According to the broadest definition, a vitamin can be any kind of essential nutrient that is not water and is not a mineral. Vitamins, therefore, are organic compounds rather than chemical elements. They are all compounds of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, most contain nitrogen in addition and some contain sulphur. Some forms contain also phosphorus.
A distinction can be drawn from the minerals, because, whereas minerals are indestructible, most vitamins are fairly delicate substances, often they are labile (i.e. easily destroyed by heat or exposure to oxygen). Minerals can sometimes be converted into a form in which they are unavailable to the body, by cooking or processing, or can be leached out by excess water and thrown away, without being destroyed. By contrast, vitamins can easily be converted by heat and/or oxygen into derivatives having no vitamin activity during cooking, processing or microbial spoilage.
They are defined as fully essential nutrients; hence a substance cannot be a vitamin unless complete removal of it from a person's diet results eventually in illness or death. Many attempts have been made to treat substances as vitamins that do not fulfil that criterion - this is the situation of the so-called pseudo-vitamins such as Orotic acid (sometimes referred to as Vitamin B13); Pangamic acid (sometimes referred to as Vitamin B15) and Laetrile (sometimes referred to as Vitamin B17). These have been shown to have no justifiable claim to be counted as vitamins, so their Vitamin B names should be forgotten. Among them laetrile is now considered to be unsafe due to its ability to release cyanide!
True vitamins are divided between fat-soluble and water-soluble. The former need to be taken in along with at least some small amount of fat, in which they dissolve, and are then absorbed in solution in the fat. The fat-soluble ones are A, D, E and K. The water soluble ones diffuse rather more freely in the gut contents and require no medium other than water for their absorption.
Intakes and RNIs for Vitamins
Establishing a useful intake of any vitamin can at times become a minefield with the various levels recommended to us and terms used. Conventional nutritionists in the UK now most commonly give advice based upon RNIs (“Reference Nutrient Intakes”) however it is the term RDA (“Recommended Daily Allowance”) that used to be employed and this is still widely employed in the supplements industry. The change took place in 1991 with the publication of the Department of Health Report No 41 “Dietary Reference Values for Food Energy and Nutrients for the United Kingdom” (HSMO). The concept of RDA was a very poor instrument because it was based upon an estimate of only the average needs of a population and if one deals with an average, it follows that many individuals within a population that receives that average intake will be deficient while others will be receiving more than necessary. It could be that 50% would be deficient and that is unacceptable. The newer concept of RNI is based upon a better consideration of the population as a whole. It is: “An amount of a nutrient that is enough, or more than enough, for about 97% of people in a group. If the average intake of a group is at the RNI, then the risk of deficiency in the group is very small”.
This objective is very good and much better than the concept of RDA, but the trouble is that the UK governmental estimates of requirement were at the same time drastically reduced! Hence, many of the new RNIs were far lower than the previous RDAs and many alternative nutritionists could not see much logic in slashing the estimates of requirement so comprehensively. These RNIs apply to minerals as well as vitamins and there is quite a widespread view, especially among alternative-minded nutritionists, that these RNIs are too low.
To illustrate this with an example, there is one (very low) level of Vitamin C intake, about 10mg/day, which is enough to prevent scurvy (the deficiency disease from Vitamin C lack), another level (about 50mg) that satisfies many other requirements which the body has for Vitamin C, and a further level, about 250mg, i.e. 5 times higher again, which may well be approaching an optimum for many people, especially for the avoidance of chronic ailments long term. So you can see that the minimum, the average intake and the optimum intake may all be different and may cover a widespread. With this in mind, the adult UK RNI for Vitamin C was set at 40mg/day, the same for men and women, and in view of the figures above, most alternative practitioners feel sure that this provides protection and adequacy only up to a certain point - in fact many in the field of Alternative Nutrition and Nutritional Medicine have become convinced from their work that much higher levels of Vitamin C than this continue to be progressively more beneficial.
This principle is not restricted to Vitamin C alone. Two concepts are involved here: one is the concept of chronic partial deficiency, and the other is the concept of progressively beneficial excess. With the latter, we are ideally looking to achieve a level of intake whereby we can achieve cellular saturation which would allow for any malabsorption as a result of a compromised digestive system. Yes, any surplus amount would be excreted - and herein lies the negative suggestion from many conventional nutritionalists that supplementation is nothing more than "expensive urine" - however what this approach ensures is that by providing the body with a "luxury" amount, it will receive what it needs to function at an optimal level.
It is important to note that with vitamins, as with minerals, to provide a high intake of a complex of them can induce an elimination of toxins from the body, as the body at long last receives a copious supply of nutrients it badly needs to support metabolism. This stimulates cell metabolism, cell energy production, stimulates the life force and clears the way for an eliminative effort by the body. The effects of this may be minor, however, unless a good naturopathic dietary practice is being followed and minerals are also being given, the combined effect of these actions taken together may be major. To produce such an effect usually requires vitamins to be given at levels considerably above conventional textbook requirements. Nowadays the levels that one would ideally like to use may sometimes be in excess of legal limits imposed upon the sale of supplements.
How Vitamins Work
It is in many ways easiest to see how vitamins work in the case of the B Vitamins. Like so many of the minerals, a good many of them work in direct association with enzymes, and the actual enzymes and the reactions they promote are largely known. These enzymes and the types of reaction tend to be different for each vitamin. Their role is of the type most often referred to as a 'co-enzyme' role. The active form of the co-enzyme is often not the vitamin itself but a very closely related substance derived from it.
For example, the active form of Vitamin B1 is not thiamine (which corresponds to the Vitamin), but thiamine pyrophosphate. The body can make thiamine pyrophosphate from thiamine but cannot make thiamine itself. Some of these co-enzymes form part of the enzyme by attaching themselves to it, while others merely are required co-factors, i.e. they have to be present in the solution before the enzymic reaction can occur.
How Vitamins Contribute to Cell Energy and Increase the Life Force
Clearly, many of the vitamins play very key roles in the cell - in the actual processes that produce cell energy or synthesise enzymes or other cell constituents. Several of them are enzyme co-factors or part of an actual enzyme system. Vitamins C and E are protective of the body's cellular mechanisms, rather than an active part of them and C is definitely a gentle promoter of cleansing.
Production of cell energy is necessary to the cell vitality. The vitality of the cell must work ultimately through the physiological systems of the body, and cell energy is necessary for vital and active cells. Cleansing is very necessary to release the Life Force and to prevent it from being burdened with toxicity. Therefore vitamins are cleansing and energizing. High doses of vitamins may sometimes be seen to produce cleansing reactions. But they are nowhere near as potent in this respect as the minerals because these can more directly change the cellular environment.
How each of the vitamins contribute individually are summarised in our current series of social media posts on vitamins and further can be made available upon request.