What are vitamins? Why are they important?
Vitamins are a number of components that the body needs to operate properly and allow us to have good health and an adequate growth. They are not the same organic compounds than proteins, fats and carbohydrates. They are considered essential nutrients.
Since ancient times it was thought there were certain ingredients in food needed for good health, but it was not until the twentieth century that they were isolated and their chemical composition was found.
The word vitamin is derived from "vitalamina" which is a compound word of "vital" and "amine". The reason for this name is because scientists thought that the most important substances for life (vital substances) were amines, compounds containing nitrogen. Then it was discovered that not all vitamins were amines, so they renamed them as vitamins.
These compounds generally can not be synthesized by the body (Vitamin D, or solar vitamin, would be an exception) so that we get them from food or from products made by synthesis.
Vitamins are necessary for the proper functioning of the body. To prevent the body from showing signs of lack of vitamins, we need to take a daily dose of them. The organization determining the body needs of each vitamin is the American Ministry of Health (USDA), which sets these doses known as RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowances). The limits specified by this organism are minimal. A varied diet usually provides the necessary vitamins for proper functioning of the body. It is ideal to make a weekly study of the food so the the variety of them contains all the necessary vitamins. However, under certain circumstances, higher doses are required. (See more information on "daily vitamin needs" in the listing above)
Avitaminosis. Problems due to lack of vitamins
When the body has a shortage of vitamins there is a vitamin deficiency or avitaminosis. Vitamin A deficiency causes a malfunction of the body's metabolism, causing many diseases.
The lack of the needed vitamin intake may result from insufficient food, as it happens in poor countries that do not have enough food to ensure the daily RDA for each individual.
In other cases, even with the availability of sufficient food, it is not varied enough or not sufficiently fresh to provide us with all the necessary vitamins. For example, on long sea voyages before the refrigerators were invented, you could not carry enough fruits and vegetables to ensure the needed supply of vitamin C. So after a few weeks when these fresh foods were not longer available, the sailors had a deficiency of this vitamin that was manifested in the emergence of a disease called scurvy.
The vitamin deficiency is increasingly growing in people who have inadequate diets or in people with eating disorders like anorexia.
There are diseases that cause bodily poor absorption of vitamins which leads to a vitamin deficiency. Most of them are intestinal diseases, such as persistent diarrhea, colitis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, etc. Certain drugs or toxic substances also inhibit or destroy the absorption of vitamins, such as tobacco or alcohol. It is known that smoking causes the destruction of vitamin C; it is estimated that each cigarette destroys 2 mg of this vitamin.
In our lives, there are certain situations or states in which the need to consume more vitamins increases. These situations include pregnancy or breastfeeding. During this period, the baby gets plenty of vitamins from the mother, so women should increase their vitamin intake to show no weaknesses. The lack of vitamins in many pregnant and nursing mothers is responsible for some anomalies such as hair loss or skin problems. The same could be said for the baby. If the baby is breast-fed by the mother, this provides the necessary vitamins, but if he or she is bottle-fed, parents should consult their pediatrician on the possible need for extra vitamins.
Older people can easily present lack of vitamins problems. Among the possible causes that can generate these deficiencies we could consider: inadequate intake due to lack of appetite, known as senile anorexia, due to oversight in the preparation of food, physical mobility problems, mental problems etc. In other cases, the highest intake of medication during this period of life interferes with the absorption of vitamins. We must not forget that the elderly are less able to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamins B and C). Therefore, it is necessary to take good care of food to prevent vitamin deficiency among the population of older people. .
Certain body states can "consume" more vitamins. This occurs, for example, when the body is fatigued or during certain physical abnormalities, such as colds, flu, periods of convalescence, etc.
It is also well known the effect of certain medications, both from conventional medicine and natural medicine, which infer on the absorption of vitamins. For example, we could mention the negative effects of antibiotics on the intestinal flora. This flora is essential for the proper absorption of food. Antibiotics disturb the flora and therefore, indirectly, they reduce the absorption of vitamins. Other drugs that interfere with the vitamins are, for example, corticosteroids or those containing acetylsalicylic acid.
Types of vitamins