In my last few articles I discussed the four fat soluble vitamins. Today I am going to explain the remaining nine water soluble vitamins.
Water soluble vitamins are given their name because they dissolve in water. They are found in a variety of foods. Unlike fat soluble vitamins which can be stored by the body, water soluble vitamins are only stored for brief periods and any excess is usually excreted in the urine (with the exception of vitamin B12 which is stored in the liver). Therefore, you need to replenish your supply of water soluble vitamins on a daily basis.
When preparing water soluble vitamins you have to take more care than with fat soluble vitamins. Generally, fat soluble vitamins stay in the food even when it is cooked. However, most of the water soluble vitamins are destroyed by high heats and can also leak out of food into the water if you are boiling them. On top of this light can destroy certain water soluble vitamins. My advice is to be careful when handling foods containing water soluble vitamins and to store them in a dark, cool place. When cooking any vegetables that contain water soluble vitamins – use a steamer. This will ensure that you preserve most of the vitamins plus I think steamed vegetables have a better flavour.
Since water soluble vitamins are generally excreted when you have too much, there is little chance of consuming toxic levels. However, overdosing can lead to some unwanted side effects including headaches, itchiness and in the worst case can cause damage to the body’s cells. Therefore, it is advisable to stick to the recommended daily allowances (RDAs) for each of the water soluble vitamins.
You can get the majority of your water soluble vitamins from your diet. However, in some cases you may be lacking certain types and therefore require supplementation. When considering supplements I recommend that you see your doctor first. They will be able to give you a professional opinion on any supplements you may require. If you follow your doctor’s advice and try and get the majority of water soluble vitamins from food you should be able to realise all the benefits that water soluble vitamins can provide.
But what are water soluble vitamins? And what exactly do they do?
1) VITAMIN B1 (THIAMINE):- Vitamin B1’s main function is to help the body’s cells convert blood sugar into energy but it also helps maintain a healthy nervous system. Enriched whole grain products, pork and green vegetables are all good sources of vitamin B1.
Men are advised to consume 1mg of vitamin B1 per day whilst women should consume 0.8mg. Deficiencies are rare but if they occur they can lead to beriberi, a condition which causes significant damage to a number of vital organs and can lead to death if left untreated. Overdosing is also rare but can lead to nausea, sweating and blue coloured skin.
2) VITAMIN B2 (RIBOFLAVIN):- Vitamin B2’s main function is to help the body convert blood sugar into energy but it also assists in the production of red blood cells and promotes healthy vision. Milk is the richest source of vitamin B2 with other dairy products also providing good levels of the vitamin.
The RDA for vitamin B2 is 1.3mg in men and 1.1mg in women. A lack of this vitamin can cause damage to the skin (causing it to become cracked and sore) and the eyes (often leading to the development of cataracts). Getting too much is not believed to be toxic but can lead to itching and numbness.
3) VITAMIN B3 (NIACIN):- Vitamin B3’s main role is to assist the body’s cells in converting blood sugar to energy but it also promotes a healthy nervous and digestive system. Protein rich foods such as meat and eggs are the best source of this vitamin but vegetables such as mushrooms and greens also contain good levels.
Men are advised to consume 19mg of vitamin B3 per day whilst women are advised to consume 15mg. Not getting enough B3 can lead to pellagra which if left untreated for prolonged periods can cause diarrhea, dementia, delirium and ultimately death. Consuming too much causes the skin to become flushed and can also cause liver damage.
4) VITAMIN B5 (PANTOTHENIC ACID):- Vitamin B5’s biggest function is to help the body convert blood sugar into energy but it also helps wounds heal and supports the adrenal gland. It can be found in a number of foods including eggs, salmon and fresh vegetables.
The RDA for vitamin B5 is 5mg for both men and women. A deficiency can cause a number of problems including abdominal pain, disturbed sleep and weak muscles. Getting too much B5 can cause diarhea.
5) VITAMIN B6 (PYRIDOXINE):- Vitamin B6’s main function is to help the body break down proteins so that they can be used for energy but it also assists with hormone regulation. This vitamin is found in all foods but meats, nuts and salmon are particularly rich sources.
Men are advised to get 1.4mg of vitamin B6 daily whilst women should get 1.2mg. Unfortunately, a lot of people do not get enough which can lead to cracked lips, weakness and tingling in the hands, feet and legs. Getting too much can also be dangerous and potentially cause permanent nerve damage.
6) VITAMIN B7 (BIOTIN):- Vitamin B7’s main role is to help the body convert carbohydrates and fats into energy but it also assists in the breakdown of amino acids. The body produces small amounts of B7 in the intestine and it is also present in most foods with liver, milk, egg yolks, mushrooms and nuts all being good sources.
The RDA for vitamin B7 is 0.03mg in men and 0.01mg in women. A deficiency can lead to rashes, fungal infections and hair loss but there are presently no known side effects associated with high doses of this vitamin.
7) VITAMIN B9 (FOLIC ACID):- Vitamin B9’s main role is to work with vitamin B12 to produce DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid) but it also helps the body produce new cells. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and peas are the best sources of this vitamin.
Men and women are advised to get 0.2mg of vitamin B9 per day whilst pregnant women are advised to increase their intake to 0.4mg per day. Not consuming enough B9 can lead to weight loss, poor growth and anemia plus it can cause significant problems in developing babies. Overdosing has been linked with sleep problems, skin problems and stomach pain.
8) VITAMIN B12 (COBALAMIN):- Vitamin B12’s main function is to work with vitamin B9 to produce DNA and RNA but it also assists in the production of other hormones. It can be found in all animal products but liver, fish and dairy products are some of the best sources.
The RDA for vitamin B12 is 0.002mg in both men and women. Not getting enough of this vitamin can lead to a form of anemia called pernicious anemia (where the body produces fewer, larger blood cells) which leads to difficulty balancing and weakness. Overdosing on B12 is not thought to have any adverse side effects.
9) VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID):- Vitamin C’s main function is to help the body produce collagen (the main connective tissue in animals) but it also helps protect the body’s cells and vital organs. Citrus fruits such as oranges, limes and lemons are the richest source of vitamin C but potatoes, strawberries and sweet peppers are also good sources.
Men and women are advised to consume 40mg of vitamin C each day. A deficiency can lead to scurvy, a condition characterised by bleeding, swollen gums and tooth loss. Getting too much vitamin C can cause cramps, diarrhea, headaches and vomiting.
I hope the above article has provided you with a good introduction to the water soluble vitamins. Each of the nine vitamins discussed above have an important role to play in your body. Since your body does not store water soluble vitamins it is very important that you meet your daily requirements. If you are lacking in a certain area then make the necessary changes to your diet or perhaps even consider supplementation. Just don’t go overboard. Whilst consuming high levels of water soluble vitamins is not thought to be toxic it can still lead to unpleasant side effects. Stick to the RDAs quoted in this article and you should be able to get the full benefits of the B complex vitamins and vitamin C without any negative effects.