Vitamins don't provide energy, like carbohydrates, proteins and fats, but they are essential compounds that help the body grow and function optimally. Thirteen essential vitamins help boost your immunity, strengthen your bones, heal wounds, bolster your eyesight and assist you in obtaining energy from food -- among multiple other functions. Without adequate vitamin intake, you may feel lethargic, be vulnerable to infection and develop other serious complications that can endanger your health and life.
Types of Vitamins
Vitamins are classified as fat-soluble or water-soluble, referring to where they are stored in the body. Fat-soluble vitamins include A, D, E and K and are stored for up to six months in your various fat stores. Water-soluble vitamins circulate through your blood and include the B vitamins -- namely B-6, B-12, riboflavin, thiamine, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin and folate -- and vitamin C. Your body doesn't store water-soluble vitamins, so you must replenish them regularly.
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Each of the 13 vitamins has a specific function, but they also work together to facilitate optimal health. Vitamin A supports healthy eyesight, immune function, skin, bones and teeth. You need vitamin C to support absorption of the mineral iron and also to provide immune protection and encourage healthy tissue development. Vitamin D, along with the mineral calcium, boosts bone health as well as a solid body defense system. Vitamin E facilitates your body's use of vitamin K, which helps in blood clotting and bone health, as well as promotes the formation of essential red blood cells. The eight B vitamins support a healthy metabolism, brain function, hormone production, regular heart operations, functioning of the central nervous system and cell duties.
Inadequate vitamin intake risks your health, as you'll be more vulnerable to heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis. A deficiency in B vitamins can lead to permanent nerve damage and anemia. Get too little vitamin C and your body can't produce collagen, the primary tissue in the body. In severe cases of vitamin C deficiency, people develop scurvy, characterized by muscle and joint pain, fatigue, spongy and swollen gums and red spots on the skin. Vitamin D deficiency causes rickets in children, which manifests as bone pain, deformations and poor growth and may contribute to poor bone health in adults as well as high blood pressure, some cancers and autoimmune diseases.
A diet rich in a variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, fortified dairy, whole grains, dried beans and lentils, and lean meat and fish helps you get all the vitamins you need. Whole foods, rather than a supplement, provide an optimal synergy of compounds that your body absorbs and uses. If you're unsure if you're getting an adequate amount of vitamins, consult with your doctor. Overdosing on vitamins through supplements can be dangerous.
- MedlinePlus: Vitamins
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Fortify Your Knowledge About Vitamins
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Vitamin D Deficiency: A Worldwide Problem With Health Consequences
- NHS: Scurvy
- KidsHealth: Vitamins
- Harvard Health Publications: Getting Your Vitamins and Minerals Through Diet