The human body requires vitamins to function properly. Vitamins are organic compounds that are essential for many metabolic processes and overall health. There are two main types of vitamins: fat-soluble and water-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins are vitamins that dissolve in water and are not stored in the body. Excess water-soluble vitamins are expelled in urine. There are 12 main water-soluble vitamins that play critical roles in the body.
The 12 Water Soluble Vitamins
Here are the 12 main water-soluble vitamins:
- Vitamin C
- Thiamine (Vitamin B1)
- Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
- Niacin (Vitamin B3)
- Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5)
- Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6)
- Biotin (Vitamin B7)
- Folic acid (Vitamin B9)
- Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12)
- PABA (Para-aminobenzoic acid)
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is arguably the most well-known water-soluble vitamin. It acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage caused by free radicals. Vitamin C is also essential for the growth, development and repair of tissues in the body. It helps the body make collagen, an important protein used to make skin, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels. Vitamin C supports immune health, helps the body absorb iron, and aids in wound healing.
Good food sources of vitamin C include:
- Citrus fruits
- Brussels sprouts
The recommended daily intake is 75-90 mg for adults. Smokers require an additional 35 mg per day because smoking increases oxidative stress. Signs of vitamin C deficiency include scurvy, bleeding gums, nosebleeds, and bruising easily due to weakened blood vessels.
Thiamine (Vitamin B1)
Thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, is important for glucose metabolism and nerve function. This vitamin assists in converting carbohydrates into energy. It is also essential for the normal functioning of the heart, muscles, and nervous system. Thiamine helps the body cells convert glucose into energy as well as metabolize amino acids. It is especially important for brain health.
Good food sources of thiamine include:
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
The recommended daily intake is 1.1 mg for adult females and 1.2 mg for adult males. Deficiency can lead to beriberi, featuring neurological impairments, weight loss, impaired sensory perception and muscle weakness. Severe thiamine deficiency may result in Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome with vision changes, ataxia and impaired memory.
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, plays a crucial role in energy production, as it is needed to metabolize fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. This vitamin also functions as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from damage by free radicals. Riboflavin is required for red blood cell production and helps convert vitamin B6 and folate into active forms the body can utilize.
Good food sources of riboflavin include:
- Organ meats
- Dairy products
- Leafy green vegetables
The recommended daily intake is 1.1 mg for adult females and 1.3 mg for adult males. Signs of riboflavin deficiency include cracked lips, a swollen tongue, skin inflammation, weakness, and impaired iron absorption. Severe deficiency may result in anemia and vision loss.
Niacin (Vitamin B3)
Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, plays a vital role in converting food into energy by aiding enzymes. It helps remove toxins and free radicals from the body. Niacin helps maintain healthy skin and supports brain health. It is also important for the nervous and digestive systems.
Good food sources of niacin include:
- Green vegetables
The recommended daily intake is 14-16 mg NE (niacin equivalent) for adult females and 16-18 mg NE for adult males. Deficiency can result in pellagra with symptoms like dementia, diarrhea, dermatitis and death if left untreated. Very high doses may cause liver damage.
Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5)
Pantothenic acid, also known as vitamin B5, is vital to forming coenzyme-A (CoA), a molecule essential to fatty acid oxidation and energy production. This vitamin is needed to make red blood cells, as well as manufacture neurotransmitters, steroid hormones, and cholesterol.
Good food sources of pantothenic acid include:
The recommended daily intake for adults is 5 mg. Signs of deficiency are generally very rare, but symptoms may include numbness, muscle cramps, fatigue, and headaches.
Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6)
Pyridoxine, also known as vitamin B6, supports over 100 enzyme reactions, primarily in metabolism. This vitamin also assists in the formation of hormones and neurotransmitters. Vitamin B6 is essential for cognitive development, immune function, and regulation of homocysteine levels.
Good food sources of vitamin B6 include:
- Starchy vegetables
- Non-citrus fruits
- Red meat
The recommended daily intake is 1.3 mg for adult females and 1.7 mg for adult males. Deficiency can result in skin rashes, cracked lips, weakness, depression, confusion, and impaired immune function.
Biotin (Vitamin B7)
Biotin, also known as vitamin B7, is a B vitamin that helps convert food into energy. It is essential for metabolizing fats and carbohydrates. Biotin also supports healthy hair, skin and nails. This vitamin assists in DNA regulation and gene transcription.
Good food sources of biotin include:
The recommended daily intake for adults is 30 mcg. Deficiency is rare, but symptoms may include hair loss, dry scaly skin, depression and numbness in the hands and feet.
Folic Acid (Vitamin B9)
Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, folate and folacin, is vital for new cell creation and growth. It prevents certain birth defects and is critical for pregnant women. Folic acid assists in DNA and RNA synthesis and is needed for red blood cell formation. This vitamin also supports heart health and helps prevent dementia.
Good food sources of folic acid include:
- Dark leafy green vegetables
- Citrus fruits
- Fortified cereals
The recommended daily intake for adults is 400 mcg. Deficiency can result in megaloblastic anemia, birth defects of the brain and spine, increased heart disease risk, and impaired brain function.
Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12)
Cyanocobalamin, also known as vitamin B12, is vital for neurological function, red blood cell formation, and DNA synthesis. This vitamin helps prevent megaloblastic anemia and assists in metabolic processes. Vitamin B12 is also required for neurotransmitter synthesis and myelin formation that insulates nerve cells.
Good food sources of vitamin B12 include:
- Dairy products
The recommended daily intake for adults is 2.4 mcg. Deficiency results in fatigue, depression, poor memory, megaloblastic anemia, and neurological problems like tingling and numbness in the hands and feet.
Choline is a vitamin-like essential nutrient that plays a vital role in neurotransmitter synthesis, cell membrane maintenance, and methyl-group metabolism. It aids in liver function, metabolism, nerve function, memory and mood regulation. Choline also helps transport lipids throughout the body and is necessary for proper fetal development.
Good food sources of choline include:
- Beef liver
- Brussels sprouts
The recommended daily intake for adults is 550 mg for males and 425 mg for females. Deficiency is rare but may result in muscle damage, liver dysfunction, and nonalcoholic fatty liver.
Inositol is a carbohydrate that is considered a pseudovitamin. Though not technically a vitamin, it has vitamin-like qualities and is essential for survival. Inositol aids in nerve transmission, metabolism of fat, formation of cell membranes, and blood cholesterol modulation. It assists in regulating mood and may have antidepressant properties.
Good food sources of inositol include:
There is no recommended daily intake for inositol. Deficiency is rare but symptoms may include constipation, hair loss, eczema, and abnormalities of fat metabolism.
PABA (Para-aminobenzoic acid)
Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) is considered a vitamin-like substance and component of the vitamin B-complex family. PABA acts as a coenzyme and assists in the breakdown and utilization of proteins. It also aids in red blood cell formation and helps convert carbohydrates into usable energy.
Good food sources of PABA include:
There is no recommended daily intake established for PABA. Deficiency is rare, but symptoms may include fatigue, irritability, depression, nausea, and anemia.
In summary, the 12 main water soluble vitamins are vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, biotin, folic acid, cyanocobalamin, choline, inositol and PABA. These vitamins play critical roles in energy production, cell function, DNA and red blood cell synthesis, bone and tissue health, neurological activity and many other bodily processes. Though individual deficiency is uncommon with a balanced diet, these vitamins must be consistently replenished since they are not stored in the body.