Today much of our food is intensively farmed with the soil stripped of many naturally occurring minerals and nutrients, replaced instead with artificial fertilisers and pesticides. Once farmed much of our food is heavily processed and heated destroying much of the goodness that is left. This means that by the time the food reaches our stomach it has few of the nutrients that it should have, and especially few of the vitamins essential for good health.
As their name suggests vitamins are nutrients that are vital for life. In fact the name was given to this range of organic compounds by the Polish bio-chemist Kazimierz Funk in 1912 when scientists really began to try and discover what these mysterious properties were in foods that helped prevent certain diseases. The link had been made since ancient times that eating particular foods would prevent things like night blindness, scurvy or beriberi. However it was not until the early 20th century that the various vitamins themselves were isolated and identified.
Vitamins are organic compounds that cannot be created (synthesised) by the body, and therefore need to be obtained from our food. Vitamins are not one particular compound, but a group of compounds that are identified by the chemical effect that they have on the body. Vitamins come in two broad forms, fat soluble including vitamins A, D, E and K, and water soluble including vitamins C, B and folic acid.
Fat soluble vitamins do not need to be taken as regularly as water soluble as the body can store excess amounts in the liver and other fatty cells. However too much excess can begin to have a toxic effect on the body.
Water soluble vitamins do need to be taken on board by the body regularly as they cannot be stored. The body will get rid of any excess through urine, meaning much higher doses can be tolerated before there is a toxic effect. This characteristic has been utilised to provide high dose therapies with vitamin c, a strong antioxidant.
For a more in depth description of each type of vitamin type please see the sub categories above.