What are Vitamins and why are they important?

Vitamins are molecules which are required by the body in small amount, they are also essential for multiple processes in the body. They are classified as micronutrients which means the body only needs a small quantity to function properly, this can range from milligrams to micrograms per day. The majority of vitamins cannot be synthesized by the body so they must be obtained by the diet. The exclusions to this rule are Vitamin D (synthesized by sunlight on to the skin) and Niacin (B Vitamin which can be synthesized from tryptophan, an amino acid).

How are vitamins absorbed?

Vitamins are absorbed on the basis of the molecule structure, vitamins can be categorized into two different categories, water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins.

Water-soluble Vitamins are found in the watery portions of the food you consume. They are absorbed directly into the bloodstream once the food has been broken down. Water-soluble vitamins circulate the body easily due to how the body is composed, therefore the kidneys continuously regulated the level of these vitamins and if in excess, will push them out of the bloodstream and into the urine.

The water-soluble vitamins are the B vitamins and Vitamin C

Fat-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, have a different absorption route, they gain their entry to the blood via the lymph channels in the intestinal wall and many of them are required to be escorted by carrier proteins. Fat-soluble vitamins do have the ability to be stored within the liver or in fat cells so if the body is requiring the vitamin, it can be easily accessed without the need for further intake from food. Consequently, by having too much of these vitamins, this can lead to the body storing too much and can lead to toxicity as the kidneys do not have clear access to the fat-soluble vitamins to remove from the blood.

The fat-soluble vitamins are Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E and Vitamin K

Do they actually work?

Extensive research in the benefit of taking multivitamins has been concluded and there has not been a definitive conclusion that taking multivitamins can improve your body’s health or prevent illness.

Example research includes :

  • An analysis of research involving 450,000 people, which found that multivitamins did not reduce risk for heart disease or cancer.
  • A study that tracked the mental functioning and multivitamin use of 5,947 men for 12 years found that multivitamins did not reduce risk for mental declines such as memory loss or slowed-down thinking.
  • A study of 1,708 heart attack survivors who took a high-dose multivitamin or placebo for up to 55 months. Rates of later heart attacks, heart surgeries and deaths were similar in the two groups.

It was concluded that eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight is more fundamental to protect the body from illness as opposed to taking a daily vitamin. The exclusion of this is young women who are childbearing and it has been recommended that all women of reproductive age should get 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. Folic acid is known to prevent neural tube defects in babies when a woman takes the vitamin before and during early pregnancy.

If you feel that you are unwell and the symptoms link to a deficiency of a vitamin, you should consult your GP first and a blood test can be completed to determine if you need to change your diet or should further supplement be prescribed to you.

The bottom line is that taking vitamin supplements can aid the body in primary functions, however, eating a well-balanced diet is recommended by medical professionals as the diet can provide further benefits to maintain homeostasis.

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