Vitamins play an important role in maintaining overall health. Being organic components, they form a crucial part of our diet and require growth and development. Importantly, we are dependent on outside dietary sources to meet our vitamin intake, as we cannot synthesize them in our bodies.

Classification

Vitamins are categorized into two broad categories,

  • Water-soluble: As the term water-soluble is self-explanatory. The vitamins belonging to this group dissolve in water and consist of nine vitamins.

  • Fat-soluble: These vitamins are not able to dissolve in water but fats. Interestingly, fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the body’s fat deposits and act as a reserve, which can be used when required. It consists of four types of vitamins.

Water-soluble versus Fat-soluble

Criteria Water-soluble Fat-soluble
Absorption Blood acts as a medium for their direct absorption The intestinal tract absorbs them via lipids
Transportation Freely available It depends on a carrier source
Storage Free movement and circulation Fat cells serve a storage site
Intake Required consistently and in a short span (within 2-3 days) The requirement is less frequent (week time)
Group of vitamins vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B7 (biotin), vitamin B9 (folic acid or folate), vitamin B12 (cobalamins), vitamin C (ascorbic acid) vitamin A (as all-trans-retinol), vitamin D (calciferol), vitamin E (tocopherols), and vitamin K

Functions of Vitamins

Vitamins are involved in several vital functions that regulate the body systems:

  • Vitamin A plays a significant role in regulating the growth and differentiation of cells and organs.
  • Vitamin B complex has been identified as a regulator of our health and is actively involved in the developmental stage. They regulate the digestive as well as the nervous system, keeping the health in harmony.
  • Some vitamins enhance immunity and protect against infections, such as Vitamin D and E. Particularly, Vitamin D plays a vital role in strengthening the bones as it controls the mineral balance in the body.
  • Vitamins C and E minimize the free radicals and work as antioxidants.

Role And Significance of Essential Vitamins

Vitamin A regulates several functions of the body, including embryonic development and reproduction, metabolism, and strengthening of bones. Additionally, it also ensures the structural appearance and health of mucous membrane, skin, and teeth.

Vitamin D is a crucial component involved with the maintenance of blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Calcium and phosphorus provide support and strength to the bone as they are directly associated with bone metabolism. It also promotes insulin production and enhances the immunity of the body.

Vitamin E limits the production of free radicals and demonstrates several beneficial effects due to its antioxidant properties. It prevents cell damage by reducing oxidative stress.

Vitamin K is a significant factor that controls the blood clotting mechanism and is required for prothrombin production. This prothrombin constitutes an integral part of blood clot formation. Furthermore, it also helps balance the blood calcium levels.

Vitamin B complex: This group of vitamins is believed to control a broad spectrum of systems in the body. The critical roles of these vitamins are discussed below:

  • Vitamin B1 is commonly referred to as thiamine. It provides energy to the body by serving as a potential source of energy. It regulates energy metabolism through glucose by converting carbohydrates, fats, and protein into the latter.

  • Vitamin B2 is commonly referred to as riboflavin. It regulates essential body systems such as the nervous system, digestive system, and skin.

  • Vitamin B6, commonly referred to as pyridoxine, converts food into glucose and helps in producing energy. Another meaningful action of this vitamin is signal transmission in the nervous system that transfers signals between neurons and activates neurotransmitters.

  • Vitamin B7, commonly referred to as biotin, regulates the balance of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins at an adequate level. The extent of oxidative stress is reduced by increasing energy production.

  • Vitamin B12, commonly referred to as cobalamin, is involved in the production of RBCs and DNA. It is actively engaged in the growth and development of nerve cells.

  • Vitamin C, commonly referred to as ascorbic acid, is a vital part of the diet. Being an antioxidant decreases inflammatory activities and increases the body’s immune response against infectious diseases/conditions. It forms the structural component of cartilage, muscles, blood vessels and promotes collagen production.

Clinical Significance

It is essential to understand that vitamins are not produced by the human body and required in more minor amounts through other dietary supplements and natural sources. A balanced diet includes majorly all the vital vitamins that meet body requirements. Although, few others can be produced in the body with the help of microorganisms of the gut flora such as vitamin K and biotin. Vitamin D is also synthesized within the human body on exposure of skin to sunlight. An adequate level of vitamins should be maintained as the excess, and the lack can have harmful effects on the body.