Without vitamins, our bodies would very quickly cease to function properly. Vitamins are essential to the day-to-day running of our bodies, helping to protect us from disease, recover from illness, maintain healthy bones, bolster our immune systems, convert food into energy and repair damage to our cells.
However, most vitamins we cannot produce ourselves, meaning they need to be consumed in our diets, either in food or supplements. There are thirteen known vitamins, each of which we only require in very small amounts, which is why they tend to be measured in milligrams (mg) and micrograms (mcg). Here are some of the most important to the functioning of our bodies.
Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin not stored by the body, meaning it must be taken in our diets every day. It is perhaps best known for its healing qualities, with one study in particular finding a connection between the speed at which cells repaired themselves and the amount of vitamin C that had been taken.
People with sufficient levels of vitamin C – 90 mg for men, 75 mg for women – are thought to be better equipped to fight off infections and inflammation, repair damage to tissue, and recover more quickly from grazes, cuts and wounds. It can also help in the absorption of iron and improve cardiovascular functions of the body.
The best sources of vitamin C come from fresh fruit and vegetables, including oranges, potatoes, tomatoes and spinach. Those lacking in vitamin C, such as smokers and those lacking variety in their diet should refer to Dr Levy – The Best Types of Vitamin C for recommendations on the best supplement to take.
Vitamin D is one of the only vitamins produced by the body, occurring when the skin is exposed to sunshine, while it can also be found in certain foods, such as fish, egg yolks and fortified cereals. Many people, particularly those living in colder climates, tend to suffer from a deficiency of vitamin D, which can have an impact on the maintenance of healthy bones, the functioning of the immune system and the regulation of insulin.
The recommended intake varies between 10 micrograms for children to 20 micrograms for older people, which equates to roughly five to ten minutes of sunlight per day. For those who are not able to get sufficient exposure, they should take supplements to fend off a deficiency. According to a recent study, more than 40% of Americans are thought to suffer from low levels of vitamin D.
Commonly known by its alternative name folate, vitamin B-12 is an essential branch of B vitamins that are required for the healthy functioning of nerve tissue and the brain, as well as the production of red blood cells.
It is a water-soluble vitamin that can be found in a range of different foods, including red meat, fish, dairy products and eggs.
Maintaining sufficient levels of B-12 is essential to avoid potentially irreversible damage to the nervous system and brain.