What vitamins are you taking and why

Vitamins

Miracle weapons from the supermarket?

ACE vitamin supplements, multivitamin tablets, power drinks for physical and mental fitness, high-tech pills against aging or illness - all of this can be found on the supermarket shelf.

The advertising tells us that we can do something good for our body with the products, battered by everyday stress. Even compensate for minor nutritional sins with an extra helping of micronutrients.

We need vitamins - we couldn't live without them, that's for sure. The only question is, how many of which vitamins do we actually need every day. Which foods do we use to achieve an optimal and balanced supply of vitamins?

Are highly concentrated vitamin preparations or "functional food" an alternative or even a substitute for natural foods? Is too much of a good thing, i.e. an overdose of vitamins, perhaps even harmful to health?

All these questions are discussed very controversially by experts. There are still no definitive truths when it comes to vitamins. Ultimately, everyone has to form their own judgment.

Vitamins - the little unknowns

It has not been known that there are vitamins and what their significance is. Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, was only discovered by the Hungarian Albert Szent-Györgyi at the beginning of the 20th century.

Szent-Györgyi isolated vitamin C from paprika and cabbage. In 1933 the Briton Norman Haworth also clarified the chemical structure. Both received the 1937 Nobel Prize for Medicine and Chemistry for this.

Most of the vitamins known today were discovered between 1925 and 1940. In the 1930s, the B vitamins were the main focus of interest.

Scientists such as Hans von Euler-Chelpin, Paul Karrer, Richard Kuhn, Hugo Theorell and Otto Warburg were all honored with a Nobel Prize for their groundbreaking discoveries.

Improved measurement methods and advances in the molecular analysis of chemical compounds resulted in an enormous gain in knowledge in the field of medicine.

At that time, more than 20 teams around the world were looking for the essential vitamins. She was interested in fruits and vegetables, but also in the liver, kidneys, yeast and even butterfly wings.

Thus, in the 1920s, vitamin awareness emerged for the first time - the insight that a varied and vitamin-rich diet is an essential part of a healthy diet.

The discovery of vitamins also caused great business for the manufacturers of kitchen appliances, as they developed the first vitamin-saving appliances for household use.

Vitamins for a healthy metabolism

With the 13 known vitamins, a distinction is made between fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins. The fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are ingested with fatty foods. Because they can be stored in the body's fat stores, they do not have to be consumed on a daily basis.

This is different with the water-soluble vitamins. The total of eight B vitamins and vitamin C cannot be stored, but must be supplemented regularly.

Human beings can only produce vitamin D themselves. All other vitamins must be taken in through food.

Vitamins are tiny molecules that have a major effect in the body in the smallest concentrations (milligrams and less). They ensure that we can absorb and process nutrients and synthesize new molecules.

Vitamins are essential for our energy production. They ensure physical and mental fitness, protect the body from deterioration. A single vitamin can be involved in thousands of different metabolic processes.

At the same time, vitamins also work together and can increase their effects. The multifunctional molecules are probably involved in the regulation of more than 100,000 metabolic processes.

Early Findings

Long-term vitamin deficiencies can lead to serious illnesses. The most famous vitamin deficiency disease is scurvy, triggered by too little vitamin C.

In 1776, the circumnavigator James Cook was honored for not losing any more sailors to scurvy. In addition to rusks and jerky meat, he also had sauerkraut and lemons on board. He had received the tip for this from the English ship's doctor James Lind years earlier. He had successfully treated some scurvy patients with lemons and oranges.

Diseases resulting from vitamin deficiency used to be far more common than they are today. In Asia in particular, people suffered from beriberi, a nervous disease that was often fatal as a result of a vitamin B1 deficiency, up until the 20th century.

Due to the plentiful supply of food, there is generally no longer any vitamin deficiency in Germany today. Which does not mean that deficiency diseases can no longer occur.

Seniors are particularly at risk, as a vitamin D and calcium deficiency significantly increases the risk of bone loss and fractures.

In pregnant women, doctors repeatedly warn of a folic acid deficiency, which can lead to serious damage to the fetus. Vegans often lack B vitamins, as these are mainly found in animal foods.

Healthy through vitamin pills?

Highly concentrated - enriched in juices, yoghurts, bread and other foods - vitamins are now considered to be real miracles, from life-prolonging anti-aging effects to disease prophylaxis.

Vitamin supplements have been booming since the 1980s. At that time, the food industry sensed a new business area and since then has been aggressively promoting multivitamin preparations and new "functional foods with added vitamins".

Extra rations of vitamins and other food supplements are intended to compensate for any deficiencies and, in addition, to prevent various diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular problems, osteoporosis, poor eyesight and much more.

Vitamins are even said to have healing effects - no wonder if you assume that 70 percent of all diseases are diet-related.

Nutrition experts have very different opinions on what is true and what is not. Many studies examining the effects of vitamin preparations are accused of methodological errors and worse. For every positive study there is also a negative study.

For the layman it is practically impossible to separate the truth from the untrue, to distinguish between myths and facts.

Instead of high-dose vitamin supplements, many experts now rely on a natural and balanced diet. Not vitamins alone, but a mixture of phytochemicals, trace elements and minerals from natural foods seems to be particularly healthy.

Vitamin deficiency in Germany?

The question of whether we Germans are undersupplied with vitamins actually requires precise knowledge of the extremely complicated interactions in human metabolism. Only then can the real need for vitamins really be assessed.

A comparison of the intake recommendations worldwide shows how different assessments can be. For example, the daily requirement for vitamin C is 40 to 100 milligrams - depending on the country in which you live.

It would be difficult to make precise statements about the individual's vitamin requirements. At least logical are indications that babies, young people and the elderly, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women, have a higher vitamin requirement than the average of the population. Special growth conditions, metabolic and nutritional peculiarities could speak for it.

It is controversial whether this potentially increased need is not also covered by daily food. However, we Germans do not suffer from a general vitamin deficiency.

How dangerous is an overdose?

Many experts consider the constant or frequent use of high-dose food supplements to be pointless. Water-soluble vitamins in particular, such as vitamin C, are quickly excreted.

The body only takes in as much as it needs. The only known side effects of a vitamin C overdose are a higher risk of kidney stones and diarrhea.

Fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A and D, on the other hand, can be stored in the body and later mobilized again. These vitamins can cause serious damage if excessive doses are used for a long time.

Long-term excessive intake of vitamin A can lead to liver disease and, especially in smokers, an increased risk of lung cancer. Vitamin D overdoses can damage the kidneys and, in extreme cases, even lead to death.

These are just a few examples that make it clear that the intake of highly concentrated vitamins does not always have to be harmless. However, the health problems mentioned only arise at very high doses that have been taken over a long period of time.

The "5 a day" proposal

One thing is certain in any case: Vitamins are and will remain an extremely important nutritional factor. A recommendation by the German Nutrition Society sounds good in this context. It advertises the so-called "5 a day" program.

Behind the formula is the rule of thumb: if you eat fruit and / or vegetables five times a day, you can hardly go wrong. Fruit and vegetables are the most important suppliers of vitamins, but grain products, meat, fish and vegetable oils should also be on the table.

In any case, a balanced diet is better than the daily intake of multivitamin preparation cocktails. Because isolated vitamins, possibly also artificially produced, do not have the same effect as vitamins in natural foods. These also contain trace elements, secondary plant substances and minerals.

Experiments suggest that there are multiple, largely still not understood, interactions between all of these nutritional components. In tests, for example, 1.5 grams of pure vitamin C powder had no greater immune stimulating effect than 100 grams of an apple.