How do vitamins work? – Ginnie Trinh Nguyen
A, C, E, D, B, K. No, this isn’t some random,out of order alphabet. These are vitamins,and just like letters build words,they’re the building blocksthat keep the body running. Vitamins are organic compounds we needto ingest in small amountsto keep functioning. They’re the body’s builders, defendersand maintenance workers,helping it to build muscle and bone,make use of nutrients,capture and use energyand heal wounds. If you need convincing aboutvitamin value,just consider the plight of olden day sailors,who had no access to vitamin-richfresh produce. They got scurvy. But vitamin C,abundant in fruits and vegetables,was the simple antidote to this disease. While bacteria, fungi and plantsproduce their own vitamins,our bodies can’t, so we have to getthem from other sources. So how does the body getvitamins from out there into here?That’s dependent on the formthese compounds take. Vitamins come in two types:lipid-soluble and water-soluble,and the difference between them determines how the bodytransports and stores vitamins, and gets rid of the excess. The water-solubles are vitamin Cand B Complex vitamins that are made up ofeight different typesthat each do something unique. These are dissolved in the watery partsof fruits, vegetables and grains,meaning their passage through the bodyis relatively straightforward. Once inside the system,these foods are digestedand the vitamins within them aretaken up directly by the bloodstream. Because blood plasma is water-based,water-soluble vitamins C and B have theirtransport cut out for themand can move around freely within the body. For lipid-soluble vitamins,dissolved in fatand found in foods like diary,butter and oils,this trip into the blood is a littlemore adventurous. These vitamins make it throughthe stomach and the intestine,where an acidic substancecalled bile flows in from the liver,breaking up the fat and preparing it forabsorption through the intestinal wall. Because fat-soluble vitamins can’t makeuse of the blood’s watery nature,they need something else to move them around,and that comes from proteins that attachto the vitamins and act like couriers,transporting fat-solubles into the bloodand around the body. So, this difference between water-or fat-soluble vitaminsdetermines how they get into the blood,but also how they’re stored or rejected from the body. The system’s ability to circulatewater-soluble vitaminsin the bloodstream so easilymeans that most of them can be passedout equally easily via the kidneys. Because of that, most water-soluble vitaminsneed to be replenished on a daily basisthrough the food we eat. But fat-soluble vitamins havestaying powerbecause they can be packed into the liverand in fat cells. The body treats these parts like a pantry,storing the vitamins there and rationingthem out when needed,meaning we shouldn’t overloadon this type of vitaminbecause the body is generally well stocked. Once we figured the logisticsof transport and storage,the vitamins are left to do the workthey came here to do in the first place. Some, like many of the B Complex vitamins,make up coenzymes,whose job it is to help enzymes release the energy from food. Other B vitamins then help the bodyto use that energy. From vitamin C, you get the ability tofight infection and make collagen,a kind of tissue that forms bones and teeth and heals wounds. Vitamin A helps make white blood cells,key in the body’s defense,helps shape bones and improves vision by keeping the cells of the eye in check. Vitamin D gathers calcium and phosphorus so we can make bones,and vitamin E works as an antioxidant,getting rid of elements in the bodythat can damage cells. Finally, from Vitamin K, we scorethe ability to clot blood,since it helps make the proteinsthat do this job. Without this vitamin variety,humans face deficiencies that cause a range of problems,like fatigue, nerve damage, heart disorders,or diseases like rickets and scurvy. On the other hand, too much of anyvitamin can cause toxicity in the body,so there goes the myth that loadingyourself with supplements is a great idea. In reality, it’s all about getting thebalance right,and hitting that vitamin jackpot.