As nature’s designated custodians of our health, vitamins are among the most essential components of our daily nutrition. They participate in chemical reactions inside your cells, contributing to the release of energy to the production of enzymes. You can view them as the invisible workers that work tirelessly to defend and protect your body from diseases and keep you healthy.
Vitamins play a crucial role in the metabolic process – activating (catalyzing) body functions with the help of various enzymes produced by your body. There are many different vitamins and each vitamin performs a specific function. However, with the exception of vitamin D, our body cannot make vitamins. This is the reason we need to get them from food sources and from vitamin supplements.
When you don’t get vitamins in sufficient quantities, you expose yourself to a myriad of health problems. Therefore, every woman should ensure that she gets adequate quantities of vitamins. Sadly, most women, and especially those who are on a diet, do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, which are the primary sources of vitamins. As a result, they are at a high risk of suffering from diseases and conditions resulting from vitamin deficiencies.
If you are like the majority of women who do not eat enough vegetables and fruits, you may need to take vitamins in the form of supplements. Most vitamins are water-soluble and not harmful to consume in high quantities as any excess is expelled with urine. However, vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble and stored in the tissue and can become toxic if consumed in excessive quantities. Therefore, careful monitoring of the quantities of these vitamins that you ingest is advised. Vitamin D levels are something that I recommend checking quite regularly.
Pregnant, breastfeeding and menopausal women need adequate amounts of vitamins. But they should also take care not to consume vitamin supplements excessively as they can end up harming themselves and their babies. While most of the vitamins can be obtained from food sources, having supplements in the form of pills and syrups can augment the supply.
The need for vitamin supplements increases with advancing age. As you become older, your body may lose the ability to absorb some vitamins naturally, resulting in vitamin deficiencies. Vitamin deficiency can lead to serious health problems and even untimely death. Deficiency of certain vitamins can make you look older than your age because of damage to your skin cells.
There are dozens of different type of vitamins and no single food source contains all of them. Therefore, having multivitamin supplements along with a balanced diet is the best way to ensure that you will get them in sufficient quantities. Here are some vitamins that are essential for women:
- Vitamin A:
Vitamin A is a group of nutritional compounds that include retinol, retinoid acid and provitamin. It plays a vital role in the building and strengthening of bones, soft tissues, skin and the mucous membrane. It is needed by the retina of the eye for normal vision. Deficiency of this vitamin can result in night blindness, the inability to fight against infections and increased risks of maternal mortality.
The main sources of this important vitamin are fruits and vegetables like apricots, guava, papaya, watermelon, carrot, broccoli, pumpkin, red pepper, tomatoes and spinach.
- Vitamin B6:
Also known as pyridoxine, vitamin B6 plays an important role in metabolism and brain functions. It is involved in the production of serotonin and norepinephrine, chemicals that transmit signals in the brain. Deficiency of vitamin B6 can result in anemia and health problems related to the skin, mucous membrane, nerves and circulatory system.
The main sources of vitamin B6 are banana, avocado, beans, seeds, cereals, oatmeal, poultry and meats.
- Vitamin B9:
More popularly known as folate (or folic acid in its synthetic form), vitamin B9 is essential for the development of the central nervous system. It helps in the formation of DNA and RNA, the building blocks of life. It also prevents alterations in the DNA than can cause cancer. Folate is required by our body to build normal red blood cells and to prevent anemia. Folate deficiency can result in anemia. In pregnant women, it can lead to neural tube defects, which can result in birth defects in babies born from them.
The main sources of folate include leafy green vegetables, asparagus, beans, legumes, citrus fruits, strawberries, melons, eggs, liver and organ meats.
- Vitamin B12:
Also called cobalamin, vitamin B12 plays an important role in metabolism, cell division and protein synthesis. As such, it contributes to the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system and also in the formation of blood. As you age, your may have difficulty in absorbing this vitamin in its natural form and you may need three-monthly injections. Lack of vitamin B12 can result in anemia.
The main sources of vitamin B12 include eggs, fish, meat, cheese, milk and yoghurt.
- Vitamin C:
Also known as L-ascorbic acid, Vitamin C plays an important role in the formation collagen, carnitine, amino acids and various hormones. It also aids in the healing of wounds and facilitates the absorption of iron. Deficiency of vitamin C can cause fatigue, depression and connective tissue defects. Severe deficiency of vitamin C can result in scurvy, which is very rare these days but was quite common in the past.
The main sources of vitamin C include fruits and vegetables like oranges, strawberries, grapefruit, kiwi, broccoli, tomatoes and potatoes.
- Vitamin D:
Unlike other vitamins, vitamin D functions as a hormone in our body. It aids the absorption of calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium and zinc. Lack of vitamin D can result in calcium and phosphorus deficiency, leading to osteoporosis, a condition in which your bones become thin and brittle.
The main food sources of vitamin D are fish. As you may have heard, exposing your body to the sun is also an excellent source of this important vitamin as your body has the ability to produce it in the presence of sunshine.
- Vitamin E:
Vitamin E, also known as tocopherol, plays a key role in the production of red blood cells and maintenance of cell membranes. Vitamin E deficiency can result in anemia, neuromuscular problems, neurological problems and impairment of immune response. It may also lead to premature aging of the skin. However, consuming too much of this vitamin can increase the risk of bleeding.
The main food sources of vitamin E include cod-liver oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, peanut butter, margarine, hazelnuts and wheat germ.
- Vitamin K:
Although vitamin K is not considered essential, it plays an important role in promoting bone strength and maintaining normal blood clotting. Vitamin K deficiency can result in uncontrolled bleeding, which can be fatal during childbirth.
The main sources of vitamin K include leafy green vegetables, broccoli, soybean oil, fish oil and cooked spinach.
- Vitamins with antioxidant properties:
During the metabolic processes, your body produces highly reactive and unstable molecules (called free radicals) that can disrupt and damage vital cell structures, such as cell membranes. The destructive actions of these molecules can cause loss of immunity, chronic illnesses and premature aging (wrinkling of the skin). Antioxidants react with the free radicals and neutralize them. Thus, they help keep you healthy.
Vitamins that have potent antioxidant properties include vitamin A (retinol and carotenoids), vitamin C and vitamin E.
The Carousel thanks Rhiannon from Miss Nutrition for this feature.
What vitamins do you take for your daily nutrition? Tell us in the comments below!