Why Do We Need Vitamins
Vitamins are compounds that are essential for staying healthy, and that cannot be made in the body so must come from food or other sources (some vitamin D is made in skin exposed to sunlight, and some of the friendly bacteria in the gut can make vitamin K).
Different vitamins have different roles in the body, but all the vitamins are vital for healthy growth and development before birth and throughout life. Though people have known since the time of the Egyptians that certain foods cure certain diseases, the first vitamin, vitamin A, was discovered in the early 20th century.
Vitamin AVitamin A was discovered in 1913. Vitamin A is important for eyesight and for skin health, and is also used in bones, the immune system and is an antioxidant.
B VitaminsThe B vitamins were discovered between 1910 and 1941. This is a group of eight vitamins, which are important in metabolism (the body’s use of energy). They also help with keeping skin and muscles healthy, as well as supporting nerves, the immune system (which protects against infection), and production of red blood cells.
Vitamin CVitamin C was discovered in 1920. Vitamin C is important for healthy skin and mucous membranes (the membranes lining the mouth, nose etc) and in wound healing. It is also an antioxidant, which protects cells from damage.
Vitamin DVitamin D was discovered in 1920. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which is essential for healthy teeth and bones, and protects against osteoporosis. Vitamin D also helps keep the immune system healthy.
Vitamin EVitamin E was discovered in 1922. Vitamin E is an anti-oxidant, preventing tissue damage.
Vitamin KVitamin K was discovered in 1929. Vitamin K helps with blood clotting, as well as keeping bones healthy.
Vitamins in a Healthy DietA balanced and healthy diet, including a range of different fruit and vegetables, lean meat, oily fish and dairy products, will provide all the vitamins required, without needing extra supplements.
People eating a restricted diet, whether for health, religious or ethical reasons, may need extra vitamins as supplements, as well as people who do not get access to enough daylight to make their own vitamin D. When choosing supplements, avoid those that include megadoses – doses of vitamins above the recommended daily amount – as these can be harmful or lead to side effects such as sickness and diarrhoea.