Microcosm of Vitamins


Welcome to the world of vitamins and minerals. This is the section within our green living guide that represents the microcosm of human physical existence. In other words, since vitamins and minerals do all of their work on the cellular level, and the smallest living component of our physical selves is the cell, vitamins and minerals have a vital place at the core of our physical sustenance. Other than water, vitamins and minerals are one of the most important nutrients needed for promoting growth, health and life (proteins, carbohydrates and fat rounding out the other nutrient categories). Of the forty-five plus essential nutrients (essential meaning these nutrients are not made by the body in adequate amounts and so must be obtained through the diet), thirty-three are vitamins and minerals.

Because of their role in promoting health, as well as the fact that they can be effectively obtained from eating the right foods, vitamins and minerals go hand-in-hand with our health food guide. On that note, every section of our entire living guide, including recommendations of the best online vitamins stores, goes hand-in-hand with one another. This is the way of holistic living, and vitamins and minerals are integral to the holistic process. Remember that as we discuss individual vitamins and minerals, we will include the natural food sources from which they can be obtained. While multi-vitamins are an excellent way to ensure that our bodies and brains are getting all of the nutrients they need, making informed, conscious food choices is essential to maintaining health. That being said, let's take a closer look at vitamins:

Vitamins play a role in the regulation of all body processes, ranging from our eyesight to mental well being. Of these processes, one of the most important is the life building process, which includes the formation of cells (including blood cells), tissues (aggregates of cells), genetic material, hormones and important chemicals making up the nervous system.

Vitamins are non-caloric nutrients, meaning they do not directly supply energy to the body. However, several vitamins are vital in the processes of converting calories into energy. Think of vitamins as being the ignition switch of the human body. A deficiency in one vitamin sets off a chain effect of deficiencies, including how the body uses other nutrients. As you can see, the role of vitamins is inherently holistic.

The Thirteen Vitamins...

Vitamins are divided into two categories: Water soluble and fat soluble. Some dietary fat is required to help the body absorb and store fat soluble vitamins in human tissue, which include Vitamins A, D, E and K. Water soluble vitamins are found in the watery components of foods, are easily lost by overcooking, mix easily with the blood system and are excreted through the urine. Only small portions of the water soluble vitamins that pass through the body are stored in tissues, which is why most multi-vitamins exceed recommended daily allowances (RDA) of water soluble vitamins by thousands of percentiles. For example, it is not uncommon to see water soluble B vitamins in concentrations of 1000% or more the RDA in a multi-vitamin. Water soluble vitamins include Vitamin C and all of the B vitamins, which include B1, B2, Niacin, B6, Folic Acid, B12, Pantothenic Acid and Biotin.

The Four Fat-Soluble Vitamins...

Vitamin A was actually the first vitamin to be discovered (hence the honor of being called the first letter of the alphabet). Initially discovered in 1913,  researchers later discovered in 1932 that a substance in plants known as beta carotene could be converted in the human body into Vitamin A. There are actually a family of compounds that make up Vitamin A and include retinol, retinal and carotenoids. Vitamin A is integral in preventive health and is associated with reducing the risk of several forms of cancer, including stomach, breast, lung and cervical cancer. Other essentialities of Vitamin A are in developing and maintaining healthy epithelial tissue lining external and internal surfaces of the body, eyesight, bone formation and body growth and developing, enhancing and maintaining the body's immune system. Not to overlook Vitamin A's role in maintaining healthy epithelial tissue, this translates into providing direct maintenance of the cornea, digestive tract (possibly helping to prevent gastric ulcers), mucous membranes, urinary tract and the reproductive tract (possibly aiding in normal fetus growth and lactation).

Natural food sources of preformed Vitamin A include (from highest to lowest) liver, oysters, mackerel, milk and egg yolks. Converted Vitamin A (from Beta carotene) is most highly concentrated (from highest to lowest) in peaches, raw carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, cantaloupe, dried apricots, beet greens, romaine lettuce, steamed broccoli, cooked peas and winter squash.

Vitamin D was discovered almost ten years after the discovery of Vitamin A. Vitamin D is unique from other vitamins in that it is synthesized in the body after being exposed to sunlight. Now, this is by no means an excuse to go bake yourself in the sun and increase your chances of skin cancer. Adequate daily amounts of Vitamin D can be obtained with only ten minutes exposure to the sun's rays. Vitamin D can also be obtained from several foods. The role of Vitamin D is primarily in the formation of healthy bones and teeth. It does this by specifically regulating the absorption and use of the minerals calcium and phosphorous. Vitamin D is also linked with preventing and helping treat several forms of cancer, including Hodgkin's lymphoma, colon, breast and prostate cancer, as well as maintaining the bones of the ear (directly aiding the hearing process), preventing skin disorders, maintaining normal immune function, pancreatic insulin secretion (helping to regulate normal blood sugar levels for diabetics), and maintaining a healthy nerve and muscular system by means of helping the absorption of calcium. Natural food sources Vitamin D (from highest to lowest) include sardines and mackerel, herring, salmon, shrimp, milk, egg yolks, cheese and butter.

Vitamin E, which also goes by the more scientific designation of "Alpha tocopherol" was discovered in the 1920's and belongs to the family of fat-soluble compounds known as tocopherols. The primary role of Vitamin E is as an anti-oxidant. Consider it a bodyguard for your cells. Vitamin E stabilizes cell membranes, and protects numerous types of cells and tissues from damage caused by free radicals. Providing protection for the tissues in the lungs and mouth against air pollution, Vitamin E also protects tissues of the skin, eyes, liver, nerves, breast and calf muscles. Due to its protective capacity for red blood cells, Vitamin E is also linked with preventing hemolytic anemia. Being such an effective anti-oxidant, it is clearly evident that Vitamin E plays a large part in helping to prevent cancer, including lung, colon, rectum, cervical, oral, pancreatic and liver cancer.

Keep in mind, however, that Vitamin E's role in preventing cancer is not achieved by the diet alone. Supplemental Vitamin E taken via multi-vitamins or straight vitamins is needed in this regard. As an anti-oxidant, Vitamin E is also widely valued for its anti-aging properties. Combined with Vitamin C, Vitamin E reduces free radicals, which destroy connective tissue providing firmness to skin tissue, by 26%. Other key processes involving Vitamin E include the regulation and lowering of blood sugar levels, the normal development and protection of the retina and blood vessels in the eye and in preventing heart disease. In fact, the latter of these is validated by a Harvard study that determined those people who took 100IU Vitamin E supplements reduced their risk of getting heart disease by 40%. Lastly, Vitamin E gives protection to Vitamin A from free radical damage and regulates its use and storage. The most concentrated natural food source of Vitamin E is wheat germ oil, followed by safflower and sunflower oils, wheat germ, raw spinach, canned peaches, dried prunes, asparagus, avocado, broccoli, whole wheat cereal and beef.

Vitamin K is probably the least talked about vitamins, simply because its role is not as comprehensive as its fat soluble cousins and because it is thought that half of the daily dietary need of Vitamin K comes from bacterial synthesis in the intestines. Nonetheless, Vitamin K plays an indispensable role in proper health. The chief function of Vitamin K is in regulating normal blood clotting, by means of helping produce the blood coagulant protein, Prothrombin. Vitamin K also linked with calcium metabolism for healthy bones and is speculated to be an inhibitor of cancer.

The Nine Water-Soluble Vitamins...

Vitamin B1 is also called Thiamin. It was first classified as a water soluble vitamin until 1926, when it was discovered that the vitamin contained two parts: Vitamin B1 and Niacin. Vitamin B1 plays a major role in breaking down carbohydrates, fats and proteins for energy and releasing acetylcholine, which is a nerve chemical that helps to regulate memory and develop new cells. It is also vitally important to regular functioning of all cells, most notably those making up the nervous system. Vitamin B1 deficiencies can result in the onset of life-threatening beriberi, among other things. Deficiencies are most likely to occur in people who have a diet high in refined foods, and is very common amongst the elderly and alcoholics. The absolute best natural food source for Vitamin B1 is wheat germ, followed by ham, Brewer's yeast, oysters, liver, peanuts, green peas and raisins. Increasing Vitamin B1 has been shown to reaction time and hand-eye coordination.

Vitamin B2 is also called Riboflavin, and is the culprit for turning your urine bright yellow after taking a multi-vitamin or supplement. Unfortunately, Riboflavin is not well stored by the body (only 15% of the vitamin is absorbed when taken in supplemental form on an empty stomach) and should be sought after in natural food sources like liver, milk, yogurt and oysters. If you are vegan, your best bets for Vitamin B2 are avocado, collard greens, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach and whole wheat bread. As for the functioning of Riboflavin, its purpose is to ensure the normal release of energy from carbohydrates, protein and fat. It is integral in normal growth processes, hormone production and regulation, red blood cell formation and the metabolism of neurotransmitters, which explains why Vitamin B2 supplementation is often used in the treatment of depression.

Niacin is classified as a B Vitamin all its own, and makes up a part of Vitamin B1 (Thiamin). It is vitally important to normal health and is involved in over fifty bodily processes. Niacin is essential to energy conversion, detoxification of certain drugs and general maintenance of all cells. Doses of Niacin have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, increase HDL cholesterol and decrease the risks of heart disease (Niacin dosages for lowering cholesterol should be supervised by a physician). Niacin has also been shown to reduce heart tissue damage from cancer treatment drugs like Adriamycin, and also enhances the effectiveness of epileptic medications. Psychological disorders as simple as hyperactivity, depression and aggression and as complex as schizophrenia have been effectively mitigated with large dosages of Niacin (Again, only under a physicians guidance should this be undertaken). Concentrated food sources of Niacin are (from high to low) chicken, salmon, beef, peanut butter, green peas, potato, Brewer's yeast and milk.

Vitamin B6 is a family of water soluble compounds, whose primary role is in the synthesis and conversion of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), thus making Vitamin B6 essential to the manufacturing of enzymes, hormones, hemoglobin in red blood cells and nerve chemicals like seretonin. B6 aids in the conversion of fats, protein and carbohydrates into energy and is critical to normal functioning of the central nervous system. Like Niacin, B6 is used to help mitigate toxic side effects of chemicals used to treat cancer. Vitamin B6 is also thought to improve immunity and reduce the risk of kidney stone formations by lowering oxalic acid in the urine. Premenstrual women who have taken Vitamin B6 supplementation have reported less depression, irritability, tension and headaches. Your best bet for getting good doses of B6 are bananas and avocados, followed by chicken, hamburgers, fish, collard greens, cooked spinach, brown rice, green peas, walnuts peanut butter and wheat germ.

Vitamin B12 is also called cobalamin because of its similar structure to the element Cobalt. Vitamin B12 is necessary for converting fats and carbohydrates into energy, as well as in the production of amino acids and fats. Like all other B vitamins, B12 is essential to a healthy nervous system. An interesting role of Vitamin B12 is that it is essential to the formation of the myelin sheath around all cells, which acts as an insulator for cells and a conductor of signals along nerve cells. B12 also helps in the replication of genetic code within all cells, thus making it crucial in the maintenance and replacement of all cells. Natural food sources are all from animal origin, with beef livers containing amounts off the chart. A small serving of clams and oysters is more than enough, while tuna, yogurt, milk, Halibut, eggs, chicken and cheddar cheese all contain Vitamin B12.

Folic Acid was first identified after being extracted from spinach leaves. Initially used to help effectively treat anemia, Folic acid now plays several roles in normal health. The main role of folic acid is in maintaining the genetic code of cells and ensuring the proper transfer of inherited traits from cell to cell. It is also essential in normal growth of cells and in the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is integral to regulating mood, appetite and sleep. Women especially need ample amounts of folic acid. If taken in large amounts during the first trimester of pregnancy, folic acid has been shown to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in infants by up to 60%. Research also indicates that folic acid decreases a woman's risk of developing cervical cancer. Being that folic acid is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies in the body, folic acid supplements are oftentimes recommended. Brewer's Yeast is an excellent source of folic acid, while raw and cooked spinach, orange juice and romaine lettuce are good sources as well. Other natural food sources of folic acid include cooked beets, avocado, broccoli, wheat germ, cooked red beans, Brussels sprouts, bananas, and whole wheat bread.

Vitamin B7 is more commonly known as Biotin and is produced in good amount by bacteria in the intestines (although its still important to get the vitamin in one's diet). Biotin works closely with folic acid, pantothenic acid and B12 in breaking down manufacturing fats, carbohydrates and amino acids. Good sources of biotin are milk, cooked oatmeal, brown rice, chicken, canned mushrooms and bananas.

Pantothenic Acid is a member of the B Vitamin family (designated as B3) and is commercially manufactured as Calcium Pantothenate. Ubiquitously found in plants and animals, Pantothenic Acid is integral to metabolism for it is converted into coenzyme A, which helps break down fats, protein and carbohydrates so they can be used by the body for energy. Pantothenic acid also aids in the production of certain neurotransmitters, hormones, bile, red blood cells, Vitamin D and cholesterol. Deficiencies of the vitamin are rare in humans, as is toxicity, which may manifest as nothing more than diarrhea. Pantothenic rich foods include (in descending order) liver, eggs, avocado, canned mushrooms, milk, chicken, cooked soybeans, peanut butter, bananas, oranges, collard greens, broccoli and potatoes.

Vitamin C is the best water soluble antioxidant, and is essential to numerous bodily processes. Being water soluble, larger amounts of Vitamin C are required by the body, especially in the formation of Collagen, which is the major protein found in the most abundant tissue in the human body - Connective tissue. Collagen is found throughout the body, including the eyes, bones, skin, teeth, and gives joints their flexibility and backbone discs their shape. Collagen also plays a major role in healing and protecting bodily tissues. Other roles of Vitamin C include improving lung function, reducing bronchial constriction (caused by allergies), improving white blood cell function, lowering blood pressure, protecting LDL cholesterol, preventing and inhibiting cancer cell growth, inhibit the formation of cataracts, help regulate blood sugar (thus inhibit diabetes), improve fertility by possible increasing sperm counts, help regulate cholesterol production in the liver and bile conversion, strengthen immunity and increase resistance to colds and other infections, protect skin from sun damage and premature aging, and helping to reduce tissue damage associated with cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and advanced aging. Vitamin C is most concentrated in orange juice, while oranges themselves offer about the same amount of Vitamin C as Brussels sprouts and strawberries. Other natural food sources (all vegetables and fruits) include broccoli, collards, cantaloupe, tomato juice, cabbage, asparagus, green peas, potato, lima beans and pineapple.

The Twenty Essential Minerals coming soon...

Curious about the practically infinite benefits of vitamins and minerals? Read more amongst our Vitamin Tips below.


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