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Vitamins and minerals, often called “micronutrients” because your body only needs small amounts of them, are essential nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy and perform at its best.

Although vitamins are crucial for general health and well-being, your body can’t make enough of them on its own. As a result, you must get vitamins from eating a well-balanced diet and by taking supplements, if necessary. There are two types of vitamins: fat soluble and water soluble.

Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in your body’s fat tissues and liver, and include Vitamins A, D, E and K. Since your body holds onto fat-soluble vitamins until you need them, it’s possible to build up toxic amounts if you consume too much. However, reaching toxic levels from food alone is uncommon, so this is most likely if you take high-dose supplements.

Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water and include the B vitamins and Vitamin C. Since up to 60% of the human adult body is comprised of water, most of the water-soluble vitamins move easily throughout your body and any excess amounts are excreted through your urine. One exception is Vitamin B6, which is mostly stored in muscle tissue and can cause nerve damage if consumed in high doses.

You can develop a vitamin deficiency if you don’t consume enough vitamins in your diet or have a condition, such as a gastrointestinal disorder, that interferes with your body’s ability to absorb the vitamins you do eat. Severe deficiencies can cause illness.

According to the World Health Organization, Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and increases the risk of death from severe infections.4 Vitamin D deficiency, which affects more than 70 percent of people in India, may lead to a condition called rickets in children, and osteomalacia and osteoporosis in adults.5 And Vitamin C deficiency, which affects up to 75 percent of elderly people in some parts of India, can lead to scurvy, a disease that causes anemia, gum disease, weakness and skin lesions.6, 7

If you’re worried about deficiencies, be sure to talk to your doctor before taking vitamin supplements.


1. Harvard Medical School. Harvard Health Publications. The Truth About Vitamins and Minerals: Choosing the Nutrients You Need to Stay Healthy. 2012.
2. National Health Service. NHS Choices. Vitamins and minerals. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/vitamins-minerals.aspx. Accessed August 30, 2014.
3. U.S. Geological Survey. The water in you. http://water.usgs.gov/edu/propertyyou.html. Accessed August 30, 2014.
4. World Health Organization. Micronutrient deficiencies. http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/vad/en/. Accessed August 30, 2014.
5. Ritu G and Ajay Gupta: Vitamin D Deficiency in India: Prevalence, Causalities and Interventions: Nutrients 2014, 6, 729-775; doi:10.3390/nu6020729. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3942730/. Accessed August 28, 2014.
6. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Smoke and poor diet cause low vitamin C levels in India’s elderly population. http://www.lshtm.ac.uk/newsevents/news/2011/vitamin_c_india.html. Accessed August 30, 2014.
7. National Institutes of Health. MedlinePlus. Scurvy. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000355.htm. Accessed August 30, 2014.

Information provided is for general background purposes and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment by a trained professional. You should always consult your physician about any healthcare questions you may have, especially before trying a new medication, diet, fitness program, or approach to healthcare issues.
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