A vitamin is an organic compound and an essential nutrient that an
organism requires in limited amounts. An organic chemical compound is
called a vitamin when the organism cannot make the compound in
sufficient quantities, and it must be obtained through the diet; thus,
the term vitamin is conditional upon the circumstances and the
particular organism. For example, vitamin C is a vitamin for humans,
but not most other animals which make enough internally.
Vitamin D is
essential only for people who do not have adequate skin exposure to
sunlight, because the ultraviolet light in sunlight normally promotes
synthesis of vitamin D. While vitamin supplements are important for
the treatment of certain health problems, otherwise healthy people
generally receive no benefit from using vitamin supplements.
By convention the word vitamin does not include other essential
nutrients, such as dietary minerals, essential fatty acids and
essential amino acids. Thirteen vitamins are universally recognized
at present. Vitamins are classified by both biological and chemical
activity, and not their structure. Each vitamin name (the word vitamin
followed by a letter of the alphabet) refers to a number of vitamer
compounds that all show the same biological activity. For example,
vitamin A refers to the compounds retinal, retinol, and four known
carotenoids. Vitamers by definition are convertible to the active form
of the vitamin in the body, and are sometimes inter-convertible to one
another as well.
Vitamins have diverse biochemical functions. Some, such as vitamin D,
have hormone-like functions as regulators of mineral metabolism, or
regulators of cell and tissue growth and differentiation (such as some
forms of vitamin A). Others function as antioxidants (e.g., vitamin E
and sometimes vitamin C). The largest number of vitamins, the B
complex vitamins, function as enzyme cofactors (coenzymes) or the
precursors for them; coenzymes help enzymes in their work as catalysts
in metabolism. In this role, vitamins may be tightly bound to enzymes
as part of prosthetic groups: For example, biotin is part of enzymes
involved in making fatty acids. They may also be less tightly bound to
enzyme catalysts as coenzymes, detachable molecules that function to
carry chemical groups or electrons between molecules. For example,
folic acid may carry methyl, formyl, and methylene groups in the cell.
Although these roles in assisting enzyme-substrate reactions are
vitamins' best-known function, the other vitamin functions are equally
Until the mid-1930s, when the first commercial yeast-extract vitamin B
complex and semi-synthetic vitamin C supplement tablets were sold,
vitamins were obtained solely through food intake, and changes in diet
(which, for example, could occur during a particular growing season)
usually greatly altered the types and amounts of vitamins ingested.
However, vitamins have been produced as commodity chemicals and made
widely available as inexpensive semisynthetic and synthetic-source
multivitamin dietary and food supplements and additives, since the
middle of the 20th century. Study of structural activity, function and
their role in maintaining health is called vitaminology.
1 List of vitamins
2 Health effects
2.2 Effect of cooking
5 Society and culture
5.1 Governmental regulation
7 See also
9 External links
List of vitamins
Each vitamin is typically used in multiple reactions, and therefore
most have multiple functions.
Vitamer chemical name(s) (list not complete)
United States Recommended dietary allowances
(male, age 19–70)
Upper Intake Level
Retinol, retinal, and
including beta carotene
Night blindness, hyperkeratosis, and keratomalacia
Liver, orange, ripe yellow fruits, leafy vegetables, carrots, pumpkin,
squash, spinach, fish, soy milk, milk
Beriberi, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
Drowsiness or muscle relaxation with large doses.
Pork, oatmeal, brown rice, vegetables, potatoes, liver, eggs
Ariboflavinosis, glossitis, angular stomatitis
Dairy products, bananas, popcorn, green beans, asparagus
Liver damage (doses > 2g/day) and other problems
Meat, fish, eggs, many vegetables, mushrooms, tree nuts
Diarrhea; possibly nausea and heartburn.
Meat, broccoli, avocados
Pyridoxine, pyridoxamine, pyridoxal
Anemia peripheral neuropathy
Impairment of proprioception, nerve damage (doses >
Meat, vegetables, tree nuts, bananas
Raw egg yolk, liver, peanuts, leafy green vegetables
Megaloblastic anemia and deficiency during pregnancy is associated
with birth defects, such as neural tube defects
May mask symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency; other effects.
Leafy vegetables, pasta, bread, cereal, liver
Cyanocobalamin, hydroxocobalamin, methylcobalamin, adenosylcobalamin
Acne-like rash [causality is not conclusively established].
Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk
Vitamin C megadosage
Many fruits and vegetables, liver
Rickets and osteomalacia
Fish, eggs, liver, mushrooms
Deficiency is very rare; sterility in males and miscarriage in
females, mild hemolytic anemia in newborn infants
Increased congestive heart failure seen in one large randomized
Many fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds
Increases coagulation in patients taking warfarin.
Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, egg yolks, liver
Vitamins are essential for the normal growth and development of a
multicellular organism. Using the genetic blueprint inherited from its
parents, a fetus begins to develop from the nutrients it absorbs. It
requires certain vitamins and minerals to be present at certain times.
These nutrients facilitate the chemical reactions that produce among
other things, skin, bone, and muscle. If there is serious deficiency
in one or more of these nutrients, a child may develop a deficiency
disease. Even minor deficiencies may cause permanent damage.
For the most part, vitamins are obtained with food, but a few are
obtained by other means. For example, microorganisms in the
intestine — commonly known as "gut flora" — produce
vitamin K and biotin, while one form of vitamin D is synthesized in
the skin with the help of the natural ultraviolet wavelength of
sunlight. Humans can produce some vitamins from precursors they
consume. Examples include vitamin A, produced from beta carotene, and
niacin, from the amino acid tryptophan.
Once growth and development are completed, vitamins remain essential
nutrients for the healthy maintenance of the cells, tissues, and
organs that make up a multicellular organism; they also enable a
multicellular life form to efficiently use chemical energy provided by
food it eats, and to help process the proteins, carbohydrates, and
fats required for cellular respiration.
500 mg calcium supplement tablets, with vitamin D, made from calcium
carbonate, maltodextrin, mineral oil, hypromellose, glycerin,
cholecalciferol, polyethylene glycol, and carnauba wax.
In those who are otherwise healthy, there is little evidence that
supplements have any benefits with respect to cancer or heart
Vitamin A and E supplements not only provide no health
benefits for generally healthy individuals, but they may increase
mortality, though the two large studies that support this conclusion
included smokers for whom it was already known that beta-carotene
supplements can be harmful. Other findings suggest that
vitamin E toxicity is limited to only a specific form when taken in
The European Union and other countries of Europe have regulations that
define limits of vitamin (and mineral) dosages for their safe use as
dietary supplements. Most vitamins that are sold as dietary
supplements are not supposed to exceed a maximum daily dosage referred
to as the tolerable upper intake level (UL).
Vitamin products above
these regulatory limits are not considered supplements and should be
registered as prescription or non-prescription (over-the-counter
drugs) due to their potential side effects. The European Union, United
States, Japan and some other countries each set ULs.
Dietary supplements often contain vitamins, but may also include other
ingredients, such as minerals, herbs, and botanicals. Scientific
evidence supports the benefits of dietary supplements for persons with
certain health conditions. In some cases, vitamin supplements may
have unwanted effects, especially if taken before surgery, with other
dietary supplements or medicines, or if the person taking them has
certain health conditions. They may also contain levels of vitamins
many times higher, and in different forms, than one may ingest through
Effect of cooking
USDA has conducted extensive studies on the percentage losses of
various nutrients from different food types and cooking methods.
Some vitamins may become more "bio-available" – that is, usable by
the body – when foods are cooked. 
The table below shows whether various vitamins are susceptible to loss
from heat—such as heat from boiling, steaming, frying, etc. The
effect of cutting vegetables can be seen from exposure to air and
light. Water-soluble vitamins such as B and C dissolve into the water
when a vegetable is boiled, and are then lost when the water is
Soluble in Water
Stable to Air Exposure
Stable to Light Exposure
Stable to Heat Exposure
> 100 °C
Pantothenic Acid (B5)
Folic Acid (B9)
at high temp
Humans must consume vitamins periodically but with differing
schedules, to avoid deficiency. The body's stores for different
vitamins vary widely; vitamins A, D, and B12 are stored in significant
amounts, mainly in the liver, and an adult's diet may be deficient
in vitamins A and D for many months and B12 in some cases for years,
before developing a deficiency condition. However, vitamin B3 (niacin
and niacinamide) is not stored in significant amounts, so stores may
last only a couple of weeks. For vitamin C, the first symptoms
of scurvy in experimental studies of complete vitamin C deprivation in
humans have varied widely, from a month to more than six months,
depending on previous dietary history that determined body stores.
Deficiencies of vitamins are classified as either primary or
secondary. A primary deficiency occurs when an organism does not get
enough of the vitamin in its food. A secondary deficiency may be due
to an underlying disorder that prevents or limits the absorption or
use of the vitamin, due to a "lifestyle factor", such as smoking,
excessive alcohol consumption, or the use of medications that
interfere with the absorption or use of the vitamin. People who
eat a varied diet are unlikely to develop a severe primary vitamin
deficiency. In contrast, restrictive diets have the potential to cause
prolonged vitamin deficits, which may result in often painful and
potentially deadly diseases.
Well-known human vitamin deficiencies involve thiamine (beriberi),
niacin (pellagra), vitamin C (scurvy), and vitamin D
(rickets). In much of the developed world, such deficiencies are
rare; this is due to (1) an adequate supply of food and (2) the
addition of vitamins and minerals to common foods
(fortification). In addition to these classical vitamin
deficiency diseases, some evidence has also suggested links between
vitamin deficiency and a number of different disorders.
Some vitamins have documented side effects that tend to be more severe
with a larger dosage. The likelihood of consuming too much of any
vitamin from food is remote, but overdosing (vitamin poisoning) from
vitamin supplementation does occur. Acute symptoms can include nausea,
vomiting and diarrhea. In the United States, the Institute of
Medicine of the National Academies has established Tolerable upper
intake levels (ULs) for those vitamins which have documented side
effects at high intakes. In the European Union the European Food
Safety Authority has also set ULs. ULs from the two organizations
do not always match.
In 2014, overdose exposure to all formulations of vitamins and
multi-vitamin/mineral formulations was reported by 68,058 individuals
American Association of Poison Control Centers
American Association of Poison Control Centers with 73% of
these exposures in children under the age of five.
Vitamins are classified as either water-soluble or fat-soluble. In
humans there are 13 vitamins: 4 fat-soluble (A, D, E, and K) and 9
B vitamins and vitamin C). Water-soluble vitamins
dissolve easily in water and, in general, are readily excreted from
the body, to the degree that urinary output is a strong predictor of
vitamin consumption. Because they are not as readily stored, more
consistent intake is important. Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed
through the intestinal tract with the help of lipids (fats). Because
they are more likely to accumulate in the body, they are more likely
to lead to hypervitaminosis than are water-soluble vitamins.
Fat-soluble vitamin regulation is of particular significance in cystic
The discovery dates of the vitamins and their sources
Year of discovery
Vitamin A (Retinol)
Cod liver oil
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)
Citrus, most fresh foods
Vitamin D (Calciferol)
Cod liver oil
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Meat, dairy products, eggs
Vitamin E (Tocopherol)
Wheat germ oil,
unrefined vegetable oils
Vitamin K1 (Phylloquinone)
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)
Meat, whole grains,
in many foods
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
Meat, dairy products, eggs
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Meat, dairy products
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamins)
Liver, eggs, animal products
The value of eating a certain food to maintain health was recognized
long before vitamins were identified. The ancient Egyptians knew that
feeding liver to a person may help with night blindness, an illness
now known to be caused by a vitamin A deficiency. The advancement
of ocean voyages during the
Renaissance resulted in prolonged periods
without access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and made illnesses from
vitamin deficiency common among ships' crews.
In 1747, the Scottish surgeon James Lind discovered that citrus foods
helped prevent scurvy, a particularly deadly disease in which collagen
is not properly formed, causing poor wound healing, bleeding of the
gums, severe pain, and death. In 1753, Lind published his Treatise
on the Scurvy, which recommended using lemons and limes to avoid
scurvy, which was adopted by the British Royal Navy. This led to the
nickname limey for British sailors. Lind's discovery, however, was not
widely accepted by individuals in the Royal Navy's
in the 19th century, where it was widely believed that scurvy could be
prevented by practicing good hygiene, regular exercise, and
maintaining the morale of the crew while on board, rather than by a
diet of fresh food. As a result,
Arctic expeditions continued to
be plagued by scurvy and other deficiency diseases. In the early 20th
Robert Falcon Scott
Robert Falcon Scott made his two expeditions to the
Antarctic, the prevailing medical theory at the time was that scurvy
was caused by "tainted" canned food.
During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the use of deprivation
studies allowed scientists to isolate and identify a number of
Lipid from fish oil was used to cure rickets in rats, and
the fat-soluble nutrient was called "antirachitic A". Thus, the first
"vitamin" bioactivity ever isolated, which cured rickets, was
initially called "vitamin A"; however, the bioactivity of this
compound is now called vitamin D. In 1881, Russian surgeon Nikolai
Lunin studied the effects of scurvy at the
University of Tartu
University of Tartu in
present-day Estonia. He fed mice an artificial mixture of all the
separate constituents of milk known at that time, namely the proteins,
fats, carbohydrates, and salts. The mice that received only the
individual constituents died, while the mice fed by milk itself
developed normally. He made a conclusion that "a natural food such as
milk must therefore contain, besides these known principal
ingredients, small quantities of unknown substances essential to
life." However, his conclusions were rejected by his advisor,
Gustav von Bunge, even after other students reproduced his
results. A similar result by Cornelius Pekelharing appeared in a
Dutch medical journal in 1905, but it was not widely reported.
The Ancient Egyptians knew that feeding a person liver may help with
In East Asia, where polished white rice was the common staple food of
the middle class, beriberi resulting from lack of vitamin B1 was
endemic. In 1884, Takaki Kanehiro, a British-trained medical doctor of
the Imperial Japanese Navy, observed that beriberi was endemic among
low-ranking crew who often ate nothing but rice, but not among
officers who consumed a Western-style diet. With the support of the
Japanese navy, he experimented using crews of two battleships; one
crew was fed only white rice, while the other was fed a diet of meat,
fish, barley, rice, and beans. The group that ate only white rice
documented 161 crew members with beriberi and 25 deaths, while the
latter group had only 14 cases of beriberi and no deaths. This
convinced Takaki and the Japanese Navy that diet was the cause of
beriberi, but they mistakenly believed that sufficient amounts of
protein prevented it. That diseases could result from some dietary
deficiencies was further investigated by Christiaan Eijkman, who in
1897 discovered that feeding unpolished rice instead of the polished
variety to chickens helped to prevent beriberi in the chickens.
The following year,
Frederick Hopkins postulated that some foods
contained "accessory factors" — in addition to proteins,
carbohydrates, fats etc. — that are necessary for the functions
of the human body. Hopkins and Eijkman were awarded the Nobel
Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1929 for their discoveries.
Jack Drummond’s single paragraph paper in 1920 which provided
structure and nomenclature used today for vitamins
In 1910, the first vitamin complex was isolated by Japanese scientist
Umetaro Suzuki, who succeeded in extracting a water-soluble complex of
micronutrients from rice bran and named it aberic acid (later
Orizanin). He published this discovery in a Japanese scientific
journal. When the article was translated into German, the
translation failed to state that it was a newly discovered nutrient, a
claim made in the original Japanese article, and hence his discovery
failed to gain publicity. In 1912 Polish-born biochemist Casimir Funk,
working in London, isolated the same complex of micronutrients and
proposed the complex be named "vitamine". It was later to be known as
vitamin B3 (niacin), though he described it as "anti-beri-beri-factor"
(which would today be called thiamine or vitamin B1). Funk proposed
the hypothesis that other diseases, such as rickets, pellagra, coeliac
disease, and scurvy could also be cured by vitamins. Max Nierenstein a
friend and reader of Biochemistry at Bristol University reportedly
suggested the "vitamine" name (from "vital amine"). The name
soon became synonymous with Hopkins' "accessory factors", and, by the
time it was shown that not all vitamins are amines, the word was
already ubiquitous. In 1920,
Jack Cecil Drummond
Jack Cecil Drummond proposed that the
final "e" be dropped to deemphasize the "amine" reference, after
researchers began to suspect that not all "vitamines" (in particular,
vitamin A) have an amine component.
Paul Karrer elucidated the correct structure for
beta-carotene, the main precursor of vitamin A, and identified other
carotenoids. Karrer and
Norman Haworth confirmed Albert
Szent-Györgyi's discovery of ascorbic acid and made significant
contributions to the chemistry of flavins, which led to the
identification of lactoflavin. For their investigations on
carotenoids, flavins and vitamins A and B2, they both received the
Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1937.
Albert Szent-Györgyi and a fellow researcher Joseph Svirbely
suspected that "hexuronic acid" was actually vitamin C, and gave a
sample to Charles Glen King, who proved its anti-scorbutic activity in
his long-established guinea pig scorbutic assay. In 1937,
Szent-Györgyi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
for his discovery. In 1943,
Edward Adelbert Doisy
Edward Adelbert Doisy and
Henrik Dam were
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery
of vitamin K and its chemical structure. In 1967,
George Wald was
awarded the Nobel Prize (along with
Ragnar Granit and Haldan Keffer
Hartline) for his discovery that vitamin A could participate directly
in a physiological process.
The term vitamin was derived from "vitamine", a compound word coined
in 1912 by the Polish biochemist Kazimierz Funk when working at
the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine. The name is from vital
and amine, meaning amine of life, because it was suggested in 1912
that the organic micronutrient food factors that prevent beriberi and
perhaps other similar dietary-deficiency diseases might be chemical
amines. This was true of thiamine, but after it was found that other
such micronutrients were not amines the word was shortened to vitamin
Society and culture
Once discovered, vitamins were actively promoted in articles and
advertisements in McCall's, Good Housekeeping, and other media
outlets. Marketers enthusiastically promoted cod-liver oil, a
Vitamin D, as "bottled sunshine", and bananas as a
“natural vitality food". They promoted foods such as yeast cakes, a
source of B vitamins, on the basis of scientifically-determined
nutritional value, rather than taste or appearance. World War II
researchers focused on the need to ensure adequate nutrition,
especially in processed foods. Robert W. Yoder is credited with
first using the term vitamania, in 1942, to describe the appeal of
relying on nutritional supplements rather than on obtaining vitamins
from a varied diet of foods. The continuing preoccupation with a
healthy lifestyle has led to an obsessive consumption of additives the
beneficial effects of which are questionable.
Most countries place dietary supplements in a special category under
the general umbrella of foods, not drugs. As a result, the
manufacturer, and not the government, has the responsibility of
ensuring that its dietary supplement products are safe before they are
marketed. Regulation of supplements varies widely by country. In the
United States, a dietary supplement is defined under the Dietary
Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. There is no FDA
approval process for dietary supplements, and no requirement that
manufacturers prove the safety or efficacy of supplements introduced
before 1994. The
Food and Drug Administration
Food and Drug Administration must rely on its
Adverse Event Reporting System to monitor adverse events that occur
with supplements. In 2007, the US Code of Federal Regulations
(CFR) Title 21, part III took effect, regulating Good Manufacturing
Practices (GMPs) in the manufacturing, packaging, labeling, or holding
operations for dietary supplements. Even though product registration
is not required, these regulations mandate production and quality
control standards (including testing for identity, purity and
adulterations) for dietary supplements. In the European Union, the
Food Supplements Directive
Food Supplements Directive requires that only those supplements that
have been proven safe can be sold without a prescription. For most
vitamins, pharmacopoeial standards have been established. In the
United States, the
United States Pharmacopeia (USP) sets standards for
the most commonly used vitamins and preparations thereof. Likewise,
monographs of the European
Pharmacopoeia (Ph.Eur.) regulate aspects of
identity and purity for vitamins on the European market.
Nomenclature of reclassified vitamins
Reason for name change
DNA metabolite; synthesized in body
DNA metabolite; synthesized in body
Synthesized in body
Essential fatty acids
Needed in large quantities (does
not fit the definition of a vitamin).
Catechol nonessential; flavin reclassified as
RNA metabolite; synthesized in body
No longer classified as a vitamin
Proposed inclusion of salicylate as an essential micronutrient
Protein metabolite; synthesized in body
The reason that the set of vitamins skips directly from E to K is that
the vitamins corresponding to letters F–J were either reclassified
over time, discarded as false leads, or renamed because of their
relationship to vitamin B, which became a complex of vitamins.
The German-speaking scientists who isolated and described
vitamin K (in addition to naming it as such) did so because the
vitamin is intimately involved in the coagulation of blood following
wounding (from the German word Koagulation). At the time, most (but
not all) of the letters from F through to J were already designated,
so the use of the letter K was considered quite reasonable.
The table nomenclature of reclassified vitamins lists chemicals that
had previously been classified as vitamins, as well as the earlier
names of vitamins that later became part of the B-complex.
There are other missing
B vitamins which were reclassified or
determined not to be vitamins. For example, B9 is folic acid and five
of the folates are in the range B11 through B16, forms of other
vitamins already discovered, not required as a nutrient by the entire
population (like B10, PABA for internal use), biologically
inactive, toxic, or with unclassifiable effects in humans, or not
generally recognised as vitamins by science, such as the
highest-numbered, which some naturopath practitioners call B21 and
B22. There are also nine lettered
B complex vitamins (e.g. Bm). There
are other D vitamins now recognised as other substances, which
some sources of the same type number up to D7. The controversial
cancer treatment laetrile was at one point lettered as vitamin B17.
There appears to be no consensus on any vitamins Q, R, T, V, W, X, Y
or Z, nor are there substances officially designated as Vitamins N or
I, although the latter may have been another form of one of the other
vitamins or a known and named nutrient of another type.
Main article: Antinutrient
Anti-vitamins are chemical compounds that inhibit the absorption or
actions of vitamins. For example, avidin is a protein in raw egg
whites that inhibits the absorption of biotin; it is deactivated by
cooking. Pyrithiamine, a synthetic compound, has a molecular
structure similar to thiamine, vitamin B1, and inhibits the enzymes
that use thiamine.
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Wikisource has the text of the 1922
Encyclopædia Britannica article
USDA RDA chart in PDF format
Health Canada Dietary Reference Intakes Reference Chart for Vitamins
NIH Office of Dietary Supplements: Fact Sheets
‡Withdrawn from market
§Never to phase III
Essential fatty acids
"Minerals" (Chemical elements)
Malnutrition or nutrition disorders (E40–E68, 260–269)
Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome (Wernicke's
Vitamin B12 deficiency
Vitamin A deficiency/Bitot's spots
Vitamin D deficiency/Rickets/Osteomalacia
Vitamin E deficiency
Vitamin K deficiency
Selenium (Keshan disease)
Obesity hypoventilation syndrome
see inborn errors of metal metabolism, toxicity
chemical elements ("minerals")
Pantothenic acid (B5)
Folic acid (B9)
Ascorbic acid (
Other common ingredients
Cod liver oil
Grape seed extract
Red yeast rice
St John's wort