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Vitamin Guide

The American Dietetic Association provides the following information on vitamins.

Our bodies need at least 13 vitamins to function:

Vitamin A
Vitamin C
Vitamin B6
Vitamin D
Thiamin (Vitamin B1)
Folate
Vitamin E
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
Vitamin B12
Vitamin K
Niacin
Biotin
Pantothenic Acid

Vitamin A:

    Functions: Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps you see normally in the dark and promotes the growth and health of all body cells and tissues. It also protects against infection by keeping healthy the skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory and uro-genital tract.

    Deficiency problems: Night blindness and other eye problems; dry, scaly skin, problems with reproduction, poor growth.

    Food sources: Liver, fish oil, eggs, milk fortified with vitamin A; red, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, many dark-green, leafy vegetables.

    Excess amounts: Can lead to birth defects, headaches, vomiting, double vision, hair loss, bone abnormalities and liver damage.

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Vitamin D (calciferol):

    Functions: Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that promotes the absorption of calcium and phosphorus and helps deposit these minerals in bones and teeth to make them strong.

    Deficiency problems: Greater risk of osteoporosis and osteomalacia (softening of the bones). Children can develop rickets or defective bone growth.

    Sources: Vitamin D is known as the "sunshine" vitamin, because your body can produce it after sunlight or ultraviolet light hits the skin. Food sources include cheese, eggs, some fish (such as salmon and sardines), fortified milk, breakfast cereals and margarine.

    Excess amounts: Can lead to kidney stones or kidney damage, weak muscles and bones, excessive bleeding and other problems. Excessive amounts usually come from supplements, not food or overexposure to sunlight.

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Vitamin E (tocopherol):

    Functions: Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin what works as an antioxidant and, as such, may have a possible role in protecting against illnesses such as heart disease and some types of cancer.

    Deficiency problems: Nervous system problems. Deficiencies are very rare, as vitamin E is abundant in foods. Premature, very low birthweight babies and people who do not absorb fat normally may have deficiency problems.

    Food sources: Vegetable oils and margarine, salad dressing and other foods made from vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, wheat germ, leafy-green vegetables.

    Excess amounts: May interfere with vitamin K action and enhance the effect of some anticoagulant drugs.

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Vitamin K:

    Functions: Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps blood to clot and stop bleeding.

    Deficiency problems: Thin blood that does not adequately coagulate.

    Food sources: Intestinal bacteria produce some of the vitamin K you need. The best food sources include green leafy vegetables such as kale, parsley, spinach and broccoli. Smaller amounts are found in milk and other dairy products, meat, eggs, cereal, fruits and other vegetables.

    Excess amounts: No symptoms have been observed from excessive intake of vitamin K.

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Vitamin C (ascorbic acid):

    Functions: Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that helps the body absorb iron out of food made from plant sources. It helps produce the connective tissue collagen, helps form and repair red blood cells, bones and other tissues, helps keep capillary walls and blood vessels firm, protects against bruising, helps maintain healthy gums and heal cuts and wounds, helps protect from infection by keeping the immune system healthy.

    Deficiency problems: Scurvy, a disease that causes loose teeth, Excessiveive bleeding, swollen gums and improper wound healing. Scurvy is rare in the United States.

    Food sources: Citrus fruits and many other fruits and vegetables, including berries, melons, peppers, many dark-green leafy vegetables, potatoes and tomatoes.

    Excess amounts: Vitamin C intake may cause diarrhea and gastrointestinal discomfort. Use of supplements can also interfere with tests for blood sugar level.

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Thiamin (vitamin B1):

    Functions: Thiamin is a water-soluble vitamin that helps all body cells produce energy from carbohydrates.

    Deficiency problems: Alcoholics are frequently low in thiamin and suffer fatigue, weak muscles and nerve damage as a result.

    Food sources: Whole-grain and enriched grain products, such as bread, rice, pasta, tortillas, fortified breakfast cereals, pork, liver and other organ meats.

    Excess amounts: Excessive intake of thiamin is expelled in the urine.

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Riboflavin (vitamin B2):

    Functions: Riboflavin is a water-soluble vitamin which helps all body cells produce energy and change tryptophan (an amino acid) into niacin (another B vitamin).

    Deficiency problems: Severely malnourished people may suffer eye disorders (such as cataracts), dry and flaky skin, and a sore red tongue.

    Food sources: Milk and other dairy products, enriched bread, cereal and other grain products; eggs, meat, green leafy vegetables, nuts, liver, kidney and heart.

    Excess amounts: No problems have been linked to excessive riboflavin intake.

    FYI: Ultraviolet light destroys riboflavin.

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Niacin

    Functions: Niacin is a water-soluble vitamin that helps the body use sugars and fatty acids, and helps all body cells produce energy. It also helps enzymes function in the body.

    Deficiency problems: Symptoms include diarrhea, mental disorientation and skin problems.

    Food sources: Some niacin is produced in the body. Foods high in protein, such as poultry, fish, beef, peanut butter and legumes, are also usually good sources.

    Excess amounts: Excessive intake of nicotinic acid (a form of niacin), which usually only occurs with supplements, may cause flushed skin, liver damage, stomach ulcers and high blood sugar.

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Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine):

    Functions: Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin which helps the body make proteins, which are then used to make body cells. It also helps convert tryptophan (an amino acid) into niacin and serotonin (a brain chemical). Vitamin B6 also helps produce other body chemicals such as insulin, hemoglobin and antibodies to fight infection.

    Deficiency problems: Depression, nausea, mental convulsions in infants and greasy, flaky skin.

    Food sources: Chicken, fish, pork, liver, kidney, whole grains, nuts and legumes.

    Excess amounts: Can cause nerve damage.

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Folate (folacin or folic acid):

    Functions: Folate is a water-soluble vitamin which plays an essential role in producing DNA and RNA to make new body cells. It also works with vitamin B12 to form hemoglobin in red blood cells.

    Deficiency problems: Impaired cell division and growth, a type of anemia, and, during the first trimester of pregnancy, increased risk of delivering a baby with neural tube defects including spina bifida.

    Food sources: Leafy vegetables, orange juice and some fruits, legumes, liver, yeast breads, wheat germ and some fortified cereals.

    Excess amounts: May interfere with medications and cause convulsions in people with epilepsy. It can also mask vitamin B12 deficiencies, leading to permanent nerve damage if not treated with vitamin B12.

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Vitamin B12 (cobalamin):

    Functions: Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin which works with folate to make red blood cells. It also serves in body cells as a vital part of many body chemicals and helps the body use fatty acids and some amino acids.

    Deficiency problems: Anemia, fatigue, nerve damage, a smooth tongue, very sensitive skin. B12 deficiencies may be hidden when extra folate is taken to treat or prevent anemia. Strict vegetarians who eat no animal products and their infants are the most likely to develop vitamin B12 deficiencies. People who do not absorb vitamin B12 may also be deficient.

    Food sources: Animal products and some fortified foods.

    Excess amounts: No problems are associated with excessive intake of vitamin B12.

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Biotin

    Functions: Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin which helps all body cells produce energy. It also helps metabolize protein, fat and carbohydrates in food.

    Deficiency problems: Heart abnormalities, appetite loss, fatigue, depression and dry skin.

    Food sources: Eggs, liver, yeast breads and cereals.

    Excess amounts: No problems have been linked to excessive intake of biotin.

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Pantothenic Acid:

    Functions: Pantothenic acid is a water-soluble vitamin which helps all body cells produce energy. It also helps metabolize protein, fat and carbohydrate in food.

    Deficiency problems: Rare in healthy people who eat a balanced diet.

    Food sources: Meat, poultry, fish, whole-grain cereals and legumes are among the best sources. Milk, vegetables and fruits also contain varying amounts.

    Excess amounts: May cause occasional diarrhea and water retention.


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