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Nutrition 101: Water and Fat Soluble Vitamins

nutrition 101 Feb 03, 2020

You’ve probably heard a lot about macronutrients and have a pretty good understanding of them.  If not, head on over to my previous Nutrition 101 blog post - Making Sense of Macros to read up on fats, carbs, and protein. But what about the micronutrients that our body requires to function properly? Today let’s explore vitamins and why they are so important to our overall health and wellness.

Why do we need vitamins?

Vitamins are classified as micronutrients because they are needed in smaller amounts than our macronutrients.  While small, they are needed for vital, life-sustaining processes in our bodies such as reproduction, growth, metabolism, and overall maintenance of health.  Each one is necessary.  You can not substitute one vitamin for another.  

Micronutrients differ from macronutrients in that they do not directly provide a source of energy. They cannot be broken down with digestion. Their structure is one of the individual molecules rather than molecules linked together macronutrients.

Why does bioavailability matter?

Bioavailability is a term associated with vitamins referring to the amount of that nutrient that is available to the body to use.  There are a few different factors that affect the bioavailability of vitamins:

  • How efficiently they are digested/absorbed.

  • How the food is prepared that contains the vitamins - raw, cooked, fermented

  • Synthetic (man-made) vs. whole-food sourced

  • Nutrition status/gut integrity

What causes vitamin deficiencies?

A deficiency can be primary or secondary.  A primary deficiency means the micronutrient is lacking in the diet.  This can be determined by performing a diet analysis or tracking your food intake. A secondary deficiency means the micronutrient is lacking due to poor bioavailability.  Impaired digestion and absorption, medications, and lifestyle can contribute to a secondary deficiency.

Water and Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Vitamins are classified as water-soluble or fat-soluble and are obtained from the diet or synthesized in the large intestines.  Water-soluble vitamins are absorbed in the GI tract, sent to the liver, and distributed to the cells that require that specific nutrient.  They travel freely about in the water-filled parts of the body.  Water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body and the excess water-soluble vitamins are excreted through the kidneys in urine.  Therefore they need to be consumed more frequently throughout the day.  These include the B vitamins and vitamin C.

Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed in the GI tract and then sent to the lymph system before being distributed to the body for use.  Many fat-soluble vitamins require a protein carrier and are stored in fat.  They are less likely to be excreted from the body and therefore do not need to be consumed as frequently as water-soluble vitamins.  Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K.  Let’s take a closer look at these vitamins and why we specifically need them.

Water-Soluble Vitamins 

  • B-Vitamins - this group of vitamins (B-complex) is further broken down into 8 individual B vitamins.  They work interdependently and independently to assist in the production of ATP for energy metabolism and are coenzymes that facilitate many chemical reactions in the body.  

    • Thiamin (B1)

      • Coenzymes for energy metabolism, especially carbohydrate metabolism

      • Important for neurotransmitter signaling

      • Necessary for the production of cells that produce the myelin sheath (oligodendrocytes)

      • Can be destroyed by heat

      • Absorption impaired by tannins, coffee, and sulfites

      • Depleted by excessive sugar or carbohydrate consumption and acid-blocking medications

    • Riboflavin (B2)

      • Coenzyme for energy metabolism and neurotransmitter metabolism

      • Necessary for glutathione regeneration

      • Necessary for sphingosine synthesis - a component of the myelin sheath

      • Absorption impaired by low hydrochloric acid in the stomach, inadequate thyroid hormone, 

      • Depleted by excess alcohol consumption and oral contraceptives

    • Niacin (B3)

      • Coenzyme for NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) and NADP (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate) are part of 200+ enzyme reactions in the body and energy metabolism.

      • Aids in the synthesis of enzymes used for DNA replication, repair, and cellular differentiation

      • Improves insulin sensitivity

      • Stimulates hydrochloric acid production

      • Moluates lipids in the blood

      • Depleted by stress, illness, tissues injury, 

    • Biotin (aka Vitamin H or B7)

      • Coenzyme for carboxylase enzymes needed for energy metabolism.

      • Important for DNA replication

      • Initiates fatty acid synthesis

      • Metabolizes gluconeogenesis

      • Absorption impaired by low hydrochloric acid in the stomach and alcohol

    • Pantothenic Acid (aka B5)

      • A component of coenzyme A in acetyl CoA  for energy metabolism

      • Important for fatty acid, phospholipid, and ketone synthesis

      • Required for the synthesis of hormones, hemoglobin, and the neurotransmitter acetylcholine

      • Aids in liver detoxification

      • Required for cell division and DNA replication

      • A deficiency is rare as B5 is found in most foods

    • B6

      • Coenzyme for pyridoxal phosphate which is required for over 100 enzyme reactions in the body and amino acid metabolism

      • Important for the regulation of sterol hormones

      • Converts glutamate to GABA, 5HTP to serotonin, tyrosine to dopamine, homocysteine to cysteine, and serine to glycine

      • Required for the synthesis of heme in iron, sphingolipids that form the myelin sheath, carnitine, taurine, and B3 from tryptophan

      • Important for mobilizing stored glucose

      • Absorption impaired by alcohol, oral contraceptives, medications such as corticosteroids and anticonvulsants

    • Folate (the synthetic form is folic acid)

      • Coenzyme for tetrahydrofolate which is required for the metabolism of nucleic acids and amino acids needed for DNA synthesis

      • Required for the synthesis of SAMe, the main methyl donor for DNA transcription, neurotransmitters synthesis, myelin maintenance, phospholipid synthesis, and liver detoxification

      • Neuro tube development in the fetus is critically dependent on folate

      • Impaired by a methylation defect

      • Can be destroyed by heat

      • Absorption impaired by alcohol, aspirin, methotrexate, NSAIDs, acid blockers, oral contraceptives, and a zinc deficiency 

    • B12

      • Coenzyme methylcobalamin is required to generate methionine from homocysteine in the methylation cycle.

      • Coenzyme adenosylcobalamin is necessary to metabolize fatty acids and amino acids

      • The functions of B12 cannot be separated from the functions of folate and methionine/SAMe

      • Can be destroyed by microwaves

      • Deficiencies can result in symptoms of a folate deficiency - megaloblastic macrocytic anemia due to folate trapping or impaired cell turnover of cells that are rapidly dividing (as in the GI system for example) - neuropathy, abnormal gait, optic nerve disorders, poor dexterity, memory loss, dementia, mood changes, CVD

      • Absorption impaired by low hydrochloric acid in the stomach, gastritis, acid-blocking medications, H-pylori, Crohn’s disease

      • Deficiencies are common with a vegan or vegetarian diet as sources with a significant amount of B12 are animal and seafood-based.

      • Can be synthesized by bacteria in the gut

  • Vitamin C

    • Primary functions include collagen synthesis, amino acid synthesis, and neurotransmitter synthesis

    • An awesome antioxidant that is also needed for the regeneration of other antioxidants - glutathione, vitamin E, and urate

    • Found in the highest concentrations in the adrenal glands, pituitary glands, and eyes.

    • Can be depleted in the body due to Infections, burns, extreme temperatures, toxic heavy metal exposure, chronic use of aspirin or oral contraceptives, cigarette smoking or stress

    • Can be destroyed by heat and oxygen

    • A deficiency can result in scurvy

Fat-Soluable Vitamins

  • Vitamin A

    • Found in various forms as retinol (retinol, retinal, retinoic acid) or as precursor  pro-vitamin A carotenoids

    • Carotenoid conversion to vitamin A 

      • Can be impaired due to genetic factors, current vitamin A status, hypothyroidism, diabetes, and gut health

      • Can be increased when foods are cooked and include fat

    • Requires hydrochloric acid and pepsin in the stomach for digestion and absorption

    • Requires dietary fat and bile emulsification to be absorbed

    • Retinoids aid in cell replication, cellular differentiation, reproduction, immunity, bone health, and is a great antioxidant

    • Deficiencies can result in vision problems, keratinization of epithelial tissues, increased infection rates, and fetal malformations

  • Vitamin D

    • Can be synthesized from cholesterol in the skin when exposed to sunlight but can be blocked with sunscreen

    • Requires adequate cholesterol levels healthy liver and kidney function

    • Dependant on magnesium

    • Found in 2 forms

      • D2 - plant-sourced

      • D3 - animal-sourced 

    • Functions as a hormone for DNA transcription for regulating cell function and protein synthesis

    • Required for bone health, cell growth and differentiation, immunity, blood pressure regulation, and blood sugar balance

    • A deficiency can result in rickets in children or osteomalacia in adults, impaired immune system, hypertension, and blood sugar dysregulation

    • Synergistically dependent on vitamin A, D, and K

  • Vitamin E

    • Transported from the intestine via a protein and lipid globule to HDL and LDL

    • Stabilizes lipids in the blood - VLDL, LDL, HDL - and the cell membrane

    • Antioxidant properties protect the cell from free radical damage

    • Synergistic with carotenoids

    • Easily destroyed by heat, light, and oxygen

    • Can be depleted by polyunsaturated fatty acids (canola, vegetable, sunflower, safflower, corn, and peanut oil) consumption, low-fat diets, and oral contraceptives

    • A deficiency can result in red blood cell breakage, nerve damage and degeneration, and cardiovascular disease

  • Vitamin K

    • Found in 2 forms

      • K1

        • Plant-sourced

        • Activates the blood clotting cascade

      • K2

        • Foud in the fatty portion of animals and synthesized by bacteria in the gut

        • Required for bone building

        • Prevents soft tissue calcification and kidney stone formation

    • Dependent on vitamin D3 and retinoic acid (vitamin A)

    • A deficiency can result in bleeding or hemorrhaging, weakened bones, dental caries, atherosclerosis, kidney stone

    • Depleted by heat and light

    • Absorption impaired by a low-fat diet, biliary insufficiency, frequent antibiotic use

Now that we have all of this wonderful information about vitamins.  What can we do to support our body’s needs?  

  1. Eat a variety of fruits, veggies, and protein sources.  These are not going to be foods found in boxes or packages but in the meat, seafood, grains, and produce aisles of the grocery store.  Limit processed foods.

  2. Cycle through foods.  Eating the same thing every day is going to decrease the variety of vitamins and minerals.  Different foods offer different nutritional values. Spice up your routine a bit! I can help you with some meal planning inspiration if you’re feeling stuck!

  3. Consider taking supplements.  Unfortunately, our food sources are lacking in many of the vital vitamins and minerals our bodies need to operate optimally.  These deficiencies have occurred because of poor soil quality due to over-farming or harmful pesticides. Following certain dietary guidelines can also contribute to deficiencies.  But as with all things in life, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing and lead to toxicity. Head on over to my supplements page and see the basic supplements bridge the gap between diet and the body’s needs.  Discounts are available on supplements!

  4. Evaluate your lifestyle choices.  Stress, under-activity, environmental toxin exposure, lack of sleep, cigarettes, alcohol, medications, non-organic foods, and toxins in personal care products (to name a few) can all affect our vitamin and mineral status.  Now, I’m not saying that you should quit all of your medications.  That is a conversation that you should have with your physician if you have any concerns.  If you need recommendations for clean personal care products, visit my Arbonne page or shoot me an email and I can make a few recommendations.

The information available on this website is for general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should not rely exclusively on information provided on the Website for your health needs. You can read more about our disclaimer here.

There’s no one-size-fits-all fix to health concerns and symptoms. Why? Because there’s no single, standard issue body out there! My processes don’t conform to any standard prescription. They’re fluid, diverse, and customized to accommodate the uniqueness of each body, each lifestyle, and each individual’s differing needs.
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