Vitamins In Ayurveda – Sources, Functions, Deficiency Disorders

By Dr. Regina Antony
In modern science, food articles are primarily classified based on its constitution, like carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals etc.
In Ayurveda, the classification of foods is done on the basis of tastes – sweet, salt, sour, astringent, bitter and pungent.

Read related – Six Tastes Of Ayurveda: Qualities, Benefits, Therapeutic Action (Shad Rasa)

Introduction

Ayurveda considered food substances as a whole.
For example, red variety of rice was mentioned as a food item that can be consumed on a daily basis. It was considered as a wholesome food.
Modern science states that rice contains carbohydrate and starch in plenty and vitamins, minerals and protein in small quantity.

Ayurveda and vitamins


Vitamins and minerals were not mentioned as separate entities in Ayurveda, but the foods that have been mentioned as healthy and ideal for daily consumption is found to contain all the essential vitamins and minerals.

How Ayurveda tackles vitamin deficiency?
Vitamin deficiency is not just caused due to lack of vitamins in diet. Problems in absorption of vitamins is the main cause of vitamin deficiency. This is the reason, well nourished persons are also often diagnosed with deficient vitamins. This is the reason, people with metabolic disorders such as obesity, often suffer with vitamin deficiency. (1)

Digestion process correction

Correction of digestion mechanism:
So, digestion and absorption mechanism should be corrected first. Altered digestion process can be cause for vitamin deficiency. It is proven that people with Irritable bowel syndrome suffer with vitamin deficiency (2)

Ayurveda calls digestion process as Agni.
In Ayurvedic treatment for vitamin deficiency, initial emphasis is given to improve the digestion strength. Correction of digestion process with respect to liver, pancreas, stomach and intestines leads to proper Agni and good absorption of consumed vitamins.
For this purpose, below Ayurvedic medicines are used –
Agnitundi vati
Chitrakadi Vati
Arogya Vardhini Vati – when liver enzyme / bile secretion correction is required
Mustharishtam – when digestion process correction along with diarrhea, as in case of IBS-D is involved.

Treatment for liver

Liver correction:
Fat soluble vitamins – A, D, E and K require bile, secreted by liver for their absorption. Hence, liver function correction is emphasized.
It is done with Ayurvedic medicines like –
Arogya Vardhini vati
Patola Katu Rohinyadi Kashayam
Vasa Guluchyadi Kashayam etc

Treating underlying disease:
The underlying diseases should be treated (such as diabetes) so as to improve vitamin absorption.

Panchakarma – detoxification therapies:
Panchakarma help to get rid of toxins at once. Once the whole body is detoxified, all hassles in the absorption of vitamins (and other nutrients) are taken care.
Read related: Introduction to Ayurvedic Panchakarma

Vitamin rich foods:
Once after the digestion process and underlying diseases are treated, then Vitamin rich foods are given to the patient.

Foods Vs supplement:
Initially, to ensure quick recovery, Ayurveda recommends using vitamin supplements for a period of 4 – 8 weeks.
Once after the normal values are restored, then patient is encouraged to have vitamin rich foods.
Read related – Importance Of Diet (Pathya) For Specific Diseases

What are vitamins?

Vitamin is an essential micro-nutrient that an organism needs in very small quantities for the proper functioning of the body. Essential nutrients are either not synthesized in the body or not synthesised in required quantities and therefore must be obtained through diet.

The thirteen vitamins required by human metabolism are:  
Vitamin A (all-trans-retinol)
Vitamin B1 (thiamine),
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin),
Vitamin B3 (niacin),
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid),
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine),
Vitamin B7 (biotin),
Vitamin B9 (folic acid), 
Vitamin B12 (cobalamins),
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), 
Vitamin D (calciferols),
Vitamin E (tocopherols) and
Vitamin K (quinones).

Based on its solubility, vitamins are classified as either water-soluble or fat-soluble.
Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble
Vitamins B and C are water-soluble.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a group of organic compounds that includes retinol, retinal, retinoic acid and several pro-vitamin A carotenoids.
Sources
Cod liver oil, Liver of beef, chicken, fish, Ghee, Carrot, Milk, Butter, Spinach, Pumpkin, Capsicum, Eggs, Apricot, Papaya, Tomato, Mango etc.
Dietary recommendations
2800 – 3000 μg/ml in adults
600 – 900 μg/ml in children

Functions
Vision – Vitamin A is necessary for the formation of rhodopsin, the pigment in rod cells responsible for vision in dim light.        
Gene transcription – Vitamin A in retinoic acid form plays an important role in gene transcription.        
Haematopoiesis – Vitamin A deficiency results in the loss of blood stem cells responsible for production of blood cell components.
Immune function – Vitamin A plays an important role in T cell differentiation and proliferation.
Bone metabolism – Consumption of proper amounts of Vitamin A daily is proven to improve bone mineral density.
Skin health – Vitamin A is an anti-oxidant. It has an important role in regulating cell growth and development.

Deficiency
Vitamin A deficiency can be either primary or secondary. Primary deficiency occurs in adults and children who do not consume sufficient quantities of Vitamin A rich foods.  
Secondary Vitamin A deficiency is related to mal-absorption of Vitamin A, smoking and alcoholism.
Night blindness – impaired vision particularly in dim light
Xerophthalmia – medical condition where the eyes fail to produce tears
Xerosis – dryness of conjunctiva
Bitot’s spots – build up of keratin debris in the conjunctiva
Keratomalacia – eye disorder that involves drying and clouding of the cornea
Lowered immunity
Hyperkeratosis – abnormal thickening of the skin
Enamel hypoplasia – deficient enamel amount

Read related – Netra Tarpana Treatment For Eye Care Benefits, How To Do?

Vitamin B

Vitamin B is a water soluble vitamin that plays an important role in metabolism. There are 8 separate vitamins enlisted under Vitamin B. They are –
Vitamin B1 – Thiamine
Vitamin B2 – Riboflavin
Vitamin B3 – Niacin
Vitamin B5 – Pantothenic acid
Vitamin B6 – Pyridoxine
Vitamin B7 – Biotin
Vitamin B9 – Folic acid
Vitamin B12 – Cobalamin.
Though these Vitamins share similar names, they are chemically distinct compounds.

Vitamin B1 – Thiamine

Sources – Whole grains, legumes, meat, fish, processed foods such as breakfast cereals etc.
Dietary recommendations – 0.1 mg thiamine per mega joule (MJ) of energy consumed. 
Functions –
Thiamine is responsible for the catabolism of proteins into amino acids.
Thiamine also plays an important role in muscle contraction and conduction of nerve impulses.
Deficiency –
Deficiency of thiamine leads to a disease called Beriberi.
It is of two types –
Wet beriberi
Dry beriberi
Wet beriberi affects cardiovascular system causing fast heart rate, shortness of breath, and oedema of lower limbs.

Dry beriberi causes wasting and partial paralysis due to damage of peripheral nerves. It is characterised by
Difficulty in walking
Loss of sensation or tingling sensation
Loss of muscle functions
Loss of tendon reflexes
Difficulty in speech
Mental confusion
Nystagmus
Pain etc.
Diseases affecting the brain like Wernicke’s encephalopathy, Korsakoff’s syndrome and Wernicke – Korsakoff’s syndrome are forms of dry beriberi.

Vitamin B2 – Riboflavin

Sources – Eggs, green leafy vegetables, milk and other dairy products, almonds, mushrooms, meat, broccoli, yeast, soya bean, whole grains etc.
Recommended daily allowance – for men aged 19 years and over is 1.3 milligrams per day, and for women, it is 1.1 milligram per day. 
Functions
It helps in the proper development of skin, lining of digestive tract, blood cells and brain functions.
Deficiency
Deficiency of Vitamin B2 is called Ariboflavinosis. It is characterised by
Stomatitis – inflammatory process affecting the mucous membranes of the mouth and lips, with or without oral ulceration.
Cheilosis – painful inflammation and cracking of the corners of the mouth. 
Glossitis – inflammation of the tongue
Conjunctivitis – inflammation of the conjunctiva and
Anaemia.
Symptoms –
Red chapped lips,
painful swollen tongue,
sore throat,
blurred vision,
fatigue etc.

Vitamin B3 – Niacin

Sources – Mushrooms, cooked potatoes, green peas, cheese, soya milk, liver, tuna, peanuts, avocados, brown rice, whole wheat etc.
Dietary recommendation –
16 mg /day for men and 14 mg/day for women.
Deficiency
Severe Vitamin B3 deficiency causes Pellagra. It can affect the skin, digestive system, nervous system and mucous membranes.
It is marked by the three D’s –
Dementia
Diarrhoea
Dermatitis
Symptoms
Red, flaky skin with reddish brown discolouration
Thin scaly or cracked skin
Itching or burning sensation over the patches
Apathy
Depression
Confusion
Headaches
Restlessness
Anxiety
Delusions
Sore lips, tongue, gums
Decreased appetite
Nausea, vomiting.

Vitamin B5 – Pantothenic acid

Sources – Pork, chicken, duck, beef, liver, kidney, salmon, lobster, shellfish, whole grains, egg yolk, milk, yogurt, lentils, soybean, mushroom, avocado, broccoli etc.
Recommended dietary intake –
For males and females above 14 years of age – 5mg / day.
Functions –
Converting food into glucose
Synthesising coenzyme A, which is involved in the synthesis of fatty acids and cholesterol
Production of sex and stress related hormones
Production of RBCs.
Deficiency –
Pantothenic acid deficiency is rarely seen as this Vitamin is found commonly in foods. The symptoms that occur due to Vitamin B5 deficiency are –
Tiredness
Apathy
Depression
Irritability
Sleep disorders
Nausea
Vomiting
Numbness
Muscle cramps
Hypoglycaemia etc.

Vitamin B6 – Pyridoxine

Sources – pork, poultry, such as chicken or turkey, fish, bread, wholegrain cereals, such as oatmeal, wheatgerm and brown rice, eggs, vegetables, soya beans etc.
Recommended dietary intake –
In adult males and females – 1.2 to 1.7 mg / day
Functions –
Essential for protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism
Essential for the synthesis of RBCs and neurotransmitters
Reduces high blood levels of amino acid homocysteine which is linked to depression and other psychiatric disorders
Improves brain function and prevents onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Helps in production of haemoglobin
Reduces risk of heart disease
Deficiency –
Causes symptoms such as
Peripheral neuropathy
Seborrheic dermatitis
Glossitis
Cheilosis
Depression
Confusion
Seizures
Normocytic, microcytic, or sideroblastic anemia

Vitamin B7 – Biotin

Sources – walnuts, peanuts, cereals, milk, and egg yolks, whole meal bread, salmon, pork, sardines, mushroom, cauliflower etc.
Recommended dietary intake –
In adults – 10mg / day
Functions –
Essential for body metabolism
Acts as a co-enzyme in gluconeogenesis
Essential for skin, hair and nail health
Aids cell growth
Maintains the mucous membrane
Deficiency –
Erythematous periorofacial macular rash
Fine and brittle hair
Hair loss
Cracking in the corners of the mouth
Dryness of the eyes 
Anaemia
Seborrheic dermatitis
Fungal infections
Lethargy
Hallucinations
Anorexia
Depression
Loss of appetite
Myalgia etc.

Vitamin B9 (folic acid)

Sources –
Peanuts, sunflower seed kernels, lentils, chickpeas, asparagus, spinach, lettuce, liver, cheese, eggs, hazelnuts, avocados etc.
Daily recommended intake –
In adults – 1000 micrograms / day
Functions –
Vital for making RBCs
Aids in synthesis and repair of DNA and RNA
Enhances brain health
Prevents age related hearing loss
Prevent the fetus from developing major congenital deformities of the brain or spine etc.
Deficiency –
Fatigue
Grey hairs
Stomatitis
Glossitis
Pallor
Shortness of breath
Anaemia
Neural tube defects.

Vitamin B12 – Cobalamin

Sources –
Beef, liver, and chicken, fish and shellfish such as trout, salmon, tuna fish, and clams, fortified breakfast cereal, low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, eggs etc.
Daily recommended intake –
Adults: 2.4 micrograms / day
Functions –
Essential for brain and nervous system functions
Helps in synthesis of RBCs
Deficiency –
Fatigue
Lethargy
Depression
Poor memory
Breathlessness
Headaches
Pale skin
Mania
Psychosis

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)

Vitamin C is a water soluble Vitamin which is found in various foods. It is also known as ascorbic acid.
Sources –
Indian gooseberry, guava, blackcurrant, kiwifruit, broccoli, capsicum, papaya, strawberry, lemon, orange, pineapple, cauliflower, grapefruit, passion fruit, potato, tomato etc.
Daily recommended intake –
Adult female – 75mg / day
Adult male – 90mg / day
Functions –
Functions as a cofactor in many enzymatic reactions in animals, including wound healing and collagen synthesis
Acts as an antioxidant
Repairs and maintains cartilage, bone and teeth
Aids in iron absorption
Deficiency –
Scurvy is a disease resulting from the deficiency of vitamin C.
Early symptoms –
Weakness
Lethargy
Sore arms and legs
Shortness of breath
Bone pain
Myalgia
Rough skin
Easy bruising
Petechiae
Periodontal disease
Loosening of tooth
Poor wound healing
Dry mouth
Dry eyes
Late symptoms –
Jaundice
Generalised edema
Oliguria
Neuropathy
Fever
Convulsions
Death

Vitamin D (calciferols)

Vitamin D is a group of fat soluble vitamins. In humans, the most important compounds in this group are Vitamin D3 – Cholecalciferol and vitamin D2 – Ergocalciferol.
Sources –
Human skin can make large amounts of vitamin D when skin is exposed to bright sunlight.
In general, vitamin D2 is found in fungi and vitamin D3 is found in animals.
Food sources include mushrooms, egg yolk, beef liver, fish liver oils, salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines etc.
Recommended daily intake –
15 micrograms / day
Functions –
It stimulates intestinal calcium and phosphorus absorption
Increases renal absorption of calcium
Helps in bone resorption, modelling and remodelling
Deficiency –
A deficiency of vitamin D in diet together with inadequate sun exposure leads to osteomalacia – softening of the bones. When it occurs in children, it is called rickets.
Rickets –
Rickets is a childhood disease characterised by impeded growth and soft, weak, deformed, long bones that bend and bow under their weight when the child starts to walk.
Signs and symptoms –
Delayed growth
Short stature
Delayed motor skills
Pain in spine, pelvis and legs
Muscle weakness
Bowed legs / knock knees
Soft skull bones / craniotabes
Skull bossing
Spinal deformities like kyphoscoliosis or lumbar lordosis
Thickening of costochondral joints – rachitic rosary
Pigeon chest
Harrison’s groove      
Osteomalacia –
It is a disease in adults that result from vitamin D deficiency.
Features –
softening of bones
bending of spine
bowing of legs
muscle weakness
increased risk for fractures

Read related – Low Bone Density Causes, Ayurvedic Treatment, Diet

Vitamin E (tocopherols)

Vitamin E is a group of fat soluble compounds.
Sources –
Wheatgerm oil, hazelnut, rapseed oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, almond oil, grapeseed oil, sunflower seed kernels, palm oil, peanut, corn, olive, soyabean, pistachio, avocado, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, cashewnuts, rice, potato etc.
Recommended daily intake –
Adults – 7 to 15 mg per day
Functions –
It is an antioxidant and acts as a radical scavenger
It helps to keep the immune system strong
It helps in the synthesis of RBCs
It helps the body utilise vitamin K
It keeps blood from clotting within the blood vessels
Deficiency –
Ataxia
Peripheral neuropathy
Myopathy
Retinopathy
Impairment of immune responses

Vitamin K (quinones)

Vitamin K is a group of structurally similar group of fat soluble vitamins.
Sources –
Green leafy vegetables like spinach, lettuce, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, fish, liver, meat, eggs, cereals etc.
Recommended daily intake –
Adults – 70 microgram / day
Functions –
It plays an important role in blood clotting by producing prothrombin
Helps in bone metabolism
Regulates blood calcium levels
Deficiency –
There are many symptoms associated with vitamin K deficiency, the main one being excessive bleeding. Excessive bleeding may not be immediately evident, as it may only occur if a person is cut or wounded.
Other symptoms are –
Bruising
Blood clots under the nails
Dark, black, tar-like stools
Bleeds in mucous membranes.

Hence, vitamins are essential nutrients which cannot be synthesised by the body and so has to be supplemented in the food we take. As explained in Ayurveda, a wholesome diet – Pathya Ahara, when consumed, keeps the body healthy by providing required amounts of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and fibres.

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