What is a vitamin?
Vitamin is an organic substance that is necessary for small quantities for normal health and growth in higher forms of life. Vitamins are distinct from other biological compounds as proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids. Vitamins cannot be synthesized in the body to meet bodily needs and they must be obtained from the diet or any synthetic source. Small quantities of vitamins are needed to complete their functions. Particularly, these functions are of catalytic or regulatory nature, facilitate or control vital chemical reactions in body cells. Subsequently, biologists traditionally separate vitamins into two groups, fat-soluble vitamins, and fat-soluble vitamins. (1)
How do vitamin deficiencies occur?
Vitamin deficiencies occur at all ages and frequently co-exist with mineral (zinc, iron, iodine) deficiencies. The groups most common to vitamin deficiencies are pregnant and lactating women, and young children because of their relatively high needs for these compounds and susceptibility to their absence. These include death from various diseases, anemia, death during pregnancy or childbirth, and impaired cognition and physical development. Some of the most common vitamin deficiencies related to vitamin A, various vitamin B, folate, and vitamin D. (2)
Types of vitamin and their deficiencies
Symptoms of deficiency
|Vitamin A||Normal vision, the integrity of epithelial cells, reproduction and embryonic development, growth, and immune response.||Blindness, growth retardation, dry skin, diarrhea.|
|Vitamin D||Maintenance of blood and calcium levels, mineralization of bones.||Defective bone growth in children, soft bones in adults|
|Vitamin E||Protection of polyunsaturated fatty acids, cell membranes.||Breakdown of red blood cells.|
|Vitamin K||Synthesis of a protein involved in blood coagulation and bone metabolism.||Impaired clotting of blood and internal bleeding.|
Symptoms of deficiency
|Vitamin B1||Component of co-enzyme in carbohydrate metabolism supports nerve normal function.||Impairment of the nerves and heart muscles wasting|
|Vitamin B2||Component of co-enzyme required for energy production and lipid, vitamin, mineral, drug metabolism, anti-oxidant.||Inflammation of the skin, tongue, and lips; nervous symptoms|
|Vitamin B6||Component of co-enzymes in the metabolism of amino acids and other nitrogen-containing compounds, synthesis of hemoglobin, regulation of blood glucose levels.||Mental depressions, confusions, convulsions, anemia.|
|Folic acid||Component of co-enzyme in DNA synthesis, metabolism of amino acids, necessary for cell division and maturation of red blood cells.||Impaired function of red blood cells, headache, inflammation of the mouth, neural tube defects in the fetus.|
|Vitamin B12||Cofactor of enzymes in the metabolism of amino acids and fatty acids, normal blood function, and neurological function.||The smoothness of tongue, gastrointestinal disturbances, nervous symptoms|
|Vitamin C||Immune function enhances absorption of non-heme iron||Swollen and bleeding gums, soreness and stiffness of joints and lower extremities, bleeding under the skin and deep tissues, slow wound healing. (3)|
Vitamin deficiency anemia
Vitamin deficiency anemia is a lack of healthy red blood cells caused when you have a lower than normal amount of certain vitamins. Vitamins linked to vitamin deficiency anemia include folate, vitamin B-12, and vitamin C.
Symptoms of vitamin deficiency anemia:
- Shortness of breath
- Pale or yellowish skin
- Irregular heartbeats
- Weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Mental confusion
Vitamin deficiency occurs slowly over several months to years.
Folate deficinecy anemia:
Folate is also known as vitamin B-9, is a nutrient mainly found in fruits and leafy green vegetables. Deficiency also occurs if your body is unable to absorb folate. You might have difficulty in absorbing folic acid, the synthetic form of folate that is added to foods and supplements, if:
- You have a disease of the small intestine
- Intake of an excessive amount of alcohol
Vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia:
It occurs from a diet lacking in vitamin B-12 found in meat, eggs, and milk. Its most common cause is the lack of a substance called intrinsic factor, which can be caused when your immune system mistakenly attacks the stomach cells that produce this substance. This type of anemia is called pernicious anemia. Vitamin B-12 deficiency also occurs when your small intestine cannot absorb vitamin B-12 due to some reasons:
- You have had surgery on your stomach, like gastric bypass surgery
- May have abnormal bacterial growth in your small intestine
- Might have ingested a tapeworm from eating contaminated fish
Vitamin C deficiency anemia:
It can develop if you don’t get enough vitamin C from the food you eat. This deficiency also occurs if something impairs your ability to absorb vitamin C from food. For instance, smoking impairs your ability to absorb vitamin C. Certain chronic illnesses, like cancer or chronic kidney disease, also increase your risk of vitamin c deficiency anemia. (4)
Common signs you are deficient in vitamins
A diet lacking in nutrients may cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms. Recognizing them can adjust your diet accordingly.
Brittle hairs and nails:
Lack of biotin causes brittle hairs and nails. It is also known as vitamin B7 and it helps to convert food into energy. Obviously, Pregnant women, heavy smokers or drinkers, and people with digestive disorders are at great risk of developing biotin deficiency.
Food rich in biotin is egg yolks, fish, meat, dairy products, nuts, seeds spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, whole grains, and bananas.
Diet lacking in vitamin C causes bleeding gums. As well as that, vitamin C plays an important role in wound healing and immunity. It can also even act as an antioxidant, helping to prevent cell damage. Along with this, another cause of vitamin c deficiency is scurvy which depresses the immune system, weakens muscles and bones, and makes people fatigued and lethargic. Consume vitamin C by eating at least 2-3 pieces of fruits and vegetables each day.
Poor night vision and white growth on eyes:
A nutrient-poor diet sometimes causes vision problems. For instance, lack of vitamin A causes night blindness, which reduces people’s visibility to see in low light or darkness. Apart from this, vitamin A is necessary to produce rhodopsin, a pigment found in the retinas of the eyes that help you to see at night. If left untreated night blindness can progress to xerophthalmia, a condition that damages the cornea and ultimately lead to blindness.
Symptoms of vitamin A toxicity causes nausea, headaches, skin irritation, joint and bone pain in severe cases coma, or death. (5)