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There is no denying that vitamins play an important part in nutrition and have captured public interest and concern. After all, aren’t we the generation of multi-vitamins—taking supplements for anything and everything?
But this also raises a pertinent question: should nutrition provide all the vitamins required or are pills required for the substation? Vitamins are diverse in nature. They are a group of non-caloric essential nutrients, necessary in small amounts for specific metabolic control and disease prevention.
Vitamins also occur in a wide variety of foods. They act as specific catalysts to regulate body metabolism. Vitamin supplements needs are individual specific. Vitamins are broadly categorised into fat-soluble (vitamins A, D, E, and K) and water-soluble (vitamins C and B complex)— each having its own role in the body.
1. Vitamin A is mainly responsible for vision. So, if you are experiencing this deficiency, then you may suffer from dryness of the eyes to blindness.
2. Vitamin D is a very important vitamin. It may lead to osteoporosis of bones if its levels are not adequate. It also plays an important role in PCOS because it keeps menstrual cycles regular. Its adequate levels are important in pregnancy, in the prevention of miscarriage and continuation of pregnancy till term. If deficient, an oral dose is given.
3. Vitamin E is a very good antioxidant agent, where it functions with selenium to prevent cell membrane damage. Its deficiency in the body can lead to anaemia and can affect spinal and fibres and retinal fibres of the eye.
4. Vitamin K is useful for clotting blood and bone development. So, its deficiency can lead to bleeding disorders.
5. Vitamin C found in citrus fruits are important for collagen formation and helps in the absorption of iron in the body. So, if we have a deficient intake of vitamin c, it can lead to scurvy—bleeding gums, tendency to bruise easily, fever, infection (in the respiratory tract), and problem in wound healing. Thus, it is very important to keep your vitamin C at normal levels!
6. Vitamin B complex is necessary for the functioning of the nervous system, gastrointestinal system and cardiovascular system. Its deficiency can lead to beriberi, characterized by pain and paralysis of legs and arms. It is more frequently seen in alcoholics, where the caloric requirements are curtailed. One way of preserving this is vitamin is to retain the cooking water in the dish when preparing food.
7. Riboflavin found in milk is the most important source of this B vitamin. Its lack in our body can lead to cracked lips & mouth corners, and swollen red tongues. This vitamin can be lost by light, so it’s important to consume milk in cartons rather than in bottles.
8. Niacin, another type of B vitamin must not be ignored. Its deficiency can lead to pellagra, characterised by diarrhoea, dementia and dermatitis. Have a good supply of peanuts, legumes and grains to prevent its lack in your body.
9. Pyridoxine is another type of B vitamin. Its food sources are grains, seeds and meat. It’s very important for amino acid metabolism. Its deficiency can lead to hyperirritability and neuritis.
10. Pantothenic acid is involved in many metabolic functions of the body involving fat and cholesterol metabolism. Its deficiency is rare, as it is provided by many foods, especially whole-grain cereals and legumes.
11. Folate (folic acid) is found in green leafy vegetables, especially cauliflower, and legumes. This vitamin forms a part of the DNA and important for the formation of haemoglobin. Its balanced levels prevent spinal abnormalities in the foetus, miscarriage, and preterm labour.
12. Cobalamin or vitamin B2 is found in animal proteins. A deficiency of this vitamin can lead to neuritis, sore mouth and tongue and nervous disorders. Its deficiency can lead to a condition called pernicious anaemia.
We can see the importance of vitamins in our diet and its deficiency can lead to various effects. This brings us to the ongoing debate whether dietary food can supplement these vitamins, or do we need to take pills.
A woman who is pregnant or is lactating will definitely require some nutrient supplements. Also, an ageing lady—because of her decreased food intake and reduced absorption of food—may require supplements.
A person who is always trying to lose weight may not get all the vitamins from diet. Also, women who smoke a lot, could have deficiency of vitamin C.
Also, women with chronic diseases may require vitamin supplementation. Supplementation should be done cautiously and judiciously—with a doctor’s recommendation—as they may be harmful if taken in large amounts. Finally, to remember, all nutrients work together to promote good health—and food requires the best source of nutrients.