A well balanced diet contains vitamins in required amounts. Deficiencies in any of these can lead to various health disorders. So what are vitamins? They are a group of substances that are essential for the normal functioning of the various body processes. And what’s the need of these ‘vitamin’ supplements? Vitamin supplements may prove to be beneficial in periodic shortfalls of vitamins from diet. However, taking vitamin supplements under the guidance and advice of your health practitioner is highly recommended since high doses of such supplements could also lead to a lot of health risks.

Firstly, we need  to understand that vitamins are of two types – fat soluble and water soluble, and that the recommended intake of each of these vitamins depends on your age, gender, pre-existing medical conditions and reproductive status. Consultation with your doctor is advised to know your RDA of vitamins.

Vitamin A

These are fat soluble vitamins present in fish liver oils and is very important for normal vision and functioning of heart, kidney and other organs; Vitamin A deficiency, if untreated, can lead to night blindness. Vitamin A in dietary supplements is available either as pro-vitamin A or preformed vitamin A and a combination of both. Multivitamin supplements also contain vitamin A. But too much is bad too. High doses of Vitamin A can lead to dizziness, coma and in pregnant women it can lead to birth defects and, sometimes, even death.

Dietary sources: Sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, mango, guava, cantaloupe, papaya, watermelon, whole milk, salmon can be named among many.

Vitamin B

Vitamin B is a combination of Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12. These are water soluble.

Dietary sources: Nuts, oats, rice, cereals, eggs, cauliflower, mushrooms and legumes.

Vitamin B1, also known as thiamin, is important for proper functioning of muscles, heart, nervous system, and the deficiency of this may lead to some serious diseases. However, excessive intake of thiamin may have adverse effects on health.

Vitamin B2, known as Riboflavin, is important for maintaining healthy skin and hair and this assists in formation of antibodies. Deficiency of B2 can lead to cracking of skin.

Vitamin B3, known as Niacin, improves blood circulation and reduces cholesterol levels.

Vitamin B5, known as pantothenic acid, helps resist stress. Vitamin B complex supplements generally contain vitamin B2, B3 and B5.

Vitamin B6, known as Pyridoxine, is important for functioning of the central nervous system and metabolism of fats and carbohydrates. Deficiency of B6 can lead to weekend gland and organ functioning. Vitamin B6 supplement is usually available in the form of pyridoxine and is also available in combination with other B vitamins and multivitamins. Excess amount of Vitamin B6 can lead to nerve damage.

Vitamin B7 also known as Biotin is a key requirement for important processes like metabolism and synthesis of fat. Though excess can cause an increase in blood cholesterol levels, Biotin is easily available and distributed in foods and is required in very small quantities. Low biotin levels in body can result in depressions, pale and dry skin, hair loss, nausea, weakness, and fatigue. B7 is mostly a part of B complex supplements and are also called Adrenal Support Complex or Energy Complex supplements.

Vitamin B12, known as Cobalamin, helps in formation of red blood cells. Deficiency of this vitamin leads to anemia. Supplements of B12 are available in combination with other B vitamins, with folic acid and separately as Vitamin B12 supplements. These are also available as pills, sublingual forms (dissolved under the tongue), administered as a shot to treat B12 deficiency and also prescribed in nasal gel form.

Folate is another B vitamin (Vitamin – B9) that helps formation of bone marrow cells and functioning of liver. Folate is available as supplements in prenatal vitamins, in B vitamins and multivitamin combination. High dose of folate from supplements without appropriate guidance can lead to severe complications.

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Vitamin C

Known as Ascorbic acid, vitamin C is also a water soluble vitamin and protects cells from attack of free radicals; in short it’s the antioxidant that’s great for you. Multivitamin supplements that contain Vitamin C are available as sodium ascorbate or calcium ascorbate. High intake than the recommended dose of vitamin C can lead to hemochromatosis.

Dietary sources: Most citrus foods such as lemons, strawberries and oranges. Broccoli, bell peppers, gooseberry (amla).

Vitamin D

This fat soluble vitamin helps in the formation of healthy bones and teeth and helps in absorption of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D4 in particular is formed in the skin by the action of sunlight. Vitamin D in supplements is available as Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Deficiency of Vitamin D leads to rickets where bones become soft and fragile. Excessive intake of Vitamin D can lead to poor appetite, headaches, and dry mouth to name a few.

Dietary sources: Fatty fishes like mackerel, tuna, salmon and fortified dairy products are rich sources of vitamin D.

Vitamin E

This is a fat soluble vitamin and acts as an antioxidant too. Foods such as wheat germ oil, nuts such as almonds are rich in Vitamin E. It slows cellular aging, repairs damaged skin and is good for your hair. Vitamin E also balances hormones and can effectively reduce symptoms of PMS. Vitamin E deficiency can lead to diseases of the skin. Vitamin E supplements are available either as Vitamin E separately and in combination with multivitamin – mineral supplements. However the doses of Vitamin E in Vitamin E – only supplements are higher than the recommended amount. High intake of Vitamin E can lead to bleeding disorders by reducing the ability of the blood to form clots.

Dietary sources: Cod Liver Oil, almonds, spinach, sweet potato, sunflower seeds, olive oil.

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Vitamin K

Another fat soluble vitamin, Vitamin K is found in foods such as spinach, cabbage, egg yolk and helps in normal clotting of blood. Vitamin K supplements are available as Vitamin K1 and Vitamin K2 that is advised to be consumed upon consultation with your health practitioner. High doses of this may lead to blood clotting disorders.

Dietary sources: Green leafy vegetables, Cauliflower, broccoli, spring onion, cabbage, figs and blackberry.

Who benefit from vitamin supplements?

It is always advised that you try and consume these vitamins as part of your diet. However, certain groups of people may benefit by the intake of vitamin supplements and these include the following:

-Expectant and lactating mothers

-Elderly people

-People with certain absorption disorders such as Lactose intolerance

-Children who refuse to eat a balanced diet and people with irregular eating habits

High doses of vitamin supplements may lead to adverse effects. The intake of these supplements depends on the medical condition of the person and on the eating habits that can vary from one individual to another. A detailed consultation with your health practitioner and dietician is highly recommended before consuming vitamin supplements.

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