Vitamins: What are they and what do they do?

a plate with watermelon and berries

What are vitamins and their function?

Vitamins are naturally occurring chemicals and essential for normal growth and development. Vitamins are also required for building, repairing and maintaining healthy tissues and cells. Vitamins help release energy from food by acting as essential links and regulators in the biological chemical reactions.

The function of vitamins can vary from vitamin to vitamin. You can check a full list of vitamins here. However, some vitamins protect the body’s tissues and cells against damage and disease through the antioxidant properties. It is important to note that heat, light, physical handling, alkali and exposure to air can have detrimental effects on the quality of the overall vitamin content. For instance vegetable oil, keeping the bottle open damages its nutrient content. So make sure to ALWAYS keep that bottle closed! You could be consuming fruit ad vegetables that are supposed to give you all the nutrients you were wanting to get just to find out you may be facing deficiencies.

Vitamin deficiencies.

Lack of vitamins could be fatal. There are two types of vitamins, one of which are water-soluble and fat-soluble. Water- vitamins cannot be stored by the body and so daily intakes are required. Any excess is lost in urine. Whereas fat-soluble vitamins which are not destroyed by heat and can be stored within the body. It’s quite rare to have suffer from a deficiency from fat-soluble vitamins because our body can store them. This is not the case with water soluble vitamins as these are not stored.

Deficiency symptoms can vary depending on which vitamin you are deficient in. However, the symptoms can vary from headaches, tiredness, mood swings, hormonal changes to something far worst like death. You can check out a full list of vitamins, recommended intakes and deficiency symptoms in this article.


What are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants prevent the harmful effects of oxidation and protect the body cells and tissues against damage from free radicals. In scientific terms, a free radical is an atom or molecule that enters into our body through breath (oxidation) and causing damage to our body. In ordinary terms, free radicals are toxins found in air that we breathe. For instance, toxins caused from pollution.

Moreover, when we breathe in a ‘free radical’, oxygen molecules grab hydrogen ion from a nearby molecule. This in turn grabs one from another structure setting of a chain reaction which could lead to tissue damage. So, in simpler terms, free radicals attach themselves to body tissues and cells which sets off a chain reaction allowing the toxins to spread through our body.

Antioxidants block the process of oxidation to prevent or stop this chain reaction, free radicals can multiply, putting stress on body’s defence systems, which can lead to cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Antioxidant vitamins & minerals.

  • Vitamin C- helps scavenge free radicals. Sources include: dried apricots, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, cabbage, sweet and white potatoes, tomatoes.
  • Vitamin A scavenges for free radicals and single oxygen molecules. Sources include: fruit and veg, soya beans, carrots, dried apricots,
  • Vitamin E works with fatty acids to prevent interacting with free radicals. Sources include: Brazil nuts, avocado, wholegrain bread, olive oil, rapeseed oil.


In this article you’ve learnt what vitamins are, what are their function and what are antioxidant vitamins. If you are looking for a full list of vitamins, then I’d recommend you check out this article.

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Cho S, Dietrich M, Brown CJ, Clark CA, Block G. The effect of breakfast type on total daily energy intake and body mass index: results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). J Am Coll Nutr. 2003;22:296–302

Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation on Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases, Geneva, 2002

Wyatt KM, Dimmock PW, Jones PW, O’Brien PMS. Efficacy of Vitamin B-6 in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: a systematic review. BMJ 1999;318:1375-81

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