Vitamins are vital micronutrients found in our foods and in supplements that enable the optimum function of our body’s psychological and physiological states. Nature provides these nutrients found in our abundant food sources. With a varied wholesome and balanced diet, these vital micronutrients can be obtained without the need for supplementing in most cases. As part of the holistic series, we will take a closer look at some of these vitamins, their benefits, and their dietary sources.
When you think of this vitamin, your eyesight comes to mind. From basic biology, we learned that a deficiency in this vitamin causes night-blindness. But it’s beneficial for quite a number of bodily functions. It is a fat-soluble vitamin found in plant-based (as provitamin A carotenoids) and animal-based (as preformed vitamin A) foods:
- Some of the animal-based sources include: fish (mackerel, tuna, trout, salmon), liver, cod liver oil, cheese, butter and hard-boiled eggs.
- Some of the plant sources include: sweet potato (cooked), kale (cooked), carrots (cooked), turnips (cooked), spinach, lettuce, mango, watermelon, papaya, guava, passion fruit etc.
For your eyes, getting adequate amounts of this vitamin prevents the development of night blindness and may help slow the age-related decline of your eyesight. Vitamin A also shows beneficial effects in the prevention of certain cancers including Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cervical, lung, and bladder cancer by ensuring healthy cell division. Your immune system is supported by this vitamin in maintaining your body’s natural defense mechanisms. A deficiency of vitamin A has been linked to the outbreak of acne which the compound retinol has been used to prevent and treat the condition effectively. Vitamin A is also important in maintaining healthy bone health as much as calcium and vitamin D and helps to reduce fractures. For a healthy reproductive system for both men and women, vitamin A is crucial for optimum fertility levels in producing good sperm and egg quality. For pregnant women, it is essential for the healthy development of the baby.
A part of the B vitamin family, it is also known as pyridoxine and is a water-soluble essential vitamin. It is important for optimum health and is significant for the production of red blood cells and neurotransmitters as well as in the metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. The dietary sources include:
- Some animal-based food sources: milk, ricotta cheese, salmon, tuna, eggs, chicken liver, turkey and beef.
- Some plant-based food sources: bananas, chickpeas, spinach, carrots, potatoes, green peas, avocado etc.
Vitamin B6 helps to regulate dopamine and serotonin and a deficiency may be associated with depressive symptoms. It plays a vital role in mood regulation. It helps to promote healthy brain health by decreasing homocysteine levels which are associated with Alzheimers and memory loss. Low levels of vitamin B6 can lead to low hemoglobin and anemia as less oxygen is delivered to your cells. Its role in creating neurotransmitters also shows benefits in alleviating symptoms of anxiety and mood changes that occur during PMS. B6 is effective at treating nausea and morning sickness during pregnancy and is found as an ingredient to some of the treatments given to women who experience it. Adequate dietary intake of this vitamin may help in the prevention of certain cancers (colorectal cancer) as well as promoting a healthy heart and arteries. B6 may prevent issues that affect the retina and promote healthy eyesight by reducing your risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Your body cannot produce vitamin B12 which is also known as cobalamin. There are a group of people who are at higher risk of a deficiency from this vitamin; pregnant or breastfeeding women, strict vegans and vegetarians, people who’ve had gastric/bowel surgery, or those taking proton pump inhibitors for chronic heartburn. This vitamin boosts your energy and can be found in the following dietary sources:
- Animal sources include: animal liver and kidneys, clams, sardines, beef, eggs, tuna, trout, milk, and dairy products.
- Plant-based sources: nori (seaweed), fortified cereals and foods, fortified non-dairy milk, nutritional yeast, shiitake mushrooms, tempeh and soy products etc.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is linked to anemia as it is involved in the formation of red blood cells. In order to prevent spinal cord and birth defects, adequate amounts of this vitamin is vital during pregnancy. It is beneficial in the formation of normal bone density and reduces the risk of osteoporosis, especially in women. As part of the B vitamin family, it reduces the levels of homocysteine in your blood which is associated with age-related macular degeneration and heart disease. B12 is used in the production of the feel-good hormone, serotonin, which boosts mood and provides energy. Brain atrophy is the loss of neurons in the brain that can lead to memory loss or dementia, B12 helps to prevent these conditions by slowing mental decline. Some dermatologic conditions such as hyperpigmentation, nail discoloration, hair changes, vitiligo and angular stomatitis have shown improvement when B12 is found to be deficient. It also helps promote healthy hair, skin and nails due to its role in cell production.
Ascorbic acid or vitamin C is an essential vitamin with impressive health benefits. It is a potent antioxidant with positive effects on skin health and immune function. A deficiency in this micronutrient can lead to detrimental health effects that can be quickly remedied by increasing dietary intake or supplementation. It is readily available in most plant-based foods such as:
- Vegetable sources: broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale, chilli peppers, sweet yellow peppers, thyme, parsley, spinach etc
- Fruit sources: oranges, lemons, strawberries, plums, guava, papaya, kiwis, lychees, pineapple, cherries, sweet melon etc
Antioxidants contained in vitamin C protect cells from harmful molecules called free radicals. This boosts the immune system by strengthening your body’s natural defenses and helps to prevent chronic diseases that are caused by inflammation. Vitamin C has been used effectively in the treatment of high blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels. A vitamin C-rich diet reduces the high triglyceride (LDL) cholesterol levels which lower the risk of heart disease. It is essential in the production of red blood cells and helps in the absorption of meat-free sources of iron, especially in plant-based diets. This vitamin strengthens the skin’s barriers and helps wounds heal faster. A lack of this vitamin may lead to scurvy which may present with symptoms of bruising, bleeding gums, weakness, fatigue and a rash as well as linked to the development of dementia. It’s also important in the formation of collagen synthesis, connective tissue, bones, teeth and small blood vessels.
This most unique vitamin is produced naturally by your body when your skin is exposed to direct sunshine. It is made up of ergocalciferol (D2) and cholecalciferol (D3). When you think of this vitamin the picturesque sunny beaches during the sizzling warm seasons come to mind as people lounge gloriously soaking up the sun. It is a fat-soluble vitamin that has a few food sources which include:
- Animal sources: sardines, herring, salmon, mackerel and halibut (oily fish), canned tuna, egg yolks, cod liver oil, mushrooms, fortified dairy etc
- Plant sources: wild mushrooms, mushrooms grown in UV light/sunshine, fortified cereals and oatmeal, fortified plant-based milk (soy), fortified orange juice etc.
With most of our lives spent indoors or living in areas that suffer long winter seasons, sufficient sun exposure is difficult for many people to achieve. This is more so in cities with a lot of pollution and tall buildings blocking sunlight. People with higher levels of melanin suffer more deficiencies as more time in the sun is needed for adequate synthesis. Adding these vitamin D-rich foods is a great way to increase this important nutrient in your diet. Your body needs vitamin D in order to absorb calcium which is crucial for healthy strong bone formation and the prevention of osteoporosis. Vitamin D fights disease, it helps reduce your likelihood of developing colds and flu and more recently has been linked to less severe cases of covid-19. It also helps in the prevention of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and multiple sclerosis. It functions like a steroid hormone in the body that is involved in immune system function and protection against cancer. This vitamin has been used to regulate mood disorders such as symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which is common during the winter months. Vitamin D is important for obtaining optimum health and fitness levels and additionally aids in weight loss.