What are vitamins?
Vitamins are organic compounds that are crucial for the human body. They do not supply us with energy, but are used for many other essential bodily functions.
As their name suggests ('vita' means life), vitamins are essential for our survival. Unlike plants, our bodies cannot produce vitamins on their own. We therefore have to ingest them. The exceptions are Vitamin D and Vitamin B12, which are partly produced in the skin and intestinal flora. Because the body needs a constant supply of vitamins, but cannot produce them itself in sufficient quantities, healthy nutrition which supplies us with a wide range of vitamins is an essential requirement for health and wellbeing.
Some vitamins, such as Vitamin A, are ingested by us in the form of vitamin precursors – also known as provitamins – that are present in our food or nutritional supplements. Once inside the body, these provitamins are converted into active vitamins. An example of this process is beta-carotene. Found in carrots, it is converted by the body into Vitamin A (retinol), which is vital for our vision.
Water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins
Vitamins are either fat-soluble or water-soluble, according to which solvent they dissolve better in. The fat-soluble vitamins are:
- Vitamin A,
- Vitamin D,
- Vitamin E,
- Vitamin K
All the other vitamins, such as Vitamin C and the B Vitamins, are water-soluble.
While the water-soluble vitamins (with the exception of Vitamin B12) usually cannot be stored in the body, and therefore have to be regularly ingested with our food, fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the body.
Why are naturally occurring vitamins better for us?
Nature knows what is good for us. The vitamins that our bodies are best able to process and benefit from are naturally occurring ones. So if you want to supplement a fruit- and vegetable-rich diet with vitamin supplements, the best products to choose are those containing natural vitamins, or as near natural as possible. Another advantage of naturally occurring vitamins (e.g. Vitamin C from acerola powder) is that they are free of the residues left behind by commercial manufacturing.
What should our vitamin intake be?
Anyone wanting to find out how much, and how many, vitamins he or she should be taking can often come up against a confusing array of recommendations. Official advice often varies from country to country, with different countries setting different levels. For example, recommended levels in Germany and other German-speaking countries are often lower than those recommend in other countries, and many experts consider the German levels too low.
In any case, recommendations on nutrient intake can be subject to change. In 2012, the German Institute for Nutrition (DGE) raised its RDA for Vitamin D for normal healthy adults from 5 to 20 mcg per day. And on a case-by-case basis, individual requirements can often diverge significantly from the official guidelines, particularly in times of illness. Anyone wanting to find out his or her own individual requirements should consult a doctor, complementary health practitioner or pharmacist, ideally one with orthomolecular training, who can best advise on vitamin intake.