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What are Vitamins

Organic compounds that are needed in small amounts to sustain life are known as vitamins. Majority of the vitamins that our body needs comes naturally from food. For e.g. vitamin A comes from vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach. Similarly, vitamin B12 comes from red meat, poultry, and fish. Vitamin E is obtained from nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and more. The deficiency of these vitamins can result in reduced bone strength, eyesight problems, anemia, dry skin or scurvy and other conditions.

What are Vitamin supplements

Vitamin supplements also known as “Multivitamins” are dietary supplements with vitamins and dietary minerals. Dietary minerals are basic chemical elements that are normally found in our diet such as carbon, hydrogen and potassium, zinc etc. They aid in growth, development of the human body, maintain its ideal functioning and transmitting nerve impulses (which help us generate physical response). Vitamin supplements along with dietary minerals are available in the form of tablets, capsules and other over the counter formulations.  These supplements help in overcoming any vitamin or mineral deficiency.

How they affect your immune system

Vitamins are very essential for overall health and they have been known for a very long time to have a keen effect on our immune system. Vitamin A, C and D have an imperative role in the working of our immune system which includes both innate and adaptive immunity of the human body.

Innate immunity is a non-specific immune response of our body. It is activated whenever our body finds anything foreign in our system. On the other hand, adaptive immunity is specific in action and is acquired over time.

Effects of Vitamin supplements or Multivitamins

Multivitamins are basically a combination of different vitamins in variable quantities which can normally be found in natural food sources. They are intended to provide vitamins that a person fails to take through his normal diet.

Therecommended doses are as follows:

  • Vitamin A—900 mcg

  • Vitamin C—75-90 mg

  • Vitamin D—15 mg

  • Vitamin B6—1.3 to 1.7 mg

Multivitamins besides being a replacement of natural vitamins also treat vitamin deficiencies usually caused by pregnancy, malnutrition, gut disorders and other systemic conditions. Multivitamins also contain zinc, calcium and other elements which aid in metabolism, digestion, nerve function, strengthening bones, teeth and more.

Different vitamins that help in boosting immunity

Vitamins that can enhance our immune functioning include Vitamin C, Vitamin B-complex, Vitamin A and Vitamin D. Here’s how they work…

1. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an important micronutrient which not only boosts immunity but also acts as a potential antioxidant (removes reactive oxygen species from the body). These reactive oxygen species are capable of damaging DNA/RNA, oxidize proteins and lipids and can lead to cancer and other diseases. Vitamin C also helps in reducing the oxidative stress caused by the environment on human skin.

How it works

Vitamin C is required for collagen formation which is a protein that helps in holding the tissues together in the body. Vitamin C is also a potent antioxidant and works as a detox for our body. It also works by accumulating phagocytic cells which eat up microbes. Above all, it helps immune cells grow and mature, hence strengthening your immune system. 

Effects on our body

  • High doses of vitamin C may lower blood pressure One possible mechanism of how Vitamin C lowers blood pressure is its ability to act as a diuretic. It causes the kidney to remove more water and sodium from the body, helping in widening and relaxing the blood vessels which eventually lowers the blood pressure.

  • Deficiency of vitamin C might lead to cardiovascular diseasesVitamin C reduces the pathogenesis of cardiac diseases like atherosclerosis (building up of fats and cholesterol on vessels leading to and from the heart).

  • Lowers uric acid levels in blood – Vitamin C supplementation significantly lowers the level of serum uric acid (SUA). High serum levels of uric acid are associated with a 10-fold increase in the risk of gout (joints disease).

  • Increases the absorption of iron in the bodyVitamin C improves the absorption of iron from the diet in two ways: (1) by preventing the formation of insoluble iron compounds and (2) by increasing the uptake of soluble iron into body cells hence managing the iron deficiency.

  • Supports our immune systemVitamin C acts as an antioxidant, supports our immune cells in killing microbes and also helps in preventing and treating respiratory and systemic infections.

2.Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It can be found in different food sources such as beans, meat and can also be found in synthetic food products e.g. cereals.

How it works

Vitamin B6 was found to have significant effects on the number of immune cells. It increases them in number, allows your body to generate an immune response and aids in antibody production. Vitamin B6 also formulates melatonin, a substance that regulates your biological clock and sleeping patterns.

Effects on our body

Vitamin B6 is essential for the proper growth of the body and optimal functioning of vital organs like the brain, skin and liver.

  • Improves brain functionsVitamin B6 helps in brain development of children, enhances memory and brain growth by regulating the cyclic stress in the body via neurotransmitters.

  • Acts as a neurotransmitter – Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry signals from one neuron to another. They promote brain development, improvise brain functioning and help in maintaining the hormonal balance as well. Vitamin B6 helps in accelerating the formation of neurotransmitters like epinephrine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters help in regulation of the normal biological rhythm of the human body such as sleep cycles.

3. Vitamin A

It includes a group of unsaturated molecules that includes elements like retinol, retinal, retinoic acid and carotenoids. It is essential for vision enhancement, growth and development, reproduction and strengthening our immune system.

How it works

Vitamin A acts directly in the biosynthesis of different proteins that regulates cell-functioning and body growth. Vitamin A also controls the production of different hormones in the body.

Effects on our body

  • Plays a critical role in the immune system – Research has shown that it plays a significant role in development, growth and differentiation of immune cells which fight off diseases. It also regulates immune responses and is involved in production of antibodies. These antibodies recognize disease-causing agents and kill them at the spot.

Vitamin A has a component called beta carotene which is a powerful antioxidant. It helps in fighting the foreign substances in the body and preventing it from infections and diseases.

  • Acts as an anti-inflammatory vitamin – Vitamin A is known to have anti-inflammatory effects and is found to be very effective in a number of inflammatory conditions including skin disorders and pulmonary conditions.

4. Vitamin D

Vitamin D belongs to a group of fat soluble vitamins that improve the absorption of calcium, magnesium and phosphate in your body cells. 

Mechanism of action:

It modulates both adaptive and innate immunity and aids in local immune responses. Its deficiency is often found to be associated with a high risk of getting infections and autoimmune disorders.

Benefits of Vitamin D

  • Bone health – It helps with the development of our bones. Appropriate levels of Vitamin D can prevent bone diseases like rickets, osteoporosis and osteomalacia.

  • Diabetes – Researchers suggest Vitamin D improves insulin sensitivity within the body (insulin takes up sugar from the blood and prevents diabetes. It also increases the production of insulin from the liver.

Conclusion

 Vitamins are the nutrients that are obtained directly from our food or can be taken in the form of multivitamin supplements. When taken in appropriate amounts different vitamins and their supplements can strengthen your immune system in different ways.  

References

  1. Harvard Health Publishing. Listing of Vitamins. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/listing_of_vitamins

  2. WebMD. The benefits of vitamin C. https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-benefits-of-vitamin-c#1

  3. Carr, A. C., & Maggini, S. (2017). Vitamin C and immune function. Nutrients, 9(11), 1211.

  4. Hopkinsmedicine.org. Big doses of Vitamin C may lower blood pressure. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/big_doses_of_vitamin_c_may_lower_blood_pressure

  5. Juraschek, S. P., Miller III, E. R., & Gelber, A. C. (2011). Effect of oral vitamin C supplementation on serum uric acid: a meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials. Arthritis care & research, 63(9), 1295-1306.

  6. Hallberg, L., Brune, M., & Rossander, L. (1989). The role of vitamin C in iron absorption. International journal for vitamin and nutrition research. Supplement= Internationale Zeitschrift fur Vitamin-und Ernährungsforschung. Supplement, 30, 103-108.

  7. NIH National Cancer Institute. High dose Vitamin C. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient/vitamin-c-pdq

  8. WebMD. Pyridoxine Vitamin B6. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-934/pyridoxine-vitamin-b6

  9. Kennedy, D. O. (2016). B vitamins and the brain: mechanisms, dose and efficacy—a review. Nutrients, 8(2), 68.

  10. Mora, J. R., Iwata, M., & Von Andrian, U. H. (2008). Vitamin effects on the immune system: vitamins A and D take centre stage. Nature Reviews Immunology, 8(9), 685-698.

  11. WebMD. Vitamin D deficiency. https://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/vitamin-d-deficiency#1

  12. Aranow, C. (2011). Vitamin D and the immune system. Journal of investigative medicine, 59(6), 881-886.

  13. DIabetes.co.uk.Vitamin D and diabetes.https://www.diabetes.co.uk/food/vitamin-d.html

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