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Vitamin Supplements

Debbie Mirander, R.N., BSN

Maintaining Your Daily Allowance

Vitamins are essential to life. They contribute to good health by regulating and assisting the biochemical processes that release energy from digested food. They are considered micronutrients because the body needs them in small amounts compared with nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and water.


Of the major vitamins, some are water soluble while some are oil soluble. Water-soluble vitamins must be taken daily, as they cannot be stored and are excreted within one to four days. These include vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins. Oil-soluble vitamins can be stored for longer periods of time in the body’s fatty tissue and the liver. These include vitamins A,D,E, and K. Both types of vitamins are needed by the body for it to function properly.

It is best to get vitamins and minerals from your diet. However, because of today’s technology and the different ways that foods are refined, much of the vitamins in foods are lost. There is further loss of nutrients due to the depletion of natural vitamins and minerals in the soil that vegetables are grown. Therefore, it is advisable that some of these vitamins be replaced by supplements. If the body is being challenged by a specific ailment, vitamin supplementation is also advisable.


The following is an overview of some of the vitamins needed by the body.



Vitamin A and the Carotenoids


Vitamin A prevents night blindness and other eye problems as well as some skin disorders, such as acne. It enhances immunity, may heal gastrointestinal ulcers, protects against pollution and cancer formation, and is needed for the maintenance and repair of epithelial tissue, of which the skin and mucous membranes are composed. It is important in the formation of bones and teeth, aids fat storage, and protects against colds, influenza and infections of the kidneys, bladder, lungs, and mucous membranes. This important vitamin also slows the aging process. Also, protein cannot be utilized without vitamin A.

The carotenoids are a class of compounds related to vitamin A. In some cases, they act as precursors of vitamin A. The most common one is beta-carotene. In most cases, the body converts carotenoids into vitamin A as needed. Some act as antioxidants protecting the body from free radicals or oxidation of cells which causes damage to the cells.

A deficiency of vitamin A may be apparent if dry hair or skin, dryness of the conjunctiva and cornea, poor growth, and/or night blindness is present. Also fatigue, sinusitis, frequent colds, and other respiratory infections as well as skin disorders including acne may be signs of vitamin A deficiency.

Sources of vitamin A include fish liver oils and green or yellow vegetables. Orange vegetables are also abundant sources. These include cantaloupe, carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, red peppers, papayas, and pumpkins.


B Complex Group

B vitamins are a group of vitamins that work together as a team. Therefore, they should be taken together. They are called B Complex vitamins.  These include:


B1 (Thiamine)

Enhances circulation and assist in blood formation, carbohydrate metabolism, and the production of hydrochloric acid, which is important for proper digestion. It also optimizes cognitive activity and brain function. Thiamine also acts as an antioxidant, protecting the body from the degenerative effects of aging, alcohol consumption, and smoking.
Sources of Thiamine are brown rice, egg yolks, fish, liver, peanuts, peas, wheat germ, and whole grains.

B2 (Riboflavin)

Necessary for red blood cell formation, antibody production, cellular respiration, and growth.  It alleviates eye fatigue and is important in the prevention and treatment of cataracts. It aids in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Together with vitamin A, it maintains and improves the mucous membranes in the digestive tract. It also facilitates the use of oxygen by the tissues of the skin, nails, and hair. High levels are found in cheese, egg yolks, fish, legumes, meat, milk, poultry, spinach, whole grains, and yogurt.

B3 (Niacin)

Needed for proper circulation and healthy skin. It aids in the functioning of the nervous system, the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and in the production of hydrochloric acid for the digestive system. It is involved in the normal secretion of bile and stomach fluids as well as the synthesis of sex hormones. Niacin lowers cholesterol and improves circulation. Sources are beef liver, brewer’s yeast, broccoli, carrots, cheese, corn flour, dandelion greens, eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, potatoes, tomatoes, wheat germ.

B5 (Pantothenic Acid)

The anti-stress vitamin. It plays a role in the production of the adrenal hormones and the formation of antibodies, aids in vitamin utilization, and helps to convert fats, carbohydrates, and proteins into energy. It is required by all cells in the body and is concentrated in the organs. It is also involved in the production of neurotransmitters. It is a stamina enhancer and prevents certain forms of anemia.  It is needed for normal functioning of the gastrointestinal tract and may be helpful in treating depression and anxiety. Sources are brewer’s yeast, eggs, fresh vegetables, liver, nuts, saltwater fish, whole rye flour, and whole wheat.

B6 (Pyridoxine)

Aids in maintaining sodium and potassium balance, and promotes red blood cell formation. It is required by the nervous system, and is needed for normal brain function and for the synthesis of the nucleic acids RNA and DNA, which contain the genetic instructions for the reproduction of all cells and for normal cellular growth. It activates many enzymes and aids in the absorption of vitamin B12, in immune system function, and in antibody production. B6 plays a role in cancer immunity and aids in the prevention of arteriosclerosis. It inhibits the formation of a toxic chemical called homocysteine, which attacks the heart muscle and allows the deposition of cholesterol around the heart muscle. It is helpful in the treatment of allergies, arthritis, and asthma.  Sources are brewer’s yeast, carrots, chicken, eggs, fish, peas, spinach, sunflower seeds, walnuts, and wheat germ, avocado, bananas. broccoli, brown rice.

B12 (Cyanocobalamin)

Needed to prevent anemia. It aids folic acid in regulating the formation of red blood cells, and helps in the utilization of iron. It is also required for proper digestion, absorption of foods, the synthesis of protein, and the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. It aids in cell formation and cellular longevity. It also prevents nerve damage, maintains fertility, and promotes normal growth and development by maintaining the fatty sheaths that cover and protect nerve endings. It is linked to the production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that assists memory and learning. Sources are brewer’s yeast, eggs, herring, mackerel, milk and dairy products, and seafood.  Vegetarians need supplements of vitamin B12 because it is found mostly in animal sources.


Aids in cell growth, fatty acid production, in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins as well as in the utilization of the other B-complex vitamins. Sufficient quantities are needed for healthy hair and skin. It also promotes healthy sweat glands, nerve tissue, and bone marrow and helps relieve muscle pain. Sources are yeast, cooked egg yolks, milk, poultry, saltwater fish, soybeans, and whole grains.


Needed for the proper transmission of nerve impulses from the brain through the central
nervous system, as well as for the gallbladder regulation, liver function, and lecithin formation.  It aids in hormone production and minimizes excess fat in the liver because it aids in fat and cholesterol metabolism. Without choline, brain function and memory are impaired.  Sources are egg yolks, lecithin, legumes, milk, soybeans, and whole-grain cereals.

Folic Acid

Needed for energy production and the formation of red blood cells. It also strengthens immunity by aiding in the proper formation and functioning of white blood cells. It functions as a coenzyme in DNA and RNA synthesis. Therefore, it is important for healthy cell division and replication. It is involved in protein metabolism and has been used in the prevention and treatment of folic acid anemia. It is important in pregnancy, helping to regulate embryonic and fetal nerve cell formation. Taken daily early in pregnancy, 400 micrograms may prevent the vast majority of neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly. It may help to prevent premature birth. Sources are barley, bran, brewer’s yeast, brown rice, cheese, chicken, green leafy vegetables, milk, oranges, root vegetables, salmon, tuna, wheat germ.


Vital for hair growth. Has a calming effect and helps to reduce cholesterol levels. It helps prevent hardening of the arteries, and is important in the formation of lecithin and the metabolism of fat and cholesterol. It also helps remove fats from the liver. Sources are brewer’s yeast, fruits, milk, unrefined molasses, raisins, vegetables, and whole grains.

Para-Aminobenzoic Acid (PABA)

One of the basic constituents of folic acid and also helps in the assimilation of pantothenic acid. This antioxidant helps protect against sunburn and skin cancer, acts as a coenzyme in the breakdown and utilization of protein, and assists in the formation of red blood cells.  PABA also aids in the maintenance of healthy intestinal flora.  Supplementing the diet with PABA may restore gray hair to its original color if the graying was caused by stress or a nutritional deficiency.


Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that is required for tissue growth and repair, adrenal gland function, and healthy gums. It aids in the production of ant-stress hormones and interferon and is needed for the metabolism of folic acid, tryrosine, and phenylalanine. It protects against the harmful effects of pollution, helps to prevent cancer, protects against infection, and enhances immunity. Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron. Essential in the formation of collagen, vitamin C protects against blood clotting and bruising, and promotes the healing of wounds and burns. Vitamin C works together with vitamin E to attack free radicals in the body. Larger amounts of vitamin C is required when there is an illness. Sources are berries, citrus fruits, and green vegetables. Other good sources include avocados, beet greens, black currants, broccoli, collards, dandelion greens, mangoes mustard greens, lemons, and other fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin D

Synthesized when sunlight comes in contact with certain oils on the skin. Because of its structure and the fact that it is made in the body, many would consider it to be more of a hormone than a vitamin. Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium from our diet. Calcium is important for bone formation, muscle contraction, and the functioning of the nervous system. Also, Vitamin D is very important to the immune system, providing many benefits such as protection against the development of autoimmune diseases, helping with T cell activation, and fighting against upper respiratory bacterial or viral infections.  People who are deficient in Vitamin D may experience rickets. However, too much Vitamin D will cause it to build up, leading to symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or weakness (sometimes described as a sunstroke). Living in places with more sunlight will result in more Vitamin D production in your body while skin pigmentation also plays an important role. Melanin, the pigment responsible for darker skin color, filters out UV light and slows down Vitamin D production. People living in areas that do not get much sunlight, especially those who have darker skin, should see if Vitamin D supplementation is right for them. Vitamin D can also come from fish oils, especially from the liver. It is important to know what you Vitamin D level is. Check with your health practitioner for more information.


Mineral that is very important to the immune system. Healthy levels of Zinc help the body to fight off infections as well as prevent them with a healthy skin barrier. Many medical professionals believe that zinc deficiency in the United States is widespread. At least 300 enzymes in your body requires Zinc to function properly, making it a very important mineral. Zinc can also help with normal growth in children, as it is important for development as it helps with bone formation. In men, Zinc is also very important for the functioning of sexual organs as is it found in high concentrations in the prostate and the semen. DNA replication, RNA transcription, and cellular division also require Zinc.  Oysters are known to be a rich source of Zinc.

To be continued…….


Williams Essentials of Nutrition and Diet Therapy by Eleanor Schlenker PHD RD. 1974-2011