The 5 Most Important Vitamins your Body Needs
Vitamins are among the most important nutrients. They can’t be produced by our body, so we need to supplement them through our diet. Unfortunately, said “diet” often contains vitamins in quantities less than required, which can lead to deficiencies, and health conditions related to them.
Where do vitamins come from?
By definition, vitamins can not be produced by our own metabolism. This means that the main source for them is our diet. Their structure and function are different – some act as hormones (like vitamin D), others function as enzymes or antioxidants. What links them together is their biological and chemical activity. Some vitamins come from plants, others from animal sources – some are exclusive to one or the other. Some are produced inside our bodies from components we eat (like, again, vitamin D, which is produced in our skin).
If your diet consists mostly of highly refined, heavily processed foods, it most likely lacks a few of these essential nutrients. This is when you need vitamin supplements, otherwise you risk developing “deficiency diseases” of various kinds.
Vitamin A – for healthy vision and skin
Vitamin A is a “multi-purpose” nutrient, with an important role in growth, immunity and good vision. The recommended daily intake of vitamin A is between 900 and 3,000 micrograms (μg) for a typical adult, slightly more for pregnant and lactating women.
Vitamin A is formed in our small intestine by the conversion of precursors of plant or animal origin – retinol and carotens respectively. The undisputedly best source for vitamin A precursors is cod liver oil (liver is generally a great source for it). From the plant kingdom the dandelion is the best source for it – often considered a weed, it contains more vitamin A than chicken liver.
Vitamin A deficiency can lead to a series of health conditions, like impaired vision and night blindness, hyperkeratosis (the thickening of the outermost layers of the skin.
Vitamin B – a complex group of nutrients
While chemically different, B vitamins usually exist in the same food groups. They are essential for a complex group of metabolic functions, regulating a series of processes of our body. And their lack can lead to a series of health conditions:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency can lead to beriberi, a neurological condition that causes weight loss, weakness, emotional disturbances, or even heart failure in extreme cases
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) deficiency can cause a series of conditions, from cracking of the lips to edema of the mucous membranes
- Vitamin B3 (niacin) deficiency can lead to pellagra, with symptoms like aggression, weakness and mental confusion, accompanied by dermatitis and diarrhea (and, in extreme cases, death)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) deficiency can cause acne and paresthesia (a tingling, burning feeling in the skin with no apparent reason)
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) deficiency can cause a complex set of symptoms, from skin eruptions to epilepsy
- Vitamin B7 (biotin) deficiency can impair the growth of infants
- Vitamin B9 (folic acid) deficiency can lead to anemia, and birth defects if suffered by pregnant women
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) deficiency can cause memory loss and cognitive deficits
Vitamin C – more important than you think
Vitamin C is among the most important nutrients our bodies need – and can’t produce by itself. It has a role in a series of essential metabolic reactions. When consumed at the recommended levels (which differ from one authority from another), it acts as an antioxidant as well, and aids the immune system in its fight against invaders.
A prolonged deficiency of vitamin C leads to a condition known as scurvy, with symptoms like fatigue, spongy gums, bleeding from the mucous membranes and the loss of the teeth, with fever and death as the final ones.
The best sources for vitamin C are fruit and vegetables, but it is present in many foods of animal origin as well (liver, again, is a great source for it).
Vitamin D – for healthy bones and skin
Vitamin D is produced in our skin when it’s exposed to UV light, but its precursors need to be introduced from the outside – either through our diet, or through supplementation. Vitamin D regulates the absorption of calcium in our body, and aids the immune system to fight infections. It’s a fat soluble vitamin, found almost exclusively in animals. Only mushrooms and lichen are known as non-animal sources of its precursors.
Vitamin K – for healthy clotting of the blood
Vitamin K is essential for our blood to clot normally. Deficiency of this vitamin will not only affect coagulation, but also causes weakening of the bones and calcification of the arteries. Vitamin K is produced by our gut microbes, and can also be found in a series of dietary sources, like green leafy vegetables (kale is the star here, but dandelion leaves are also great) and many others.