Vitamins 101

I've gotten many questions asking me to give some advice or information about nutrition, along with other health inquiries. While I am not your family doctor , I am studying to become a nurse and have a few months left (I am so excited!). I am not in any position to give you direct medical advice, but I am willing to share what I know and have studied in order to help you! As such, this post will be dedicated to discussing some vitamins, their functions, and interesting information on them. If you have any other topics about health or nutrition (including mental health, eating disorders, medications, food, exercise, etc), feel free to comment and let me know. Again, I want to stress that I am NOT giving medical advice here - it is simply my way of relaying my knowledge thus far to those who request it, or to help you understand difficult concepts that perhaps were not well explained to you by other healthcare members, etc. Before we get started, let me warn you that this post will be LONG. I suggest that you read it in two parts: fat vs water-soluble vitamins. As long as this post is, however, it is a great summary of what you need to know about vitamins!

So, let's talk about our vitamins! First, let us separate the vitamins by what they are soluble in. It is easier to remember which are fat-soluble, as there are only four: vitamins A, D, E, and K. That means that everything else - the B vitamins and vitamin C, are water-soluble. This means that the fat-soluble vits (vitamins) need fat to be absorbed into the body. Thus, a deficiency of fat may result in deficiencies in these vits. Now that we know which are fat vs water soluble, we can learn a bit more about the vitamins and what they do in the body, as well as some notable pieces of information.


1) Vitamin A: this is needed for vision (yes, your mom was right about carrots and vision!). Deficiencies can result in night-blindness, which, when detected early, can be restored with sufficient vit A intake. However, too much vitamin A is associated with many problems, such as birth defects in pregnant women.

2) Vitamin D: yes, what you heard about bone health and vit D is right. Vit D helps the body absorb calcium, which we know is needed for bone health. Our skin can convert a compound into vit D when exposed to sun, but this isn't enough for our needs. This is because we use sunscreen and do not get enough sun exposure. As such, we need enough vit D in our diet, which is also limited in foods (fish, fortified diary products, etc). Over the age of 50, it is recommended that all adults take a supplement of vit D. Remember to always talk to your doctor before taking any medications or supplements!

3) Vitamin K: This is mainly needed for blood clotting, although it also has a role in maintain strong bones. A deficiency is uncommon, but can occur if the diet doesn't have enough fat in it. Newborns don't have enough vit K at birth (some if made by bacteria in our gut), so we give them an injection within 6 hours of their birth. If you are taking blood thinners, you will likely need to ensure that you do not consume foods high in vit K, which can interfere with the medications.

4) Vitamin E: this is an antioxidant. This means that it helps to decrease or neutralize the toxins that enter our body, which can be from food, metabolic processes, smoke, etc. It is remade by vitamin C.

Before I start, let me warn you that there are 12 B vitamins. Most of these function as cozymees, which meant that they are needed for certain processes in our bodies to function normally. For eample, to metabolize foods at the cellular level, our enzymes and proteins need these vitamins to work properly. I will not go into detail about all of these B vitamins, as most of them function in similar ways. I will simply focus on the main ones you should be aware of: folate (vit B 9), and vit B 12, as well as vitamin C.

1) Vit B 9 or FOLATE: this is VERY important for pregnant women because it is needed for DNA synthesis and also for closing the neural tube. The neural tube is part of the brain: it needs to close early in the first trimester (around week 6). If it does not close or does so partially, this results in a neural tube defect (NTD), including spina bifida or ancephaly (a baby without a brain). If born, the baby will have many difficulties and health challenges. Because most women don't even know they are pregnant in the first trimester, folate intake BEFORE pregnancy is essential. Generally, it is recommended that any female who is thinking about pregnancy begin to take folate supplements a year or more before pregnancy, and continue to do so during pregnancy. Note that males, while they do not get pregnant, also need folate bvecause of its role in DNA synthesis. In addition, a defiency of folate in men or women results in a type of anemia in which red blood cells are large (macrocytic). The red blood cells do not divide, so they remain big, which means that there are less of them in the body, resulting in anemia (often called megaloblastic anemia).

2) Vitamin B 12: this is VERY important as well! Vit B 12 is needed for the synthesis of the myelin sheath, which is a coating on our nerves. Without it, changes begin to occur, including tingling in the body and memory loss.  Also, vit B 12 is needed to remake more folate, so a deficiency of vit B 12 can actually result in a deficiency of vit B 9 (folate) as well. Vit B 12 needs enough stomach acid (pepsin and HCl) as well as intrinsic factor (a compound made in the stomach and released by cells in the stomach). As we age,  our stomachs make less of both these, which puts the elderly at an increased risk for vit B 12 deficiency. The recommendation is for all adults over 50 years old to take a vit B 12 supplement. Vegetarians or vegans may also need to take a supplement, as vit B 12 is mainly found in meats.

3) Vitamin C: this is an antioxidant, like vit E. In addition, it is needed for collagen, a protein that holds our skin together. Without enough vit C, we can get symptoms of scurvy, which include loosening of teeth from the gums, open cuts and poor wound healing, etc. Have you heard that vit C can prevent colds? This is a common myth. While it hasn't been found to prevent colds, studies have shown that taking vit C BEFORE a cold may help to shorten the duration of a cold. Also, as vit C is acidic, it enhances (helps) iron absorption. This is why you may have been told to take iron with vit C or with a cup of orange juice.

I hope that was informational! I realize that it is a lot to take in at once, so if it feels like too much, read it in two parts: fat vs water-soluble vitamins. What I love about this topic is that it shows how amazing our bodies are - look at how much goes on inside the body! It also helps us realize why sufficient and healthy diets are important. Without a good, healthy diet, we cannot get all the vitamins and minerals we need to be well. A healthy diet is truly the best way to prevent illness, be healthy and strong, and maintaining a high quality of life. I never thought that I would ever say this...but food is really, really important....and good. Poor food intake and insufficient quantities can result in many problems. Aside from being delicious, look at how food provides us with what we need to be healthy!

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