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WHAT IS A VITAMIN? FAT SOLUBLE VERSUS WATER SOLUBLE VITAMINS.

By Dr. Keith E. Lewis
May 21, 2008


A vitamin is an extremely complex organic substance needed in very small amounts in the diet, but is essential for human life and metabolic processes. Metabolic processes would include growth, maintenance, and health. The body is not capable of producing sufficient quantities of vitamins to supply its needs under normal circumstances. There are some substances that we would call vitamin-like substances that are not considered essential since the body's tissues are usually able to produce them in sufficient amounts. Sometimes, they are supplied as composite parts of vitamin complexes of other nutrients. 

Each vitamin has its own unique function in the human body and cannot be replaced by any other substance. Vitamins, for example, as coenzymes, perform principally as regulators of metabolic activity at a physical and chemical level at a cellular level. These processes play important roles in energy production. Vitamins are obtained typically from foods and are an integral part of a nutritive mix or compound which is exquisitely interlaced and fused with the whole food itself. Some vitamins are just provitamins or they are precursor to a whole food vitamin preparation. In other words, these precursors are converted into the required active substances within the body. Although vitamins often times are considered to be a single substance, each vitamin is actually a group of chemically related compounds. Separating or fractioning the group or the compounds into a single incomplete vitamin portion converts it from a physiological, biochemical, active micronutrient into a disabled, debilitated chemical of little or no value to living cells. 

Traditionally, the most convenient way to classify vitamins is by their solubility.  Basically, what that means is, are they capable of being dissolved in water or fat.

Fat-soluble vitamins are soluble in fat solvents. In other words, they are held in fats and absorbed with dietary fats and offer integrated fats into the diet. Fat-soluble vitamins are insoluble in water. The fat-soluble vitamins would include the following: Vitamin A, D, E, K, and the essential fatty acids. Fat soluble vitamins typically are not excreted in the urine, but tend to be stored in moderate amounts in our bodies.

Water soluble vitamins of course are soluble in water and are thus suspended in water molecules and food. These will include all the vitamins of the B complex and C complex groups.

The traditional view of vitamins for many, many decades had been that they were compounds essential for preventing deficiency diseases and as coenzymes or activators in key physical and chemical reactions in the body. Now, as we understand more what vitamins do in our bodies, we are identifying new functions and roles that are being found by these vital nutrients. Vitamin needs by our human body vary from individual to individual. Nutritional requirements by individuals also vary from individual to individual, and although each person needs all the same nutrients, the quantities of each nutrient needed daily are distinctively different for every individual. Each individual human has patterns and needs all of his own, which in itself may vary due to environmental, circumstantial, and genetic conditions.

Most of our vitamins can be found in food and are either directly or indirectly produced by plants. The exceptions are vitamin D which can be produced in adequate amounts by the body utilizing the ultraviolet light from the sun and vitamin B12 which can be produced by fungus, soil microorganisms, and some bacteria. The intestinal bacteria normally also produce at least a portion of the needed vitamin K, as well as smaller quantities of some other B complex factors.  Nevertheless, vitamin-rich whole foods are still the only source or the most important source of virtually all vitamins. Some of the best sources of vitamins include seeds of all kinds including nuts, whole grains, and eggs, particularly the germ, which would eventually develop into a new plant or animal, yeast, yeast extracts, liver and some other organ meats, since the vitamins tend to concentrate in organ tissues in animals, and finally fruits and vegetables. How do we know if we are deficient to certain vitamins or minerals? A subclinical deficiency means the body's vitamin or mineral or trace mineral stores are gradually drained resulting in loss of optimal health and impaired body process that depend on that particular nutrient. In future articles, I will be discussing the various different vitamins, what foods they can be found in, and their importance in overall human health. Until then, I would recommend you consult with your family physician or healthcare provider for more information on vitamin, nutritional needs.

If you are experiencing any signs of deficiency or any symptoms, I would recommend contacting your physician.
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