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Almost a century ago a scientist coined the term vitamine when describing a vital nitrogen (amine)-containing component of food. Vitamine was a condensed word for a vital amine-containing substance. However, as more and more vitamines were discovered, researchers observed that many did not contain nitrogen, so eventually the “e” was dropped from vitamine, converting it to the more familiar term vitamin.



What are vitamins?

For a substance to be added to the highly dignified list of vitamins, it must be recognized as an essential player in at least one necessary chemical reaction or process in the body. Vitamins are non-caloric substances and are required in very small amounts, typically micrograms (µg) to milligram (mg) quantities. A microgram and a milligram are one-millionth and one-thousandth of a gram, respectively. Also, vitamins cannot be made in the body either not at all or in sufficient quantities to meet our needs. We will discuss two vitamins (niacin and vitamin D) that can be made in the body, and two others (vitamin K and biotin) that are made by the bacteria inhabiting the large intestine. However, they are still considered vitamins, which will be explained shortly.

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What is the basic difference between fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins?

Because the basis of the body is water, it only makes sense that vitamins are grouped together based upon their ability to dissolve in water. There are ten water-soluble and four fat-soluble vitamins. Some general assumptions regarding the two different classes of vitamins can be made. For instance, water-soluble vitamins generally have limited storage ability in the body and are more susceptible to removal from the body in the urine (with the exception of vitamin B12). Therefore, it is logical to think that signs of a deficiency of a water-soluble vitamin may appear more rapidly than would fat-soluble vitamins’ symptoms when they are lacking from the diet.


Are there special considerations for fat soluble vitamins in the digestive tract?

Fat-soluble vitamins are very dependent upon the processes of normal lipid digestion and absorption, such as the presence of bile and the construction of chylomicrons in the cells lining our small intestine. Thus, any situation in which there is decreased bile production and/or delivery to our small intestine would greatly decrease fat-soluble vitamin absorption into our body. Because the presence of fat in the diet is the most powerful stimulus for bile delivery to the small intestine, it only makes sense that a nutrition supplement containing fat-soluble vitamins should be taken with a fat-containing food or meal.


What are B-complex Vitamins?

Decades ago researchers knew there was a complex of factors involved in proper energy metabolism in the cells. They called this the B complex. Soon researchers were able to identify the specific individual factors involved in the B complex. Hence, the classification of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, and B12. Folate, biotin, and pantothenic acid are also involved in the processing of energy nutrients and are thus included in the B-complex family. Vitamin C and choline are not included in the B-complex family with its water-soluble brethren because it is not directly involved in the chemical reaction pathways that either break down or build energy nutrients.

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