Vitamins are an organic chemical compound that the body must have in very small amounts as it is needed for such body processes such as normal growth, metabolism, and overall health.  They can be obtained by eating animal or plant products.    Vitamins are necessary to make enzymes and hormones, which are both important to perform several chemical reactions that are necessary for life.  Vitamins can be taken up from either foods or supplements and cannot be made in the body alone.

There are 13 vitamins in all, all of them are needed.  They are neither a food nor a substitute for food.  They have no calorie content and will provide no energy, though in the case of B vitamins, are needed for conversion of food to energy.  Vitamins themselves are not part of the body tissues, nor are they building blocks.  There are two types of vitamins fat soluble and water soluble vitamins.

History of Vitamins

Vitamins were initially discovered through their deficiency disease caused by their absence in the diet.  Several vitamins were discovered in clinical trials as well as laboratory studies involving different animals. Sir Frederick Galen Hopkins published a paper in the early 1900s and suggested that some “accessory nutrients” were necessary in the human diet to maintain good health.  The first vitamin, thiamin, was isolated from rice polishing in 1911.  It was found to be a nitrogen containing compound, otherwise known as an amine, and was thus termed intamine, which loosely means “amine essential for life”.  Other vitamins were also discovered but not amine containing, and the term was changed to what it is today, vitamin. 

It should also be noted that back in the 1500s, records were made of vitamin deficiencies.  The British Royal Navy were fed a steady diet of dried meat, biscuits, butter, cheese, and beer.  The men developed painful disease which many of them eventually succumbed to in a 20 year period.  They all suffered from a disease called scurvy, which is associated with rotten gums, tooth loss, painful jaws, swollen legs, aches, and pains, and easy bruising.  When the men were fed foods rich in vitamin C, foods such as raw potatoes and raisins, the pains and symptoms disappeared almost immediately.  Berberi, discovered much later in the late 1800s,  is a debilitating and potentially deadly disease that affected many Japanese sailors who were deficient in whole grain foods.   Dietary adjustments as well as the addition of wheat aboard the ship helped solve the problem. 

Fat Soluble Vitamins

Fat soluble vitamins are stored in the body, mostly in fatty tissues and the liver.  Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble.  Many vegetables contain vitamin A, while many grains, seeds, and nuts contain E.  Fat soluble vitamins can function for long period of times since they are stored in the body tissues.  Since they are stored in the body tissues, toxic levels can occur if too much is ingested. 

Vitamin A adds cellular protection as well as resistance to infection.  Vitamin D can help with maintenance of skeletal health.  Vitamin K is extremely crucial for blood clotting to prevent bleeding. 

Water Soluble Vitamins

Water soluble vitamins cannot be stored in the body for a long time since these vitamins dissolve in water, so any extra is carried out of the body and excreted in the urine.  Both Vitamins C and B are water soluble.  Since you cannot store these vitamins, there are no toxicity issues.  Water soluble vitamins can be easily they are light, air, and heat sensitive.  Also, the  more time that passes between harvest and eating, the more likely loss of water soluble vitamins, so it is important to consume locally grown and fresh.  Water soluble vitamins are more commonly found in vegetable foods, lesser in animal sources.  Toxicity due to water soluble vitamins is rare since whatever excess is consumed is immediately excreted through the urine.  Most water soluble vitamins act in the body as coenzymes in combination with an inactive protein to make an active enzyme.

The Required Daily Amount

It is advisable to take the amount recommended by a medical professional.


  1. Alan H. Pressman and Sheila Buff. The Complete Idiot's guide to vitamins and minerals, Alpha A member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc (2007)
  2. Brewer, S. The essential guide to vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements, Right Way (2010)
  3. Elson M. Haas, Md & Buck Levin, Phd, Rd. Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to diet and nutritional medicine, Celestial Arts (2006)
  4. Holford, P. The optimum nutrition bible, Little Brown Group (2004)
  5. Holford, P & Lawson, S. Optimum Nutrition Made Easy How to achieve optimum health, Piatkus Books (2008)
  6. Lieberman, S. & Bruning, N. The Real Vitamin & Mineral Book, Avery, a Member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc (2003)
  7. Rodale Health Books. Healing with vitamins : the best nutrients to slow, stop, and reverse disease, Rodale, (2009)
  8. Royston, A. Vitamins and minerals for a healthy body, Heinemann Library, (2003)
  9. The National Research Council. Recommended Dietary Allowances, 10th ed, National Academy of Sciences (1989)
  10. Werbach, M. Nutritional Influences on Illness, 2nd ed, Third Line Press (1993)


Types of Vitamins

Vitamin A

Way back in 1913, vitamin A was the first vitamin to be discovered. However, the importance of this vitamin had been well-known since the ancient Greeks. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, would tell his patients with failing eyesight to eat beef liver. Those who listened to him were usually able to see better, particularly at night.

Vitamin B1

The B vitamins are important for many reasons, not the least of which is its thiamin (B1) content. This vitamin helps the body convert the carbohydrates in food into energy it can use. With an adequate supply of thiamin the body can nourish the brain and the nervous system and keep the heart pumping smoothly.

Vitamin B2

While all the B vitamins are important for good health, B2 is right up there at the top of the list. B2, also known as riboflavin, is necessary for anyone who wants to get through a busy day of taking care of the family or work. The cells need riboflavin in order to make energy.

Vitamin B3

Because vitamin B3 (also known as niacin) can be produced in the body by the conversion of tryptophan, many nutritionists do not consider this vitamin to be an essential nutrient as long as a person is consuming enough tryptophan.

Vitamin B5

Vitamin B5 may be the most boring vitamin because it is so plentiful. A deficiency in vitamin B5 is believed to be a rare happening as this vitamin (also known as pantothenic acid) is found in virtually every single food. Pantothenic acid is needed to turn food into energy.

Vitamin B6

This vitamin, also known as pyridoxine, is very important for its involvement in the formation of body proteins and structural compounds, red blood cells, chemical transmitters in the nervous system, and prostaglandins. Vitamin B6 is also crucial in maintaining proper hormonal balance and in immune function.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential in order for the bones and the immune system to stay healthy. It could also help in preventing colon cancer and some other types of cancer. Be sure to put on sunscreen as soon as the 10-minute range has been accomplished if spending time outdoors.

Vitamin E

If there were a report card grading the different vitamins, "E" could stand for "excellent." This important vitamin aids in immune system improvement and cancer prevention. Vitamin E teams up with vitamins A and C to provide the body with maximum antioxidant protection.

Vitamin K

While vitamin K is mainly necessary to help one stop bleeding, it does perform some other tasks as well. Among these, the most important is the crucial role that vitamin K plays in helping build bones. This vitamin is needed to help the body hold onto the calcium in the bones and ensure it is getting to the right places.

Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)

The primary function of vitamin C is the manufacturing of a protein substance called collagen. Collagen is a very integral protein in the structures that contain it since it provides a structural foundation and holds our body together.

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