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Vitamins: A centenary of essential nutrients

Looking forward: The emerging evidence for vitamins and health

By Nathan Gray+

28-Nov-2012
Last updated on 28-Nov-2012 at 12:37 GMT

In the last 100 years vitamins have been found to play vital roles in our health and wellbeing, but the full benefits of many vitamins is yet to be elucidated.

In this special edition article NutraIngredients looks at some of the areas of vitamin research that are showing promise for the future.

While many of the links between vitamin consumption and health are relatively well established, there are many other areas that show great promise but have so far produced mixed results.

From the potential for vitamin K to reduce the risk of developing diabetes , or the suggestions that vitamin C is needed to help baby brain development , right through to the long suggested but not yet established links between vitamin D levels and the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS) – there is a wealth of research activity focusing on how vitamins function and how they may be implicated in human health.

All eyes are on this new research for development and growth in vitamins for the next 100 years.

Vitamin D

Often referred to as ‘the sunshine vitamin’ because of the body’s ability to produce it from sunlight, the fat soluble vitamin has a well-established role in maintaining calcium levels in the body and in building strong bones.

However the vitamin has been linked to a huge range of health benefits, including the development of MS , and modifications to the immune system that could help people with tuberculosis (TB) recover faster, in addition to reducing the problems associated with systemic lupus .

Because many cells in the body use vitamin D to help regulate critical cellular functions, deficiency has been suggested to lead to several chronic health problems and diseases, including a weakened immune system, mobility limitations and disability for older people , increased risk of diabetes ,  and an increased possibility of developing cancers.

Meanwhile researchers have suggested that women who experience painful menstrual cramps could find relief from high-dose supplementation with vitamin D.

In addition supplementation has been backed to help boost the recovery of critically ill children , and improve the development of the baby brain and motor skills , in addition to increasing life expectancy by battling diabetes and heart disease.

Cancer risk

A host of essential vitamins have been suggested to play a role in cancer risk reduction and helping to slow tumour growth, including vitamins A, B, D, and E,

Vitamin A is known to play a key role in regulating cell growth and division, which has led to many suggesting the potential of vitamin A in battling cancers. For example research published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology suggests that supplementation with vitamin A in the form of retinol could offer protection against skin cancer such as melanoma by up to 40% in women.

Meanwhile supplementation with vitamin E could help to prevent cancer in patients with an under-recognized genetic disorder known as Cowden Syndrome (CS), and may also have benefits for liver cancer .

Vitamin D has been suggested to play a role the prevention of certain cancers – including colon cancer and pancreatic cancer – on many occasions, with recent research from Japan linking the sunshine vitamin to a 40% lower risk of colorectal cancer .

Emerging areas

Supplements of vitamins C and E may benefit women taking oral contraceptives  by protect against the increase in markers of oxidative stress in those taking oral contraceptives.

Researchers from Scotland, UK, have also suggested that vitamin E fortified foods could help in fight against childhood asthma . The team based at the University of Aberdeen recently launched a new study to test whether a vitamin E rich diet for mothers can help to modify the risk of childhood asthma.

Vitamin E has also been suggested to reduce the risk of motor neurone diseases , with long-term use of supplements linked to a lower risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) by researchers analysing data from over one million people.

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