Medically reviewed by
Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
9 min read
You hear a lot about vitamins these days. Maybe someone suggested that a vitamin supplement routine would be good for your health. But just what are vitamins and what do they do?
Vitamins are nutrients your body needs to function at an optimal level. There are 13 essential vitamins, some of which are water-soluble, and some of which are fat-soluble. They all play their part in keeping your body healthy. You can get these vitamins through food or supplement sources. Supplements are especially useful for filling nutrient deficiencies in your body.
Vitamins all have different jobs to do in the body, but they’re all there to help keep things functioning well. They can support bone health, help heal wounds, strengthen our bones, regulate hormones, and more. Let’s review some specific vitamins and their functions.
Water-soluble vitamins can’t be stored by the body and they don’t remain in the body for long; instead, they leave the body through the urine. That’s why regular intake of water-soluble vitamins is necessary to maintain adequate levels. Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin B-complex and vitamin C. Fruits and vegetables are the main dietary source of these vitamins, but you can also find them in dairy, meat, peas, liver, legumes, eggs, and cereals and grains that have been fortified.
Vitamin B1 (a.k.a. thiamin) was one of the first B vitamins to be discovered. It plays a vitally important role in many of your body’s enzymes, helping convert the food you eat into the energy you need.
B1 is available through dietary sources, including white rice, egg noodles, pork, trout, black beans, and fortified breakfast cereals. B1 is also available in supplement form. You might want to check out Care/of’s B-complex vitamin, which is designed for maximum absorption.
Vitamin B2 (a.k.a. Riboflavin or Riboflacin-5-Phosphate) produces energy for the body and serves as a potent antioxidant, helping the body fight harmful free radicals. It also plays a major role in coenzymes involved in cell function, growth and development, as well as the metabolism of fats, drugs, and steroids.
Vitamin B2 is available in a variety of food sources, including eggs, lean meats, milk, and organ meats (kidneys and liver). You can also get riboflavin from some select vegetables, as well as grains and cereals that have been fortified. The biggest contributors to riboflavin intake in the U.S. are milk, milk drinks, bread, bread products, and mixed foods whose main ingredient is grain. B2 is also available in supplement form, either individually or as part of a B-complex supplement. Care/of’s B-complex vitamin is designed for maximum absorption.
Vitamin B3 (a.k.a. Niacin or Niacinamide) supports a healthy nervous system and digestive system, and it’s also beneficial for skin health.
More often than not, people get the amount of vitamin B3 they need through the food they eat. Some foods rich in B3 include animal-based foods like poultry, beef, and fish, as well as plant-based foods, including nuts, legumes, and grains. It’s also available in supplement form, including in Care/of’s vitamin B-complex supplement.
Vitamin B6 (a.k.a. Pyridoxine or Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate) is the term for the six compounds with vitamin B6 activity. Vitamin B6 helps support the healthy function of more than 100 enzymes in your body. These enzymes perform important functions in your body, including supporting normal levels of homocysteine, and thereby supporting heart health; breaking down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats; and boosting brain health and immune function.
Vitamin B6 is available in food sources. Rich sources of vitamin B6 include fish, beef liver and other organ meats, potatoes and other starchy veggies, and fruits that aren’t citrus. It’s also available in supplement form. Care/of’s B-complex supplement comes in 30-day supplies and is safe for use by vegetarians and vegans.
Vitamin B12 (a.k.a. Cyano, Hydroxyl, Methyl, or Adenosyl- cobalamin,) is essential to the formation of red blood cells in your body, as well as cell metabolism, DNA production, and nerve function.
Vitamin B12 is present in a variety of animal-based food sources, including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy. You can also get B12 through fortified cereals and yeasts. Vitamin B12 is also available in supplement form.
Pantothenic acid (a.k.a. vitamin B5) supports your body’s effort to convert the food you eat into the energy you need to thrive. In the process, it helps with breaking down fats.
Virtually all foods – plant- or animal-based – contain some amount of pantothenic acid. Some rich sources include beef, chicken, organ meats, whole grains, and select vegetables; moreover, pantothenic acid is sometimes added to foods such as breakfast cereals and energy drinks. It’s also available in supplement form.
Biotin (a.k.a. vitamin B7) is essential to your body’s ability to metabolize fats, carbohydrates, and protein. Having enough biotin also helps support muscle health, heart health, and mental health. Moreover, biotin contributes to keratin, which is a protein that helps support your hair, skin, and nails.
Biotin is present in many foods, including organ meats, eggs, fish, seeds, nuts, and select veggies, like sweet potatoes. It’s also available in supplement form.
Folate (a.k.a. vitamin B9) is a term for naturally occuring food folates, including folic acid. Folate helps our bodies form DNA and RNA and supports healthy protein metabolism. It’s also essential for producing healthy blood cells and is especially needed during rapid growth periods, such as pregnancy.
Folate is found naturally in many foods and is also available as a supplement. Supplemental folate is called folic acid. The supplement form is actually more easily absorbed than the folate found in food sources. Some food sources of folate include peanuts, sunflower seeds, beans, whole grains, fruits and fruit juices, liver, seafood, eggs, and foods that have been fortified.
Vitamin C (a.k.a. ascorbic acid) is a very well known vitamin. Vitamin C has strong antioxidant properties, helping protect the body from harmful free radicals. It also boosts immune function, supports heart health, and helps protein metabolism. Vitamin C is also essential for the biosynthesis of collagen, which in turn helps support wound healing.
The best sources of vitamin C are fruits and veggies, including citrus fruit, red and green peppers, kiwifruit, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, broccoli, and potatoes. Vitamin C is also available in supplement form, including Care/of’s easy-to-digest option, dubbed The Citrus Savior.
Fat-soluble vitamins store these vitamins in fatty tissue and in the liver, with reserves of these vitamins remaining in the body for extended periods of time. The fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K. Each of these vitamins play an integral role in the health of our bodies, including our vision, bone health, and immune function. There are many excellent food sources of fat-soluble vitamins – more on that below.
Vitamin A is a term for a group of fat-soluble retinoids, a particular class of chemical compounds. Vitamin A is essential for the growth and differentiation of your cells and plays a crucial role in forming and maintaining your lungs, heart, eyes, and other organs. Vitamin A is also involved in the creation of cells that boost immune function.
Dietary vitamin A is available from two sources: preformed vitamin A and provitamin A carotenoids. You can find preformed vitamin A in animal food sources such as dairy products (milk, cheese, butter, etc.), eggs, fish, and organ meats. You can find provitamin A carotenoids in plant sources, including dark leafy greens, squash, carrots, mangoes, papayas, and yellow maize. When you consume these foods, your body then converts the provitamin A into its active forms.
Vitamin D is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin,” because it’s produced naturally in your body when your skin is exposed to the sun. It’s also available in supplement and dietary form. Vitamin D helps promote calcium absorption in the body, thereby boosting your overall bone health. It also supports the immune system. Despite its importance to our health, vitamin D deficiencies are still fairly common. Adding more vitamin D to your diet, whether through food or supplements, can help address a deficiency and get your body functioning at a higher level.
Vitamin D is found in two main forms: D2 and D3. Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is the kind that your body synthesizes after exposure to sunlight. If you’re looking to get more vitamin D, you can spend a little more time in the sun. But that’s still not likely to address a deficiency. Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is available in foods like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, and it’s available in somewhat smaller amounts in beef liver, egg yolks, and cheese. You can also find milk that’s been fortified with vitamin D. You can also check out supplements. For example, Care/of offers a top-notch vitamin D supplement that supports bone health and immune functioning. There is also a vegan friendly vitamin D available as well.
“Vitamin E” is the collective name for a group of compounds with strong antioxidant properties. Vitamin E plays many important roles in your body. Through its antioxidant effects, it protects your cells from oxidative damage caused by harmful free radicals. It also supports your immune system, as well as cell signaling and metabolic function.
Vitamin E is available in several foods, including seeds, nuts, vegetable oils, whole grains, and other foods that have been fortified. It’s also available in supplement form. Sometimes you can find vitamin E listed as mixed tocopherols where it is added in as an ingredient to preserve freshness and prevent oxidation.
“Vitamin K” refers to a family of compounds with a particular chemical structure. Vitamin K exists in two main forms – K1 and K2 – and is necessary for making proteins the body needs for proper blood clotting and for building strong bones.
Vitamin K1 is available in cabbage, cauliflower, and green leafy vegetables. K2, on the other hand, is synthesized in your gut. You can also get vitamin K through dietary supplements. Care/of has K2 present in the multivitamin, prenatal, and Calcium Plus supplements and selecting the best option will depend on your health goals.