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What Are Some Common Vitamin Deficiencies Seen With Age?, What Are Antioxidants?Can vitamins be used to treat medical conditions?, Conclusion

A vitamin is defined as a chemical (organic compound) present in variable small quantities in natural foodstuffs and essential for the normal processes of growth and maintenance of the body. Vitamins do not furnish energy, but are essential for the transfer of energy and regulation of metabolism (chemical processes) involved in the normal growth and maintenance of the body (Parker).

The word vitamin was coined in 1912 by the Polish-born American biochemist Casimir Funk (1884–1967) to describe a ‘‘vital amine’’ from rice husks that cured beriberi, a disease that affects brain and nervous function (Thadani; Horton). Indeed, thiamine or vitamin B1, contains an amine (nitrogen) group. However, the term is a misnomer because not all vitamins contain nitrogen. For example, vitamins A, D, E, and K are not amines and do not contain nitrogen.

Some vitamins can have a therapeutic use also. For example, in 1955 it was found that niacin in very large doses (1.5 to 3 g per day) could decrease serum cholesterol. While it can be used for this purpose, it is important to know that side effects such as flushing of the skin, itching, nausea, and liver damage limit its use (Gillis). A physician should supervise any large-dose vitamin therapy.

A plan for health promotion and disease prevention includes a diet that incorporates a variety of foods, adequate fluid consumption, moderate fat intake, regular physical activity, limiting alcohol intake, and avoiding smoking. The use of supplements should be considered together with diet and exercise to meet individual nutritional needs.



GILLIS, M. C., ed. Compendium of Pharmaceuticals and Specialties. Ottawa: Canadian Pharmacists Association, 2000.

HORTON, H. R. Principles of Biochemistry. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Neil Patterson Publishers, 1993.

PARKER, S. P., ed. McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms, 5th ed. New York, McGraw-Hill Inc., 1994.

THADANI, M. Medicinal and Pharmaceutical Uses of Natural Products. Winnipeg: Cantext Publications, 1996.

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Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 4