What are Vitamins?

Importance and Health Benefits of Vitamins

A vitamin is an organic (carbon-containing) chemical compound your body must have in very small amounts for normal growth, metabolism (creating energy in your cells), and health. You need vitamins to make enzymes and hormones—important substances your body uses to make all the many chemical reactions you need to live. You must get your vitamins from your food or from supplements—you can't make them in your body.

There are 13 vitamins in all, and you need every single one of them, no exceptions. Vitamins aren't food or a substitute for food. They have no calories and give you no energy directly—but your body needs vitamins, especially the B vitamins, to convert food to energy.

Your body has about 60 trillioin cells in it. Every moment of every day, thousands of different chemical reactions are happening inside each cell. To make each one of those reactions happen, your body makes a specific enzyme just for that particular purpose and no other. When the reaction is over, still other enzymes break down the specific enzyme and recycle it. To make all those enzymes and keep your body running smoothly, you need plenty of vitamins and minerals.

The vitamins are divided into two groups: fat-soluble and water-soluble.

Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in your body, mostly in your fatty tissues and in your liver. Vitamins A, E, D and K are fat-soluble—that is, they dissolve in fat but not water. Because you can store these vitamins, you don't have to get a supply of them every day. On the other hand, getting too much of these vitamins means they could build up in your body and cause problems.

Water-Soluble Vitamins

Water-soluble vitamins can't really be stored in your body for very long. That's because these vitamins dissolve in water, so any extra is carried out of your body. Vitamin C and all the B vitamins are water-soluble. Because you can't store these vitamins, you need to get a fresh supply every day. You can't really overdose on water-soluble vitamins. Unless you take truly massive doses, the extra just washes harmlessly out.

There is no wonder why every year Americans spend more than $4 billion on vitamins, minerals, and other supplements. They're seeking better health, perhaps a longer and more vigorous life, or maybe help for a painful health problem. If you understand how important vitamins and minerals are and their health benefits, you too can achieve better health.

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