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Vitamins: what role do they play and where to get them?
Vitamins: what role do they play and where to get them?

Real vitamin deficiency, or the complete absence of the necessary vitamins in the diet, is not so common, but hypovitaminosis, insufficient intake of vitamins, is very common.

Vitamins are complex organic substances. There are 13 of them, and we mainly get them from food. The human body can synthesize only vitamins PP and D. For example, vitamin D3 is synthesized in the human body under the influence of ultraviolet radiation.

A molecule of this or that vitamin always has the same structure, whether it is created by nature or artificially.

In the body, vitamins most often act as coenzymes or substrates for important enzymes. A lack of them leads to malfunctions in the body, metabolism worsens, and we feel bad.

In total, about 14% of adults and 16.8% of children over four years old in Russia are provided with all vitamins, says Vera Kodentsova, Doctor of Biological Sciences, Professor, Head of the Laboratory of Vitamins and Minerals at the Federal Research Center for Nutrition and Biotechnology. But a lack of several vitamins at once, or polyhypovitaminosis, is experienced in Russia by 22% of adults and 39.6% of children.

Urban myth # 1

Many people are sure that if you take vitamins in tablets, the body will be "lazy" and it will become worse to absorb them from food. This is a myth, although there is some truth in it. The added vitamins are better absorbed than the bound vitamins in food.

Contrary to popular belief, vitamins are not enough for the whole year, not just in the spring. Kodentsova calls the main reason for vitamin hunger malnutrition - excess in calories, but insufficient in vitamins. Yulia Ageeva, a chemist and manager of the Food Ingredients Department of BASF, mentions that this is partly due to the processing and method of cooking, the inaccessibility of certain products, and inappropriate intake of antibiotics.

“There are special risk groups who, in addition to deficiencies that are common for everyone, have deficiencies in other vitamins. Vitamin A - in pregnant women (third trimester), residents of the Russian North with tuberculosis; vitamin E - in workers of industrial enterprises with harmful working conditions, university students; folates (B9, folic acid and its derivatives) in obese students; vitamin B12 - for vegetarians,”says Kodentsova.

A fell, B disappeared

Most often, residents of Russia lack vitamins D, B2 and beta-carotene (the precursor of vitamin A), notes Kodentsova. Lack of vitamin D is typical for all countries of the Northern Hemisphere - from Russia to North America, says Yulia Ageeva from BASF. Lack of vitamin D leads to impaired calcium metabolism and osteoporosis. And on the contrary, a sufficient amount of them increases the body's resistance to diseases, strengthens the immune system, prevents the development of cancer, cardiovascular diseases and even saves from depression and improves mood, says Kodentsova.

“The main source of B vitamins, as a rule, are cereals,” adds Ageeva, “and since we use premium flour in baking, it is already strongly depleted in the composition of this group of vitamins. Each step of flour purification reduces the concentration of B vitamins. E is also a very important vitamin that is present in all cells of the body, it is a very important antioxidant. Lack of it can also be a serious problem. It is present in vegetable oil, but if the oil is highly processed, refined, it will be less there."

Urban myth # 2

"Eat fruit, they have a lot of vitamins!" We do not dissuade you from apples, pears and other fruits, but remember: vegetables and fruits contain mainly carotene (a precursor of vitamin A), other carotenoids, vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and folates, vitamin K1. But vitamins of groups B and D are found mainly in animal products - dairy, meat, poultry and cereal products.

The good news is that we have enough vitamin C on average. Only 1–2% of the population is experiencing a deficit, says Kodentsova. This can be explained by the fact that many of us eat fresh vegetables and fruits all year round, and sauerkraut is a good source of this vitamin.

Of course, not only northern countries suffer from vitamin hunger. In Africa and Southeast Asia, Ageyeva notes, there is a serious deficiency of vitamin A. It is mainly found in animal products (eggs, liver), which often cannot be afforded by the inhabitants of these regions due to poverty. Vegetables and fruits contain the precursor of vitamin A - beta-carotene, 6 μg of which corresponds to 1 μg of vitamin A. But it can only be converted into a vitamin under certain conditions.

Everything should be fine

In most countries of the world, the recommended daily intake of vitamins has been developed. They are regularly reviewed and updated. In Russia, the norms adopted in 2008 are currently in force. Compared to previous norms, they already recommend consuming more vitamins C, E and folic acid. And vitamin A, on the contrary, is less.

The content of vitamins in the body can be determined in two ways. First, calculate how much and what foods we consume every day, and, based on this, calculate how many and what vitamins and minerals enter the body. But this is not the most accurate method. The content of vitamins and minerals in the same food can vary even depending on the composition of the soil on which they grew. In addition, the cooking method will greatly influence. For example, if potatoes are boiled in their skins, they will lose half as much vitamin C as peeled ones.

Urban myth # 3

Is it possible to stock up on vitamins in the summer for a year in advance? Alas, more likely no than yes. For a time, only four fat-soluble vitamins can circulate in the body: A, D (we partly get D3 from the sun), E and K. They can be "stored". But the rest of the vitamins are quickly excreted from the body.

The second and more reliable way to find out what we are missing and how much is to assess the content of micronutrients in the blood and urine and the state of human health. This is just another blood test, it is "read" just like any other.

All the vitamins you need can be obtained from food. But, as Kodentsova notes, in order to "fill up" the daily norm, you will most likely have to consume about 3000 kcal (or eat according to a very, very specific diet).

“The lack of vitamins can and should be replenished by taking vitamin complexes containing at least 10 vitamins in doses close to 100% of the recommended daily intake, which is indicated in percentage on the label,” Kodentsova is sure. “The second way is to include in the diet food fortified with vitamins: bread, dairy products, breakfast cereals, drinks - one serving of which contains 15 to 50% of the recommended daily intake of vitamins.”


Useful pill

So there are 13 vitamins, they are all different. And artificially they are also obtained in different ways, says Ageeva.

Vitamins A and E are obtained by chemical multistage synthesis from simpler organic molecules.

And the starting material for vitamin D3 in the form of cholecalciferol is - all of a sudden - sheep wool. Lanolin is obtained from it, and this nutrient is obtained from it by chemical synthesis.


Only four vitamins are obtained microbiologically. Firstly, these are vitamins C and B2 (riboflavin), which are "cooked" by yeast-like mushrooms.Vitamin B12 is obtained by producing bacteria using bacterial synthesis. It is natural for these microorganisms to secrete vitamin B12. For example, in a healthy intestine there are bacteria that also synthesize this vitamin, says Ageeva. And D2 in the form of ergosterol, for example, is produced by yeast-like fungi.

In a very simplified way, obtaining vitamins by a microbiological method can be imagined as a huge bucket with a stirrer inside, explains Ageeva. An ideal environment for producers has been created inside: optimal in terms of the composition of gases, nutrition and temperature.

“Ideally, the producing microorganism itself secretes the required substance. But it happens that the molecule of interest remains inside. Then you have to get it, destroying the cell walls,”says Ageeva.

Regardless of the origin of vitamins, the body may not absorb them. In order for vitamins to be absorbed both from food and from a tablet, certain conditions must be created. For example, vitamins B and C are water-soluble, while A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble. The former are best absorbed with water (vitamin C can often be bought in effervescent tablets at pharmacies), the latter in a greasy environment. Therefore, carrots (rich in the precursor of vitamin A) are really useful to eat boiled and with sour cream.

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