Vitamins are organic substances found naturally in plants and animals that are essential in small quantities for life.   Vitamins can also be produced synthetically.  Deficiencies of vitamins can cause specific disorders and diseases.   There are 13 recognized vitamins divided into two types – fat-soluble and water-soluble. 

Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the fat tissues of our bodies, as well as the liver.  They are easier to store than water-soluble vitamins and can stay in the body as reserves for days, some for months.  Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed through the intestinal tract with the help of fats (lipids).  Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble.  Water-soluble vitamins do not get stored in the body for long – they soon get expelled through urine.  Water-soluble vitamins need to be replaced more often than fat-soluble ones.  Vitamins C and all the B vitamins are water-soluble.

Why this matters:

According to a recent survey sponsored by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), 68% of US adults take dietary supplements in the United States.   Vitamins and minerals are the most popular – 97% of supplement consumers take these; but a healthy 46% take specialty supplements and 18% take herbs and botanical supplements.  A similar amount take supplements intended for sports performance and weight management.  These numbers reflect the interest among consumers in these products and the opportunities for store employees to provide helpful information.

Some vitamins can enhance the absorption of other nutrients. Vitamin C, for example, can enhance iron absorption from supplements and plant foods.  Another example is Vitamin D, which is necessary for the proper absorption of Calcium.  However, vitamins can also affect and interfere with the absorption and effectiveness of medications.  For instance, Vitamin K can interfere with blood-thinning medications such as Warfarin.  People who are taking pharmaceutical drugs are advised to look up their medications and the vitamins they are taking, including vitamins that may be found in supplement combinations, so they can be aware of any harmful interactions.  Conversely, medications can cause depletion of certain vitamins in the body which can contribute to ill health.  To prevent interactions and depletions, consumers and store staff can use any of the many “Drug & Supplement Checker” applications available on the web.

In 1941 the first Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) were established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences.   An RDA is the average daily dietary intake of a nutrient that is sufficient to meet the requirement of nearly all (97-98%) healthy persons.  These numerical values are also labeled as the RDI (Recommended Dietary Intake).   RDAs & RDIs are set as guidelines for different age groups; men and women and for pregnant and nursing mothers.   They provide nutrition guidance to health professionals and to the general public and are also used for many other purposes including development of new food products.  The Nutrition Board reviews these guidelines periodically and over time have both updated and expanded them.  Customers can find a reference to the RDAs and RDIs for vitamins on all product labels. 

The following is a chart that shows each vitamin, along with the scientific name that is frequently found on product labels.  Also included is a brief list of disorders or diseases caused by deficiencies, uses in the body, along with the most commonly found plant and animal sources for each of the vitamins.


Effects on Health & Disease

Food Source

Vitamin A
Retinol, Retinal, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin

Vitamin A is important for normal vision, the immune system, and reproduction. Vitamin A also helps the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs work properly.

Plant:  Carrot, broccoli, sweet potato, butter, kale, spinach, pumpkin, collard greens, apricot, cantaloupe
Animal:  Liver, cod liver oil, some cheeses, egg, milk

Vitamin B1

Vitamin B1 is most often found in Vitamin B Complex supplements and is used for treatment and prevention of thiamine deficiency, including Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) most often seen in alcoholics; correcting problems associated with certain types of genetic diseases; and for preventing kidney disease in people with Type 2 diabetes.

Plant:  Yeast, cereal grains, sunflower seeds, brown rice, whole grain rye, asparagus, kale, cauliflower, potatoes, oranges
Animal:  Pork, liver, eggs

Vitamin B2

Used to assure sufficient levels of riboflavin (prevent riboflavin deficiency) which can occur with protein-energy malnutrition and alcoholism, and help support the prevention of cervical cancer, and migraine headaches.

Plant:  Asparagus, bananas, persimmons, okra, chard, green beans, some nuts, and enriched flours
Animal:  Meat, eggs, fish, cottage cheese, milk, yogurt

Vitamin B3
Niacin, Niacinamide

Niacin is used as a treatment for high cholesterol, circulation problems, diarrhea associated with cholera, cataract prevention, osteoarthritis, and Alzheimer's disease.  Niacinamide is used for treating diabetes and some skin conditions.

Plant:  Avocados, dates, tomatoes, leafy vegetables, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, asparagus, nuts, whole grains, legumes, mushrooms, brewer's yeast
Animal:  Meat, especially liver & kidney, fish (tuna & salmon), milk, eggs

Vitamin B5
Pantothenic acid

Pantothenic acid is important for the proper use of carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids in humans and for healthy skin. Cases of pantothenic acid deficiency are rare.

Plant:  Whole grains (milling can remove the vitamins from processed grains), broccoli, legumes, avocados
Animal:  Meats, eggs, milk royal jelly (produced by honey bees), fish ovaries

Vitamin B6


Pyridoxine, pyridoxamine, pyridoxal

Vitamin B6 is used for the treatment of anemia and high blood levels of homocysteine, a substance thought to be involved in heart disease, brain development during pregnancy and infancy, and immune function.  It is also used for more than 100 enzyme reactions involved in metabolism.

Plant:  Bananas, whole grains, potatoes & other starchy vegetables, and nuts

Animal:  Meats & milk; however when milk is dried, it loses about half of its B6.  Freezing & canning meats can also reduce the amount of B6

Vitamin B7

B7 is an important component of enzymes in the body that break down certain substances like fats, carbohydrates, and others.  Biotin is also used orally for hair loss, brittle nails, skin rash in infants (seborrheic dermatitis), diabetes, and mild depression.

Plant:  Swiss Chard, carrots, almonds, walnuts, strawberries, raspberries, and some other vegetables such as onions, cucumbers, and cauliflower
Animal:  Eggs, milk (both cow's and goat's), halibut

Vitamin B9
Folate, folic acid

The deficiency of this vitamin during pregnancy has been linked to birth defects.  It is used in the body to make DNA and other genetic materials and for the body's cells to divide.

Plant:  Dark, leafy vegetables especially spinach &  mustard greens, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, nuts, beans, peas,  baker's yeast, some fortified grain products, sunflower seeds, several fruits especially oranges, beer, and some whole grains.
Animal:  Liver
NOTE:  Folic acid is added to many grain-based products.

Vitamin B12
Cyanocobalamin, hydroxycobalamin, methylcobalamin

Vitamin B12 helps keep the body's nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA

IMPORTANT:  Plant foods do not have Vitamin B12 unless they are fortified.
Animal:  Beef liver, clams, fish, other meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and other dairy products


Choline is similar to B vitamins and is used in the body for many chemical reactions. It has important impacts on the nervous system and may help decrease swelling and inflammation.

Plants:  Nuts, beans, peas, spinach, wheat germ

Animal:  Eggs, liver, fish, and muscle meats

Vitamin C
Ascorbic acid

Vitamin C is an antioxidant necessary to protect the body from free-radical damage, to make collagen, help the immune system, and absorb iron properly from plant-based foods.

Plants:  Fruit and vegetables, especially citrus fruits (such as oranges and grapefruit) and kiwifruit, red and green peppers, broccoli, strawberries, cantaloupe, baked potatoes, and tomatoes
Animal:  Liver

Vitamin D

Ergocalciferol, cholecalciferol

Vitamin D is found in every cell of the body and is used for strong bones (prevents osteoporosis) and to absorb calcium from food and supplements.    It is also used by muscles to move and nerves to carry messages to the brain and to fight off invading bacteria and viruses.

Plant:  Mushrooms

Animal:  Fatty fish such as salmon, eggs, beef liver


Note:  Vitamin D is produced in the skin after exposure to ultraviolet B light from the sun (or other artificial sources).

Vitamin E
Tocopherols & tocotrienols

Alpha- (or α-) tocopherol is the only form of Vitamin E that is recognized to meet human requirements.  Vitamin E is an antioxidant that is needed to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.  It also helps to widen blood vessels and keep blood from clotting.  Vitamin E deficiency is uncommon.

Plant:  Primarily wheat germ, sunflower, and safflower oils, secondarily corn and soybean oils.  Avocados, nuts (peanuts, hazelnuts, and, especially, almonds) and seeds (like sunflower seeds); some green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli, squash & pumpkin.
Animal:  Shellfish, trout

Vitamin K
Phylloquinone, menaquinones
NOTE:  There are several different Vitamin Ks.  The only K allowed in the US is K1.

Vitamin K plays a major role in blood clotting; it is used to reverse the effects of “blood-thinning” medications (e.g., Warfarin) when too much is given; to prevent clotting problems in newborns who don’t have enough Vitamin K; to treat bleeding caused by medications; to prevent and treat weak bones (osteoporosis); and to relieve itching that often accompanies a liver disease called biliary cirrhosis.

Plant:  Dark leafy green vegetables, spring onions (scallions) broccoli, asparagus, Brussel sprouts, cabbage,  avocado, kiwi fruit, prunes, parley, fresh basil and dried  herbs such as basil, sage, thyme, marjoram, coriander, oregano, chili powder, curry paprika, and cayenne
Animal:  Liver


Words to Remember


Antioxidants are man-made or natural substances that may prevent or delay some types of cell damage caused by free-radicals, the waste product created in the cells when the body turns food into energy. Antioxidants are sometimes called free-radical scavengers because they hunt down free-radicals and destroy them before they can cause significant cell damage within the body. Natural antioxidants are found in many foods, including fruits and vegetables, and are also available as dietary supplements. Some examples of antioxidants include Beta-carotene, Lutein, Lycopene, Selenium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E.



Depletion happens when a pharmaceutical drug causes the body to lose needed nutrients. For example, people taking statin drugs for lowering cholesterol will deplete the body of CoQ10 unless the person takes supplemental CoQ10 to replenish this essential nutrient in their body. Another example is Hydrochlorothiazide, a drug taken for high blood pressure, which can deplete the body of vitamin D, calcium magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and CoQ10.



Is the acronym for deoxyribonucleic acid, the main component of chromosomes that carries the genetic information for all living organisms.



Soluble means the ability to be dissolved in another substance. Some nutrients are only able to be dissolved and absorbed through the fats (lipids) in the body; other nutrients are only able to be dissolved and absorbed through water contained in the body. Nutrients that are water-soluble need to be replaced every day; whereas fat-soluble nutrients can be stored in the tissues of a person.



Free-radicals are molecules with one or more unpaired electrons. In their quest to find another electron, they cause damage to surrounding molecules by taking electrons from other cells or fiving away unpaired electrons as they travel through the bloodstream. Free radicals are actually everywhere - in the air, our bodies, and the materials around us. They cause the deterioration of plastics, the fading of paint, aging-related illnesses in humans, and can contribute to heart attacks, stroke, and cancers.



An interaction is a kind of action that occurs between two or more supplements, herbs, and pharmaceutical drugs that can have an effect upon one another. These effects can vary from increasing or decreasing, duplicating or opposing the action of one or more of the other substances, which can result in either unwanted or sometimes harmful side effects or eliminate the intended effects and benefits of the ingested substances altogether.



Another word for "fat." Lipid is defined chemically as a substance that is insoluble in water and soluble in alcohol, ether, and chloroform. Together with carbohydrates and proteins, lipids are the main constituents of plant and animal cells. Cholesterol and triglycerides are lipids. They serve as a source of fuel and are an important constituent in the structure of cells.



Recommended Daily Allowance, standards for the average daily dietary intake of a nutrient that is sufficient to meet the requirement of nearly all (97-98%) healthy persons.

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