Supplementing has been a health trend for ages – but the easier the access to all kinds of supplements and substitutes, the more trouble they cause. And that’s simply due to the fact that not all of us know everything about the ingredients, what our bodies really need, what amounts and for how long we can add a little extra to our daily nutrition. So, in order to shed some light on this very complex and often over-interpreted topic, I’ll try to provide you with the basics that will hopefully help you to sort out your current situation or any that’s yet to come.
Most of the time we’re supplementing with vitamins and trace elements. In today’s post I’ll get a little more into detail about vitamins (trace element post will follow): Vitamins are a diverse group of chemical structures but what they have all in common is that they can’t be produced by our bodies (with one exception). This means, that we need to take them in with our food – which already leads me to the first take-home message: Nutrition is key! People who enjoy a well-balanced and healthy diet, normally don’t need to do much in terms of supplementing (mainly in summertime). And since nature is very smart, the vitamins and trace elements we need have been intelligently combined – so, they mutually optimise their uptake by our bodies. And in my opinion, that’s one of the biggest advantages of eating healthy and consuming the necessary vitamins (instead of even having to supplement). But given that it’s not enough – for whatever reason (season, health issues, serious deficit and so on) – supplementing done right can seriously improve our overall health and the way we feel.
There are two major groups of vitamins: Water- and Fat-soluble ones. And this difference of dissolving is crucial. Because what this essentially means is that you can rather easily overdose with the fat-soluble ones (since they will be stored in our fat cells) but hardly ever with the water-soluble ones. So, the fat-soluble vitamins are E, D, K and A. They’re absorbed in our gut, bound to lipid-transporting enzymes and transported by our lymphatic system until they reach the liver from where they’re distributed all over the body). Vitamin D by the way, is the only ‘vitamin’ that can be produced by our bodies (sunlight (or more specifically UV-rays) stimulate its production in our skin). All the other vitamins are water-soluble and absorbed directly into the blood stream – all that’s not being used will be flushed out.
Vitamins serve various purposes in our bodies – most of the time, they’re assisting as key factors (Co-enzymes and -factors) for our metabolism and therefore play a very important role in the overall system. A considerable lack of even only one of them can lead to serious health issues! To give you a very basic overview, I’ve made this list of the most important vitamins and their role in the body:
Vitamin A: It consists of (all-trans) Retinol and its precursors are called carotenoids. Retinol is found in animals and animal-derived products while the precursor substances are found it vegetables and fruit (those will be transformed when being absorbed by our GI-tract). It’s vital for building Rhodopsin (so we can actually see), building and maintenance of our skin, mucosa and cartilage. It’s also a growth factor influencing the transcription of genes. Overdosing with vitamin A is a real thing and toxic. Mostly pregnant women are advised to be cautious.
Vitamin B: The B-vitamins are a group of very important water-soluble vitamins. It’s most important members are:
B1 (Thiamin, for metabolism)
B2 (Riboflavin/FMN/FAD, cofactors in metabolism)
B3 (Niacin, as NAD/NADP in our metabolism, essential)
B6 (Pyridoxin & Co., cofactor in amino acid- and protein metabolism, also precursor for hormones, coenzymes, vitamins and phospholipids (cell coat))
B9 (folic acid (active: Tetrahydrofolat), important for transferring Methyl groups (certain basic type of molecules, used for everything), very important during pregnancy)
B12 (Extrinsic Factor, exclusively produced by microorganisms, found in animal-based products), it’s the only water-soluble vitamin that can be stored in muscles and liver, working together with folic acid (B9)
→ Optimal impact is reached by combining vitamin B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12
Vitamin C: A lot of animals can produce this vitamin themselves – except for humans, apes and – obviously – guinea pigs. It has a lot of important roles, such as protection (as an antioxidant), regeneration of vitamin E, maintenance of collagen, hormone and transmitter formation and maintenance of bone substance. Vitamin C isn’t toxic even in high doses – you just might turn a little orange.
Vitamin D: Calciferoles (animal or plant-based) are precursors of vitamin D (active form is called Calcitrol). Its production is stimulated in our skin by UV-rays – it’s the only ‘vitamin’ that can be produced by our bodies. We have an increased need while growing, during pregnancy and when breast-feeding. It’s essential for the calcium- and phosphate-homeostasis and bone mineralization. Overdosing is only realistic by overdoing it with supplementing. As you might have heard, people in northern European or generally countries with lots of grey days are more prone to a lack of vitamin D.
Vitamin E: They’re also called Tocopherols and there are four subgroups. Vitamin E can mainly be found in plant-based oils, nuts, sprouts and egg yolk (friendly reminder to all the people only eating the egg white). It’s rather stable but will be destroyed by heating it up too much (e.g. frying). While being bound to lipids they serve as antioxidants and protect those valuable fatty acids (lipidperoxides – the result of no protection – play an important role in atherosclerosis, auto-immune diseases, cancer and diseases like Morbus Alzheimer or Parkinson). Vitamin E acts as kind of a ‘radical catcher’ (read: antioxidant) and is later regenerated by vitamin C.
Vitamin “H”: Also called Biotin (and actually vitamin B7), it plays an important role in the energy related parts of our metabolism.
Vitamin K: This group consists of about a hundred types of molecules. Most important are K1 (mainly found in green leaves, main source for vitamin K) and K2 (produced by bacteria, also our own gut flora). It’s not sensitive to cooking but to light. It’s important for blood clotting and also involved in the building of bone structure. Overdosing is nearly impossible.
There is so much more to tell you about vitamins, but I feel like this is enough for a start, don’t you think? I hope I could give you a first and basic overview about the term ‘vitamins’ and what this means for you and your body. Let me know whether this helped, or/and you’d like to know more! Thanks for reading and see you soon!