The A to B

Vitamins have always seemed like a bit of mind field to me. I remember in school trying to learn the sources, deficiencies and benefits for each, ending up rightly confused like a child who keeps mixing up their left from their right.

For some unknown reason I had a hard time rendering the water soluble from the fat soluble; but by god I think it’s finally managed to go in and stay in somewhere between my two ears! Just to be sure to be sure I’ve decided to a do a little Vitamin run through – focusing more on the interesting facts I’ve uncovered thanks to the fantastic notes from the IINH and some additional reading.

The role of vitamins in the body is primarily to turn on enzymes and make body processes happen. Not having enough of can result in various deficiency symptoms and optimising our intake can help prevent disease. RDAs are largely referred to as a guidance for people but much research has been done which suggests that these really only provide a bar minimum intake to prevent deficiency symptoms and that vitamins ideally need to be consumed in much higher doses to hinder disease.

We all have varying needs for vitamins, depending on our age, stress levels, amount of exercise we involve ourselves in, diseases or illnesses we may be suffering from in the short or long term….there is no one “optimum” intake that can be advisable given to cover all of humanity; commonly referred to as biochemical individuality.

We’re all individuals, listen to your body!

The majority of people consume sub par amounts of vitamins, far less than is advised as a minimum RDA due to the fact that their diets are made up of sugar, fat and refined foods; i.e. empty calories and foods which have been stripped of their nutrients.

The vitamin content of fresh food also widely varies depending on it’s freshness, how it’s cooked, stored….The commonality and key factor being time. The fresher the better, the less lengthy cooking time should be used to retain vitamins and prevent destruction and ideally store out of the light and air for a lesser amount of time. Spinach for example loses 10% of it’s vitamins each day when stored in an open container. 20-50% of the nutrients in food which is boiled is lost so hold on to that stock and make yourself a hearty soup or stew.

Contrary to what I had thought, microwaving is actually less damaging to foods which contain water soluble vitamins, where as fat soluble vitamins are destroyed rapidly when heated in the instant meal creating box.

Water soluble

The water soluble vitamins are those which need to be consumed daily. Taking them in excess is generally considered quite safe as they are readily excreted in the urine and are depleted from the tissues quite rapidly. They include the B Vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9 and B12) and Vitamin C.

B Vitamins

  • B vitamins are abundant in most unrefined foods including wholegrains, beans, nuts, seeds and vegetables, fruits and meats.
  • They are associated with the creation of energy in the body; metabolising the food (fuel) we eat.
  • Deficiencies rarely occur singularly, the common signs across the board being confusion, depression, fatigue, muscle weakness and skin problems.
  • They can be damaged by light, heat, caffeine, alcohol, the pill, antibiotics and are largely eradicated from foods during refining. Refined flours and grains must be fortified with iron, B1, B2, and B3 in the UK and Ireland however the other 22 nutrients removed during refining rarely get reinstated!

The B Vitamin Facts that stood out to me….

  • B12 is only found in animal foods….but then a I dug a little deeper!
  • Fermented foods such as miso and tempeh, algae, nutritional yeast and sprouts contain B12 for those who choose the plant way of life Smile
  • Folic acid (B9) can mask B12 deficiency so if you’re taking the former as a supplement they should be taken together
  • B3 niacin is used in high doses to lower cholesterol (about 200mg which is more than 10 times the RDA)
  • Deficiencies/low levels of B vitamins in the blood have been linked to dementia…or potentially so called dementia as the case may be!
  • Folic Acid (B9) is the most common of the B vitamins for people to be deficient in; found mainly in whole grains and green leafy vegetables, we’re just not eating enough fresh foliage!

Vitamin C a.k.a the cold fighter

When we here Vitamin C the first thought/image is usually that of an orange…right? Kiwis, bell peppers, dark green leafy vegetables and broccoli all have a lot more to offer!

  • One of the antioxidants – works in synergy with Vitamin E and A
  • Help prevent cancer, reduce and slow down the signs of aging, assists with energy production and contributes to bone formation
  • Commonly known for it’s strong immunity boosting powers
  • Very fragile to light and heat
  • Smokers, drinkers, those who are involved in intense exercise all require higher doses

The Vitamin C facts that stood out to me….

  • The RDA is only 60mg….1000mg (1g) used to protect and recover from colds and up to 1g an hour to help fight infection
  • It has been used in doses as high as 10,000mg (10g) up to five times a day for the treatment of cancer!
  • 1g a day has been shown to provide a 62% reduction in the development of diabetes, 38% reduced risk of heart failure, 39% reduced risk of dying from cancer

The Fat Soluble Vitamins

Part of the reason why we need fat in our diet; without it we’d have no natural access to these essential nutrients!

Vitamins A, D, E and K!

They’re metabolised in fat cells, absorbed in the intestine, stored in fat cells with any excess in your liver.

Vitamin A (Retinol and Beta –Carotene & other Carotenoids)

  • Vitamin A in it’s active retinol form only found in animal foods
  • Carotenoids which can be converted to retinol in the body is abundant in green leafy vegetables, bell peppers, pumpkin, sweet potatoes…
  • Stored in the liver
  • Retinol is toxic in high doses; difficult to consume in excess; Beta-carotene has no toxicity issues
  • Night blindness and total blindness if not treated, hard scaly dry skin, problems with digestion and the lungs are all linked to deficiency
  • Essential for reproduction, foetal development, bones and teeth…
  • Also an antioxidant

Interesting facts about Vitamin A…

  • Low levels associated with Alzheimer’s
  • Low levels doubles the risk of lung cancer
  • High levels of Vitamin A as retinol can inhibit uptake of Vitamin D
  • Deficiencies linked to poor immunity, namely in children

Vitamin D

One of the most astounding when it came to surprising facts and current research!

  • Actually is a hormone made in the body; transformed in the kidneys
  • No greater source than the sun
  • RDA is 5 – 10mcg a day- 50mcg needed to achieve optimal levels in the blood
  • Helps control calcium balance, linked to cancer prevention, progression and development of MS, also Type 1 Diabetes and most notably bowel cancer

Astounding facts I found interesting about Vitamin D

  • Lack of Vitamin D thought to be a greater risk for developing bowel cancer than lack of fibre
  • Typical diets contain only 5% of the RDA..that’s 5% of the minimum requirement!
  • Crucial for nerve and muscle function; thought to be a key factor in the success of athletes based closer to the equator in sunnier climates
  • Deficiency is a risk factor for 40 human diseases
  • Fair skinned people can produce more than darker skinned people when exposed to the sun; just 20 minutes of exposure with 80% of the skin exposed and create 250mcg!

Vitamin E

Powerful antioxidant- thought to be the most important

  • Shields fats from free radical damage – protecting cells and membranes
  • Recharged by Vitamin C
  • Seeds, nuts, wheat germ, oats and oils are good sources; though it is lost in refined oils
  • Boost immunity and reduce infections
  • Works in synergy with selenium as an anti-cancer agent

Interesting facts about Vitamin E

  • Thought to reduce LDL cholesterol oxidation – which is when cholesterol starts causing problems
  • Helps unclogs arteries; blood thinning properties which could interfere with the like of Warfarin
  • Lower risk of cancer; inhibits the formation of tumours
  • Supplementing Vitamin E and C together halves the risk of ever having a heart attack
  • Protects skin against UV damage – hence why it’s used in cosmetic products
  • Improves fertility in males!

Vitamin K – last but not least!

The “vitamin” that you tend not to hear as much about…which i fact is not a vitamin!

It’s made by bacteria in a healthy gut! Smileanother vitamin imposter!

  • Vital for blood clotting
  • Best sources are liver, green leafy veg. and most surprisingly cauliflower!!! (also milk and eggs)
  • Manufactures certain proteins for bone formation
  • Important role in the healing of wounds and scars
  • Commonly deficient in the elderly
  • A number of health problems can inhibit it’s absorption – Crohn’s disease, liver disease, cystic fibrosis and celiac disease as well as those suffering from serious burns
  • Excessive intake of antacids can inhibit the production of Vitamin K producing bacteria which require an acidic environment to proliferate

Important facts about Vitamin K!

  • Blocks the effects of warfarin!
  • Antibiotics reduce the absorption of it in the body
  • Antibiotics kill bacteria in the gut; therefore inhibiting it’s production – long term users of antibiotics even at low doses should consider supplementation
  • Newborns lack the bacteria to produce it and are usually given supplements as a shot in the hospital when they are born
  • Plays a significant role in skin and wound recovery; people suffering from serious burns are at risk of becoming deficient
  • Freezing foods can affect the Vitamin K but heating doesn’t!

The above is of course not the ideal situation….

Although I don’t currently take any supplements myself, I do consume a quite an amount of nutritional yeast, fermented foods, namely tempeh, and eat an extraordinary amount of fresh produce, nuts, seeds and their butters! Ideally people should aim to consume a larger amount of nutrients from wholefoods, though it is quite apparent that supplementation is likely to yield benefits were extra amounts are required, particularly in those already suffering from illnesses and also the elderly.

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  1. This was a very interesting read! We spend a lot of time going over nutrients and nutrient deficiencies in a number of our classes, so this was sort of like a good review. 🙂 I always feel one of the most important things to note when talking about supplementation of fat soluble vitamins is to be careful and talk to your doctor, nutritionist or dietitian first, because while you’d have to eat a TON of a food to become toxic in a nutrient, supplementation of them is the most frequent cause of toxicity!

    1. Good point, although there are actually so few cases of people “overdosing” on vitamins, even fat soluble, it only really becomes an issue with minerals – next topic I’ll be covering!

  2. great informative post yet again, shel. everything i’ve read about proper nutrition as a vegan says if you’re not sure, get blood tests done to check your vitamin levels. i am planning on it just because i’m curious, as long as i can fit it in before i lose insurance coverage! i feel amazing most of the time, but i want to be sure.

    1. Feeling fantastic is usually the most important thing! Mineral levels are very hard to check with blood tests and aren’t all to accurate but with vitamins you’ll get a clear enough picture.

  3. Great read. I was taking a b complex for a few months just to top up on my b vitamins (esp 12), then I discovered nutritional yeast/spirulina/chlorella are all great vegan sources of it, so I no longer take supplements. The only supplement I would say everyone should be taking is vitamin d whether that is D2 or D3. Even in the summer we rarely get the sunshine in the northern hemisphere to produce the amounts we need, I think we can only make it between the hours of 10-3 and that is on a sunny day in peak summer. It’s linked to so many diseases later in life and is extremely important for the absorption of calcium so I would say that is the one thing to supplement with if anyone was looking to supplement.

    1. Definitely Vitamin D – the connections to so many diseases astounded me! Also for Calcium absorption and utilisation Vitamins A, K, and Magnesium are all really important! And of course Zinc which most people are deficient in.