One of the most important elements of health protection is an adequate, or to be even more precise, a balanced and varied diet. A balanced diet covers energy and nutrient requirements, ensures the appropriate ratios of nutrients, while a varied (mixed) diet means the presence of different groups of foodstuffs and foods in the diet. Our food provides approximately 40 types of nutrients for the organism. According to their primary roles, they can be body constituents (proteins, minerals), energy providers (fats, carbohydrates) and regulators (vitamins, trace elements). The organism’s daily requirement of vitamins and trace elements is extremely low, ranging from a few micrograms to 100 milligrams, so it is far below even 1 gram. Still, despite their presence in such low quantities, their insufficient intake causes disturbances in physiological functions, and their absolute lack is incompatible with life.
We need to mention Funk, who was the first to extract a substance from rice bran in 1911 with which the disease, called beriberi could be cured. As it is a compound that is vital (Latin: vitalis) chemically containing an amino group, he named it vitamin. This is where the revolutionary word comes from. This historical review is more complete if we say: the factor Funk discovered was Vitamin B1, and today we also know that the chemical structures of various vitamins very much differ from each other. Medical science respects traditions and prefers traditional names; this is why the vitamin word remained in the medical terminology.
As for fat-soluble vitamins, we generally hear, the organism is capable of storing them, so they may have harmful effects and toxic symptoms in the case of excessive intakes. It is naturally true, but to be more precise, there is a considerable difference between the daily requirement and the toxic dose. In fact, with a little attention, the risk of overdose of vitamins can be minimised. Before going on to providing information about the particular vitamins, one more thing needs to be noted: previously the quantity of fat-soluble vitamins was traditionally provided in International Unit (NE in Hungarian). It resulted in misunderstandings of various degrees, because different values in the cases of vitamins were considered as 1 IU. For example, while 0.3 microgram (µg) equals 1 IU from Vitamin A, 1 IU is 0.025 µg from Vitamin D, and 1 mg from Vitamin E (mg).
The most important thing we need to know about water-soluble vitamins is that the organism stores them only to a limited extent, so their regular consumption is essential for maintaining proper functions. We can often hear that any quantity of water-soluble vitamins can be consumed without the risk of side effects. As we can see among fat-soluble vitamins, such a summarising opinion might be misleading, because even fat-soluble vitamins differ regarding toxicity. And it also holds true the members of the water-soluble group.
These substances cannot be clearly listed among vitamins, but their application is useful and completely safe for the organism.