BENEFITS HOME100th anniversary of the vitamin

FACT SHEET

100 Years of Vitamins:
The Building Blocks of a Healthy Body

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Contact: Nancy Stewart (nstewart@crnusa.org / 202-204-7684)

Most of us know that vitamins are essential to our wellbeing, but how much do you actually know about where they come from and their functions? Vitamins are critical for strong bones, healthy immune systems, a sharp mind and so many other important functions. In honor of the 100th anniversary of the vitamin, we’ve identified some facts about vitamins so that you can learn more about where they come from and why they’re so critical.

General Facts

  • Ever wonder how they decided what letter to assign each vitamin? They were named in the order the substances were identified, starting with vitamins A, B and C.  It was belatedly found that "vitamin B" was not a single substance but a complex mixture of vitamins. The individual B vitamins were given numbers, in the order they were separated and chemically identified, such as B1, B6 and B12.
  • Vitamins are classified as either water-soluble or fat-soluble. In humans there are 13 vitamins: 4 fat-soluble (A, D, E and K) and 9 water-soluble (8 B vitamins and vitamin C).
  • The multivitamin is the most commonly used supplement.

Vitamin A

  • Vitamin A is critical for vision, reproduction and immune function.
  • Our bodies get vitamin A from retinol, which comes from animals, and carotenoids, which come from plants.
  • We’ve all heard that eating carrots helps you to see in the dark – and this actually contains some truth. Carrots contain a significant amount of beta carotene, which is then converted to vitamin A in the body.
  • Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of blindness in children, under the age of five, in developing countries with widespread malnutrition.

Vitamin B

  • There are eight different B vitamins.  
  • Vitamin B12 is the most structurally complicated vitamin and helps make DNA.
  • Many of the B vitamins are involved in energy production. They make it possible for the body to convert carbs, fats and proteins that you get from food into energy to fuel your body.
  • B vitamins are also involved in building blood and other cells and tissues.

Vitamin C

  • Vitamin C is essential to collagen, which holds our bones together.
  • Vitamin C is not naturally produced by the human body, although it is produced by other animals such as cats and dogs.
  • Common laboratory animals such as rats and mice can produce their own vitamin C, but guinea pigs cannot. Because of this, guinea pigs have often been used for studying the biochemical effects of vitamin C. 
  • If you’re looking to get vitamin C through your diet, fruits and vegetables are the key.  Citrus fruits are rich sources, but other fruits such as kiwis and strawberries are great sources, too.

Vitamin D

  • Vitamin D is the only vitamin that can be produced by your body. When the skin is exposed to sunlight, the sun triggers a chain of reactions that produce vitamin D. In sunny climates, this process can produce sufficient vitamin D, but sunblocks that protect against skin cancer also interfere with making vitamin D.   
  • The darker the skin, the less vitamin D is produced in response to sunlight.
  • Vitamin D is important for maintaining strong bones. It also helps our bodies absorb calcium, which is another critical component of our bones.
  • Very few foods have vitamin D naturally. Some foods such as milk are fortified with vitamin D, but it would take about 10 glasses of milk to provide the recommended daily intake. So, supplementation with vitamin D is important to avoid shortfalls. 

Vitamin E

  • Vitamin E is part of our bodies’ antioxidant defense system.
  • Vitamin E can also contribute to a healthy immune system, especially in the elderly.

Vitamin K

  • Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting.
  • Vitamin K has been called the forgotten vitamin because so many of its benefits are often overlooked.
  •  Vitamin K is crucial for improving bone density. It serves as the biological "glue" that helps bind calcium to the bone matrix. Leafy greens are rich in vitamin K. If you’re not a fan of leafy greens, look for a multivitamin with vitamin K.

  Council for Responsible Nutrition