vitamin

vitamin

[vahy-tuh-min; Brit. also vit-uh-min]
vitamin, group of organic substances that are required in the diet of humans and animals for normal growth, maintenance of life, and normal reproduction. Vitamins act as catalysts; very often either the vitamins themselves are coenzymes, or they form integral parts of coenzymes. A substance that functions as a vitamin for one species does not necessarily function as a vitamin for another species. The vitamins differ in structure, and there is no chemical grouping common to them all.

They were first called accessory factors because in 1906 it was found by English biochemist Sir F. G. Hopkins that most foods contain—besides carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, and water—other substances necessary for health. The word vitamin was derived from the term vitamine, used by Polish-American biochemist Casimir Funk to describe an amine (organic base) that was essential to life (it was later found to be thiamine). In 1912 Hopkins and Funk formulated the vitamin hypothesis of deficiency disease; that is, that certain diseases are caused by a dietary lack of specific vitamins.

The chemical structures of the vitamins are all known, and all of them have been synthesized; the vitamins in foods are identical to the synthetic ones. A well-balanced diet usually satisfies the minimum vitamin requirements of human beings. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of each vitamin is the standard guideline put forward by the Food and Nutrition Board, National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council. It is based on the nutritional needs of an average, healthy person. Different amounts may be recommended for children, older people, lactating mothers, or people dealing with an ongoing disease process. The U.S. RDA was the federal government's interpretation of the National Research Council's RDA. Since mid-1994, the U.S. RDA has been replaced on food labels by a Percent Daily Value (the percentage of the U.S. RDA that the labeled food offers). Listings for vitamins A and C are required; others are optional.

The amount of each vitamin that should be consumed for optimal health and the wisdom of taking vitamin supplements, especially in "megadoses," is a controversial question. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 defined vitamins as dietary supplements (rather than drugs) and shifted the burden of proof of safety from the manufacturers to the Food and Drug Administration. Although vitamins were previously seen only as preventives against the various deficiency diseases, more and more studies have examined additional health benefits of vitamins. Health claims that are unsubstantiated by scientific study, however, are regarded by many health and nutrition experts as fraudulent or dangerous, and many physicians now question the need for healthy persons to take multivitamin supplements, because many foods, such as milk and bread, are fortified with vitamins.

Vitamins were originally classified according to their solubility in water or fats, and as more and more were discovered they were also classified alphabetically. The fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E, and K; the B complex and C vitamins are water soluble. A group of substances that decrease blood capillary fragility, called the vitamin P group, are no longer considered to be vitamins.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A (retinol), a fat-soluble lipid, is either derived directly from animal foods such as liver, egg yolks, cream, or butter or is derived from beta-carotene, a pigment that occurs in leafy green vegetables and in yellow fruits and vegetables. Vitamin A is essential to skeletal growth, normal reproductive function, and the health of the skin and mucous membranes. One form, retinal, is a component of visual purple, a photoreceptor pigment in the retina of the eye (see vision). In addition, beta-carotene, like other carotenoids, is now recognized as an important antioxidant.

A deficiency of vitamin A can cause retarded skeletal growth, night blindness, various abnormalities of the skin and linings of the genitourinary system and gastrointestinal tract, and, in children, susceptibility to serious infection. The eye disorders that result from a deficiency of vitamin A can lead to permanent blindness. Severe deficiency can cause death. As with the other fat-soluble vitamins, conditions that lead to an inability to absorb fats, such as obstruction of bile flow or excessive use of mineral oil, can produce a deficiency state. Overconsumption of vitamin A can cause irritability, painful joints, growth retardation, liver and spleen enlargement, hair loss, and birth defects. The National Research Council recommended daily dietary allowance for adults is 1,000 micrograms (retinol equivalents) for men and 800 micrograms for women.

Vitamin B Complex

Commonly grouped as the vitamin B complex are eight water-soluble vitamins.

Thiamine

Thiamine (vitamin B1 or antiberiberi factor) is a necessary ingredient for the biosynthesis of the coenzyme thiamine pyrophosphate; in this latter form it plays an important role in carbohydrate metabolism. Good sources are yeast, whole grains, lean pork, nuts, legumes, and thiamine-enriched cereal products. This vitamin is a factor in the maintenance of appetite, normal intestinal function, and in the health of the cardiovascular and nervous systems. A deficiency of the vitamin may lead to beriberi; the disease was first shown to result from a dietary deficiency by Dutch physician Christiaan Eijkman. The recommended dietary allowance for adults is 1.2 to 1.4 mg for men and 1.0 to 1.1 mg for women.

Riboflavin

Riboflavin (vitamin B2 or lactoflavin) is used to synthesize two coenzymes that are associated with several of the respiratory enzymes of plants and animals (including humans) and is therefore important in biochemical oxidations and reductions. Deficiency leads to fissures in the corners of the mouth, inflammation of the tongue showing a reddish purple coloration, skin disease, and often severe irritation of the eyes. The recommended dietary allowance for adults is 1.4 to 1.7 mg for men and 1.2 to 1.3 mg for women. Riboflavin is widely distributed in plant and animal tissues; milk, organ meats, and enriched cereal products are good sources.

Niacin

The B vitamins niacin (nicotinic acid) and niacinamide (nicotinamide) are commonly known as preventives of pellagra, which in 1912 was shown by American medical researcher Joseph Goldberger to result from a dietary deficiency. Niacin was first synthesized in 1867. The amino acid tryptophan is the precursor of niacin. Niacin and niacinamide function in the biochemistry of humans and other organisms as components of the two coenzymes nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP); these operate in many enzyme-catalyzed oxidation and reduction reactions. The deficiency state in humans causes skin disease, diarrhea, dementia, and ultimately death. The deficiency state in dogs analogous to pellagra in humans is called blacktongue disease. Lean meats, peanuts and other legumes, and whole-grain or enriched bread and cereal products are among the best sources of niacin. The recommended daily dietary allowance for adults is 16 to 19 mg niacin equivalents (60 mg of dietary tryptophan to 1 mg of niacin) for men and 13 to 14 mg for women.

Vitamin B6 Group

Pyridoxine, pyridoxal, and pyridoxamine make up the vitamin B6 group. They all combine with phosphorus in the body to form the coenzyme pyridoxal phosphate, which is necessary in the metabolism of amino acids, glucose, and fatty acids. The best sources of B6 vitamins are liver and other organ meats, corn, whole-grain cereal, and seeds. Deficiency can result in central nervous system disturbances (e.g., convulsions in infants) due to the role of B6 in serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid synthesis. More generally the effects of deficiency include inadequate growth or weight loss and anemia due to the role of B6 in the manufacture of hemoglobin. The recommended dietary allowance for adults is 2.0 to 2.2 mg for men and 2 mg for women. Additional doses are required in pregnancy and by those taking oral contraceptives or the tuberculosis drug izoniazid. Severe nerve damage has been reported from megadoses.

Pantothenic Acid

Pantothenic acid, another B vitamin, is present in perhaps all animal and plant tissues, as well as in many microorganisms. Good sources of it include liver, kidney, eggs, and dairy products. It is a component of the important substance coenzyme A, which is involved in the metabolism of many biochemical substances including fatty acids, steroids, phospholipids, heme, amino acids, and carbohydrates. The adrenal gland is an important site of pantothenic acid activity. There is no known naturally occurring deficiency state and no known toxicity to pantothenic acid. The estimated safe and adequate daily intake for adults is 4 to 7 mg.

Biotin

Biotin is a B vitamin that functions as a coenzyme in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and amino acids. Although it is vitally necessary to the body, only exceedingly small quantities are needed, and since biotin is synthesized by intestinal bacteria, naturally occurring biotin deficiency disease is virtually unknown. The disease state can be produced artificially by including large quantities of raw egg white in the diet; the whites contain avidin, a biotin antagonist. Especially good sources of this widely distributed vitamin include egg yolk, kidney, liver, tomatoes, and yeast. There is no known toxicity to biotin. The estimated safe and adequate daily intake for adults is 100 to 200 micrograms.

Folic Acid

Folic acid (pteroylglutamic acid, folacin, or vitamin B9) occurs abundantly in green leafy vegetables, fruits (e.g., apples and oranges), dried beans, avocados, sunflower seeds, and wheat germ. Derivatives of this vitamin are directly involved in the synthesis of nucleic acids; for this reason cells in the body that are subject to rapid synthesis and destruction are especially sensitive to folic acid deprivation. For example, the retarded synthesis of blood cells in folic acid deficiency results in several forms of anemia, while failure to replace rapidly destroyed cells in the intestinal wall results in a disease called sprue. Inadequate amounts of folic acid in the diet of pregnant women have been strongly associated with neural tube defects (i.e., spina bifida and anencephaly) in newborns; fortification of flours, cornmeal, rice, and pasta (in a manner similar to the fortification of milk with vitamin D) has been required in the United States since 1998. Adequate folic acid also reduces the risk of premature birth. A U.S. study published in 1998 involving 80,000 women showed significant reduction of heart disease among those whose diets included adequate amounts of folate and vitamin B6. Several chemical antagonists to the action of folic acid have been developed in the hope that they might inhibit the growth of rapidly dividing cancer cells; one such compound, methotrexate, is used to treat leukemia in children. The recommended daily dietary allowance for adults is 400 micrograms. Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), which is incorporated into the folic acid molecule, is sometimes listed separately as a B vitamin, although there is no evidence that it is essential to the diet of humans.

Vitamin B12

The molecular structure of vitamin B12 (cobalamin), the most complex of all known vitamins, was announced in 1955 by several scientists, including British biochemists A. R. Todd and Dorothy Hodgkin. In 1973 the vitamin was reported to have been synthesized by organic chemists. Vitamin B12 and closely related cobalamins are necessary for folic acid to fulfill its role; both are involved in the synthesis of proteins. American physicians G. R. Minot and W. P. Murphy in 1926 fed large amounts of liver to patients with pernicious anemia and cured them; the curative substance in this case was probably vitamin B12. However, pernicious anemia in humans is caused not by a vitamin B12 deficiency in the diet but rather the absence of a substance called the intrinsic factor, ordinarily secreted by the stomach and responsible for facilitating the absorption of B12 from the intestine. When a person's body cannot produce the intrinsic factor, the standard treatment today is to inject vitamin B12 directly into the bloodstream. Minot and Murphy's therapy worked because the liver they fed their patients contained such large quantities of B12 that sufficient amounts of the vitamin were absorbed without the assistance of the intrinsic factor. Inadequate absorption of B12 causes pernicious anemia, nervous system degeneration, and amenorrhea. The only site of cobalamin synthesis in nature appears to be in microorganisms; neither animals nor higher plants are capable of making these vitamin B12 derivatives. Nevertheless, such animal tissues as the liver, kidney, and heart of ruminants contain relatively large quantities of vitamin B12; the vitamin stored in these organs was originally produced by the bacteria in the ruminant gut. Bivalves (clams or oysters), which siphon microorganisms from the sea, are also good sources. Plants, on the other hand, are poor sources of vitamin B12. The recommended daily dietary allowance for adults is 3 micrograms.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, a water-soluble vitamin, was first isolated (from adrenal cortex, oranges, cabbage, and lemon juice) in the laboratories of American biochemists Albert Szent-Gyorgyi and Charles King in the years 1928-33. Szent-Gyorgyi found the Hungarian red pepper to be an exceptionally rich source; citrus fruits and tomatoes are also excellent sources. Other good sources include berries, fresh green and yellow vegetables, and white potatoes and sweet potatoes. The vitamin is readily oxidized and therefore is easily destroyed in cooking and during storage. All animals except humans, other primates, guinea pigs, and one bat and bird species are able to synthesize ascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid is necessary for the synthesis of the body's cementing substances: bone matrix, collagen, dentin, and cartilage. It is an antioxidant and is necessary to several metabolic processes. Deficiency of vitamin C results in scurvy, the symptoms of which are largely related to inadequate collagen synthesis and defective formation of intercellular materials. Ascorbic acid is metabolized slowly in humans, and symptoms of scurvy are usually not seen for three or four months in the absence of any dietary vitamin C. The use of megadoses of ascorbic acid to prevent common colds, stress, mental illness, cancer, and heart disease is a continuing subject of research. The recommended daily allowance for adults is 60 mg.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a name given to two fat-soluble compounds; calciferol (vitamin D2) and cholecalciferol (vitamin D3). They are now known to be hormones, but continue to be grouped with vitamins because of historical misclassification. Vitamin D3 plays an essential role in the metabolism of calcium and phosphorus in the body and prevents rickets in children. A plentiful supply of 7-dehydrocholesterol, the precursor of vitamin D3, exists in human skin and needs only to be activated by a moderate amount of ultraviolet light (less than a half hour of sunlight) to become fully potent. Rickets is usually caused by a lack of exposure to sunlight rather than a dietary deficiency, although dietary deficiencies can result from malabsorption in the small intestine caused by conditions such as sprue or colitis. Rickets can be prevented and its course halted by the intake of vitamin D2 (found in irradiated yeast and used in some commercial preparations of the vitamin) or vitamin D3 (found in fish liver oils and in fortified milk). Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency in children include bowlegs, knock knees, and more severe (often crippling) deformations of the bones. In adults deficiency results in osteomalacia, characterized by a softening of the bones. Excessive vitamin D consumption can result in toxicity. Symptoms include nausea, loss of appetite, kidney damage, and deposits of insoluble calcium salts in certain tissues. The recommended daily dietary allowance for cholecalciferol is 5 to 10 micrograms (200 to 400 IU) depending upon age and the availability of sunlight. Fortified cow's milk supplies 400 IU per quart (422 IU per liter).

Vitamin E

Vitamin E occurs in at least eight molecular forms (tocopherols or tocotrienols); in humans the most biologically active form has generally been considered to be alpha-tocopherol, which is also the most common. All forms exist as light yellow, viscous oils. The best sources are vegetable oils. Other sources include green leafy vegetables, wheat germ, some nuts, and eggs. Vitamin E is necessary for the maintenance of cell membranes. It is essential to normal reproduction in some animals, but there is no evidence that it plays a role in human reproduction. It is a potent antioxidant; numerous studies have pointed to a protective effect against arterial plaque buildup and cancer. It is helpful in the relief of intermittent claudication (calf pain) and in preventing problems peculiar to premature infants. In large doses, it has an anticoagulant effect. The recommended daily dietary allowance for adults is 10 mg (tocopherol equivalents) for men and 8 mg for women, but nutritionists and physicians sometimes recommend higher doses for disease prevention.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K consists of substances that are essential for the clotting of blood. It was identified in 1934 by Danish biochemist Henrik Dam. Two types of K vitamins have been isolated: K1, an oil purified from alfalfa concentrates, and K2, synthesized by the normal intestinal bacteria. Both can be derived from the synthetic compound menadione (sometimes called vitamin K3), a yellow crystalline solid that is as potent in its ability to promote blood clotting as the natural vitamins. The best sources are leafy green vegetables, such as cabbage and spinach, and intestinal bacteria (which produce most of the body's supply of vitamin K). Vitamin K is required for the synthesis in the liver of several blood clotting factors, including prothrombin. Coumarin derivatives, used in medicine to prevent blood coagulation in certain cases, act by antagonizing the action of vitamin K. In the deficiency state an abnormal length of time is needed for the blood to clot, and there may be hemorrhaging in various tissues. Deficiency occurs in hemorrhagic disease of the newborn infant, in liver damage, and in cases where the vitamin is not absorbed properly by the intestine. It can also occur in coumarin therapy or when normal intestinal bacteria are destroyed by extended antibiotic therapy. Vitamin K does not treat hemophilia. Deficiency is rarely of dietary origin. The estimated safe and adequate intake for adults is 70 to 140 micrograms.

Bibliography

See J. Marko, Vitamins: A Practical Guide (1985); H. W. Griffith, The Complete Guide to Vitamins, Minerals, and Supplements (1988); National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council, Recommended Dietary Allowances (1989).

or ascorbic acid

Water-soluble organic compound important in animal metabolism. Most animals produce it in their bodies, but humans, other primates, and guinea pigs need it in the diet to prevent scurvy. It is essential in collagen synthesis, wound healing, blood-vessel maintenance, and immunity. Some studies have found a moderate benefit of vitamin C in reducing the duration and severity of the common cold. It works as an antioxidant in the body and is used as a preservative. It is easily destroyed by oxygen. Excellent sources are citrus fruits and fresh vegetables.

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also called retinol

Fat-soluble alcohol, most abundant in fatty fish and especially in fish-liver oils. It is not found in plants, but many vegetables and fruits contain beta-carotene (see carotene), which is readily converted in the body to vitamin A. It functions directly in vision, especially night vision. A derivative, retinaldehyde, is a component of the visual pigments, including rhodopsin, in the retina. Humans require vitamin A in very small amounts. Unlike carotenes, it is toxic in large amounts and is readily destroyed by exposure to heat, light, or air.

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Organic compound required in small amounts in the diet to maintain normal metabolic functions. The term vitamine (1911) was changed to vitamin when it was realized that not all vitamins are amines (i.e., not all contain nitrogen). Many vitamins act as or are converted to coenzymes. They neither provide energy nor are incorporated into tissues. Water-soluble vitamins (vitamin B complex, vitamin C) are excreted quickly. Fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K) require bile salts for absorption and are stored in the body. The normal functions of many vitamins are known. Deficiency of specific vitamins can lead to diseases (including beriberi, neural tube defect, pernicious anemia, rickets, and scurvy). Excess amounts, especially of fat-soluble vitamins, can also be dangerous: e.g., too much vitamin A causes liver damage, an effect not seen with beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. Several vitamins are now known to support the immune system. Most vitamins are adequately supplied by a balanced diet, but people with higher requirements may need supplements.

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A vitamin is an organic compound required as a nutrient in tiny amounts by an organism. A compound is called a vitamin when it cannot be synthesized in sufficient quantities by an organism, and must be obtained from the diet. Thus, the term is conditional both on the circumstances and the particular organism. For example, ascorbic acid functions as vitamin C for some animals but not others, and vitamins D and K are required in the human diet only in certain circumstances.

Vitamins are classified by their biological and chemical activity, not their structure. Thus, each "vitamin" may refer to several vitamer compounds that all show the biological activity associated with a particular vitamin. Such a set of chemicals are grouped under an alphabetized vitamin "generic descriptor" title, such as "vitamin A," which includes the compounds retinal, retinol, and many carotenoids. Vitamers are often inter-converted in the body. The term vitamin does not include other essential nutrients such as dietary minerals, essential fatty acids, or essential amino acids, nor does it encompass the large number of other nutrients that promote health but are otherwise required less often.

Vitamins have diverse biochemical functions, including function as hormones (e.g. vitamin D), antioxidants (e.g. vitamin E), and mediators of cell signaling and regulators of cell and tissue growth and differentiation (e.g. vitamin A). The largest number of vitamins (e.g. B complex vitamins) function as precursors for enzyme cofactor bio-molecules (coenzymes), that help act as catalysts and substrates in metabolism. When acting as part of a catalyst, vitamins are bound to enzymes and are called prosthetic groups. For example, biotin is part of enzymes involved in making fatty acids. Vitamins also act as coenzymes to carry chemical groups between enzymes. For example, folic acid carries various forms of carbon group – methyl, formyl and methylene - in the cell. Although these roles in assisting enzyme reactions are vitamins' best-known function, the other vitamin functions are equally important.

Until the 1900s, vitamins were obtained solely through food intake, and changes in diet (which, for example, could occur during a particular growing season) can alter the types and amounts of vitamins ingested. Vitamins have been produced as commodity chemicals and made widely available as inexpensive pills for several decades, allowing supplementation of the dietary intake.

History

The value of eating a certain food to maintain health was recognized long before vitamins were identified. The ancient Egyptians knew that feeding a patient liver would help cure night blindness, an illness now known to be caused by a vitamin A deficiency. The advancement of ocean voyage during the Renaissance resulted in prolonged periods without access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and made illnesses from vitamin deficiency common among ship's crew.

In 1749, the Scottish surgeon James Lind discovered that citrus foods helped prevent scurvy, a particularly deadly disease in which collagen is not properly formed, causing poor wound healing, bleeding of the gums, severe pain, and death. In 1753, Lind published his Treatise on the Scurvy, which recommended using lemons and limes to avoid scurvy, which was adopted by the British Royal Navy. This led to the nickname Limey for sailors of that organization. Lind's discovery, however, was not widely accepted by individuals in the Royal Navy's Arctic expeditions in the 19th century, where it was widely believed that scurvy could be prevented by practicing good hygiene, regular exercise, and by maintaining the morale of the crew while on board, rather than by a diet of fresh food. As a result, Arctic expeditions continued to be plagued by scurvy and other deficiency diseases. In the early 20th century, when Robert Falcon Scott made his two expeditions to the Antarctic, the prevailing medical theory was that scurvy was caused by "tainted" canned food.

The discovery of vitamins and their sources
Year of discovery Vitamin Source
1909 Vitamin A (Retinol) Cod liver oil
1912 Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) Rice bran
1912 Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid) Lemons
1918 Vitamin D (Calciferol) Cod liver oil
1920 Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) Eggs
1922 Vitamin E (Tocopherol) Wheat germ oil, Cosmetic and Liver
1926 Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin) Liver
1929 Vitamin K (Phylloquinone) Alfalfa
1931 Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid) Liver
1931 Vitamin B7 (Biotin) Liver
1934 Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) Rice bran
1936 Vitamin B3 (Niacin) Liver
1941 Vitamin B9 (Folic acid) Liver

In 1881, Russian surgeon Nikolai Lunin studied the effects of scurvy while at the University of Tartu in present-day Estonia. He fed mice an artificial mixture of all the separate constituents of milk known at that time, namely the proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and salts. The mice that received only the individual constituents died, while the mice fed by milk itself developed normally. He made a conclusion that "a natural food such as milk must therefore contain, besides these known principal ingredients, small quantities of unknown substances essential to life." However, his conclusions were rejected by other researchers when they were unable to reproduce his results. One difference was that he had used table sugar (sucrose), while other researchers had used milk sugar (lactose) that still contained small amounts of vitamin B.

In the Orient where polished white rice was the common staple food of the middle class, beriberi resulting from lack of vitamin B was endemic. In 1884, Takaki Kanehiro, a British trained medical doctor of the Japanese Navy observed that beriberi was endemic among low ranking crew who often ate nothing but rice but not among crews of Western navies and officers who were entitled to a Western-style diet. Kanehiro initially believed that lack of protein was the chief cause of beriberi. With the support of Japanese navy, he experimented using crews of two battleships, one crew was fed only white rice, while the other was fed a diet of meat, fish, barley, rice, and beans. The group that ate only white rice documented 161 crew with beriberi and 25 deaths, while the latter group had only 14 cases of beriberi and no deaths. This convinced Kanehiro and the Japanese Navy that diet was the cause of beriberi. This was confirmed in 1897, when Christiaan Eijkman discovered that feeding unpolished rice instead of the polished variety to chickens helped to prevent beriberi in the chickens. The following year, Frederick Hopkins postulated that some foods contained "accessory factors"—in addition to proteins, carbohydrates, fats, et cetera—that were necessary for the functions of the human body. Hopkins was awarded the 1929 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Christiaan Eijkman for their discovery of several vitamins.

In 1910, Japanese scientist Umetaro Suzuki succeeded in extracting a water-soluble complex of micronutrients from rice bran and named it aberic acid. He published this discovery in a Japanese scientific journal. When the article was translated into German, the translation failed to state that it was a newly discovered nutrient, a claim made in the original Japanese article, and hence his discovery failed to gain publicity. Polish biochemist Kazimierz Funk isolated the same complex of micronutrients and proposed the complex be named "Vitamine" (a portmanteau of "vital amine") in 1912. The name soon became synonymous with Hopkins' "accessory factors", and by the time it was shown that not all vitamins were amines, the word was already ubiquitous. In 1920, Jack Cecil Drummond proposed that the final "e" be dropped to deemphasize the "amine" reference after the discovery that vitamin C had no amine component.

Throughout the early 1900s, the use of deprivation studies allowed scientists to isolate and identify a number of vitamins. Initially, lipid from fish oil was used to cure rickets in rats, and the fat-soluble nutrient was called "antirachitic A". The irony here is that the first "vitamin" bioactivity ever isolated, which cured rickets, was initially called "vitamin A", the bioactivity of which is now called vitamin D. What we now call "vitamin A" was identified in fish oil because it was inactivated by ultraviolet light. In 1931, Albert Szent-Györgyi and a fellow researcher Joseph Svirbely determined that "hexuronic acid" was actually vitamin C and noted its anti-scorbutic activity. In 1937, Szent-Györgyi was awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery. In 1943 Edward Adelbert Doisy and Henrik Dam were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery of vitamin K and its chemical structure.

In humans

Vitamins are classified as either water-soluble, meaning that they dissolve easily in water, or fat-soluble vitamins, which are absorbed through the intestinal tract with the help of lipids (fats). In general, water-soluble vitamins are readily excreted from the body. Each vitamin is typically used in multiple reactions and, therefore, most have multiple functions.

In humans there are 13 vitamins: 4 fat-soluble (A, D, E and K) and 9 water-soluble (8 B vitamins and vitamin C).

Vitamin generic descriptor name Vitamer chemical name(s) Solubility Recommended dietary allowances
(male, age 19–70)
Deficiency disease Upper Intake Level
(UL/day)
Overdose disease
Vitamin A Retinoids
(retinol, retinoids
and carotenoids)
Fat 900 µg Night-blindness and
Keratomalacia
3,000 µg Hypervitaminosis A
Vitamin B1 Thiamine Water 1.2 mg Beriberi N/D Rare hypersensitive reactions resembling anaphylactic shock-- injection only; Drowsiness
Vitamin B2 Riboflavin Water 1.3 mg Ariboflavinosis N/D
Vitamin B3 Niacin, niacinamide Water 16.0 mg Pellagra 35.0 mg Liver damage (doses > 2g/day) and other problems
Vitamin B5 Pantothenic acid Water 5.0 mg Paresthesia N/D
Vitamin B6 Pyridoxine, pyridoxamine, pyridoxal Water 1.3-1.7 mg Anaemia 100 mg Impairment of proprioception, nerve damage (doses > 100 mg/day)
Vitamin B7 Biotin Water 30.0 µg Dermatitis, enteritis N/D
Vitamin B9 Folic acid, folinic acid Water 400 µg Deficiency during pregnancy is associated with birth defects, such as neural tube defects 1,000 µg Refer to deficiency of Vitamin B6
Vitamin B12 Cyanocobalamin, hydroxycobalamin, methylcobalamin Water 2.4 µg Megaloblastic anaemia N/D No known toxicity
Vitamin C Ascorbic acid Water 90.0 mg Scurvy 2,000 mg Vitamin C megadosage
Vitamin D Ergocalciferol, cholecalciferol Fat 5.0 µg-10 µg Rickets and Osteomalacia 50 µg Hypervitaminosis D
Vitamin E Tocopherols, tocotrienols Fat 15.0 mg Deficiency is very rare; mild hemolytic anemia in newborn infants. 1,000 mg Increased congestive heart failure seen in one large randomized study.
Vitamin K phylloquinone, menaquinones Fat 120 µg Bleeding diathesis N/D Increases coagulation in patients taking warfarin.

In nutrition and diseases

Vitamins are essential for the normal growth and development of a multicellular organism. Using the genetic blueprint inherited from its parents, a fetus begins to develop, at the moment of conception, from the nutrients it absorbs. It requires certain vitamins and minerals to be present at certain times. These nutrients facilitate the chemical reactions that produce among other things, skin, bone, and muscle. If there is serious deficiency in one or more of these nutrients, a child may develop a deficiency disease. Even minor deficiencies may cause permanent damage.

For the most part, vitamins are obtained with food, but a few are obtained by other means. For example, microorganisms in the intestine—commonly known as "gut flora"—produce vitamin K and biotin, while one form of vitamin D is synthesized in the skin with the help of natural ultraviolet in sunlight. Humans can produce some vitamins from precursors they consume. Examples include vitamin A, produced from beta carotene, and niacin, from the amino acid tryptophan.

Once growth and development are completed, vitamins remain essential nutrients for the healthy maintenance of the cells, tissues, and organs that make up a multicellular organism; they also enable a multicellular life form to efficiently use chemical energy provided by food it eats, and to help process the proteins, carbohydrates, and fats required for respiration.

Deficiencies

Deficiencies of vitamins are classified as either primary or secondary. A primary deficiency occurs when an organism does not get enough of the vitamin in its food. A secondary deficiency may be due to an underlying disorder that prevents or limits the absorption or use of the vitamin, due to a “lifestyle factor”, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, or the use of medications that interfere with the absorption or use of the vitamin. People who eat a varied diet are unlikely to develop a severe primary vitamin deficiency. In contrast, restrictive diets have the potential to cause prolonged vitamin deficits, which may result in often painful and potentially deadly diseases.

Because human bodies do not store most vitamins, humans must consume them regularly to avoid deficiency. Human bodily stores for different vitamins vary widely; vitamins A, D, and B12 are stored in significant amounts in the human body, mainly in the liver, and an adult human's diet may be deficient in vitamins A and B12 for many months before developing a deficiency condition. Vitamin B3 is not stored in the human body in significant amounts, so stores may only last a couple of weeks.

Well-known human vitamin deficiencies involve thiamine (beriberi), niacin (pellagra), vitamin C (scurvy) and vitamin D (rickets). In much of the developed world, such deficiencies are rare; this is due to (1) an adequate supply of food; and (2) the addition of vitamins and minerals to common foods, often called fortification.

Some evidence also suggests that there is a link between vitamin deficiency and mental disorders.

Side effects and overdose

In large doses, some vitamins have documented side effects that tend to be more severe with a larger dosage. The likelihood of consuming too much of any vitamin from food is remote, but overdosing from vitamin supplementation does occur. At high enough dosages some vitamins cause side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.

When side effects emerge, recovery is often accomplished by reducing the dosage. The concentrations of vitamins an individual can tolerate vary widely, and appear to be related to age and state of health. In the United States, overdose exposure to all formulations of vitamins was reported by 62,562 individuals in 2004 (nearly 80% of these exposures were in children under the age of 6), leading to 53 "major" life-threatening outcomes and 3 deaths—a small number in comparison to the 19,250 people who died of unintentional poisoning of all kinds in the U.S. in the same year (2004).

Supplements

Dietary supplements, often containing vitamins, are used to ensure that adequate amounts of nutrients are obtained on a daily basis, if optimal amounts of the nutrients cannot be obtained through a varied diet. Scientific evidence supporting the benefits of some dietary supplements is well established for certain health conditions, but others need further study. A meta-analysis in 2006 suggested that Vitamin A and E supplements not only provide no tangible health benefits for generally healthy individuals, but may actually increase mortality, although two large studies included in the analysis involved smokers, for which it was already known that beta-carotene supplements can be harmful.

In the United States, advertising for dietary supplements is required to include a disclaimer that the product is not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure disease, and that any health claims have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. In some cases, dietary supplements may have unwanted effects, especially if taken before surgery, with other dietary supplements or medicines, or if the person taking them has certain health conditions. Vitamin supplements may also contain levels of vitamins many times higher, and in different forms, than one may ingest through food.

Intake of excessive quantities can cause vitamin poisoning, often due to overdose of Vitamin A and Vitamin D (The most common poisoning with multinutrient supplement pills does not involve a vitamin, but is rather due to the mineral iron). Due to toxicity, most common vitamins have recommended upper daily intake amounts.

Since 2005, suppliers have distinguished their products as either Medical Grade or Pharmeceutical Grade products. Both of these classifications indicate products that are manufactured to be easily absorbed by the body. Normal vitamin manufacturing is not regulated in the United States to the same standards as are medicinal pharmaceuticals, although U.S. vitamins which are manufactured for food consumption by humans or animals must be manufactured to Food Chemicals Codex (FCC), grade, commonly called "food grade".

Governmental regulation of vitamin supplements

Most countries place dietary supplements in a special category under the general umbrella of foods, not drugs. This necessitates that the manufacturer, and not the government, be responsible for ensuring that its dietary supplement products are safe before they are marketed. Unlike drug products, which must explicitly be proven safe and effective for their intended use before marketing, there are often no provisions to "approve" dietary supplements for safety or effectiveness before they reach the consumer. Also unlike drug products, manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements are not generally required to report any claims of injuries or illnesses that may be related to the use of their products.

Names in current and previous nomenclatures

The reason the set of vitamins seems to skip directly from E to K is that the vitamins corresponding to "letters" F-J were either reclassified over time, discarded as false leads, or renamed because of their relationship to "vitamin B", which became a "complex" of vitamins. The German-speaking scientists who isolated and described vitamin K (in addition to naming it as such) did so because the vitamin is intimately involved in the Koagulation of blood following wounding. At the time, most (but not all) of the letters from F through J were already designated, so the use of the letter K was considered quite reasonable.

The following table lists chemicals that had previously been classified as vitamins, as well as the earlier names of vitamins that later became part of the B-complex:

Previous name Chemical name Reason for name change
Vitamin B4 Adenine DNA metabolite
Vitamin B8 Adenylic acid DNA metabolite
Vitamin F Essential fatty acids Needed in large quantities (does
not fit the definition of a vitamin).
Vitamin G Riboflavin Reclassified as Vitamin B2
Vitamin H Biotin Reclassified as Vitamin B7
Vitamin J Catechol, Flavin Protein metabolite
Vitamin L1 Anthranilic acid Protein metabolite
Vitamin L2 Adenylthiomethylpentose RNA metabolite
Vitamin M Folic acid Reclassified as Vitamin B9
Vitamin O Carnitine Protein metabolite
Vitamin P Flavonoids No longer classified as a vitamin
Vitamin PP Niacin Reclassified as Vitamin B3
Vitamin U S-Methylmethionine Protein metabolite

See also

References

General References Include:

  • Stedman's Medical Dictionary. Ed. Maureen Barlow Pugh et.al. 27th ed. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000.
  • Donatelle, Rebecca J. Health: The Basics. 6th ed. San Francisco: Pearson Education, Inc. 2005.

External links

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