Maybe you are someone “blessed” with dewy iridescent skin or hair that catches light without any extra effort. Or maybe you are somebody with decent vision despite the amount of television and Youtube you watch on a regular basis. Perhaps you do not even catch a cold that often. Or you simply have healthy teeth and bones and like most of us take good health for granted!
For many it is the lucky inheritance of good genes, but for others it can be a real struggle. Vitamins are those little soldiers of nutrition that help us.
Vitamins are organic compounds which a body cannot produce on its own, but are essential for proper growth and upkeep. There are thirteen essential vitamins, of which four vitamins, (A, D, E and K) - are fat-soluble. These travel throughout the body with the help of fat cells, and then are stored within the tissues.
The rest (vitamin C and the eight B vitamins) are all water-soluble. We have to frequently replenish these vitamins (with the exception of vitamin B-12, which can be stored in the liver for several years) as they pass out of the body through the kidneys.
Although necessary in proper quantities, there is no need to overdose on vitamins. So how do we know how much to take or how often? Also, whether to pick natural sources or prescriptions supplements can be confusing too.
Starting with water-soluble ones, the first will be vitamin C. There is no alternative to this vitamin when it comes to promoting healthy teeth and gums. It is also among the most easily accessible vitamins. It is an antioxidant which helps cleanse blood, lowers risk of all kinds of cancer from mouth to stomach, protects against cataracts and aids in iron absorption and producing collagen for the skin. Childbearing women require extra amounts of vitamin C alongside iron and synthetic folic acids from fortified foods or beet root powder. Vitamin C deficiency causes a disease called scurvy, symptoms of which include brown spots on the skin, spongy and bleeding gums and loss of teeth; this can eventually lead to death if left untreated!
Citrus fruits and their juices, broccoli, bell peppers, spinach and tomatoes are all rich in vitamin C. Guavas have the highest vitamin C content among fruits, followed by papayas, kiwis and oranges.
Next, are the eight types of vitamin B. As there are so many types of this vitamin, it also has numerous sources, anything from animal products to legumes, fruits and vegetables. These vitamins essentially work to produce blood cells, hormones, DNA and regulate protein and carbohydrate metabolism, tissue growth and cell repair, and have direct effect in maintaining blemish free skin and improved hair growth.
Our heart function and nervous system rely on the constant supply of these vitamins, especially vitamins B-1 and B-3. A deficiency of these can lead to reduced brain function and mental confusion. Anaemia is caused by the deficiency of vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12.
Vitamin B1, also known as Thiamin, is essential against unwanted weight loss, weakness, brain damage and heart. Amazingly, it is easily available in the thin filmy husk of the rice grain, which gives it a red tinge. Brown bread or brown rice is equally rich in this vitamin.
Vitamin B2 or riboflavin plays a big role in healthy skin and hair and without it people are likely to get cracks in their skin, corners of the mouth, fissures of the lips and inflamed purple tongue.
Yoghurt, cereals and liver are good ways to get the proper content of riboflavin for the body.
Vitamin B3 or niacin is necessary for a healthy nervous system and is naturally made by the body with the help of Vitamin B6. Other than that mushrooms, potatoes, fish and peanuts also contain adequate amounts of Vitamin B3 necessary for the body. A deficiency of this vitamin can result in a disease called pellagra- characterised by bilateral dermatitis, dementia and diarrhoea. Long term deficiency can cause depression or weakening of the muscles.
Vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid aids is essential in making lipids or fats, neurotransmitters, hormones and haemoglobin and a lack of it causes symptoms like burning feet and other neurologic symptoms. Chicken, broccoli, avocadoes and tomatoes provide sufficient amounts of this vitamin to keep our neurologic symptoms in order. Vitamin B6 is the main ally in healthy weight loss. It aids in the body's metabolic process to burn calories in a healthy way. It also balances blood sugar which in turn keeps other diseases in control, reduces risk of heart disease, helps convert tryptophan to serotonin- a neurotransmitter which helps in sleep, as well as help make red blood cells.
Soy products, non-citrus fruits such as watermelons and bananas, fish and chickpeas contain vitamin B6, and a lack of these in our diet can cause muscle pain, fatigue, low energy, anxiety and sometimes anaemia.
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is one of the most important vitamins of all as it helps strengthen the nervous system, creates new DNA and red blood cells as well as helps break fatty acids and amino acids.
Elderly people, especially after the age of 50, can suffer from lack of vitamin B12 as age depletes the capacity to absorb this vitamin from natural food substances. A deficiency can cause memory loss, dementia, numbness and depression. Milk, cheese, cereals and fortified foods are strong sources of Vitamin B12.
Moving on to the set of fat soluble vitamins, vitamin A plays a big role in keeping our eyes healthy and ensuring proper vision. It helps regenerate the retina, cornea and eye membranes. It is also essential in keeping tissues and bones in proper shape and strengthening the immune system. However, balance is very important in this case, as there is such a thing as too much vitamin A and too much of it can prove damaging to the bones, but a lack can result in poor eyesight and even night blindness.
Almost all kinds of food substances contain this vitamin, but leafy greens, small fish (like the local varieties of mola, dhela and kachki), carrots, paprika, peppers, beef, liver, eggs, shrimp and cheese are good sources.
Vitamin D is geared towards bone and teeth health. It helps maintain calcium and phosphorous levels in the body and ensures their absorption, a lack of which leads to weak bones and spine. Ten to fifteen minutes of sun time is enough to fulfil our requirement of vitamin D, and that's why it is also known as the "Sunshine Vitamin."
Food contains very little amounts of this vitamin compared to direct sunlight. Small quantities of this vitamin can be found in oily fish and cod liver oil.
Fatty fish and fish oils are sources of vitamin D, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon, as well as egg yolk, liver and cheese. This vitamin is activated by exposure to sunlight, which makes some outdoor activity a must for proper activation.
Women over the age of 30 require extra amounts of vitamin D as age weakens the bones.
Vitamin E is also an antioxidant that helps regenerate cells, and protects vitamin A in the body. It also works against Alzheimer's disease. Lack of this vitamin can lead to poor transmission of nerve impulses, muscle weakness and degeneration of the retina. It also works alongside other vitamins and minerals to produce red blood cells and utilise vitamin K.
A wide variety of foods contain vitamin E, from vegetable oils, leafy green vegetables, nuts, whole grains and grain oils, like wheat germ oil.
Vitamin K, though less well-known than the other vitamins, is important in activating proteins and calcium in our body and for them to function properly. It also helps reduce excessive bleeding and bone fractures.
Vitamin K is found in cabbages, liver, eggs, milk, spinach, broccoli, kale and many other green vegetables and whole cereals. It is also important in its ability to help in blood coagulation and clotting. It works with vitamin C to stop excessive bleeding from wounds.
Choline, a vitamin targeted to make neurotransmitters and helps with nerve and brain activities. It also assists in metabolising and transporting fats. This particular vitamin is found in common vitamin rich foods such as milk, liver and peanuts.
Biotin helps in synthesising glucose and is essential for bone and hair health. Although the body does not require a lot of it, a lack can lead to rashes, hair loss, and drowsiness.
Pregnant women are more prone to biotin deficiency as their body uses up most of it, and therefore they need to take regular biotin supplements. Whole grains, soy beans, fish, meat and liver are especially rich in biotin.
Folic acid is vital for cell regeneration, along with preventing brain and spine defects in pregnant women. Child bearing women need to take regular supplements of folic acid to ensure enough cell growth. Fortified grains, cereals, okra, spinach and many other greens contain folic acid.
Alongside all the mentioned supplements, all greens and proteins are loaded with vitamins and stirring up quick dishes like grilled shrimp, or fish tacos or vegetable curry will give you the boost of vitamins you need without medical supplements. However, sometimes supplements are necessary, and can be easily prescribed by the doctor.
By Anisha Hassan and Antara Islam