Health & Medicine


Vitamin, any of the organic compounds required by the body in small amounts for metabolism, to protect health, and for proper growth in children. Vitamins also assist in the formation of hormones, blood cells, nervous-system chemicals, and genetic material. The various vitamins are not chemically related, and most differ in their physiological actions. They generally act as catalysts, combining with proteins to create metabolically active enzymes that in turn produce hundreds of important chemical reactions throughout the body. Without vitamins, many of these reactions would slow down or cease. The intricate ways in which vitamins act on the body, however, are still far from clear.

The 13 well-identified vitamins are classified according to their ability to be absorbed in fat or water. The fat-soluble vitamins—A, D, E, and K—are generally consumed along with fat-containing foods, and because they can be stored in the body's fat, they do not have to be consumed every day. The water-soluble vitamins—the eight B vitamins and vitamin C—cannot be stored and must be consumed frequently, preferably every day (with the exception of some B vitamins).