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Vitamins: What Parents Need To Know

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Vitamins: What Parents Need to Know






Fresh fruits and vegetables contain a wide variety of vitamins as well as minerals and trace elements. Vitamins are important for our survival and if there is a deficiency it can cause serious illness.






What are Vitamins?

Jacoby and Youngson (2005) note that vitamins are chemical compounds necessary for normal body function. Nearly everything that happens in the body is mediated by chemical activators called enzymes, and vitamins are essential components in many of the enzyme systems of the body. Vitamins operate within the cells, assisting in the synthesis of tissue-building material, hormones, and chemical regulators; they participate in energy production; and they assist in the breakdown of waste products and toxic substances. The B group of vitamins, for instance, function as coenzymes, substances without which the vital enzymeaccelerated chemical processes of the body cannot occur or do so abnormally (Cavendish, 2003).

In general, people get all the vitamins they need from a normal, well-balanced diet. The quantities needed for health are very small. With the exception of vitamins C and E, vitamins taken in excess of the minimum requirement are simply wasted. In the case of vitamins A and D, excessive intake can actually be dangerous and even fatal (Jacoby and Youngson, 2005).

Vitamin deficiency is uncommon in well-nourished populations, but can occur if children are on fad diets or have a malabsorption disorder (Jacoby and Youngson, 2005).



What are the classifications of Vitamins?


Vitamins are divided into two groups—fat soluble and water soluble. The fat-soluble vitamins, which can be stored in the liver (and can be poisonous if taken in excess), are A, D, E, and K. The water-soluble vitamins, which are usually excreted from the body and so do not accumulate, are the B-complex and C vitamins (Cavendish, 2003).

Fat-soluble Vitamins


  • Vitamin A (retinol) is found in some animal foods and is produced from beta carotene in some plants. One of its main roles is the production of retinal, which is very important for effective vision. The body cannot produce retinal without vitamin A, and without retinal, the eyes cannot see (Reilly and Williams, 2003).

  • Vitamin D (calciferol) is normally supplied by sunlight. Rickets, a bone deformation caused by vitamin D deficiency, was common among children in British cities where smog blocked the sunlight. Cod liver oil, which contains substantial quantities of vitamin D, was found to be an effective cure. Cleaner air has mediated the need for this supplement (Cavendish, 2003).

  • The role vitamin E (tocopherol) plays in the human body continues to be studied; some scientists claim that therapeutic doses of vitamin E can help prevent heart disease. Others have not supported this theory, though there is agreement that intermittent claudication (cramplike pains in the legs caused by defective arteries) and retrolentral fibroplasia (blindness in premature infants) are helped by doses 20 to 40 times the recommended dietary intake.

  • Vitamin K (menaquinone) is made by bacteria in the intestine and can also be obtained from green leafy vegetables and liver. It is important for blood clotting (Cavendish, 2003).


 Water-soluble Vitamins



  • There are eight B vitamins: thiamine, riboflavin, niacin (also known as nicotinic acid and nicotinamide), pyridoxine, folic acid, cvanocobalamin, pantothenic acid, and biotin. They have several useful functions in the body, including the breakdown of glucose (which provides energy) and the breakdown of fats and proteins (for normal functioning of the nervous system). The B vitamins are also important for the healthy maintenance of the stomach and intestinal tract, skin, hair, eyes, mouth, and liver. Although they are water soluble, small amounts of the B vitamins are also stored in the liver (Cavendish, 2003).

  • Perhaps the best-known vitamin is vitamin C (ascorbic acid), which comes from fresh fruit and vegetables. Among other functions, it is important for the formation of collagen in the body. Collagen is a fiber contained in connective tissue, such as the skin. Humans are one of the few animals that do not produce their own vitamin C (Reilly and Williams, 2003). The American chemist Linus Pauling put forward the theory that large doses of vitamin C help prevent infections, especially colds, and prolong the lives of patients who are terminally ill with cancer. However, scientists who disagree argue that high doses of vitamin C may actually be harmful. Because vitamin C is water soluble, some believe that taking large doses is safe. In fact, high doses of vitamin C without medical supervision can lead to serious health effects, including the formation of kidney stones, abnormal heart rhythms, and a toxic release of inorganic iron, which can be fatal (Jacoby and Youngson, 2005).






Cavendish, M. (2003) How It Works: Science and Technology. Vol 19. 3rd ED Marshall Cavendish Publisher: New York. Publication.


Jacoby, D. B. And Youngson, R.M. (2005) Encyclopedia of Family Health. Vol: 17. Marshall Cavendish Publishing: New York.


Kramarae, C. and Spender, D. (2000) Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women: Global Women's Issues and Knowledge. Vol. 3: Routledge Publishing:


Reilly, T. and Williams, M. (2003) Science and Soccer: 2nd ED. Routledge Publishing: New York.



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