Those Things Called Vitamins And Why We Need Them

A quick guide on everything you need to know about vitamins for those who really do care about their health by Nadezhda Bykova.

Those Things Called Vitamins And Why We Need Them

Even though strangely warm weather in January might make it seem like spring is already on its way, winter is far from being over. And at this point everyone has probably already figured out how important it is to take proper care of one’s health during this season: constant changes of weather and temperature, cold wind and generally weakened by chronic stress and lack of sleep immune system can, for sure, be used as some of the most common arguments in favor of such point of view.

However, it might be hard to navigate oneself in the world of numerous vitamin supplements all of which, as it seems like, are claimed to have the exact same overall positive effect on one’s health. On top of that, learning about particular products rich in some of these vitamins and sticking to a healthy and balanced diet might be even more challenging. But don’t worry, we got you!

First things first, even though it seems like there dozens of vitamins with all of these strange letters and indexes, there are, in fact, only 13 of them: A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12, C, D, E and K. All of them, in one way or another, are really important and human body is actually in need of those. However, the problem is that our body simply does not produce those or cannot produce enough of them. Which is exactly why one should care about having a balanced diet with all of the essential nutrients and microelements in it. While vitamin deficiency can cause serious health problems (which will we quickly tell you about in what follows), it is also important to remember that it’s also possible to oversupply one’s body with vitamins when there is no such need to. As a rule of thumb, it’s always better to get professional help and to consult a doctor before making any decisions and starting to take any of those vitamin supplements because sometimes it might do more harm than good.

Those 13 vitamins we mentioned above can actually be divided into two groups depending on their solubility: water-soluble and fat-soluble ones. The vitamins from the latter group (which includes A, D, E, and K) are easier for our body to store because they can be reserved for long periods of time in fatty tissues and the liver, while the vitamins from the former group  (C and B) do not stay in human body for that long. That is exactly why water-soluble vitamins have to be replaced more often.

Water-soluble vitamins

One of the most confusing things about B vitamins are those small index numbers they have especially because for most of the time dietary supplements have all eight of them and are simply referred to as a “vitamin B complex”. In fact, B vitamins have a similar effect on the body which is why at first researchers thought they were more or less the same. However, further research showed that they are quite different in terms of their formulas and had to be somehow differentiated by their name. You might notice that some of the numbers are missing, for instance, there is B3 and B5 but there’s no B4 in between. The reason behind that is that some of those B-type vitamins were discovered by different researchers and given different indexes even though they were the same and some of them turned out to be not B vitamins at all. Therefore some B vitamins simply had to be excluded.  

Their primary function is to help human body to convert food into energy. However, B vitamins are also essential for healthy skin, hair and eyes and enable the nervous system to function properly. Each B vitamin has its own special role, but we won’t go into that much of a detail.

Beef liver, oats, milk, yogurt, eggs – those are some of the sources of B vitamins.

One of the most well-known consequences of insufficiency of B vitamins is anemia, but some of conditions like Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) might also appear in case of B1 deficit.

Vitamin C or some reason is commonly believed to cure cold, but what long use of it can actually help you with is the general protection against immune system deficiencies. There are, of course, other positive effects of long-term vitamin C intake because it also helps to produce collagen, acts as an antioxidant etc., but it is important to remember that it’s not a panacea. Some of the studies concluded that vitamin C might be beneficial for those whose immune system was weakened due to the stress – something students have to deal with all the time.

Various fruits such as kiwi, oranges, mangos, watermelons etc. contain vitamin C, but so do broccoli, red cabbage, green and red pepper.

Deficiency of vitamin C might cause megaloblastic anemia and even scurvy.

Fat-soluble vitamins

Vitamin A is divided into preformed and provitamin A where the former is found in meat, fish, dairy foods and other animal products and the latter is found in fruits and vegetables.

Night-blindness and keratomalacia may be caused by the deficiency of vitamin A.

The main function of vitamin A is to help human body to form and maintain healthy teeth, skeletal and soft tissue, but excessive amounts of supplemental vitamin A can even be harmful to bones.

Vitamin D also helps to form teeth and bones, but it also helps to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus (which, in turn, helps to strengthen bones). The main problem is that vitamin D is produced in human bodies by the use of sunlight and people living in northern cities like Saint-Petersburg simply don’t get enough sunny days especially in winter. For instance, in December of 2018 citizens could only get an hour and a half of sunlight.

Foods that are high in vitamin D include: salmon and other types of fish, eggs yolks and mushrooms.

The lack of vitamin D may lead to such diseases as: rickets and osteomalacia.

In case of vitamin E, deficiency is claimed to be very rare and not caused by a diet with low vitamin E intake, but rather by a diet that can be characterized by irregular fat absorption. However, such symptoms may occur in case of the lack of vitamin E in the body: difficulty with walking or coordination, general weakness and unwellness and problems with eyesight.

Vitamin E actually protects vitamin A and certain lipids from damage due to its main function as an antioxidant. Kiwi, almonds, eggs, milk and whole grains are believed to be rich in vitamin E.

The deficiency of the last vitamin, vitamin K, may cause bleeding diathesis (which basically means that blood clogging is slow) because its main function is to activate proteins and calcium which are essential for blood clogging. Green vegetables such as cabbage, spinach, broccoli, kale and others are high in vitamin K, but eggs, liver and milk can also be consumed in case of vitamin K deficiency.

While all of it might seem overwhelming, it has to be noted that there is no better way to supply one’s body with essential nutrients than to maintain a healthy diet and lead an over-all healthy lifestyle. We recommend doing one’s own research on vitamins instead of blindly following what might be advertised on social media, but it needs to be highlighted that before taking any vitamin supplements one should definitely consult a doctor and see if there is actually a deficit of that vitamin in one’s body or not.

There is still a lot to be done in terms of research into health benefits and functions of vitamins, but as technology develop, it might become easier to do so.


Text by
Nadezhda Bykova