Nutrition and Diet (cont.)
The water-soluble vitamins are B and C. Their solubility means that they can leech into water that they are washed, stored, and cooked in and can be excreted in the urine. They are associated with some of the most well-known deficiency diseases. When consumed in adequate amounts, they play an essential role in our health.
There are numerous B vitamins. Each one of them facilitates energy release in every cell, so a deficiency affects the entire body. Fortunately, deficiencies are rare when a diet is well balanced. These are the various B vitamins:
- Thiamin: Also known as vitamin B1, thiamin is involved in nervous-system and muscle functioning, the flow of electrolytes in and out of nerve and muscle cells, carbohydrate metabolism, and the production of hydrochloric acid. Very little thiamin is stored in the body, so depletion can occur in a little as 14 days. Chronic alcohol intake and an inadequate diet can lead to a thiamin deficiency. Beriberi is the deficiency disease for thiamin. Sources of thiamin are pork chops, sunflower seeds, green peas, baked potatoes, and enriched and whole grain cereals and pastas.
- Riboflavin: This B vitamin also plays a role in energy metabolism. It has similar function and sources as thiamin, so a deficiency in one usually means a deficiency in the other. Additional sources of riboflavin are milk and milk products and beef liver.
- Niacin: Along with its role in energy metabolism, niacin is also responsible for the synthesis and breakdown of fatty acids. Pellagra is the deficiency disease for niacin. Because the primary source of niacin is dairy products, poultry, fish, lean meats, nuts, and eggs, deficiencies can be found among the poor as well as in alcoholics.
- Folate: This vitamin became a mandatory addition to certain foods due to its role in producing and maintaining new cells. The folate fortification project was implemented for the protection of developing fetuses. A folate deficiency in a woman who is pregnant can cause neural tube defects that result in malformations of the spine (spina bifida), skull, and brain (anencephaly). Since the fortification of foods with folate began, the incidence of these defects has declined. Dietary sources of folate are fortified cereals, beef liver, pinto beans, lentils, spinach, asparagus, avocados, and broccoli.
- Vitamin B12: Like folate, vitamin B12 is needed for producing and maintaining new cells. It is also needed to maintain the sheaths that surround and protect nerve fibers. An inadequate amount of B12 causes pernicious anemia. Signs of vitamin B12 deficiency are fatigue, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, and numbness and tingling in the hands and feet. An excess intake of folate can mask the symptoms of B12 deficiency, so it's important to have your levels checked by a blood test, especially if you consume a vegetarian diet. Vitamin B12 is found in animal products like trout, salmon, beef, and dairy foods. There are fortified cereals that provide B12 as well.
Doctors do not routinely check vitamin B12 levels.
Vitamin C is needed to form collagen in bones, cartilage, muscle, and blood vessels, and aids in the absorption of iron. Vitamin C deficiency was discovered in sailors more than 200 years ago. This deficiency, later called scurvy, was killing sailors who stayed out on the sea for long voyages. Initial symptoms of scurvy in adults may include loss of appetite, diarrhea, shortness of breath, weakness, and fever, followed by irritability, depression, leg pain, pseudoparalysis, swelling over long bones of the body, anemia, paleness, poor wound healing, corkscrew hair, dry eyes, skin thickening (hyperkeratosis), and bleeding (particularly gum bleeding, bleeding behind the eyes causing prominence, bleeding at the joints of the ribs and sternum causing discoloration under the skin of the chest, skin bruising, or blood in the urine or stool). Scurvy can now be prevented with an adequate diet. Dietary sources of vitamin C include fruits and vegetables, particularly citrus fruits such as oranges, limes, and lemons.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/23/2015
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