Vitamins are very important for the functions of the body. They "switch on" enzymes, which in turn make all chemical processes in the body function. We need vitamins to balance hormones, to boost energy, to maintain and boost the immune system, to keep the skin and blood vessels healthy, assist brain functions, the nervous system and most other body functions. Some vitamins are antioxidants - they protect the body from heart disease, cancer and pollution and slow down the aging process (Vitamin A,C and E). Vitamins B and C are needed to turn food into mental and physical energy. Vitamin D is needed for healthy bones, and Vitamin E helps protect essential fats from going rancid.
Vitamins in food never used to be a problem when people lived directly off the land and had plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to eat every day, but as more and more people move to towns and have to buy all their food - often not quite fresh, Vitamin content is reduced. The habit of frying food at high temperatures also destroys vitamins, so we end up eating food very short of vitamins in many cases and as a result see more and more signs of vitamin deficiency.
The following brief overview explains both Robbers - things that destroy or hinder vitamin functions in the body, and give a brief overview of some the best food items to eat if deficiency is suspected. In case of severe deficiencies please see a medical doctor and/or a certified nutritionist.
Vitamin A (Retinol and Betacarotene)
Vitamin A is necessary to keep the skin healthy both on the surface of the body and inside the digestive tract. It is an antioxidant and immune booster and is needed for optimal night vision.
Vitamin A works with the mineral zinc, and Vitamins C and E help protect it.
Deficiency symptoms: - Mouth ulcers, poor night vision, acne, dry flaky skin, dandruff, diarrhea.
Robbers: Alcohol, smoking, heat, light, coffee
Important food sources of Vitamin A: Liver, carrots, yellow sweet potatoes, pumpkins and butternut squash, water cress, cabbage, melon, mango, papaya and other yellow and green fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin B Complex
This group of vitamins include eight essential nutrients. The five most commonly deficient are B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B6 (pyridoxine) and Folic Acid. B Vitamins especially B1, B2, B3 and B6 are destroyed by alcohol (Robber of body reserves) which primarily affects the liver and nervous system, and other agents as described below.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
This vitamin is essential for energy production, brain function and digestion. It helps the body make use of protein and is part of recommended immune boosting vitamin complex.
Signs of deficiency: Tender muscles, eye pains, irritability, poor concentration, prickly legs, poor memory, stomach pains, constipation, tingling hands, rapid heartbeat. See also the Vitamin B deficiency disease Beriberi - for further information see here.
Vitamin B1 works with other B Vitamins, magnesium and calcium. If deficiency is expected, it is best supplemented as part of a Vitamin B complex and eaten with food.
Robbers: Antibiotics, tea, coffee, stress, birth control pill, alcohol, cooking and refining food, alkaline food additives such as baking powder, sulphur dioxide (food preservative) etc.
Good food sources of Vitamin B1: Peas and Beans, water cress, food from cabbage family such as cauliflower, Brussel sprouts etc, asparagus, mushrooms and lamb/mutton.
Vitamin B2 (Ribiflavin)
See also Vitamin B2 deficiency = Ariboflavinosis
This vitamin along with B1 helps turn fats, sugars and protein into energy. It is needed to repair and maintain healthy skin, inside and out. It also helps to regulate body acidity, and is important for hair, nails and eyes.
Signs of deficiency: Burning or gritty eyes, sensitivity to bright lights, sore tongue, cataracts, dull or oily hair, eczema or skin problems, split nails, cracked lips. Vitamin B2 also works with other B vitamins and selenium. If deficiency is expected, it is best supplemented as part of a vitamin B complex and eaten with food.
Robbers: Alcohol. Birth control pill, tea, coffee, alkaline agents such as baking powder, sulphur dioxide (food preservative), cooking and refining food.
Good food sources of Vitamin B2: Mushrooms, Broccoli, wheat germ, fatty fish, milk products, asparagus and water cress among others.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Vitamin B3, helps the body release energy from the food it consumes. It is also important for brain functions and the skin. It helps balance blood sugar and lower cholesterol levels. It is also involved in inflammation and digestion
Signs of deficiency: Lack of energy, diarrhea, insomnia, headaches or migraines, poor memory, anxiety or tension, depression, irritability, bleeding or tender gums, acne, eczema/skin problems. Vitamin B3 works with other B vitamins, and chromium. If deficiency is expected it is best taken as part of a vitamin B complex together with food. Supplements of Niacin should not be taken by people with diabetes, gout or stomach ulcers.
Robbers: Alcohol, antibiotics, tea, coffee, birth control pills. Good food sources of Vitamin B3: Fish, Meat, liver, milk, eggs, cheese, whole grains and dried fruits.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)
Vitamin B5 is involved in energy production and controls fat metabolism. It is essential for brain function and nerves. It helps make anti-stress hormones (steroids) and maintain healthy skin and hair.
Signs of deficiency: Muscle tremors or cramps, apathy, poor concentration, burning feet or tender heels, nausea or vomiting, lack of energy, exhaustion after light exercise, anxiety or tension, teeth grinding. Vitamin B5 works with other Vitamin B complex vitamins such as Biotin and Folic Acid. If deficiency is expected it is best supplement as part of a B complex vitamin together with food.
Robbers: Alcohol, tea, coffee, stress. It is destroyed by heat and processing of foods.
Good food sources of Vitamin B5: Mushrooms, avocados, celery, bean and alfalfa (Lucerne) sprouts, peas, strawberries, lentils, eggs and whole grains etc.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Vitamin B6 is vital for protein digestion and utilization, healthy brain function, synthesis of some hormones and protection of the nervous system. It helps balance sex hormones, and is a natural anti-depressant and diuretic. It also helps control allergic reactions.
Vitamin B6 works with other B vitamins. Biotin and Folic acid helps the body absorb it. If deficiency is expected it is best to take it as part of a vitamin B complex together with food.
Signs of deficiency: Infrequent dream recall, water retention, tingling hands, depression or nervousness, irritability, muscle tremors or cramps, lack of energy, flaky skin.
Robbers: Alcohol, smoking, birth control pill, high protein intake, processed foods.
Good Food sources of Vitamin B6: Bananas, Beans, Brussel sprouts and other foods from cabbage family, Peppers green, red and yellow, meat, liver, pulses, nuts, whole grains, nuts and cereals.
You need 50 mg a day which is supplied by two bowls of fortified cereals. A recent study recommends 50-100 mg to help combat menstrual symptoms. Excess intakes if taken without other B vitamins have been linked to permanent damage of the nervous system, prompting some governments to ban its sale over the counter.
Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin)
Vitamin B12 is needed for making use of protein. It helps the blood carry oxygen, so is essential for energy production. It is also needed for building DNA (genes), and is essential for nerves. It helps the body deal with tobacco smoke and other toxins.
Vitamin B12 works with Folic acid. If deficiency is suspected it is best taken as a supplement in combination with other B complex vitamins and together with food.
Signs of deficiency: Poor hair condition, eczema/skin problems, mouth oversensitive to heat or cold, irritability, anxiety or tension, lack of energy, tender or sore muscles, pale skin.
Robbers: Alcohol, smoking, lack of stomach acid
Best food sources of Vitamin B12: This vitamin is predominantly found in animal products such as fish, eggs, cheese, poultry meat.
Folic Acid (Vitamin B9)
Folic Acid is part of the vitamin B complex and is critical during pregnancy for development of brain and nerves. It is always essential for brain and nerve function and red blood cell formation. It is also needed for utilizing protein in digestion of food. Folic Acid is essential in helping prevent spinal bifida in pregnant women. It is in addition believed to be an effective antioxidant and could possibly protect from Alzheimer's disease.
Folic Acid works with other B-complex vitamins, especially B12. it is best supplemented as part of Vitamin B complex and eaten together with food. It is found in green leafy vegetables, whole meal bread, cereals and liver. You need 200 micrograms (mcg) a day. However pregnant women need 400 mcg micrograms (mcg) for at least the 1st three months of pregnancy. High levels can lead to reduced absorption of zinc and even a very mild deficiency of zinc can make you susceptible to infections like colds and flu's.
Signs of deficiency: Anemia, eczema, cracked lips, prematurely greying hair, anxiety or tension, poor memory, lack of energy, poor appetite, stomach pains, depression.
Robbers: High temperature, food processing and birth control pill.
Good Food sources of Folic acid: Nuts, Sesame seeds, wheat germ, spinach, broccoli and other foods from the cabbage family, avocadoes, asparagus, bean and alfalfa (Lucerne) sprouts.
Biotin is the eigth essential nutrient in the B complex vitamins. It is particularly important during childhood. It helps the body use essential fats, assisting in promoting healthy skin, hair and nerves. Biotin works with other B vitamins, magnesium and manganese. If deficiency is suspected it is best supplemented as part of Vitamin B complex and together with food.
Deficiency symptoms: Dry skin, poor hair condition, prematurely greying hair, tender or sore muscles, poor appetite or nausea, eczema or skin problems.
Robbers: Raw egg white, fried food.
Best food sources of Biotin: Eggs, Almonds, Fish and sea food, sweet corn, milk, watermelon, tomatoes, cherries and other red berries.
Vitamin C is one of the important antioxidants - strengthening the immune system by helping the body deal with pollution and fighting infection. It helps making anti-stress hormones, turn food into energy, and assist in keeping bones, skin and joints healthy. Vitamin C works with compounds called bioflavonids from fruits and vegetables which increase its effect. It works with Vitamin B to produce energy and with Vitamin E to boost its antioxidant functions.
Deficiency symptoms: See also the Vitamin C deficiency disease Scurvy: Joint pain or stiffness, backache, tooth decay, muscle cramps, hair loss.
Robbers: Smoking, alcohol, pollution, stress, fried food
Best food sources for Vitamin C: Pepper fruits, parsley, broccoli, water cress, food from the cabbage family, citrus and most other fruits, camel milk. Generally dark green vegetables and most fruits are the best sources of Vitamin C (tomato is a fruit). In arid and semi arid areas which have long periods of drought with no fruits and vegetables, camel milk is the best source of Vitamin C.
Vitamin D helps to keep the bones strong and healthy by retaining calcium. It is normally produced by the skin provided it has sufficient access to sunlight. People who work long hours indoors or keep their bodies covered by clothing may need to supplement Vitamin D from food or supplements.
Deficiency signs: Joint pain or stiffness, backache, tooth decay, muscle cramps, hair loss.
Robbers: Lack of sunlight, fried foods
Best food sources for Vitamin D: Fish and sea food, eggs and milk products
Vitamin E is an antioxidant protecting the cells from damage from pollutants and also against cancer. It helps the body use oxygen thereby preventing blood clots and atherosclerosis. It improves wound healing and fertility and is good for the skin. Vitamin E works together with Vitamin C and selenium.
Signs of deficiency: Slow wound healing, varicose veins, infertility, loss of muscle tone, lack of sex drive, easy bruising and exhaustion after light exercise.
Robbers: Frying and high temperature cooking, air pollution, birth control pills, excessive intake of processed or refined fats and oils.
Best food sources of Vitamin E: Unrefined corn and sunflower oils, seeds like sesame, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, beans, peas, wheat germ and whole grains, fish, sweet potatoes.
Vitamin K is especially important in assisting blood clotting. It is usually produced by the beneficial bacteria in the stomach, but sometimes these are accidentally killed for example by a course of antibiotics, or never produced as in case of babies with lack of breast feeding.
Sign of deficiency: Easy bleeding that does not clot easily
Good food sources for Vitamin K: Cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, peas, beans, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, asparagus, water cress, potatoes, unrefined corn oil and a bit in tomatoes and milk.
1. First compiled by Mukuhi Nganga July 2009
2. Reviewed by Alice Ndong 2010 -2011
Information Source Links
Holford, P. (2007). New Optimun Nutrition Bible. Piatkus Books, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, 100 Victoria Embankment, London EC4Y 0DY. ISBN: 978-0-7499-2552-9