The ABCs of Vitamins

Ever wonder why doctors always tell you to take your vitamins? Vitamins help maintain optimal health and wellness. Unfortunately, some cannot be found in your everyday diet and we often do not eat enough to experience the maximum benefits. Therefore, it is critical to consider proper supplementation of your diet with basic vitamins.

Vitamin A
Vitamin A is well known for helping to improve vision. It converts light signals so you can read and helps you distinguish colors. An inadequate intake results in night blindness—a condition in which the eyes have difficulty adjusting to darkness or bright lights—but can be addressed by increasing your vitamin A consumption (1). Vitamin A also has been shown to have benefits for some patients with certain cancers such as bladder, breast and prostate (2).

In addition to vitamin supplements, this nutrient can be found in fish liver oil. And, vitamin A palmitate is often added to foods like fat-free or low-fat milk to replace the vitamin content lost in the fat removal. The optimum daily intake (ODI) is 5,000–50,000 IU for men and women (2).

Vitamin B
Vitamin B is a complex of 11 important water-soluble vitamins that have a combined ODI of 50–300 mg for men and women (2). Essential for maintaining healthy nerves, skin, hair, eyes, liver, mouth and preserving good muscle tone in the gastrointestinal tract, vitamin B has also been shown to help with stress and improve moods (2). According to a recent study, a deficiency of vitamin B12 can be found with symptoms of depression (6) and has been associated with tiredness and muscle cramps.

One famous member of the B vitamin clan is niacin (B3), which has been shown to lower cholesterol and help with schizophrenic patients. After taking it, you may experience a red flush and itchiness, but it is completely normal. The effect usually does not last more than a few hours (3).

Another key B vitamin is folic acid (B9), which helps the body make new cells. Though it is essential in everyone’s diet, it is an especially key nutrient for women who may become pregnant. According to the National Institutes of Health Web site,, “When a woman has enough folic acid in her body before and during pregnancy, it can prevent major birth defects of her baby’s brain or spine.”

Other important vitamins in the B complex include thiamine (B1) and riboflavin (B2) for energy and enzymes; pantothenic acid (B5) for growth and development; pyridoxine (B6) for breaking down protein and maintaining the nervous and immune system; biotin (B7) for breaking down carbohydrates and making hormones; and the cobalamins (B12) for aiding growth and development, per the American Cancer Society Web site,

Vitamin C
Feeling tired? Vitamin C helps ward off fatigue, according to experts. One of the most popular and well-known vitamins, it enhances the immune system’s ability to fight infections as well. It increases the white blood cell, T cell and antibody count in a person’s body (1). It also has powerful antioxidant properties that help fight the effects of free radicals.
Eating three to five servings of fruits and vegetables is a good way to get the recommended amount of vitamin C. In addition, there are traditional, drinkable and chewable tablet supplements, and for those who find it hard on the stomach, an esterified form is available. The ODI is 500–5,000 mg for men and women (2).

Vitamin E
Vitamin E is important for heart health, skin health and more (1). According to a recent study, when combined with other chemotherapeutic agents, it may help the treatment of existing cancer, though more tests have to be completed (5). 

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and anti-carcinogen. Its antioxidant capabilities protect the body from mercury, lead, carbon tetrachloride, benzene and many more toxins that can act as free radicals (2).

Supplements can be found in both natural and synthetic forms, but the natural form is absorbed 66% better than the alternative. Large amounts of vitamin E are also found in soybeans and soy products, as well as the fat found in natural vegetable oil. The ODI is 400–1,200 for men and women (2).

Vitamin D/K
Both vitamin D and vitamin K are extremely important for the formation and density of bones, but combined, they can help prevent osteoporosis. A recent study indicated that the two vitamins may even offer “a promising and low-cost strategy” for helping fractured bones to heal (4). Human beings can actually make vitamin D in their bodies through sun exposure but sometimes that is not enough. And, many who avoid the sun for skin health may become vitamin D deficient. About 400–800 IU is the ODI for both men and women (2).

Aside from helping the formation of bones, vitamin K also has several other important features. It is necessary for helping blood cells clot after a wound and essential for brain development (1). It is found in abundance in foods like spinach, turnip greens, broccoli, green cabbage, tomatoes and liver. Also, smaller amounts are found in egg yolks, whole wheat, fruits, cheese, ham and beef (2). The ODI is 80 mcg for men and women (2). WF

1. J. Challem, All About Vitamins (Avery Publishing Group, Garden City Park, NY, 1998).
2. S. Lieberman and N.Bruning, The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book (Avery Publishing Group, Garden City Park, NY 1997).
3. J. Challem and L. Brown, Basic Health Publications User’s Guide to Vitamins and Minerals (Basic Health Publications, North Bergen, NJ 2002).
4. A. Gigante, et al., “Vitamin K and D Association Stimulates in vitro Osteoblast Differentiation of Fracture Site Derived Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells,” J. Biol. Regul. Homeost. Agents 22 (1), 35–44 (2008).
5. C. Constantinou et al., “Vitamin E and Cancer: An Insight into the Anticancer Activities of Vitamin E Isomers and Analogs,” Int. J. Cancer 123 (4), 739–752 (2008).
6. N.P. Rao, “Role of Vitamin B12 in Depressive Disorder—A Case Report,” Gen. Hosp. Psychiatry 30 (2),185–186 (2008).

Published by WholeFoods Magazine August 2008.