When people touch on subjects like health and diet, they often confuse “vitamins” and “supplements” for the same thing. While, in everyday conversations, we sometimes end up using them interchangeably, there’s a difference!
Vitamins are naturally occurring nutrients that our body cannot synthesize on its own. The only way we obtain it is through the consumption of food and fruits that are rich in them.
The only exception is vitamin D as it is synthesized when the body is exposed to sunlight.
Supplements, on the other hand, are substances where these nutrients are added. Apart from vitamins, supplements can be of other nutrients as well such as Protein and Zinc.
They are consumed in the form of pill, tablets, capsules, powder or sometimes administered through injections.
‘Dietary supplement’ is usually an umbrella term for various types of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients.
Dietary supplements usually consist of multivitamins which are taken to promote health in other areas. (Although some dietary supplements like protein supplements are essential for people with protein and iron deficiency disease.)
On the other hand, pure vitamins are essential and need to be consumed if one is deficient in them.
Should You Be Taking Vitamin Supplements?
Consumption of vitamin supplements can actually be very tricky.
A lot of people assume that just because something is “organic” or “natural”, you should consume as much of it as possible.
However, this is not always the case.
A typical healthy body will only absorb the amount of vitamin that is required, all the excess will be discharged by the body through excretion.
So technically, if you maintain a balanced diet, you are spending money on supplements that your body is just excreting out.
Most importantly, excess of certain unrequired vitamins can also lead to toxicity and side effects.
For example, overdose of vitamin A can lead to confusion and lethargy. Excess vitamin D could lead to dehydration and kidney stones and overdosing on vitamin E could lead to excess bleeding.
Usually, older people and pregnant women are the top candidates to take essential supplements that their body cannot absorb in sufficient amounts.
Lastly, if a person is on any other medication, consultation is important to ensure that these supplements do not interact with it adversely.
This is why it is always recommended to consult with your health care adviser before the consumption of supplements.
Credit: foter Caption: sources of natural vitamin
Importance of Vitamins
Vitamin A- It is involved in cellular communication, immune system, reproduction and most importantly, vision.
This is because vitamin A is an important component of a protein that absorbs light in the receptors of the retina and is known as rhodopsin. The retina is the back of the eyeball which contains light-sensitive cells that send signals of vision to your brain via optic nerve.
It also promotes cell growth and helps maintain the functioning of important organs.
There are two types of vitamin A:
Preformed vitamin A, retinoids, that is found in animal products.
Provitamin A, carotenoids, that is found in plant-based products.
Both types are metabolized to retinal and retinoic acid, which is the active form of vitamin A.
Vitamin B- Although there are 8 types of vitamins, vitamin B6 and B12 are the most essential for the body.
Vitamin B6 – It is also known as pyridoxine and plays an important role in fat and protein metabolism and in the production of red blood cells especially in anemic patients.
Moreover, it is involved in the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine that regulate emotion.
Vitamin B6 improves brain function and reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Vitamin B12 – It is also known as cobalamin and is the most essential vitamin B that your body requires.
It serves as a cofactor for important reactions in your body like methionine synthase and L- methylmaloynl-Coa mutase.
Methionine synthase is important for the production of methionine, which is in turn important for protein, fats and enzyme synthesis.
L-methylamaloynl-coa mutase is part of an important reaction cycle for fat, protein and hemoglobin synthesis.
Vitamin C – Also known as ascorbic acid.
It is very important for the synthesis of collagen, a structural protein in many connective tissues and hence is very important for healing tissues.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant which basically means it reduces the damaging effects of extremely reactive oxygen compounds on the tissues.
Lastly, it plays an important role in the immune system and facilitates the absorption of nonheme iron in the body.
Another essential vitamin that is similar to vitamin C for it’s strong antioxidant nature and strengthening the immune system is Vitamin E
Vitamin D – The most important function of vitamin D is to maintain strong bones by absorbing calcium from food or supplements.
In addition, it is important for biological communication of muscle movement and nerve cells and also helps the immune system by fighting off bacteria and viruses.
It’s deficiency causes rickets in children, a condition where the bones become soft and break. In adults, it causes muscle ache, osteoporosis and arthritis.
Vitamin K – It is very important for blood clotting as it is responsible for the production of prothrombin.
Prothrombin is a vitamin K-dependent protein, and it’s important for the clotting factor that regulates clotting. This is why people on blood thinners or anticoagulants need to maintain a proper vitamin K intake. Another Vitamin K- dependent protein is Matrix Gla-protein and Osteocalcin, usually present in smooth muscles, bones and cartilage.
Credits: foter Caption: Various forms of supplements
Various Forms Of Supplements
Vitamin E capsules – This supplement is more often taken to promote additional health benefits like attaining healthy, soft skin and shinier hair rather as an essential dietary supplement to substitute for the lack of vitamins in the body.
Vitamin E capsules are an oral form of supplement. This fat-soluble vitamin is dissolved in vegetable oil and enclosed in a soft gel capsule.
After consumption, the vitamin is delivered to the skin of the scalp through sebum, the oily secretion produced by sebaceous glands.
The antioxidant nature of vitamin E promotes healthy hair by regulating blood circulation in the scalp, locking in moisture and restoring the outer lipid covering on the surface of the hair strands.
Vitamin C powder – Chemically, vitamin C is a very unstable compound. This is the reason why a majority of the vitamin C creams and oils are not preferred as when exposed to air, they easily get oxidized and are rendered ineffective.
This is why vitamin C powder is the most beneficial form of the supplement as when taken orally, there is no chance of oxidation.
The powder can simply be dissolved into water and then immediately consumed.
This supplement can be taken as an essential dietary supplement to avoid deficiencies or as a non-essential multivitamin to improve the texture of your skin, reduce dark spots and improve damaged hair.
Vitamin K injection – Vitamin k is responsible for regulating blood clotting factors. When there is a deficiency, Vitamin K is directly injected into the bloodstream through injections.
Not only are they effective but also the quickest form of treatment when patients who are on blood thinners come across accidents or minor injuries.
Vitamin K injections are also administered to newborn babies to avoid deficiencies as the transport for vitamin K from mother to baby through the placenta is very poor.
Moreover, breast milk also contains low levels of vitamin K.
Vitamin D capsules – Our Indian diet typically fails to meet the required amount of vitamin D that our body needs.
Studies have shown that the absorption of vitamin D is comparatively more difficult than other vitamins. Sometimes, our body is unable to convert vitamin D into its active form that absorbs calcium.
This is why vitamin D supplements are extremely popular and effective. Some of the most reliable vitamin D3 60000 IU Capsule brands are Fovit D3, D3 UP, Caldikind and Calotec D3
Credits: unspalsh Caption: vitamin B12 injection
Vitamin B12 injection – When taken orally, absorption of vitamin B12 depends on the protein called intrinsic factor, which is present in the stomach.
Therefore, people who have had stomach surgeries tend to lack this protein and suffer from a B12 deficiency.
This is why absorption is proven to be more effective when vitamin B12 is injected directly into the bloodstream.
Diagnosis for Vitamin deficiency
Vitamin B12 test
The test measures the amount of vitamin B12 in your body with either your blood or urine sample.
The test must be recommended by your doctor when the person is showing symptoms like:
Loss of appetite
Difficulty in balancing
During the test, the following levels are checked:
overall vitamin B-12
methylmalonic acid (MMA)
The average cost of vitamin B12 test is around Rs. 700
Vitamin D test
The Vitamin D 25-Hydroxy (Calcidiol) test measures levels of Vitamin D 25-Hydroxy in the body.
The major function of vitamin D in humans is the maintenance of calcium homeostasis.
Vitamin D deficiency is indicated by:
Impaired wound healing
It is a good indicator of osteoporosis and rickets.
The cost of vitamin D tests range from Rs. 700 – 4000 depending on the location and lab type.
credit: unsplash Caption: lab test for vitamin deficiency test
Vitamin A test
Beta Carotene test checks the levels of Carotene, a nutrient that is a precursor to vitamin A obtained from a plant source. In short, having a beta carotene deficiency leads to low levels of vitamin A in the body.
Retinol test directly measures the level of vitamin A that is required to produce photoreceptors in the eyes and to maintain the lining of the surface of the eyes and mucous membranes. Retinol is absorbed from animal sources like fish and eggs.
Protein Deficiency Disease
Proteins have many functions.
They form enzymes which are essential for all biochemical reactions in our body and check metabolism. It is also responsible for the production of pigments like melanin that is found in hair and nails. Another pigment it helps form is rhodopsin, the pigment that enables us to see in dim light.
Proteins are important building blocks of blood and play a major role in the immune system.
They are also essential components of muscles, bones and cartilage.
Deficiency of protein is caused either due to lack of protein consumption in a person’s diet or the body’s inability to absorb proteins.
General symptoms due to poor protein consumption are:
Loss of muscle mass
Skin, hair and nail problem
Increased risk of bone fracture
Credit: Foter Caption: protein powder
The most common form of protein supplement is powdered protein. It is effective in building muscles, increasing strength and boosting metabolism.
Powders are concentrates made by extracting protein from the starting material like liquid whey through the use of heat or enzymes.
Extreme cases of protein deficiency
Kwashiorkor– It is a form of malnutrition caused by the lack of protein in the body. It is most common in Africa.
The body part appears to be emaciated except for the ankles, feet, and belly, which swell with fluid.
The disease can be treated introducing extra calories and protein into the diet but is extremely life-threatening if the problem is left unattended. Delayed treatments lead to coma and permanent mental and physical disabilities.
Marasmus- This is another form of severe malnutrition.
The most distinct symptom of marasmus is being underweight.
It is followed by chronic diarrhea, respiratory infection, stunted growth and complete loss of energy.
Credit: foter Caption: protein supplement – dried skimmed milk powder
Children can be treated with the introduction of dried skim powdered milk, mixed with water in their diet.