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Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K: The building blocks of your body
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Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K: The building blocks of your body

How much micronutrients do we need? What can their deficiency or surplus cause? We take a closer look
A diverse diet is necessary for getting the right vitamins | iStock

If you were to for a second think of the body as a house, the bricks used to build it would be the macronutrients we consume – proteins, carbohydrates and fats. And the mortar that binds these bricks together would be the micronutrients – vitamins and minerals. 

No matter how great the quality of the bricks, if the mortar used is of low quality or in insufficient quantity, the house runs the risk of collapsing. So also is it with our bodies; the right quantities and availability of vitamins are essential for the healthy functioning of the body. 

The body requires six vitamins – A, C, D, E, K and B (complex). While Vitamins A, E, D and K are fat-soluble and get stored in the body (except Vitamin K), water-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin C and B are required to be taken daily as excess amounts are flushed out of our bodies. 

Here is a brief look at what each vitamin does and what health conditions its deficiency causes, apart from how much of it should be taken. 

‘A’ for eyes 

Retinol, commonly referred to as Vitamin A, is essential in maintaining eye health and vision. It also helps in immune functions, maintaining healthy skin and the inner linings of a few body parts, and in the secretion of mucus to resist antigens. Long-term deficiency of Vitamin A can lead to night blindness and later to total blindness, but can also cause softening of the corneas, unhealthy cracked skin with papules, wasting of sweat glands and sterility. 

For adults aged 19-64, it is recommended that men consume 700 mg of Vitamin A daily and women 600 mg. The preferred dietary sources are fish, liver products, poultry, milk and butter. Vitamin A can also be obtained from coloured pigmented foods such as carrots, turnips, spinach, mangoes and apricots that contain carotenoids – an inactive form of vitamin A that breaks down to form active retinol. 

Consuming an excessive amount of Vitamin A (ie, over 10,000 international units or IU) a day for a few months, however, can cause degraded bones, joint problems and liver ailments. 

The big B family 

It would not be wrong to call Vitamin B the ‘Big B’ of the vitamins family. It is of eight kinds. While B6, B9 and B12 play a major role in making you healthy, B1, B2, B3, B5, and B7, too, should be credited with keeping us healthy in body and mind. 

B6 boosts nerves: Pyridoxine, which is commonly called Vitamin B6, can help regulate immune functions, nerve health and the production process of fats, carbohydrates, proteins, hemoglobin and the nucleic acids in DNA.
Though deficiencies of Vitamin B6 are rare, it is recommended that men consume 1.4 milligrams and women consume 1.2 milligrams of pyridoxine each day, by consuming foods such as poultry, fish, nuts, non-citrus fruits, milk and dairy products, and fortified cereals. 

B9 and cell health: Folate or folic acid (man-made), commonly referred to as Vitamin B9, plays a vital role in the manufacture of DNA and promotes healthy cell division, especially that of rapidly dividing cells such as blood cells. A deficiency of Vitamin B9 can cause anemia in adults and is linked with birth defects during conception or early pregnancy.
It is recommended that adults should consume 200 mg of Vitamin B9 daily, while women should consume a higher dose during pregnancy. The body’s folate requirements can be met by consuming foods such as broccoli, sprouts, leafy green vegetables, pulses and meat. 

Healthy blood cells through B12: Cyanocobalamin, which is commonly referred to as Vitamin B12, is essential in the formation of DNA, red blood cells and myelin, which is the protective sheath covering the nerves. It also enables us to convert food into energy. A deficiency of Vitamin B12 has been found to cause megaloblastic anemia and peripheral nerve pain. 

Health authorities recommend 1.5 mg of Vitamin B12 per day for adults between the years, 19-64. This amount can be obtained from meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. B12 is not naturally found in fruits or vegetables. People following a vegan diet can be deficient in this vitamin and would need to take supplements. 

Add C for good skin  

Ascorbic acid, which is commonly referred to as Vitamin C, is essential for the formation of collagen and maintains the health of bones, blood vessels and skin. It also helps in the healing of wounds, supports immune function, acts as an antioxidant, enhances the absorption of iron from food, and is needed in chemical reactions to produce adrenal steroids, oxytocin, vasopressin and prostaglandins. 

Deficiency of Vitamin C can cause scurvy leading to brittle bones, swollen and bleeding gums, impaired wound healing, anemia and retarded growth. Excess intake of Vitamin C over a long period can increase the risk of kidney stones, diarrhea and irritation in the stomach. 

It is recommended that adults aged between 19-64 should consume 40 mg of Vitamin C a day through their diets. The body flushes out any excess Vitamin C that it does not use. 

Vitamin C can be found in lemons, oranges and other citrus fruits, and also in tomatoes, potatoes, green chillis, peppers, broccoli and cabbage. Human milk is also rich in Vitamin C, compared to cow’s milk, adding to the reasons why babies should be breastfed. 

Bone health from D

Calciferol (D2) and Cholecalciferol (D3) are the two forms of Vitamin D that we get from diet and exposure to sunlight respectively. Both forms help regulate the calcium and phosphate balance in our bodies. Calcium and phosphate go into making our bones and teeth stronger, while calcium is also used by muscles to contract and relax, while phosphate is used in the production of the energy molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

Deficiencies of Vitamin D can lead to bone deformity, and painful and fragile bones, while the intake of excessive amounts (over 4,000 IU a day) for a prolonged period can weaken bones, cause kidney stones and heart dysfunction. The recommended levels for Vitamin D intake are 15 mg a day for people aged between 1-70, 90 percent of which should be through sunlight exposure. Foods such as fish, meat, liver, milk and dairy products can provide the remainder. 

The beauty of E

Tocopherol or Vitamin E has become popular as the ‘beauty vitamin’ as it is used in skin cosmetics that claim to promote healthy, wrinkle-free young skin. It is used in cosmetics because of its antioxidative properties. Apart from this it helps maintain eye health, healthy immune function and in the formation of blood vessels. 

Our bodies can store any Vitamin E that is not used immediately. Nonetheless, health authorities recommend four milligrams a day for men and three milligrams for women preferably through foods such as oils, nuts, seeds and wheat germs. The adverse effects of taking higher doses than this are not known, but experts caution that Vitamin E supplements should not be taken without your doctor’s advice. 

Clotting agent K

Phytonadione commonly referred to as Vitamin K, is essential for producing certain clotting factors (VI, IX and X) and the protein prothrombin, that are essential for the coagulation of blood. Researchers also believe that Vitamin K has a role to play in bone health. Its deficiencies can cause the blood to not clot properly at the site of a wound. 

Vitamin K that is not used by the body gets stored in the liver, which means there is no need to supplement it through a daily diet. On average, health authorities recommend that we need just one microgram per kilogram of body weight of Vitamin K per day but caution that this should not exceed 120 mg for men and 90 mg for women, both in the age group of 19-70. 

Vitamin K can be had from meat, dairy products, green leafy vegetables, vegetable oils and cereals. Experts say people on Vitamin K supplements need to watch their diet. 

While vitamins act like mortar to the bricks of a house, our body also requires a healthy supply of essential minerals. There is a pool of more than 10 minerals, including iron, calcium and potassium, that are needed, while sodium, which we consume the most through our diet, should be kept low. 

The recommended amounts of vitamins have been referenced from the UK’s National Health Services (NHS), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

References

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