History of Vitamins

From the time Dr. Casimir Funk coined the term “vitamin” in 1912, this invaluable nutrient has held a revered spot in the annals of health. Originally derived from the words “vital” and “amine,” vitamins have been used historically to combat diseases like scurvy and rickets. As research progressed, it was discovered that not all vitamins are amines, but they are all vital.

Throughout history, humans obtained vitamins through dietary sources, often adapting their diets based on seasonal availability and regional foods. For a deep dive into the rich history of vitamins, explore our comprehensive blog post on the topic and trace the journey of these vital nutrients through time.

Scientific Make-Up

Vitamins are organic molecules, necessary in small amounts to ensure normal metabolic functioning. Each vitamin has a distinct molecular structure, dictating its function and role in the body. Unlike macronutrients like fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, vitamins aren’t a source of energy. However, they play crucial roles as coenzymes, antioxidants, and hormones.

Their complex structures, which range from simple compounds like ascorbic acid to intricate molecules like cobalamin, allow them to assist in countless biological processes essential for survival. It’s worth noting that the body cannot produce most vitamins in sufficient amounts, which is why intake through diet, fortified foods, or supplements becomes essential.


Types of Vitamins

Vitamin A:

Vitamin A – Retinol: Vital for vision, growth, and skin health.

Vitamin B Complex:

Vitamin B1 – Thiamin: Crucial for energy metabolism and nerve function.
Vitamin B1 – Benfotiamine: A lipid-soluble form of thiamin, promoting healthy nerve function.
Vitamin B2 – Riboflavin: Essential for red blood cell production and energy release.
Vitamin B3 – Niacin: Supports nervous system, digestion, and skin health.
Vitamin B5 – Pantothenic Acid: Assists in producing energy from foods.
Vitamin B6 – Pyridoxine: Vital for brain development and function.
Vitamin B7 – Biotin: Supports skin, hair, and metabolism.
Vitamin B9 – Folic Acid: Vital for DNA synthesis and cell growth.
Vitamin B12 – Cobalamin: Required for nerve tissue health, brain function, and red blood cell formation.

Vitamin C:

Vitamin C – Ascorbic Acid: An antioxidant promoting healthy skin, wound healing, and immune functions.

Vitamin D:

Vitamin D3 – Ergocalciferol: Sourced from plants.
Vitamin D3 – Calciferol: Sourced from animals, vital for bone health.

Vitamin E:

Vitamin E – Tocopherol: An antioxidant supporting cell protection.

Vitamin K:

Vitamin K1 – Phylloquinone: Found in green plants.
Vitamin K2 – Menaquinone: Produced by bacteria and found in animal products.


Benefits of Vitamins

The benefits of vitamins span a vast spectrum of health and wellness. From boosting immunity with the antioxidant power of Vitamin C, to the neural and cognitive support provided by the B-vitamin family, the advantages are multifaceted.

Vitamin D, which can be synthesised through sunlight exposure, is indispensable for calcium absorption and bone health. In tandem, Vitamin K ensures calcium is deposited appropriately in the bones.

Vitamin A, famed for its eyesight enhancement, also plays a role in immune function and reproduction. The skin, our largest organ, benefits from vitamins A, C, and E. These aid in skin repair, collagen formation, and protection against UV radiation.

Vitamins, in their varied forms, synergise to maintain homeostasis, optimising physical and mental health.


Forms of Consumption

The dynamic nature of vitamins allows for varied consumption methods, catering to individual needs and preferences.

1. Tablets/Capsules: Convenient, these are the most common forms, often fortified with minerals and other ingredients.

2. Liquid Forms: Ideal for those with swallowing difficulties. They can be added to drinks and are often favoured for children.

3. Gummies: A palatable option, especially for kids and adults who prefer a flavoured alternative.

4. Powders: Mixed with drinks or foods, these offer flexibility in dosing and can be combined with other supplement ingredients for a holistic health approach.

5. Softgels: Often used for oil-based vitamins like Vitamin E and D, ensuring maximum absorption.


Safety + Dosages

Vitamins, when consumed within recommended dosages, are generally safe. However, excess can lead to toxicity, especially with fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Water-soluble vitamins typically pose less risk, as they’re excreted through urine.

Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting a new supplement regimen. Dosages vary based on age, gender, and health conditions. For precise recommendations, research-backed studies provide comprehensive guidelines.


Use and Legality in UK, EU, US and Globally

Vitamins, given their essential role, are globally recognised for health promotion. In the UK and EU, strict regulations guide the manufacturing, labelling, and marketing of vitamin supplements. Claims made about their health benefits must be substantiated and approved by relevant agencies like the European Food Safety Authority.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t pre-approve vitamin supplements but monitors their safety post-market. Manufacturers are mandated to ensure the product’s safety and efficacy.

Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Codex Alimentarius provide guidelines on vitamin fortification, especially in areas with nutritional deficiencies.

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