What Is the General Function of Vitamins?

Vitamins are a group of substances that are essential for overall health, normal cell function, growth and development. There are 13 vitamins that are essential for body function. Because these vitamins are so vital to good health, it is important to understand their roles and functions. All essential vitamins can be found in food sources as well as supplemented in various forms.

Multivitamins (Image: Thinkstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Types of Vitamins

Vitamins are divided into two categories, fat soluble and water soluble. Fat soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E and K. Water soluble vitamins include vitamin C, thiamin (B1), niacin (B3), riboflavin (B2), pantothenic acid, biotin, pyridoxine (B6), vitamin B12 and folate. While there are other differences, the main characteristic that separates water soluble and fat soluble vitamins is that fat soluble vitamins can be stored in body tissue for long periods of time, while water soluble vitamins cannot. The only exception is B12, which can be stored in the liver.

Water Soluble Vitamins

All vitamins play various important roles in the body. While water soluble vitamins cannot be stored for long periods of time, they still perform crucial functions. Vitamin C promotes healthy teeth and gums and helps the body absorb iron. Vitamins B1, pantothenic acid, biotin and B12 are important for energy metabolism, while B2 and B6 aid in red blood cell production. Vitamin B3 helps to maintain skin and nerve health. Folate is crucial for DNA production and pregnant women must ensure they get adequate amounts of folate.

Fat Soluble Vitamins

Among the fat soluble vitamins, Vitamin A helps form and maintain healthy body tissues while vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Vitamin E is important for red blood cell formation and absorption of vitamin K, which is important for blood clotting. Because fat soluble vitamins can be stored in the body for long periods, toxicity is more possible, particularly if you are taking supplements. You should consult your doctor before supplementing fat soluble vitamins.

Food or Vitamins?

Eating a well balanced, healthy diet, particularly one that contains a lot of food from plant sources, should allow you to get adequate amounts of all the essential vitamins, according to the Colorado State University Extension. However, if you have a deficiency, using supplements can help restore your lab values to normal. Consult with your doctor or a dietitian before taking vitamin supplements.

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