Vitamins are nutrients that cannot be synthesised by the human body (except for Vitamin D), and are essential for overall health. A healthy and balanced diet provides most of the vitamins required by our body and, mostly, there is no need to take any supplements. Vitamins are of two kinds: water soluble (vitamins B and C) and fat soluble (vitamins A, D, E and K). The most common cause of vitamin deficiencies is a poor diet. Those who suffer from mal absorption, digestive disorders or liver diseases are at the risk of fat soluble vitamin deficiencies and those with poor exposure to the sun are at the risk of Vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamins don’t need to be supplemented routinely in young people who consume balanced diets. Vegans, however, need Vitamin B12 supplements, those with poor exposure to the sun need Vitamin D supplements, and elderly people may benefit from multi-vitamin supplements. There is a myth that vitamins do not cause harm even if taken in excess, and that is not true. Fat soluble vitamins can cause toxicity if consumed in excess. It is also believed that taking vitamin supplements can lead to weight gain, but that isn’t true either. In all, a balanced diet and good exposure to the sun are the key to preventing vitamin deficiencies.
Deficiency: Vitamin A deficiencies can result in night blindness, dry eyes and the thinning of the cornea. Those with mal absorption, digestive disorders and liver disorders are at the risk of suffering from Vitamin A deficiencies. This continues to be a major health problem in resource poor countries Recommended dietary allowance: 3.3 IU per day (IU or international unit is used to measure fat soluble vitamins) Toxicity: Excess dosage over a long period can result in walking imbalances, hair loss and liver problems.
Sources: Leafy vegetables, carrots, papaya, kidney beans, egg yolks and butter.
VITAMIN B COMPLEX
Vitamin B complex comprises B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B12, folic acid and biotin. Vitamin B1: Found in good quantities in rice bran, cereals, yeast, legumes and pork. Thiamine deficiency can result in beriberi, which is characterised by heart failure and nerve damage. It can also cause Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome with altered consciousness level, difficulty in walking and psychiatric manifestations. Vitamin B2: Available in several foods such as fish, meat, eggs, milk and green vegetables. The symptoms of lack of riboflavin are usually mild such as mouth ulcers and cracking of lips. Niacin: Widely available in a variety of plant- and animal food sources. The deficiency can result in pellagra. Pellagra is characterised by four Ds – diarrhoea, dementia (memory loss and poor judgement), dermatitis (skin problem) and death. B12: The deficiency is very common among vegans because animal products are the only dietary source of the vitamin.
The deficiency is common in those consuming meat as well if they have a problem absorbing the B12 that they consume in their diets. The deficiency can result in anaemia, low blood count, neuropathy (with symptoms of loss of sensation, tingling in hands and feet and loss of balance) and dementia. Folic acid: It is available in a wide variety of animal products, leafy vegetables, fruits, cereals and more. It is seen in those who are malnourished or have a chronic alcohol consumption problem. The deficiency can result in megaloblastic anaemia like that of B12 deficiencies. Folic acid is routinely supplemented in pregnant women as it is shown to reduce brain anomalies in the offspring.
Deficiency: Lack of Vitamin C can result in scurvy, characterised by symptoms such as hair damage, skin bleeding and bleeding gums. The severe form of the disease can cause death as well Recommended dietary allowance: 75–90 mg per day
Toxicity: Excess dosage can lead to diarrhoea and bloating
Sources: Citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons, tomatoes, cauliflower, spinach and more
Deficiency: Can result in weak bones, low calcium levels and seizures in extreme cases. In children, the deficiency causes rickets
Recommended dietary allowance: 600 IU per day. For pregnant women and lactating mothers, 800 IU per day
Toxicity: If supplemented in excess, it can result in high calcium levels, which in turn can cause seizures and pancreatitis
Sources: Few foods such as fatty fish livers, salmon and canned tuna fish contain Vitamin D naturally. The major source of Vitamin D is the synthesis in our skins with the help of sunlight.
Deficiency: The lack of Vitamin K can result in clotting disorders and bruising, bleeding from the gums as well as bleeding in urine and stool. The deficiency, however, is rare among healthy adults
Recommended dietary allowance: 90 micrograms per day for women and 120 micrograms per day for men
Toxicity: Vitamin K toxicity is very rare
Sources: Leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, peas, pomegranate, basil, fennel and more
Deficiency: Since the vitamin is available in a wide variety of food items, its deficiency is rarely seen. The deficiency, however, can result in nerve and muscle diseases and hemolysis (premature death of red blood cells in the body)
Recommended dietary allowance: 15 mg per day for adults
Toxicity: If taken in excess, it may lead to bleeding manifestation and strokes due to bleeding in the brain (in rare cases)
Sources: Eggs, olives, apricots, oil and meat.
Dr. Boorugu's work interests include HIV, infectious diseases and obstetric medicine, besides general medical issues such as diabetes and hypertension, among other diseases. He is actively involved in teaching and research.