Urban Crusing

Health ABCs

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Everyone knows that vitamins are essential for health, but do you really know what they are for and , most importantly, where to find them besides the overflowing isles of your nearest health food store?

Here is an easy basic break down.

Vitamin A.

Vitamin A is is important to vision, especially the ability to see in the dark. A deficiency of vitamin A leads to xerophthalmia, which causes irreversible damage to the eyes and blindness. Vitamin A deficiency is a major cause of blindness in the world. Vitamin A is also important to maintaining healthy skin and it helps the body to resist infection. Vitamin A is important for the immune system, and it keeps skin and mucous membrane cells healthy. Vitamin A helps to fight cancer by inhibiting the production of DNA in cancerous cells. It slows down tumor growth in established cancers and may keep leukemia cells from dividing.

Good sources:

orange fruit and vegetables, dark green vegetables, dairy

Vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 has health benefits for young and old alike, and everyone in between. It combats asthma in children, has shown promise against HIV in adults, and has helped the elderly who find their minds aren't as sharp as they used to be.

Experts have found that when mental symptoms are treated with vitamin B12 within six months of onset, many of the symptoms disappear or mental clarity improves.

B12 also plays a role in melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone responsible for letting you get a good night's sleep. As we age, the body is less efficient at making this hormone. B12 supplementation has helped some older adults sleep better.

Several studies show that B12 dramatically increases sperm counts in men whose counts are low. The vitamin also jump-starts sperm's action, increasing motility rates. People with tinnitus, that constant ringing in the ears, are often deficient in vitamin B12. Supplementation diminishes the irritating ringing for some people.

Find it in:

Milk, eggs, poultry, fish, red meat.

Vitamin B Complex .

"Vitamin B" was once thought to be a single nutrient that existed in extracts of rice, liver, or yeast. Researchers later discovered these extracts contained several vitamins, which were given distinguishing numbers. Unfortunately, this has led to an erroneous belief among non-scientists that these vitamins have a special relationship to each other. Further adding to confusion has been the "unofficial" designation of other substances as members of the B-complex, such as choline, inositol, and para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), even though they are not essential vitamins.

Each member of the B-complex has a unique structure and performs unique functions in the human body. Vitamins B1, B2, B3, and biotin participate in different aspects of energy production, vitamin B6 is essential for amino acid metabolism, and vitamin B12 and folic acid facilitate steps required for cell division. Each of these vitamins has many additional functions. However, contrary to popular belief, no functions require all B-complex vitamins simultaneously. The good news? Most of the B Complex can be found in similar foods.

Good sources:

Richest among all the vitamin B complex foods are milk, yeast, liver, whole-grain cereals, nuts, eggs, yogurt, fruits, meats and leafy vegetables.

Vitamin C.

Vitamin C may be the most familiar of all of the nutrients. Although most adults would be hard pressed to name a good food source of biotin or riboflavin, most everyone can name citrus fruits good sources of vitamin C. It is also a commonly used nutritional supplement, with many outsized claims for its clinical efficacy.

The first use of modern scientific methods to assess disease treatment was when the British navy used foods containing vitamin C (although the vitamin itself would remain undiscovered for nearly two centuries) to prevent scurvy among sailors. You could make a good case that this nutrition experiment is among the most important scientific findings in human history.

Though most of us are familiar with vitamin C and can name foods that contain it, it is to this day a common nutrient deficiency. This is a shame because so many tasty and easy-to-prepare foods deliver large amounts of this nutrient.

Vitamin C is probably best known in the modern world as an antioxidant. This is a word that we use frequently but is surprisingly hard to understand or define. If we define free radicals as a smoldering fire creating damage to body structures, then antioxidants are best described as a fire extinguisher, able to neutralize these radicals, and dispose of them without creating any damage along the way.

Dietary vitamin C has been shown to fit this description well. Some of the items possibly protected by dietary vitamin C include the lens of the eye, cholesterol in the blood stream, and DNA in your cell nucleus.

One interesting application of vitamin C as an antioxidant is its ability to reduce iron into a state that is better absorbed in the intestine. Including vitamin C-rich foods in recipes with your best iron sources can potentially be a way to enhance iron absorption.

Vitamin C is required to produce collagen, a protein that plays a critical role in the structure of our bodies. Collagen is the framework for our skin and our bones, and without it, we would quite literally fall apart.

This is exactly what we see with severe vitamin C deficiency, or scurvy. People who have this condition lose teeth, bleed easily, and lose the strength of their bones. Luckily, it doesn't take much vitamin C to prevent this problem. As we've known for more than two centuries, a single lime per day should be enough.

Vitamin C is necessary to make certain neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are the signals that carry thoughts, feelings, and commands around our brains.

In particular, we need vitamin C to produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter that is affected by the most commonly used medications for depression. While we are not suggesting that vitamin C from foods or from supplements would have a similar effect to drug therapies for depression, we do recommend including fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet regularly as part of an overall mood support strategy.

Good sources: 

citrus fruit, papaya, strawberries, pineapple, kiwifruit, cantaloupe, raspberries, cranberries, watermelon, green leafy vegetables, fermented foods.

Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is a nutrient found in some foods that is needed for health and to maintain strong bones. It does so by helping the body absorb calcium (one of bone's main building blocks) from food and supplements. People who get too little vitamin D may develop soft, thin, and brittle bones, a condition known as rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.

Vitamin D is important to the body in many other ways as well. Muscles need it to move, for example, nerves need it to carry messages between the brain and every body part, and the immune system needs vitamin D to fight off invading bacteria and viruses. Together with calcium, vitamin D also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis. Vitamin D is found in cells throughout the body.

Good sources:

Dairy, sun

Vitamin E.

Vitamin E is more than an ingredient in many skin products. It also helps keep us beautiful on the inside by protecting our heart, diminishing the oxidation of fats (such as those in LDL – the “bad” cholesterol), and helping protect body tissues from free radical attack. By fending off free radicals, Vitamin E limits their damage and helps keep our cells healthy.

Good sources:

Nuts, vegetable oils, grains, green leafy vegetables

Vitamin K.

Vitamin K may very well be “the next vitamin D” as research continues to illuminate a growing number of benefits to your health.

It is probably where vitamin D was ten years ago with respect to its appreciation as a vital nutrient that has far more benefits than was originally recognized.

And, according to Dr. Cees Vermeer, one of the world’s top researchers in the field of vitamin K, nearly everyone is deficient in vitamin K – just like most are deficient in D.

Vitamin K measurements in blood plasma can be done accurately, but the results are not necessarily helpful because they mainly reflect what you ate yesterday. Because of this, we will have to trust Dr. Vermeer on his assessment that most are too deficient to reap all of its health benefits. Vitamin K researchers across the world will acknowledge him as a leader in this field.

Most people get enough K from their diets to maintain adequate blood clotting, but NOT enough to offer protection against the following health problems—and the list is growing:

  • Arterial calcification, cardiovascular disease and varicose veins
  • Osteoporosis
  • Prostate cancer, lung cancer, liver cancer and leukemia
  • Brain health problems, including dementia, the specifics of which are still being studied

Good sources:

Green leafy vegetables, egg yolks

*remember that vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, so it needs to be taken with fat for proper absorption.