Ask the Pharmacist – Vitamins

Q. Can you review the various vitamins our body needs, the benefits they provide the body and the foods we can find them in?

A. Yes, last week we mentioned we would do so. See below for the main vitamins our body requires from A to Zinc.

Vitamin A:

Another name for vitamin A is retinol. Many of us think of vitamin A for its ability to keep our eyes healthy. Others may know the name retinol for its ability to fight off toxins thereby keeping our skin looking healthy. It also helps our immune system and is good for our teeth and bones too.

We can find vitamin A in yellow- and orange-coloured fruits and vegetables such as carrots, cantaloupe and mangoes.

Though vitamin A sounds like it can do so much good, it can also do harm if we get too much since it is a fat-soluble vitamin (meaning that our body stores extra in our body rather than excreting what we do not use). For most people, there is no need to take vitamin A in a supplement form.

Vitamin B:

Vitamin B complex is comprised of 8 different B vitamins. Since many people do not appear to get the recommended daily allowance of the B vitamins, manufacturers of cereals, breads and pastas add B vitamins to their products thereby reducing the risk of a B deficiency. Otherwise, you can find B vitamins in green leafy vegetables and animal protein. You may want to consider a B complex supplement if you are a vegetarian and avoid those fortified food choices.

B vitamins help us turn our food we consume into energy in our body and is required for our body to metabolize carbohydrates, protein and fat. It is also known to help maintain normal brain function and memory along with improving our cardiovascular health. Vitamin B is involved in the production of our blood cells and also plays a role in our nervous system.

Vitamin C:

Vitamin C can be found in many fruits and vegetables and is therefore an easy vitamin to get naturally. Vitamin C is an anti-oxidant, meaning that it can protect you from the free radicals that damage our cells. It also helps our body make collagen. So rather than spending money on a collagen supplement (which we discussed in a prior column), why not reach for an orange and get even more added benefits for your body? Vitamin C improves our immune system and also our skin health and is also good for our bones and teeth. If you are finding you are iron deficient, consider adding vitamin C rich foods to your diet since vitamin C helps to improve the absorption of iron in the body.

Vitamin D:

Vitamin D gets activated in our body with exposure to ultraviolet light. Considering our location within the hemisphere, it might be best to look to alternatives especially during the winter months. We can also find vitamin D in fatty fish and cod liver oil and there are cereals, juices and milks that are fortified with vitamin D. You may also take a vitamin D supplement to boost your intake. Vitamin D plays a role in our immune function, our nervous system, our bone health and helps to regulate our calcium and phosphorous blood levels.

Vitamin E:

Vitamin E can be found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, avocados and whole grains. Its antioxidant property helps protect our cells from unwanted damage caused by toxins and reducing our risk of cancers. It also reduces our risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Due to these positive effects, there was a time that it was encouraged to take high doses of vitamin E to reap these benefits. However, vitamin E is also responsible for dilating our blood vessels and preventing blood clots which in turn can become problematic in higher doses. For a few decades now, the maximum recommended dose to take has be lowered to 400 IU to reduce the risk of excess bleeding.

Vitamin K:

Vitamin K is crucial for blood clotting and can be found in green leafy vegetables. Vitamin K is also good for our bones, enhances the healing of our wounds and reduces our risk of heart disease.

Calcium:

Many of us think of our bone health when we think of calcium since it helps strengthen our bones, teeth and reduces our risk of osteoporosis. However, calcium also helps to send messages from our brain to the rest of the body as well as playing an important role in muscle function. Calcium can be found in dairy (milk, cheese, yogourt) as well as tofu, spinach, broccoli, and almonds.

Iron:

Iron’s role in the body is to help deliver oxygenated blood throughout the body which helps provide energy, improve our brain function and its ability to concentrate as well as improving our immune function. Therefore, it is no surprise to learn that when we are low in iron, it can leave us feeling fatigued and lower our immune system. Iron is found in red meats, green leafy vegetables, and legumes. For those of us that avoid meat products in our diet or have reduced our intake of red meats over the years to improve our heart health, there is an increased risk of becoming deficient in iron.

Zinc:

Our body requires only a small amount of zinc and should be easily attained for most of us through our diet by eating red meat, poultry, beans, nuts and whole grains. Zinc does help us with our immune system as well as our risk of cancer.

To answer the question of which vitamins you should take, that needs to be addressed on a personal level. If you have a deficiency in your body for a specific nutrient and it is difficult to ingest the required amount of the said nutrient through your diet, then it makes sense to take it by a supplement. Since we do live in an area that does not see much sunlight, it may make sense for most of us to take a vitamin D supplement.

For more information on this or any other topic, contact the pharmacists at Gordon Pharmasave, Your Health and Wellness Destination.