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Fat Soluble Vitamins


As the name suggests, these need fat to be absorbed into the body. They may also be stored in adipose tissue if amounts consumed exceed daily needs. They are not as readily excreted as water-soluble vitamins, which means they are not needed on a daily basis (so long as your average intake meets requirements). However, they are also much more potentially harmful if excessively large doses are taken for prolonged periods.


Vitamin A (Retinol, Retinal, Carotenes)

Functions: Vision (particularly night vision), reproduction, growth, tissue repair, bone formation, immune function, hormone synthesis. In beta-carotene (pro-vitamin) form, key antioxidant.

Deficiencies: Night blindness, impaired bone growth, increased susceptibility to infection, dry, rough skin (keratinization). Severe deficiency can lead to total blindness.

Toxicity: Of retinol: Red blood cell damage, abdominal cramps, blurred vision, irritability, bone pain, loss of appetite, diarrhea, nosebleeds, growth retardation, hair loss, skin rashes, dry skin, liver disease, nausea, vomiting, headache and increased cerebrospinal pressure. Of beta carotene and other carotenoids: Carotenization causing yellow skin (not pretty, but not harmful, either).

Interactions/interfering factors: Needs zinc and vitamin E to be properly stored in body. Needs iron for pro-vitamins to be transformed into usable vitamin A.

Animal Food Sources (Retinol): Whole or fortified milk, fish liver oils, tuna, shrimp, salmon, liver, eggs, some varieties of cheese.

Plant Food Sources (Carotenoids): Apricots, asparagus, avocado, bell peppers, beet greens, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, chili peppers, collards, dandelion greens, dulse, garlic, kale, mangos, mustard greens, papayas, peaches, pumpkin, romaine lettuce, spirulina, spinach, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, turnip greens, watercress, and yellow squash.


Vitamin D (Calciferol, cholecalciferol, ergocalciferol)

Functions: Calcium and phosphorus metabolism, bone formation, calcium absorption.

Deficiencies: Rickets in children, osteomalacia in adults, abnormal growth, joint pain, soft bones, muscle weakness, bony deformities, neuromuscular irritability.

Toxicity: Not possible from sunlight exposure. Over 1000 IU/day: raised blood calcium, constipation, irritability, weakness, nausea, kidney stones, mental and physical retardation, soft tissue calcifications.

Interactions/interfering factors: Not enough sunlight exposure, living above the 40th parallel, living in a polluted area, or having darker skin can impede the body?s ability to manufacture cholecalciferol.

Animal Food Sources: Fortified milk, fatty fish, shrimp, liver, eggs.

Plant and Other Food Sources: Sunflower seeds, mushrooms, fortified cereals and fortified non-dairy milks.

Non-Food Sources: Sunlight (manufactured in body from cholesterol when skin exposed to sun)


Vitamin E (Tocopherol)

Functions: Antioxidant, cellular membrane stability, red blood cell protection.

Deficiencies: Muscle wasting and cramps, restless leg syndrome, red blood cell damage, hemolytic anemia, hemorrhaging, reproductive failure, neurological abnormalities.

Toxicity: Rare (over 1200 IU). Can interfere with action of vitamin K, may cause headaches

Interactions/interfering factors: Large consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids depletes the body of vitamin E. Athletes and those living in polluted areas have an increased need.

Animal Food Sources: Organ meats, milk, eggs.

Plant Food Sources: Cold-pressed vegetable oils. Smaller amounts also present in dark green leafy vegetables (broccoli, kale, spinach), legumes, nuts, seeds, brown rice, cornmeal, dulse, kelp, oatmeal, mango, apples, soybeans, sweet potatoes, watercress, whole wheat, and wheat germ.

Vitamin K (Phylloquinone, menoquinone)

Functions: Blood clotting, protein synthesis, blood calcium regulation

Deficiencies: Rare except in newborn infants; increased blood clotting time.

Toxicity: Rare. May interfere with anti-coagulant medications (e.g. warfarin). Unlike other fat soluble vitamins, it is not as readily stored in the body.

Interactions/interfering factors: Excessive intake of vitamin E may interfere with clotting factor.

Animal Food Sources: Liver, egg yolk, milk

Plant Food Sources: Dark green vegetables, cabbage, bok choy, spinach, broccoli, kale, cucumber peel, soybean oil, alfalfa, green tea, apples.

Non-Food Sources: Bacterial synthesis in the digestive tract


Water-Soluble Vitamins


Absorbed directly into the blood stream, vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins circulate freely throughout the body, particularly the blood and intracellular fluid. The kidneys detect and remove excess amounts in the urine, and significant amounts are not stored in the body (with exception of vitamins B6 and B12), so these vitamins are needed in more frequent doses, preferably every eight hours, and at least every few days.


Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)

Functions: Supports nervous system function, participates in enzymatic energy release of carbohydrates, crucial role in TCA cycle and glycolysis.

Deficiencies: Mild: Depressed appetite, muscle weakness, fatigue, heart irregularity. Severe: Beriberi, edema, mental confusion, central nervous system complications, impaired growth, heart failure.

Interfering factors: Antibiotics, sulfa drugs and oral contraceptives may decrease thiamin levels in the body. A high carbohydrate diet or high alcohol intake increases the need for thiamin. Consuming large amounts of tea and coffee (including decaffeinated), diuretics, or eating raw freshwater fish or shellfish has been associated with thiamin depletion. Athletes and pregnant women are also at increased need for thiamin.

Animal Food Sources: Beef, pork, liver, fish, poultry, milk

Plant and Other Food Sources: Legumes, yeast, whole-grain and enriched breads and cereals, soybeans, tofu, oats, raisins, asparagus, brown rice, pasta, watermelon, oranges, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, potatoes, peanuts.


Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

Functions: Participates in enzymatic energy release of carbohydrate, fat and protein, promotes vision and skin health, benefits vision, needed for protein synthesis, aids conversion of tryptophan to niacin.

Deficiencies: Eye problems, weakness, sore throat, skin disorders.

Interfering factors: Oral contraceptives, diuretics, and strenuous exercise can deplete the body of riboflavin. Riboflavin is also easily destroyed by ultraviolet light, cooking, antibiotics, and alcohol. Athletes, pregnant women, and anyone with a high energy expenditure are at an increased need.

Animal Food Sources: Liver, beef, chicken, pork, most kinds of fish, milk, eggs, yogurt, most varieties of cheese

Plant and Other Food Sources: Enriched breads/cereals/pasta (note: riboflavin is not added to enriched rice), whole grains, potatoes, nutritional yeast, brewer's yeast, almonds, spinach, avocados, broccoli, mushrooms, strawberries, asparagus, sweet potatoes.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin, niacinaminde, nicotinic acid, nicotinamide)

Functions: Participates in enzymatic energy release of energy nutrients; promotes health of nerves, skin and digestive system, synthesis of hormones, fat metabolism, metabolism and elimination of drugs and chemicals in the body.

Deficiencies: Pellagra, dermatitis on body parts exposed to sun, diarrhea, dementia, loss of appetite, weakness, mental confusion, depression, irritability, fatigue

Toxicity: Rare, usually only due to large intake of supplements as nicotinic acid. May causes skin flushing and nausea, possible disturbed fat metabolism, possible early-onset of fatigue during exercise.

Interactions/interfering factors: Relatively stable during cooking. There is an increased need for athletes and pregnant women. Diuretics deplete the body of niacin.

Animal Food Sources: Meats, eggs, poultry, liver, fish

Plant and Other Food Sources: Cereal, pasta, mushrooms, potatoes, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, lentils, coffee, tomatoes, wheat germ, whole wheat products, yeasts.

Other Sources: Can be manufactured by body from the amino acid tryptophan (60 mg tryptophan = 1 g niacin) with the help of vitamins B2 and B6.


Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid, pantothenate)

Functions: Coenzyme in energy metabolism (component of Coenzyme A), needed for wound healing, proper function of adrenal glands.

Deficiencies: Extremely rare since it is very widespread in foods (the Greek panthos means "everywhere"). Nausea, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, tingling in hands and feet.

Toxicity: Possible diarrhea, usually only from excessive supplementation.

Interactions/interfering factors: Athletes and pregnant women are at an increased need, though supplementation is rarely necessary.

Animal Food Sources: Liver, beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, royal jelly

Plant and Other Food Sources: Brewer's yeast, fresh vegetables, kidney, legumes, mushrooms, nuts, broccoli, torula yeast, whole rye, and whole wheat.


Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine, pyridoxal, pyridoxamine)

Functions: Fat and protein metabolism, antibody formation, red blood cell formation, involved in converting tryptophan to niacin, protein synthesis, synthesis of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), function of central nervous system.

Deficiencies: Central nervous system disorders (most notably depression), seizures, dermatitis, anemia, muscle weakness, kidney stones. Marginal deficiency is common in the typical Western diet.

Toxicity: Only when supplemented at megadoses (200mg or more daily). Depression, fatigue, irritability, headaches, nerve damage which is possibly irreversible. Unlike most other B vitamins (with the exception of B12), it is stored in the body, though in very small amounts.

Interfering factors: Oral contraceptives, antidepressants, many OTC medications, and strenuous exercise deplete the body of vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 needs goes up in proportion to protein intake.

Animal Food Sources: Beef, pork, chicken, eggs, fish

Plant and Other Food Sources: Peas, spinach, sunflower seeds, walnuts, wheat germ, avocado, bananas, beans, blackstrap molasses, broccoli, brown rice and other whole grains, cabbage, carrots, cantaloupe, corn, dulse, plantains, potatoes, rice bran, soybeans, squash, watermelon, and tempeh.


Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin, cyanocoblamin)

Functions: Red blood cell formation, nervous system maintenance, regeneration of folic acid, metabolizing of body fats.

Deficiencies: Usually only seen in the elderly, and rarely in strict vegetarians. Pernicious, nerve degeneration, paralysis, smooth tongue, fatigue, dementia, and depression. B12 is one of two B vitamins (the other is B6) which is readily stored in the body; stores may last up to three years before deficiency symptoms appear.

Interfering factors: The elderly may lack the intrinsic factor needed to absorb B12. Needs adequate folic acid in order to be activated in the body. Inactive forms of the vitamin found in fermented foods such as soy tempeh and some sea vegetables may actually inhibit metabolism and absorption of usable B12.

Animal Food Sources: Meats, fish, poultry, milk, yogurt, eggs, yeast, cheese

Plant and Other Sources: Fortified cereals or other fortified foods, very small amounts in unwashed vegetables and fruits. Soy tempeh, miso, and sea vegetables are not reliable sources, as the bioavailability of their B12 is questionable. Bacteria in the GI tract produce some B12, but the availability and absorbability of this source is also questionable.


Folate (Folic acid, folacin)

Functions: Red blood cell formation, new cell division, protein metabolism, integral part of spinal fluid, needed to activate vitamin B12 in the body. May reduce risk of colon cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer?s, and may alleviate depression and anxiety.

Deficiencies: Anemia, diarrhea, smooth tongue, depression, heartburn. In pregnant women may lead to fetal birth defects, most notably spina bifida.

Toxicity: Excessive folic acid may mask B12 deficiency if one exists.

Interfering factors: Losses of up to ninety percent may occur during cooking. Supplementary folic acid is more stable than folate found occurring naturally in foods. Pregnancy, physical activity, injury, illness, stress, aluminum and magnesium antacids, and smoking all deplete the body of folate. Many drugs, including anti-seizure agents, beta-blockers, diuretics, and antibiotics interfere with absorption and metabolism of folate. Needs vitamin B12 to be activated in the body.

Animal Food Sources: Liver, beef, poultry.

Plant Food Sources: Green leafy vegetables, broccoli, eggplant, carrots, oranges, most legumes, spinach, quinoa, asparagus, most varieties of squash, and enriched breads, cereals, rice, and pasta. (By law all bread and cereal products must be fortified with folic acid.)


Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)

Functions: Antioxidant, synthesis of collagen (a structural protein necessary for building and repair of bone, muscle, and cartilage), adrenal gland function, wound healing, infection resistance, iron absorption.

Deficiencies: Anemia, scurvy, depression, infections, bleeding gums, muscle degeneration, poor wound healing, atherosclerotic plaques, capillary hemorrhaging.

Toxicity: Only possible at very large mega-doses of supplements. May cause nausea, diarrhea, red blood cell damage, nosebleeds, abdominal cramps. Possible iron overload, may reduce blood levels of copper and selenium. Abrupt cessation of megadoses may lead to deficiency symptoms.

Interactions/interfering factors: Aspirin, alcohol, analgesics, antidepressants, anticoagulants, oral contraceptives and steroids may reduce levels of vitamin C. Smokers, those under stress, and those living in polluted environments have an increased need for vitamin C. Vitamin C is readily destroyed by heat, exposure to oxygen, and exposure to alkaline (high pH or basic) solutions, and many food processing techniques; therefore fruit juices from concentrate are poor sources. Calcium and magnesium ensure that not too much vitamin C is excreted.

Plant Food Sources: Berries, asparagus, avocados, beet greens, black currents, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, collards, dandelion greens, dulse, grapefruit, kale, lemons, mangos, mustard greens, onions, oranges, papayas, green peas, sweet peppers, persimmons, pineapple, radishes, rose hips, spinach, strawberries, Swiss chard, tomatoes, turnip greens, and watercress.


Biotin (Vitamin H and Coenzyme R)

Functions: Coenzyme in energy metabolism, glycogen and fat synthesis

Deficiencies: Rare, usually induced by excessive intake of raw egg whites. Loss of appetite, nausea, depression, muscle pain, hair thinning, weakness, fatigue, rash, loss of hair, hallucinations.

Interactions/interfering factors: Raw egg whites contain a protein (deactivated by cooking) which destroys biotin. This is the only naturally known way of producing true biotin deficiency, but athletes and diabetics may be at an increased need for biotin.

Animal Food Sources: Eggs, cheese, poultry, pork, milk

Plant and Other Food Sources: Brewer?s yeast, raspberries, strawberries, cauliflower, small amounts in other vegetables and fruits, legumes, soybeans, whole grains.

Non-food sources: Manufactured by bacteria in GI tract.