The scientific history of vitamins is still recent. For centuries, people have wondered about the appearance of strange diseases, which manifested themselves in strong pains of mysterious origin. Little by little, the doctors came to suspect a food cause, and they then most often ensured the healing of the patients by a change of diet.
Finally, at the beginning of the last century, the existence of vitamins was highlighted during experiments on humans and on laboratory animals. It was thanks to the work of a Polish-American scientist Casimir Funk on beriberi (a disease that spread to the Far East at the end of the 19th century, where food was almost exclusively made from husked rice) discovered the first vitamin in 1912. It was contained in the husk of rice and cured the experimental poly neuritis of the pigeon … it is vitamin B1. He isolated complex of micronutrients essential to life, which he presumed to be amines. After this presumption was later determined to be untrue.
In 1921, British biochemist Sir Jack Cecil Drummond suggested combining the use of letters from the alphabet with the term “vitamin”. Since then, vitamins have become known as vitamins A, B, C and so on. The first vitamins were thus identified, their chemical formulas established, and subsequently, scientists were able to synthesize them. All vitamins were discovered or identified within 1913 and 1948.
Types of vitamins
There are 13 different vitamins, which we classify into two groups. Water soluble and Fat- soluble vitamins are classified according to a simple criterion: their solubility.
These are vitamin C ( Ascorbic acid) and group B vitamins: B1 ( Thiamin), B2 ( Riboflavin), B3 ( Niacin), B5( Pantothenic acid) ,B6 ( Pyridoxine), B8 or vitamin H ( Biotin), B9 ( Folic acid), B12 ( Cobalamin).
They are so called because they are soluble in water, and therefore disperse in body fluids, without being stored. This factor makes them very little toxic, since even in case of over consumption, they are evacuated in the urine.
Since they accumulate little in the body, it is essential to consume them. As they are eliminated quickly, little is known about disorders due to an excess of water-soluble vitamins. It also means that if the diet does not regularly provide more than 50% of the recommended intake, small deficiencies may develop. In general, fruits and vegetables mainly provide the water-soluble vitamins.
In order for the body to have vitamins for longer, it is recommended to consume vitamins (food or supplements) at intervals as much as possible throughout the day.
Fat- soluble vitamins
They are so called because they are dissolved and stored in fatty tissue, which are stored by the body and can make them toxic in high doses. They bind to the lipids ingested and are absorbed at the same time as the products of the digestion of lipids.
They are stored in fats, which gives them a presence of several days or even months. This long-term storage is an advantage but it can also become a big disadvantage, because the vitamins thus stored can accumulate in the various organs of the body, in particular the liver, if the intakes are too high and the expenses too low. This property also means that they can be supplied on a less regular basis than water-soluble vitamins.
Caution should therefore be exercised, avoiding excessive consumption. In general, food lipids (oils, fatty fish, egg yolks, organ meats, liver, etc.) provide fat-soluble vitamins, except vitamin D, the only interesting source of which is the sun.
Why are vitamins important?
Vitamins are essential for the functions of metabolism, the nervous system, brain functions, digestion and the cardiovascular system. Vitamins (called micro nutrients because our bodies need them in small or very small quantities) have no energy value.
If they have no energy value but they contribute to the transformation of fats, proteins or carbohydrates into energy and perform important functions in the synthesis of bones and tissues. Besides contributing to a good metabolism, Vitamins also contribute to the growth and preservation of body tissue as well as to muscle development.
In addition, vitamins by limiting the effects of oxidation stress protect us from cellular damage caused by free radicals (molecules that come from the same oxygen that we breathe for life, but that are particularly harmful because they attack our cells and their constituents, and represent one of the essential causes of our aging).
A deficiency in vitamins
Food companies have made many efforts to create and market foods with little or no nutritional value, what we commonly call “junk food”. Our habits are to eat ready meals, which increases exposure to many diseases. You should focus your diet on fruits and vegetables. Adding super foods is part of the solution to help you improve your health and well-being.
In general, vitamins are easily absorbed through food. However, a poor diet or an unbalanced diet can lead to a deficiency of vitamins. Also, by a genetic defect, or disorders of the absorption of vitamins linked to a disease or the taking of certain drugs. Over a long period, taking antibiotics or medication can, for example cause vitamin deficiency.
High alcohol consumption or smoking are also reasons for insufficient vitamin intake. Vitamin intake must therefore be sufficient, especially during pregnancy, for adolescents, the elderly, athletes,… Hence, the importance of knowing more about vitamins, their impact on our body, the symptoms and causes of their possible deficiency.
What are minerals?
Like vitamins, minerals (or mineral salts) are essential substances for the proper functioning of the body. Most are found in unlimited quantities in nature, in the water of rivers, lakes and oceans, as well as in the soil. There are 22 in total, which make up about 4% of our body mass, and which are classified into two categories of Trace Elements and Major Minerals.
Called so because they are found in traces, and they together represent less than 15 g of the total body mass, there are 15 in total, among which are mainly: iron, zinc, copper, fluorine, iodine, chromium and selenium.
Minerals fulfill essential functions:
Minerals are part of the composition of enzymes and hormones, play a major role in the constitution of bones and teeth. They also help maintain the heart rate, muscle contraction, neuronal conductivity and acid-base balance.
Measurements for Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are measured in different ways. The most common are:
- mg – milligram
- mcg – microgram
- IU – international unit
Micrograms are used to measure very small amounts—there are 1,000 micrograms in a milligram. The size of an international unit varies depending on the vitamin or drug it is used to measure.
Are our daily intake of vitamins and minerals sufficient?
In theory, a balanced diet should provide all the vitamins and minerals the body needs. But numerous studies at international level have shown that significant proportions of the population do not receive the recommended daily intakes micro nutrients. Many people due to not following a sufficiently balanced and nutrient depleted diet do not receive sufficient intakes of vitamins and minerals.
Over the years, the quality of what we eat changes a lot. In fact, the vast majority of the foods consumed in our modern societies go through treatments such as pre-cutting, pre-washing, pre-cooking, ionization, pasteurization, etc. as well as intensive agriculture is responsible for a depletion of soil nutrients, which are therefore no longer found in plants.
On the other hand, the increase in additives and pollutants also reduces the levels of antioxidants and inevitably contributes to reducing the micro nutrient content. In addition to many other factors that we find ourselves with most of the time, such as stress, smoking, pollution, sports, sun exposure, age, medications increase our need for vitamins and minerals.
It therefore appears that it is often difficult to achieve a single and perfectly balanced diet to meet all the micro nutrient needs. In reality, our modern diet generally provides a minimum of vitamins so that our body does not manifest acute symptoms, but the deficits caused most often have long-term repercussions and are harmful to health.
To be fit and stay healthy, it is important to get enough vitamins and minerals every day: these micro nutrients perform essential functions in our body, both in terms of energy metabolism and in terms of the very structure of the body. Depending on your personal situation, it may then be advisable to use micro nutrient supplementation, daily or circumstantial, in order to compensate for the limits of modern food, and thus preserve your health.
Keep in mind that the consumption of food supplements, which we believe is necessary in order to make up for any deficits, should not be used as an excuse for an unbalanced diet! Complete customization of your needs may require a blood test and monitoring by a professional specialized in nutrition.