, a friendly bacteria foundin many fermented food products, can also make biotin.
Dosage: RDA or DV have not been established. There areno known toxicity and deficiencies are rare. Biotin levels maybe depleted by certain antibiotic treatments, such as sulfa drugs.
Choline is lipotropic: It helps the body transport fat betweencells in the liver. Although it is probably not a true vitamin,it is usually associated with B vitamins. Choline is an importantcomponent of acetylcholine, a critical part of the nerve structurethat transmits messages from the brain. Choline is used to treatneurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and gallbladderor liver problems. Some studies indicate that choline may helpliver cells regenerate more efficiently.
Food sources: Soybeans and other legumes are the primary sourceof lecithin. Egg yolks, leafy greens, yeast, peanuts, and wheatgerm also contain smaller amounts.
Dosage: Most experts agree 500 mg. is required daily to maintainbasic health. No known toxicity exists. Deficiencies may affectfat metabolism and produce fatty growths, especially in the liver.
This lipotropic vitamin-like substance is created within the humanbody. Its role is still somewhat mysterious, but, like choline,it catalyzes the movement of fats from the liver to the cellsand helps produce lecithin. It is known to stimulate hair growth,reduce cholesterol levels, and have a calming effect. Inositolmay also prevent or slow cardiovascular disease, viral infections,and Alzheimer's disease.
Food sources: Whole grains, molasses, nuts, vegetables, wheatgerm, raisins, and legumes are excellent sources of inositol.
Dosage: No known requirements have been established. Mostpeople need less than 500 mg. a day. Deficiencies may lead tohair and skin problems, elevated cholesterol levels, vision problems,constipation, hair loss, and general irritability.
Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) is actually a component of the folicacid molecule. It is also manufactured by intestinal bacteria.In conjunction with the folic acid co-factor THFA, PABA helpsmetabolize protein, form red blood cells, maintain healthy hair,and improve skin conditions such as vitiligo, a pigmentation disorder.PABA is also an ingredient in certain sunscreens.
Food sources: Eggs, liver, whole grains, yeast, molasses,rice, kidney, mushrooms, and spinach are good sources of PABA.
Dosage: Standard amounts are typically less than 50 mcg;50-1000 mcg. is considered to be a therapeutic range. No dataexists that identifies toxicity or deficiency problems. Depression,fatigue, graying hair, and nervousness may be symptoms of PABAdeficiency.
Ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, is one of the most extensively researchedvitamins. It was made famous by Dr. Linus Pauling, who consumedup to 25 grams a day and lived to be 96 years of age. A modifiedsugar molecule, vitamin C is water-soluble and breaks down easily,especially during cooking and food processing.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that protects human tissuefrom the oxidative damage of free radical molecules. It is a keycomponent in the production of collagen, neurotransmitters, interferon,and mucous membranes. Blood vessels weaken and break down withoutenough ascorbic acid. Vitamin C stimulates the adrenal glandsto manufacture cortisone and other hormones that help deal withstressful living. It also improves the absorption of iron in thebody and helps convert folic acid into its active form. The listof benefits goes on and on, including fighting viruses and improvingsexual function, fertility, the immune system, cellular detoxification,LDL/HDL balances, blood sugar levels, allergies, and periodontaldisease.
Vitamin C works synergistically with vitamin E for even betterresults. Esterfied vitamin C is the most absorbable form; it entersthe blood stream four times faster than standard vitamin C, staysin tissues longer, and one-third less is lost in the urine.
Food sources: Citrus fruits, bell peppers, rose hips, tomatoes,strawberries, and other fruits are important sources of vitaminC.
Dosage: RDA is 30-90 mg.; DV is 60 mg. Most supplements arein 500, 1000, or 2000 mg. dosages. Studies show that 500 mg. ofvitamin C is enough to saturate the blood, and any excess is excretedthrough the urine. Megadose levels in the 10-20 gram range maybe mildly toxic, resulting in diarrhea.
Alcohol consumption and smoking reduce vitamin C levels in thebody. Vitamin C may interfere with diabetes medications and sulfadrugs. Pregnant women should not exceed 1-2 g. per day. Chewablevitamin C tablets often contain sugar and can damage tooth enamel.
Bioflavonoids are plant pigments that help fight a host of disorders.More than 4,000 have been discovered but only a few have beenstudied. They are usually associated with Vitamin C. Some of themore common names are rutin, catechin, quercetin, and hesperidin.They strengthen blood vessels and have anti-inflammatory, antiviral,and antihistamine characteristics. As powerful antioxidants, theymay have a role in preventing cancer.
Food sources: Citrus fruit rinds, fresh citrus fruits, greenleafy vegetables, grapes, cherries, berries, soy, and green teaare all natural sources of bioflavonoids.
Dosage: No RDA or DV values have been established. A numberof vitamin C products contain these important antioxidants. Deficienciesmay weaken blood vessel walls and lead to varicose veins, tissueswelling, and possible cardiovascular problems.
Building your own program
Eating organic foods and developing a well-balanced diet willgo a long way toward meeting your vitamin needs. Any imbalancesin your diet can be corrected through supplementation. VitaminsA, B, and C are critical to overall health and will help reducethe effects of aging. With the ever-increasing toxins in our air,food, and water, adequate vitamin intake will help neutralizetheir toxic effects in the body. Keep track of what you eat, thesupplements you take, and how you feel. By tuning into your body'sreactions, you can develop your own micronutrient plan.
Written by: Mark Crawford,
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