Maggie is a brilliant combination of a lawyer and a nurse. She specializes in risk management in the health field. Her first blog is a clarification of what vitamins really are. I think you will find it very informative.
– Paul Cunningham
What are vitamins? Vitamins are vital substances we need in tiny amounts for growth and good health.
What do they do? They don’t directly supply energy or building blocks for growth and repair, but they help the body use those nutrients that do. They act with other substances to accomplish a particular chemical task.
I like to think of vitamins as “brokers”. A real estate broker brings together the elements that make a real estate deal possible. The broker brings together the buyers, sellers, appraiser, inspectors and bankers that are necessary to create “the deal”.
Vitamins function the same way. For example, Vitamin D helps us absorb the calcium we need from our food. Vitamin D acts like a broker when it helps bring together the calcium from our food with other substances to create healthy bones.
Let’s take this example a little further. Have you ever wondered why our milk has Vitamin D added to it? Vitamin D is made in our skin. To make Vitamin D, our skin needs help from sunlight. If we all got all the sunshine we needed we wouldn’t need Vitamin D added to our milk because we could make all we needed.
How do we get vitamins? Although we can make some vitamins ourselves, most come from food or supplements. Vitamins are found in all major food groups but no group contains all of them. This is why we need a balanced diet with choices from all food groups.
Can we store them? Some vitamins can be stored in the body and some cannot. Our ability to store them depends on whether they are absorbed into the body along with water or fat. This is what it means when you hear about “fat-soluble or water-soluble vitamins”.
Water-soluble (most B complex vitamins and Vitamin C). Water-soluble vitamins are absorbed along with water directly from our intestines.
Fat-soluble (Vitamin A, D, E and K). These vitamins bind themselves to fats and get absorbed through the process of digesting fat.
Can we overdose on vitamins? Yes! If a vitamin is water-soluble, anything we don’t need right away is eliminated. These vitamins are not stored so the risk of overdose is low. Fat-soluble vitamins, except for K, are stored so if we take too much we can accumulate toxic levels.
What is the connection between vitamins and antioxidants? Normal everyday metabolism uses oxygen to create energy, and during this process “free radicals” are created. Free radicals lack a certain partner in their molecular makeup which makes them very damaging to our bodies. Vitamin A can supply this partner, reducing the danger from free radicals.
A perfect example can be found in Vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for normal healthy skin. Anti-oxidants damage skin and contribute to lines and wrinkles. Vitamin A provides a ”partner” for a free radical and reduces or eliminates its ability to harm our skin.
Which vitamins should I take? It is usually safe to take a multivitamin each day. However, your doctor needs to know what you are taking. Always ask before starting a new vitamin or supplement. Your doctor may or may not share your enthusiasm for vitamins or supplements. Nevertheless, it is always wise to tell him or her about everything you take.
Example: Vitamin K is a natural antidote for the blood thinner Coumadin. If you are taking a blood thinner due to a risk of blood clots, taking Vitamin K reverses the effect of this drug. The moral of the story? Tell your doctor about EVERYTHING you take.
FUN FACT Why are vitamins named by letters? The letters indicate the order in which the vitamin was discovered.