Vitamins were first discovered in the early 1900s, and this spurred the interest in modern nutrition and diet modification. Vitamins are organic compounds (meaning they contain carbon elements) and can be broken down by heat, air, or acids. During this time, chemists found certain molecules in our food were necessary for life, but not yet identified. Sailors on long voyages learned to eat citrus, which contained high amounts of vitamin C, to prevent scurvy. Researchers found that certain B vitamins and vitamin D were needed to prevent diseases like beri beri, pellagra, and rickets. By the 1930s, almost all the major vitamins had been discovered and recorded to display their benefits to humans.
As time has gone on, the study of vitamins has intensified and gotten more complex as a result. Initially, once vitamins were recognized as needed substances for survival, scientists began to put isolated forms of them into pills, which can be distributed to the public to limit deficiencies. Today, our knowledge has expanded; we now know vitamins are more effective in their natural forms (as opposed to isolated extracts). Vitamins are readily absorbed when eating an organic fruit, for example, which also contains a full complement of minerals and other nutrients as well. They are more effectively absorbed and utilized in the presence of the cofactors, coenzymes, and enzymes found in natural foods.
I know it may be hard to believe, but there was a time when human beings ate only whole, unprocessed foods. The nutrient content of food decreases when processed. I am of the opinion that intensive animal raising, manipulation of crop production, the introduction of genetically modified foods, use of pesticides and herbicides that are toxic to humans, the sterilization of soils from conventional farming practices, and food processing have altered the qualitative and quantitative balance of nutrients of foods consumed in modern societies. This agricultural shift is one of the reasons that chronic, debilitating diseases run rampant today.
Vitamins are generally broken up into two major categories, fat-soluble and water soluble. Fat soluble vitamins such as: vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K dissolve in fat and tend to accumulate in the body. Water soluble vitamins such as: vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins must dissolve in water before they can be absorbed by the body, and therefore cannot be stored. Unused water-soluble vitamins are primarily excreted in urine.
Important to note that although vitamin D is called a “vitamin” it is actually a hormone and has never been reclassified. It has much more todo with cholesterol metabolism and the best source of it is sunlight. In fact, I think “hormone D” levels are a better proxy for sunlight exposure, and am not a fan of hormone supplementation without justification and certainly not indefinitely.
More current evidence finds that simply taking a synthetic multivitamin/mineral formula does not change this. Vitamins in their naturally-balanced state, with all of the cofactors and enzymes present, are essential for better assimilation, synergistic action, and maximum biological effect. Vitamins are readily absorbed when eating an organic fruit, for example, which also contains a full complement of minerals and other nutrients as well. They are more effectively absorbed and utilized in the presence of the cofactors, coenzymes, and enzymes found in natural foods. And yet most consumers buy vitamins and minerals that are synthetic, which their bodies usually can’t assimilate properly.
The vitamin content in fruits and vegetables can vary greatly depending on how they are grown. Fields that are constantly fertilized are able to pull such high yields, but as a consequence the vitamin and mineral content is sapped away. Over the past fifty-plus years, the vitamin content in many of our fruits and vegetables in the United States has decreased dramatically. This issue has recently spurred a rallying cry for the use of more natural fertilizers and compost, which are rich in nutrient content. The major marketing point for this was that it would increase crop yields, but the truth is using organic or regenerative methods can yield just as much (if not more), and the food will be more rich in vital nutrients. But the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers continues to be a major cause of concern in our food supply. All of this makes it more pertinent to choose organic, regenerative produce as often as possible.
How you cook your food can affect vitamin content in foods as well. For example, some vitamins can handle being heated, while others are sensitive to a rise in temperature. Heat tends to expose vegetables to more oxidation, which neutralizes the effects of some vitamins, but not all. Steaming or cooking without water is a better method of preserving vitamins. Acidic environments are more conducive for food to retain their vitamin contents than alkaline ones. Refrigerating or freezing vegetables has little to no effect on nutrient content, while sun drying can preserve or, in some cases, increase nutrient content in foods. Food preservation methods, such as traditionally fermenting, pickling, and leavening can increase nutrient contents as well.
There is a vast array of vitamins that have been discovered, all with active forms vital for a healthy life. Listed below are some of the major vitamins, their functions in the body, and which food sources are best for them:
|Best Food Sources
|Maintaining healthy vision, bone growth and development, as well as steroid synthesis ( pregnenolone, DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, LH, and FSH), maintaining epithelial tissue (cell proliferation & division). Needed for healthy growth and development of all tissue types. It is crucial for healthy fertility. Helps maintain a healthy thyroid. Maintains the shape of mucus membranes. Needed to help enhance the immune system and resist infection. Prevent birth defects. Powerful antioxidant and possesses anti-tumor qualities. Beta-carotene is a precursor of vitamin A and like all carotenoids, it is an antioxidant if used at the times when sunlight is outside. There are no recorded toxicity events of beta-carotene (from plants), but you can go into vitamin A toxicity from consuming too much retinol (from organ meats and other animal products).
|Vision problems, including blindness, as well as respiratory infections and decreased overall immune system function.antibiotics, cholesterol-lowering drugs, and laxatives interfere with the absorption of vitamin A.
|Carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, squash (all kinds), watermelon, asparagus, apples, apricots, prunes, papaya, kale, spinach, and broccoli. Carotene, or Provitamin A, is a major antioxidant, and is found in all warm-colored vegetables (red, orange, and yellow).
|Vitamin D(Vitamin D3)
|Technically a hormone and not a vitamin. Best created when UV light from the sun hits your skin (it is produced endogenously when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis).Vitamin D serves various functions in the body, such as reducing inflammation and influencing processes like cell growth, neuromuscular function, immune response, and glucose metabolism. Prmotes calcium absorption from the gut by stimulating the production of calcium-binding protein. Regulates and boosts resistance to infections. Essential for growth of teeth and bones. May be helpful in fighting against cancer and multiple sclerosis. It has even been used in the treatment of psoriasis in some cases. Important in maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. Maintains proper calcium and phosphate levels for normal bone mineralization, preventing hypocalcemic tetany. Additionally, it is essential for bone growth and the remodeling process carried out by osteoblasts and osteoclasts.
|Rickets in children/ osteoporosis in adults, especially the elderly.
|Sunlight is the best source. Food sources include, sprouted seeds, alfalfa, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, and whole grains. All food sources are secondary to sunlight, by a longshot.
|Vitamin E(The Tocopherols)
|Removal of harmful free radicals. Protection of cell membranes and plasma lipoproteins. Known to have both powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-platelet aggregating (blood clotting) properties. Research suggests vitamin E works with selenium and zinc to help prevent both cardiovascular disease and even some forms of cancer. Vitamin E is heavily dependent on vitamin C, vitamin B3, beta carotene, selenium, and glutathione.
|Impairing immune system function, poor nerve conduction leading to neurological and/or neuromuscular problems, Hemolytic anemia, retinopathy.
|Nuts, seeds, legumes, seaweed, and green leafy vegetables, brown rice, wheat germ, peas, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, and avocados.
|Vitamin K refers to a group (K1 and K2) of fat soluble vitamins that are found in he liver, brain, heart, pancreas and bones and thus protecting each one of these. The first (K1) is called phylloquinone and found in green leafy vegetables like collard greens, kale, and spinach. The second (K2), menaquinones, are found in some animal and fermented foods such as natto. However, healthy gut bacteria can manufacture K2, which is yet another reason why gut health is so important. Major cofactor needed for blood clot formation and within bone matrix proteins due to its role in a specific reaction known as gamma glutamyl carboxylation. Also helps liver function and aids in calcium metabolism (bones). Can be used as a therapeutic for osteoporosis. Additionally, vitamin K is in the formation of proteins responsible for mitigating the formation of stones in the kidneys
|(Rare) bruising, petechiae, hematomas ,oozing of blood at surgical or puncture sites, stomach pains; risk of massive uncontrolled bleeding; cartilage calcification; and severe malformation of developing bone or deposition of insoluble calcium salts in the walls of arteries.
|Spinach, asparagus, tomatoes, carrots, kelp, alfalfa, green leafy vegetables, cabbage, and other vegetables in the cabbage family.
|Water- Soluble Vitamins
|Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
|Helps the body’s cells change carbohydrates into energy by playsing an important role in carbohydrate metabolism by removing carbon molecules (Decarboxylation) from pyruvate to produce Acetyl-CoA. Acetyl CoA is the molecule used to create ATP, the body’s currency for energy. Thiamine is also needed for proper carbohydrate metabolism in the brain and plays roles in protein and fat metabolism as well. Important for a healthy nervous system and digestive system. Plays a role in muscle contraction. Lowers lactic acid and boosts CO2. B1 is involved in the flow of electrolytes into and out of muscle and nerve cells. Needed to produce hydrochloric acid in the stomach.
|Cardiovascular and nervous system deficiencies. The most infamous disease associated with a deficiency is Beri Beri (translated to “I can’t, I can’t”). Hallmarks of this disease include mental confusion, muscle wasting, and difficulty walking.
|Found in many food sources, such as beans, seeds, oats, brown rice, certain yeasts, lentils, potatoes, oranges, green leafy vegetables, nuts, and peas. Chlorinated water and black teas may destroy thiamine.
|Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
|Coenzyme involved in many reduction/oxidation reactions in the body, which take place along the electron transport chain- the body’s mechanism to produce ATP to use as energy. Its coenzyme forms (flavinmononucleotide [FMN] and flavin adenine dinucleotide [FAD]) accept and donate electrons in redox reactions. Involved in other metabolic pathways found in the body, which include producing red blood cells and natural corticosteroids, among others. Is crucial for converting tryptophan to niacin. Needed for a healthy immune system, and is essential for growth, eyes, skin, nails, and hair.
|Deficiency generally occurs in concordance with other B vitamin deficiencies. The clinical signs are not as significant as other deficiencies, but glossitis and cheilosis (cracking of the lips) are classic representations.
|Green leafy vegetables, beans, mushrooms, almonds, green vegetables, rice bran, avocados, grains, sunflower seeds, Brussels sprouts, prunes, beet tops, turnips, apples, bananas, carrots, grapefruit, kelp, coconut.
|Vitamin B3 (Niacin or Nicotinic Acid)
|The primary role of niacin is that it is needed for redox reactions in the Krebs cycle and participate in redox reactions in the electron transport chain in the form of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP). NADP is involved in over 400 biochemical reactions in your body mainly related to obtaining energy from the food we eat. It is also needed as a coenzyme in creating essential fatty acids and steroids. NAD is used as a cell-signaling molecule to cue DNA repair. Niacin is needed for healthy blood circulation and a healthy digestive tract. Excess niacin can lead to flushing of the skin, especially in the face and cheeks.
|Deficiency in niacin can lead to pellagra, which is characterized by dermatitis, dementia, and eventually death. Niacin deficiency is found in diets whose staple revolves around corn, as well as those suffering from chronic alcoholism.
|Wheat germ, nuts, brown rice, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, potatoes, green vegetables, almonds, rhubarb, whole barley, rice bran.
|Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
|Regulates metabolic processes of fats and carbohydrates. It is used in the adrenalglands, as it increases production of cortisone. It is a useful nutrient for stress-relief. Crucial in producing coenzyme A (CoA) for the creation of ATP in the Krebs Cycle. Coenzyme A is the active form of pantothenic acid. Its primary role is to serve as a carrier for acyl groups (groups that contain a ketone body) in oxidation reactions for proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Needed for , healthy skin, hair, and eyes, proper functioning of the nervous system and liver, a healthy digestive tract, making red blood cells, and is involved in steroid hormone production.
|Deficiencies of pantothenic acid are uncommon, because it is widely available in whole foods, but symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, depression, irritability, vomiting, stomach pains, burning feet, and upper respiratory infections.
|Peas, royal jelly, green vegetables, avocados, bananas, dried mushrooms, broccoli, collard greens, oranges, legumes, and sunflower seeds.
|Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine or Pyridoxal 5-Phosphate, P5P)
|Its active form (pyridoxal 5-phosphate, or P5P), serves as a coenzyme in over one hundred reactions in the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and amino acids. Its most important function is to metabolize amino acids. Vitamin B6 plays an important role in mood regulation. It is involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, GABA, histamine, and hemoglobin, and plays an important role in gene expression. It is a major component in the methylation cycle and proper DNA & RNA action. Helps keep blood healthy, promotes red cell formation and supports normal hemoglobin levels. Essential to cell respiration.
|Deficiency can lead to confusion, depression, nausea, peripheral neuritis, and seborrheic dermatitis.
|Green leafy vegetables, bananas, avocados, wheat germ, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, walnuts, blackstrap molasses, cantaloupe, cabbage, green peppers, carrots, brown rice, honey, prunes, hazelnuts (filberts), potatoes, and sunflower seeds
|Biotin (Vitamin B7)
|Biotin enhances skin texture by protecting against oxidative damage, plays a crucial role in enhancing cognitive function by repairing brain cells, contributes significantly to vision health, and proves beneficial for individuals dealing with kidney issues. An essential factor needed for the synthesis and oxidation of fatty acids, but also carbohydrates and amino acids. It has antiseptic properties. The active form of biotin, biocytin, is linked to the amino group of enzymes that operate in biochemical pathways of gluconeogenesis, fatty acid synthesis, and amino acid catabolism. It is used as a cofactor in the production and release of insulin as well, meaning it may play a role in maintaining healthy blood glucose levels.
|Deficiency in biotin can lead to dermatitis, nausea, anorexia, and in late stages can lead to muscle atrophy and hair loss.
|Almonds, oat bran, walnuts, tomatoes, green peas, Brewer’s Yeast, bananas, some mushrooms, sunflower seeds, nuts, peas, and lentils.
|Folate (Vitamin B9)
|Important for proper function of the methylation cycle, which is important for completing over 200 different functions. Folate’s job is to take methyl groups from one substance and donate it to another. It is also an essential cofactor needed for proper red blood cell growth and development, DNA/RNA production, and amino acid metabolism. NOTE: Folic acid is different from folate. Folic acid is an additive in foods and vitamin supplements that is harmful to you. It is an artificial form of B9 that binds to folate receptors.
|Deficiencies in folate can also lead to rapid differentiation of cells in the GI tract, vagina, and cervix, which can ultimately lead to an increase in cancer rates.
|Many dark leafy green vegetables, broccoli, asparagus, nuts, avocados, spinach, cabbage, bananas, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, dates, peas, squash, lentils, oat bran, lima beans, and kidney beans.
|Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
|It is a cofactor used to transfer methyl groups. Cobalamin removes methyl groups (-CH3) from methyl tetrahydrofolate to create a precursor used in the synthesis of DNA. It is vital for a properly functioning brain and nervous system. Additionally, B12 is needed as a cofactor in mitosis, a lack of B12 leads to a pernicious or megaloblastic anemia. It is also needed for proper carbohydrate metabolism. B12 is essential for growth, production, and regulation of red blood cells.
|Deficiencies lead to pernicious anemia, peripheral neuropathies, confusion, fatigue, and depression.
|Found in animal meats, seafood, dairy, and eggs. Some vegetarians and vegans may need a proper supplement to incorporate the needed amounts of B12, or get it from nutritional yeast, algae, or spirulina. You can find some in concord grapes, sunflower seeds, and bananas as well.
|Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
|Plays an essential role in both tissue growth/repair and collagen synthesis. Additionally, it is also a powerful antioxidant, and works in conjunction with vitamin E and enhancing immune system function. It is involved in maintaining the integrity of blood vessel walls and adrenal gland function. Promotes healing in all ill health situations. Vitamin C is involved in the synthesis of steroid hormones. Vitamin C is a regulator of immune function by increasing macrophage (a type of white blood cell) activity. Vitamin C is also crucial for iron homeostasis, blood vessel integrity, muscle integrity, skin health, glucose metabolism, improving sleep, preventing cognitive decline, and more.
|Scurvy, fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, muscle cramps, and achy joints.
|All fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits, strawberries, blackberries, kale, papayas, mangos, guava, persimmons, apples, watermelon, red chili peppers, tomato juice, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli.
|To shuttle electrons through the electron transport chain (ETC) to the mitochondrial inner membrane, in a never-ending cycle of oxidation and reduction. Coenzyme Q10 also has antioxidant properties, and has been used to effectively treat gum disease and cardiovascular disease. In the case of cardiovascular disease, this makes sense because the heart is the hardest-working muscle in the body. It needs a constant supply of energy to pump blood throughout the body.
|Health conditions like heart disease, brain disorders, diabetes, and cancer have been linked to low levels of this nutrient. Cholesterol lowering drugs tend to interfere with its absorption.
|Broccoli, cauliflower, lentils, peanuts, most nuts and seeds, and spinach
I hope you learned a little bit more about your vitamins today!
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