By Dr. Lydia
When I see a patient for the first time I ask them if they are taking any vitamins. Frequently, they are. There seems to be a general consensus that vitamins are good for us and our body needs them. While this is completely true, I find that very few patients know what vitamins really do for us. The word vitamin comes from the word vital because these microscopic molecules are essential for human life. A substance is considered a vitamin when a deficiency causes a symptom. For example, a deficiency of vitamin A causes night blindness.
Vitamin A interacts with our DNA to tell cells what kind of specialty they are going have. Just like the school guidance counselor that helped you pick what career would best suit you. Vitamin A tells cells what they are going to be when they grow up. A deficiency of vitamin A causes problems with our immune system. None of the cells that should be fighting infection know what they are supposed to be doing without vitamin A to tell them what type of immune cell they are.
Vitamin A is known as the vision vitamin. A high concentration of vitamin A is in the back of the eye. When light hits the stored form of vitamin A, the molecule changes shape and sends a signal to the brain about how much light we are visualizing. Are we outside at nighttime? Or is it a bright sunny day on the beach? That is vitamin A’s job.
Vitamin C is a top selling supplement. Usually people think of taking this citrus antioxidant when they are coming down with a cold. This amazing vitamin has so many underappreciated functions in the body. One of the primary uses for Vitamin C is in the production of collagen. Collagen is used to make blood vessels, tendons, ligaments and determines elasticity of our skin.
Vitamin C is always hard at work making useful molecules that our body needs. From regulating metabolism and fat stores to our mental health, this vitamin works overtime. Vitamin C helps us make a molecule called carnosine that moves fat into cells, where it can be used to produce energy. Vitamin C has the power to affect our moods by helping us make neurotransmitters. These chemical messengers attach to cells in our brain, dictating our mood and response to everyday stress.
Vitamins are helpful little compounds that regulate many of our body’s functions. I always advise that people aim to get vitamins from food sources before they look to a supplement. Increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables can boost both vitamin A and vitamin C levels. In the next article, I will discuss Vitamins B and D.