Whether or not to take a vitamin supplement has been a source of debate for decades. Between the health food stores, pharmacies, grocery stores, gyms, infomercials, and network marketing companies, the public is bombarded with ads on what and how much they need. Sifting through all the literature is a bit overwhelming, and determining what and who you can trust just muddies the waters. But, what exactly are these vital dietary elements?
Vitamins — What are they?
They are essential organic (meaning carbon-containing) substances the body needs in the diet in small quantities for the normal growth, maintenance, and function of the body. Although vitamins do not produce energy for the body, often they are key components in reactions that are energy yielding. Some are fat soluble (vitamins A,D,E, and K) and others are water soluble (the B vitamins and vitamin C).
Vitamins — Why are they essential?
Generally, vitamins are essential in the human diet because the body can
not synthesize them or because environmental factors can decrease their synthesis. Of course there are exceptions, such as:
- vitamin D which can be synthesized through the skin with adequate exposure to the sun,
- vitamin A which can be synthesized through certain plant pigments, and others.
In order for a compound to be classified as a vitamin, certain criteria need to be met.
- The body cannot synthesize enough of a particular compound to sustain health.
- Deficiency symptoms arise if the compound is absent from the diet for a specific amount of time and these symptoms are cured upon its administration.
Vitamins — Where did they get their names?
Just because the body can’t make it does not mean it is a vitamin. Interestingly enough, the vitamins primarily received their name alphabetically in the order they were discovered. At this point, most scientists believe that all vitamins have been discovered, although some optimistic researchers persist.
How about that vitamin supplement?
But the question remains, should you take a vitamin supplement? Because most people do not eat a proper diet on a regular basis, for the most part, vitamin supplements are recommended by the health care profession. It is important to recognize however, that although scientists have identified the majority, if not all compounds that can be classified as vitamins, certain unidentified trace elements beneficial to the human body for optimal health may still exist. Additionally, in nature, vitamins and minerals are usually paired with other compounds that maximize their absorption and therefore utilization by the body. Therefore, ideally each person should focus on those foods rich in these important nutrients. Some fruits and vegetables are classified as “superfoods” — they contain high doses of critical vitamins, minerals and other beneficial compounds, such as phytochemicals. More on that next week.
What is your opinion on taking supplements?
(C) 2016 Karen Van Den Heuvel Fischer