The Vitality of Vitamins
In my last post, I discussed why water and oil don’t mix. To the average individual, the sharing of such knowledge may appear lacking in purpose. But alas, there is reason behind introducing the concept of hydrophobic and hydrophilic interactions.
If you do not understand the difference between a molecule that dissolves in the presence of lipids versus one which dissolves in the presence of water, then you’ve already missed the fundamental difference between a fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamin.
There are a total of thirteen vitamins that are required by the human body for growth and maintenance. Each of the thirteen vitamins falls into one of two groups based on their ability to dissolve in water or fat. As the name implies, a fat-soluble vitamin dissolves in fat. Once a fat-soluble vitamin has been absorbed, it is stored indefinitely in the liver and fatty tissues of the body. The fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins D, E, K & A. Fat-soluble vitamins are generally found in the fats and oils of foods.
If fat-soluble vitamins are dissolvable only in fat then we can readily ascertain that water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water. Unlike their fat-soluble counterparts however, water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body but rather, any excess is excreted via urine. Water soluble vitamins include vitamin C and a group of eight vitamins known collectively as vitamin B.
The B Vitamins: B1- Thiamine, B2- Riboflavin, B3- Niacin, B5- Pantothenic Acid, B6- Pyridoxine, B7- Biotin, B9- Folic Acid, and B12- Cobalamin
But what exactly is a vitamin? According to Merriam-Webster, a vitamin is:
Any of various organic substances that are essential in minute quantities to the nutrition of most animals and some plants, act especially as coenzymes and precursors of coenzymes in the regulation of metabolic processes but do not provide energy or serve as *building units, and are present in natural foodstuffs or sometimes produced within the body. [*Note: the term building unit references amino acids which are often referenced as the building blocks of life.]
Clear as mud, right?
Ultimately, a vitamin is an organic compound that is necessary for helping the body in regularly carrying out a multitude of daily physiological processes.
Vitamins can exist in many forms. Some exist as provitamins- a fancy term used to describe the inactive form of a vitamin. A provitamin must be converted into its active form before it can assist with a metabolic process within the cell. Other vitamins function as antioxidants while some operate as coenzymes. A coenzyme must combine with an enzyme (protein) in order to start a chemical reaction within the body.
Your Body is a Mansion: A Simple Analogy
In attempting to understand why vitamins are important, it’s best to think of your body as a mansion. Mansions are expensive, mansions are beautiful and mansions are impressive just like your body. Mansions also have a staff of maids and butlers who constantly work to maintain the property, ensuring that it is clean and operating at optimal capacity. They scurry around turning on lights, vacuuming carpets, mopping floors, opening doors, etc. It is these maids and butlers that are like vitamins.
Now think of calories as the electricity that provides the energy to the mansion. The maids and butlers do not contribute any electricity towards the mansion in the same manner that a vitamin does not contribute any energy (calories) to the body. But vitamins ensure that the appropriate switches are turned on so that the body can access said energy. You need the maid to plug in the vacuum cleaner and press the power button before the carpet can be cleaned. You need the butler to ensure all windows are shut so that the electricity which helps heat the mansion isn’t wasted.
If your body is the mansion with the calories functioning as the electric source of energy and vitamins are the butlers and maids who assist in maintaining the mansion, then minerals are the sturdy material, the mortar and bricks that strengthen the frame of the mansion. This means that amino acids are the frame of the house, the building block that holds everything else up.
Stay tuned for future posts where I discuss the relevance of minerals and proteins.
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