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How to Know What Vitamins — and How Much — Your Body Needs

Vitamins in your diet regulate you bodily functions. They prevent nutritional deficiency diseases, promote healing, and encourage good health. Vitamins are essential for building body tissues ,such as bones, skin, glands, nerves, and blood. They assist in metabolizing (digesting) proteins, fats, and carbohydrates ,so that you can get energy from food.

Your body needs at least 11 specific vitamins: vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin C, and the members of the B vitamin family: thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin, vitamin B6, folate, and vitamin B12. Two more B vitamins — biotin and pantothenic acid — are now believed valuable to your well-being as well. And one unusual compound called choline has recently received some favorable mention.

You need only miniscule quantities of vitamins for good health. In some cases, the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs), determined by the National Research Council, may be as small as several micrograms (1/1,000,000 — that’s one one-millionth — of a gram).

Nutritionists classify vitamins as either fat soluble or water soluble, meaning that they dissolve either in fat or in water. If you consume larger amounts of fat-soluble vitamins than your body needs, the excess is stored in body fat. Excess water-soluble vitamins are eliminated in urine.

Large amounts of fat-soluble vitamins stored in your body may cause problems. With water-soluble vitamins, your body simply shrugs its shoulders, so to speak, and urinates away most of the excess.

Medical students often use mnemonic devices — memory joggers — to remember complicated lists of body parts and symptoms of diseases. Here’s used to remember which vitamins are fat-soluble: “All Dogs Eat Kidneys.” Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble. All the rest dissolve in water.

All vitamins have specific jobs in your body. Some have partners. Here are some examples of nutrient cooperation:

  • Vitamin E keeps vitamin A from being destroyed in your intestines.

  • Vitamin D enables your body to absorb calcium and phosphorus.

  • Vitamin C helps folate build proteins.

  • Vitamin B1 works in digestive enzyme systems with niacin, pantothenic acid, and magnesium.

Sometimes, one vitamin may alleviate a deficiency caused by the lack of another vitamin. People who do not get enough folate are at risk of a form of anemia in which their red blood cells fail to mature. As soon as they get folate, either by injection or by mouth, they begin making new healthy cells. That’s to be expected. What’s surprising is the fact that anemia caused by pellagra, the niacin deficiency disease, may also respond to folate treatment.

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