Vitamins are chemicals that are important in maintaining good health therefore, deficiencies can lead to serious diseases or illnesses. Despite an increase in “megavitamin therapy” or “orthomolecular medicine” (practice of using large amounts of vitamins and mineral including supplements and IVs to treat varying conditions), many of the vitamins we need are found in nature with fruits and vegetables being the main source. For this reason, having a diet that is well-balanced guarantees an adequate daily intake of the chemicals needed because; as essential as they are, they are needed in minute doses. In fact, the measuring units used are micrograms and milligrams.

Referred to as “organic catalysts”; vitamins help to initiate numerous chemical reactions in the body and are unique in that they remain in the body even after being used. They also help with the body’s development with each having its own (sometimes multiple) function(s) and established daily allowances. The absence of even those needed in trace amounts can easily or quickly be felt by the body since they are important for bone formation, hair and nail growth, good sight, healthy teeth and gums as well as the overall growth and maintenance of the body. Energy and even emotional stability have both been linked to adequate intakes of these essential chemicals.

Vitamins were initially named using the alphabet, reflecting the order in which they were found. Overtime names were added or substituted as the numbers increased and more discoveries about the variations were made (the B complex for example).

The list of commonly know vitamins and their deficiency diseases include:

  1. Vitamin A (related to the chemical Carotene): Night-blindness and Keratomalacia
  2. Vitamin B Complex:
    • Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): Beriberi and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
    • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Ariboflavinosis
    • Vitamin B3 (niacin): Pellagra
    • Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid): Paresthesia
    • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): Anemia and Peripheral Neuropathy.
    • Vitamin B7 (Biotin or Vitamin H): Dermatitis and Enteritis
    • Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid): Asneural Tube and other defects if deficiency occurs during pregnancy
    • Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin): Megaloblastic Anemia
  3. Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid): Scurvy
  4. Vitamin D (Calciferol): Rickets and Osteomalacia
  5. Vitamin E: Mild Hemolytic Anemia in newborns (very rare)
  6. Vitamin K: Bleeding diathesis

Ninety-seven years after the first discovery, vitamins fall into two groups:

A, D and K can dissolve in fat hence are called fat-soluble vitamins while the B complex and C dissolve in water and are called water-soluble vitamins.

Vitamin deficiency is far more rampant in developing countries than it is within the developed world because the diets in each region often defer drastically with the former more likely to be lacking in daily essentials. Also, there is a higher tendency to use vitamin supplements or multivitamins within developed countries. In fact, Australia and New Zealand have established acceptable dosages of vitamin supplements for babies. Both countries have very low incidences of Rickets (Vitamin D deficiency) with most occasional cases being found in premature babies. However, some Caribbean countries have a very high rate of the disease although Vitamin D can be produced in the body with the aid of sunlight.