Q: Hey Aqsa! What is a vitamin?
A: Vitamins are nutrients that your body needs in minute amounts to fulfil numerous basic functions. In the world of science, these are specifically those nutrients that an organism cannot synthesize on their own and needs to take it in with their diet. That means that some substances might be vitamins for humans (because we can’t synthesize them) but they’re not vitamins for those living things which can make such nutrients on their own.
For example, vitamin B12 is made by certain bacteria which live in the soil and the guts of some animals – therefore, it’s a vitamin for us, not those germs that make it! There are 13 vitamins currently known to be needed by humans.
When we talk about a vitamin, it doesn’t mean we are referring to just one compound or substance – the term ‘vitamin’ refers to a group of substances which are similar because they act in the same way biologically and/or chemically. Vitamins are not classified based on their chemical structure (thank God since I wasn’t a big fan of chemistry back in school, unless it had something to do with the human body – typical medical geek, I know!)
What Are Vitamins Important For?
Different vitamins have different functions, the absence of any one of them causing major health issues. For example, Vitamin D is required for maintaining the health of your bones and aiding in their growth whereas vitamin A is needed for normal vision. Therefore, deficiency of the former causes stunted bone growth and low levels of the latter cause visual deterioration and ultimately blindness.
By now, you know that vitamins are pretty awesome and interesting since your body doesn’t make them and without them, crucial functions are lost. Yes, I might just force my opinion on you in order to make you believe that you need these nutrients. Let their functions fascinate you so that you get how they work because without that, I don’t think you’ll be motivated enough to grab adequate amounts to include in your diet (in case you’re not taking enough already). If that doesn’t happen, REALLY bad things will happen to you (for example, low Vitamin A levels could make you blind, as I mentioned earlier).
Where Did The Name ‘Vitamin’ Come From?
A Polish scientist called Kazimierz Funk combined the two words, ‘Vital’ and ‘Amine’ to form the word ‘Vitamine.’ That’s because in 1912, it was proposed that diseases which result due to the deficiency of certain nutrients could be prevented by the intake of amines. So ‘Vitamine’ was basically ‘Vital Amine’ or ‘Amine of Life.’ However, we know now that these substances are not amines and therefore, the term ‘Vitamine’ has been dropped in favour of just ‘Vitamin.’