Vitamins and Supplements
What are vitamins?
Vitamins are essential chemicals that take part in all your body’s processes. Each vitamin performs a specific function in the body, and there is no one type of food that contains all the necessary vitamins your body needs. Except for vitamin D, the human body cannot make vitamins. So you need to get vitamins from the foods you eat or from vitamin supplements. Deficiencies in essential vitamins can lead to serious health problems.
Antioxidant vitamins are known to boost your health. They work to neutralize the free radicals produced by your body. Free radicals are destructive to vital cell structures. These vitamins not only slow down the aging process, but they also reduce your risk of chronic illness. When you are under stress, antioxidant vitamins may also boost your immune system. For optimal health, be sure to include enough antioxidants-rich vitamins in your diet. Eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables every day.
- Vitamin A produces beta-carotene in the body which helps build and strengthen bones, skin, mucous membranes, and soft tissues. Sources include: apricots, peaches, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, guava, pumpkin, broccoli, kale, spinach, red peppers and carrots.
- Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, helps red blood cells form and aids in healing wounds. Ascorbic acid declines as your body ages and when you are under stress. Vitamin C boosts levels of the brain chemical noradrenalin. This brain chemical boosts alertness and increases concentration. Sources include: oranges, kiwi, grapefruit, strawberries, pepper, potatoes, broccoli, and tomatoes.
- Vitamin E, or tocopherol, helps maintain cell membranes and aids in red blood cell formation. This vitamin may slow the body’s age-related changes. A deficit in vitamin E may lead to an intestinal disorder of malabsorbtion. Although, you do not want to take too much of this vitamin or your risk of bleeding will increase. Sources include: peanut butter, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, margarine, safflower oil, corn oil, and cod-liver oil.
Vitamins for Women
The B vitamins are especially important for women’s health. They help build DNA, form red blood cells, and aide in brain functioning. During childbearing years, women should make sure they are receiving enough of these vitamins.
- Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, helps brain function and metabolism. Anemia can result if there is a deficiency in this vitamin. It is best to eat foods containing vitamin B6, rather than getting it through supplementation, because it can be toxic if you take too much. Sources include: bananas, avocados, cereal, oatmeal, seeds, meats, and oatmeal.
- Vitamin B12 aids in cell division, protein synthesis, and metabolism. A deficiency in this vitamin can also lead to anemia. Special diets, such as a vegetarian diet, may benefit from a vitamin B12 supplement. Sources include: eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, fish, and meat.
- Folate, or folic acid, not only helps to develop the central nervous system, but it also helps to make DNA and RNA. Alterations in DNA can lead to cancer; folic acid has been shown to prevent this. Pregnant women can significantly decrease the risk of birth defects, such as spina bifida, by taking folic acid. Low levels of folic acid are correlated with oral contraceptives, cigarette smoking, alcohol abuse, and a poor diet. Sources include: citrus fruits, strawberries, melons, asparagus, spinach, beans, fortified grains, nutritional yeast, organ meats, and eggs.
A Word about Supplements
In our world of pill-popping, it is easy to rely on vitamin supplements for good health; however, most dietitians recommend getting your essential vitamins through whole foods. Unlike vitamin supplements, whole foods provide your body with essential nutrients which aide in immune functioning and energy. Also, mega-vitamin supplements can lead to overdose if you are not careful. The risk of overdosing on vitamins by eating whole foods is not likely. Because premenopausal women loose more iron during menstruation, they may choose to take an iron supplement. Usually, women can obtain enough iron through whole foods after menopause. As a precaution, it is a good idea to talk with your doctor about these issues. You may have a medical condition or deficiency that would benefit from vitamin supplementation.
Written by Brittany Cotton