Vitamins are substances of relatively simple chemical structure, no more mysterious than an Aspirin tablet or a teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate. The chemist can draw a very accurate picture of a vitamin molecule. Yet experts have great difficulty in defining vitamins as a group.
Vitamins have no common chemical structure that identifies them as vitamins. They may be acids or alcohols or other compounds as different from each other as table salt and sugar. The occur in foods but vitamins are not foods in the ordinary sense. They do not furnish energy or build tissues. You’d soon starve to death if you ate nothing but vitamins. No amount of vitamin can change a thoroughly bad diet into a good one.
Vitamins are essential to the immensely complicated process of the body in somewhat the same way that an executive is essential to a business. An executive commands and cajoles his staff to see that each member gets his job done. Vitamins accomplish something of the same end by facilitating important chemical responses by their presence.
One way of looking at vitamins is to think of them as greases. An automobile engine runs on petrol which provides its energy. But it won’t very long unless there is oil to make moving surface slide easily over each other. Without oil the engine would burn up and stop running. But you could never get the engine to start if there were ample oil in the crank case but no petrol in the tank. It’s pretty much that way with you and your vitamins. Your petrol comes from the foods you eat. You need your vitamins to make use of various elements in food without burning out a bearing.
Every living thing , down to the tiniest germ, depends for its life upon a wonderful group of substances known as biocatalyst. A catalyst is a substance which by its mere presence, sparks a specific chemical reaction that couldn’t occur without it.
You digest a meal with ease because digestive enzymes do most of the work of splitting food elements into the right chemical shape for our use. Without such enzymes, it might take you four to five months to digest a potato or for that matter thirty years to digest your dinner. Enzymes are catalysts of credible power.
Vitamins belong to the great category of biocatalysts. Many vitamins are known to be enzymes or essential parts of enzymes.
What vitamins are really are?
I can now attempt to tell you what a vitamin ‘is’. It is a chemical substance of exactly the right make-up to bring proper groups of molecules together, so that those molecules can exchange particles and produce a new substance necessary for some function of the body.
The vitamin is a catalyst, something like a priest without whom a couple can’t get married. The priest expedites the marriage but is not a part of it ; he can be ‘used’ over and over again to perform other wedding ceremonies. Similarly, vitamins are not consumed in significant amounts by the processes they facilitate. That is why, minute quantities of vitamins, regularly replenished, are quite adequate for the needs of the normally healthy persons.
What do vitamins do in the body? How do I get my supply of vitamins ?
Good health means more than just not being sick. It means you feel up and pepped. Give yourself a more than adequate vitamin supply. Eat a wide variety of foods every day and you will be more than likely to include all the kinds of vitamins you need. Now let me give you some basic facts about the vitamins.
VITAMIN A (RETINOL )
Your body needs vitamin A to help protect against infections : to help make bones and teeth ; to keep the skin from scaling ; wrinkling and drying out ; to keep your eyes clear and sparkling and for seeing clearly in dim light.
The deficiency symptoms of vitamin A are night blindness , dryness of eyes and dry skin eruptions.
Vitamin A is found in fish liver oils, liver, butter, eggs and cream. It is also manufactured by your body, in your liver, from such foods as apricot, carrots, spinach , melon and peaches. Note, however that self-manufactured vitamin A is only half as efficient as that derived from fish liver oils, liver and eggs.
Dietary deficiency of vitamin A is uncommon. But infants may need supplements before they begin to eat vegetables and egg yolk.
Since Vitamin A is one of the oil (fat) soluble vitamins, a word of caution for those using mineral oil. It will impair absorption of vitamin A and other oil ( fat) soluble vitamins by rushing them right out through the digestive tract.
Originally, vitamin B was thought to be a single substance. Now it is known to be a large family of vitamins, soluble in water, which have different chemical compositions but are often found together in foods. They work as a team and all are important to normal metabolism. Lack of these remarkable vitamins may show up in digestive disturbances, gaseous distension after meals, anaemia, skin troubles, lassitude, painful tenderness of muscles & mental and emotional instability. Reducers, especially need B vitamins to keep them mentally, emotionally and digestively fit while getting rid of body fat.
VITAMIN B1 ( THIAMINE )
Once called the ” nerve vitamin” , Thiamine is as important to normal function of heart , blood vessels, and digestive system as it is to nervous system. Acute deficiency leads to beriberi, a disease marked by congestive heart failure, neuritis ( inflammation of nerves), paralysis and muscle degeneration. Good source of Thaimine (B1) are Yeast, whole grains, cereals and flours, eggs, nuts, dried beans and peas, soya beans and the muscle and organ meats such as heart, liver and kidney.
VITAMIN B2 ( RIBOFLAVIN)
Riboflavin is a vitamin available widespread in nature. Exactly how this vitamin works in the body is not known, but is supposed to be part of vital enzymes needed by the body. Chronic deficiency of riboflavin is commonly found in people whose meals consist largely of over-refined foods. Riboflavin is needed for the health of the eyes and skin and for general well-being. Lack of it results in burning, itching, eye fatigue, lips redder than usual ; whitened, fissured cracks at the corner of your mouth ; magenta coloured pebbly tongue, skin disorder such as eczema and dandruff. Good sources of riboflavin are milk, liver, eggs, cheese, green leafy vegetables, peas whole wheat cereals and flours and yogurt.
NIACIN – (NICOTINIC ACID)
This member of the B complex is essential for the enzymes concerned with oxidation of carbohydrates, in our body cells. A chronic deficiency of Niacin cause a disease called pellagra. Niacin is also therefore, referred to as “pellagra preventing factor” Pellagra is characterised by the symptoms : red burning tongue, insomnia ( lack of sleep), loss of appetite, irritability, numbness, skin lesions resembling sunburn, turning brown and scaly as disease progresses. Good sources of niacin are liver, kidney and other organs and muscle meats, whole grains, cereals and flours and green leafy vegetables.
VITAMIN B6 ( PYRIDOXINE)
Recent studies have shown that pyridoxine is concerned with the metabolism of proteins and maintenance of lymphoid tissue – the tissue which helps in formation of antibodies at fight infection. Marked deficiency of this vitamin may result in convulsions in babies. Fortunately, ordinary pasteurized or evaporated milk contains an abundance of vitamin B6 – sufficient to prevent occurrence of these symptoms . Good sources of this vitamin are years, liver, whole grain cereals, vegetables.
VITAMIN B12 ( CYANOCOBALAMIN)
This vitamin is essential to red blood cell formation. The most several form of vitamin B12 deficiency is seen in pernicious anaemia. The presence of an unknown substance secreted by a normal stomach, called “intrinsic factor” is absolutely necessary to “push” vitamin B12 through the intestine walls into the body to prevent occurrence of pernicious anaemia. B12 is also necessary for normal metabolic functions of the body; it has remarkable growth properties for children and is essential to physical vigour, mental alertness and adaptation to stress.
Good sources of B12 are the organ and glandular meats, fish, eggs and milk and milk products.
OTHER B VITAMINS
There are several other known members of the invaluable B complex which deserves a brief discussion regarding the recorded facts about them and their food sources.
FOLIC ACID ( Pterologlutamic acid) is an anti-anaemic vitamin, essential to normal red blood cells, to antibody synthesis and also is a factor in resistance to stress. Good sources are liver, kidney and other organ meats, yeast, whole grain cereals and green leafy vegetables.
PANTOTHENIC ACID is concerned with carbohydrate metabolism, the health of adrenal glands and nervous systems and reaction to stress. Good sources of pantothenic acid are : yeast, liver, kidney, egg yolk, whole grains, cereals, peanuts and peas.
CHOLINE is active in the metabolism of fat and helps prevent fatty degeneration of the liver. It is also concerned with the transmission of nerve impulses. Good sources of choline are : egg yolk, green vegetables, whole grains and cereals.
INOSITOL teams up with choline to protect the liver and assist the body’s metabolism of fats, and is also concerned in regulation of gastro-intestinal peristalsis. Good source of inosital are : meats, organ meats, whole grain cereals, soya beans and citrus fruits. A food substance called ‘Lecithin’ is an excellent source of these two vitamins: choline and inositol. Foods rich in lecithin are wheat germ, egg-yolk, and by for the richest source in soyabean.
BIOTIN is essential to certain enzymes of the body fluids in the respiratory system. Good sources of biotin are : animal and vegetable tissues, liver, kidney, egg yolk, yeast, milk, vegetables, grain and nuts.
VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID)
This vital vitamin aids resistance to infection, the healing of wounds, the maintenance of bone, cartilage and teeth, firm healthy gums and the body’s network of small blood vessels, the veins and capillaries. Severe deficiency causes scurvy, now relatively rare, except in some children under a year old. Mild scurvy in adults is not easy to diagnose. Suggestive science may be pin point hemorrhages under skin, inflamed gums, loosened teeth, weakness, irritability, vague pains, slow healing of cuts and wounds. As vitamin C is not stored in the body, it must be replenished daily – this is easily done as it is abandoned in all citrus fruits. Rich sources of vitamin C are oranges, lemons, grapefruit, limes, raw cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, new potatoes and green peppers.
VITAMIN D ( CALCIFEROL)
This is the “sunshine vitamin” necessary for proper use of calcium and phosphorous in blood, for bone formation, teeth, good posture, steady nerves and normal growth. This is also a possible relation of vitamin D to pituitary, thyroid and parathyroid glands. Those who expose themselves to the sun can “manufacture ” some of their own vitamin D via the action of the sun’s rays on the skin. Deficiency of vitamin D results in loss of calcium and phosphorous, one of the direct causes of rickets in children and osteomalacia (softening of mature bone) in adults. Good sources of vitamin D are : cod liver oil, milk, egg yolk, fatty fish, butter and margarine.
VITAMIN E ( TOCOPHEROL)
Vitamin E is reported to be involved with fat metabolism, the heart and cardiovascular system, the muscles and sebaceous glands. The absence of vitamin E is associated with blood vessel and circulatory disease and with some instances of muscular dystrophy, hemolytic anaemia, in premature infants. Good sources of vitamin E are : muscular meats, eggs, nuts, green leafy vegetables, vegetable oils, soya oil and in the germs of seeds. Pea sprouts are high in vitamin E.
VITAMIN K (PHYLLOQUINONE )
This is essential for normal clotting of blood to prevent hemorrhage. Most diets contain adequate amounts of it, and more is formed by bacterial synthesis in the intestines.
Deficiency increases bleeding tendencies , but dietary deficiencies rarely if ever, occur in infants who do not have intestinal bacteria that manufacture the vitamin. Good sources of vitamin K are liver, spinach, cabbage, tomatoes, soya beans and vegetable oils.
Vitamin P are brightly coloured substances that appear in fruits along with vitamin C. They have also been called ‘ Vitamin C2 flavonols, flavonols, flavones -bioflavonoids’ and so forth. Vitamin P occurs along with vitamin C in foods. So when you take vitamin C made by a pharmaceutical company you don’t get any vitamin P, of course. But when you eat foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits or green peppers, the vitamin P comes right along with the vitamin C. Vitamin P is said to be essential to normal health of the capillary system. Researchers have discovered that in many situations where vitamin C alone is not effective, ” the combination of vitamin P and vitamin C will work wonders.” Good sources of vitamin P are : fruits especially lemon and other citrus fruits. Plums, grapes and green peppers are also good sources. When making salads think of vitamin P and be generous with the green pepper strips and include the white pulpy portion where bioflavonoids are concentrated.
Should I take a vitamin pill each day?
It is important to understand the necessity for adequate vitamin consumption since many diseases such as pellagra, beriberi, rickets etc. are caused by lack of vitamins in human diet. But it is not wise for the layman to self-diagnose or rush to the local chemist for vitamin pills.
It is a pity that in a country like ours , so much money is being spent on vitamins. This is just because the general public is convinced by the extensive propoganda of the pharmaceutical firms, making them believe, that the vitamins are important for health. Each pharmaceutical company comes out with a new formula to claim superiority over the existing ones.
Your body has certain self-regulatory mechanisms within it and will not use nutrients which are not needed, so you may be wasting considerable money by taking vitamin pills. The fact remains that vitamins can be easily provided by a well balanced diet.
Let me repeat : it is not for the layman to decide, which vitamin he does or does not need to supplement his daily diet. Only a doctor can decide just what vitamins and how many units of it you need. Indiscriminate use of vitamin pills can be not only costly but dangerous.
The water soluble vitamins – for example the B complex group of vitamins were till now considered very safe because of their inability to accumulate in the body and their prompt excretion in urine whenever consumed in excess of their daily requirement. This understanding , has now proved to be wrong. A report in the medical journal ‘ Lancet’ reports that overdose of vitamin B-6 leads to toxic symptoms such as burning, shooting, and tingling pain, paraesthesia of limbs, clumsiness, ataxia etc. Dr. Dalton of England has stated a possibility of vitamin B – 6 causing congenital limb defects in women to whom B-6 is prescribed for vomiting during, pregnancy. Two reports in the New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. H. Schaumberg and his associates on the disabling neurological symptoms resulting from overdose of vitamin B-6, has led to serious rethinking about the safety of the hitherto considered safe vitamins and often, taken in large doses and without any prescription.