Vitamins... It’s a term we use so frequently, but how much do we really know about them? My intention with this post is to simply educate you on the topic of vitamins and leave you feeling empowered.
Let’s start with how they are categorized: water soluble vs non water (fat) soluble
Soluble means the vitamins ability to dissolve entirely in either water or fat. Here is an example: everyone knows that water and oil don't mix right? If we poured oil into a glass of water, we could distinctly see the oil droplets sitting on the surface of the water. This is because water is water and oil is fat. But if we mixed oil with melted butter (fat) it would dissolve just fine. This concept is similar to how these vitamins work.
What does this mean?
Water soluble means that these vitamins dissolve and travel through the body with water. This means they can be used immediately as water is easily absorbed in our body. However, it also means that they can be excreted just as easily. Basically, once our body gets all the water soluble vitamins it needs, we pee them out and we are now back at square one. Therefore, we need to intake water soluble vitamins on a regular basis to ensure our body has a sufficient amount.
Fat soluble means that these vitamins dissolve, travel or get stored alongside fat in our body. As a result, these vitamins also get absorbed better when ingested with fat. Unlike our water soluble vitamins that we pee out, these vitamins can be stored in the liver and fat for various amounts of time. Let’s use Vitamin D as an example. Those of us living in Vancouver certainly don’t see the sun everyday (get me to California). But on the days we do our body is able to store enough Vitamin D to last us months. BUT on the flip side, this also means that we have to be careful we don't supplement TOO much of them.
Now that you have an understanding of fat versus water soluble vitamins we can dive into each Vitamin a little deeper.
Otherwise known as retinol, retinal, retinoic acid and carotenes (ever heard of beta-carotene?), Retinol is usually found in animal sources while carotenes are found in plants and later converted (meaning our body alters them) to form retinol.
Vitamin A plays a role in:
Vision: Vitamin A makes up our visual pigments that allow us to see. Without enough we can end up with difficulty seeing at night
Bone health: Without enough we end up creating weak bones that constantly build up and break down
Immune system: Vitamin A plays a key role in many of our mighty immune cells as well as our cell surfaces to fight off infection
Mucous membrane health: It provides stability to our mucous membranes (this includes our mouth, nose, throat, respiratory, urinary and digestive tracts)
Skin: Vitamin A is often used for many skin conditions as it promotes the growth of healthy skin
There are actually 8 B vitamins, each playing a specific role in the body. One of my favourite things about B vitamins is their ability to work together to help the body function optimally.
B1: Thiamin ~ plays a big role in energy and supporting our nervous system
B2: Riboflavin ~ plays a big role in energy as well as the synthesis of our neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine (otherwise known as adrenaline)
B3: Niacin ~ plays a big role in energy, breaking down alcohol and making other vitamins
B5: Pantothenic acid ~ plays a big role in energy, and our body's ability to make fats, ketones (ever heard of the keto diet?), acetylcholine and our red blood cells
B6: Pyridoxine ~ helps our steroid hormones (such as cortisol our stress hormone as well as our sex hormones) do their job, keeps our immune system strong, as well as metabolizes amino acids, fats and carbohydrates
B7: Biotin ~ think healthy hair, nails and nerves
B9: Folate ~ Important during pregnancy due to it's role in DNA synthesis, neurotransmitter synthesis and nervous system support
B12: Cobalamin ~ plays a big role in energy, the metabolism of our food, DNA and red blood cell synthesis as well as brain and nervous system support.
As humans we are unable to make this vitamin on our own. It is a remarkable antioxidant which aids to support every cell in our body. It is essential for the synthesis of three very important products: Collagen, Carnitine and Norepinephrine.
Collagen is the substance that makes up our bones, muscles, ligaments, blood vessels and more.
Carnitine plays a major role in our energy pathways including breaking down our fats for energy (and who doesn’t want the breakdown of fats?!).
Norepinephrine is what we think of as adrenaline. This is our fight or flight hormone that both our body and brain needs to respond to stress.
Vitamin C also helps us absorb iron, also critical in our energy levels.
Our sunshine vitamin! As we learned with Vitamin A, there are two forms: one we can get from plant products (D2) and one we can get from animal products (D3). Both of these need to be worked on by the body (liver and kidneys) before they can become active.
Vitamin D plays such an important role in so many different aspects of our physiology that it is sometimes considered a hormone. Surprisingly, Vitamin D is actually very similar to a steroid in terms of its structure.
Genes (DNA): helps with something called gene transcription which takes our DNA and allows it to be read similar to a computer program to form proteins.
Bone health : reabsorbs calcium from the digestive system for bone production.
Vitamin D levels are being linked to far too many aspects of health to cover in just this intro and deserves its own post in the near future.
Vitamin E is a family of many different compounds. One of them being Tocopherol which actually stands for “to bear off-spring" which implies it's action in fertility. Vitamin E likes to travel to our adipose (fat) and adrenal glands. More specifically it likes to travel to our mitochondria: otherwise known as the powerhouse of our cell (high school biology at its finest!).
Antioxidant: Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant which will support every cell in our body. It works well with Vitamin A and C as well. This is used to help with or improve cardiovascular health, cataracts, diabetes and infection.
K is for K(c)oagulation. These compounds are known as quinones and are needed for our bodies clotting mechanism. This includes cuts on our skin that turn to scabs or any type of bleeding that must come to a stop. There are two main types, K1 and K2. Similarly to Vitamin A&D, we can get Vitamin K1 from plant sources and Vitamin K2 from animal tissues. Interestingly, Vitamin K2 can be synthesized by the bacteria in our gut. For this reason, babies are given vitamin K at birth since they don’t have as extensive of gut bacteria to synthesize their own.
If you made it to the bottom of this post : thank you! I hope you took something educational away from this blog post. There will be a lot more vitamin info to come in the near future.