Vitamin Chemistry

Vitamins are taught in the biochemistry option. However, the aim of this blog post is not to cover the exact requirements of the IB course. Instead, my intention is to give the reader an overview of the topic.

So, what do we mean by vitamins? Well, vitamins are organic molecules that are needed in small quantitates in order for an organism to remain healthy. If an organism is lacking in a particular vitamin it will develop a deficiency disease.

Vitamins will vary from species to species and they are, in essence, molecules that the organism cannot synthesise and because of this they vary quite a lot in their structures. The only exception to this is vitamin D, which can be synthesised by the body but needs UV light (or sunlight) in order to do this.

Vitamins will also be fat soluble or water soluble and this can often be inferred from their structure. In humans, they are (rather unimaginatively) named vitamin A, B, C, D, E and K, although they will still have their IUPAC systematic names. It is possible to have too much of a fat soluble vitamin in your body and this can lead to health problems as the fat soluble vitamins are not excreted in urine. Water soluble vitamins are excreted this way and for this reason are not stored in the body and, therefore, you cannot have too much water soluble vitamins in your diet.

Vitamin A is fat soluble. It is found in animal fats, butter, yolks of eggs, carrots and fish liver. A lack of it in the diet can lead to weight loss and night blindness. Not surprisingly, it is involved in vision and is known as carotene. So, the old wives tale that carrots help you to see in the dark is true to some extent.

Vitamin B is actually a group of different ‘B’ vitamins: Vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamine) vitamin Bc (folic acid) and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine).

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is needed for the formation of collagen and bone. Fresh vegetables are a great source of this vitamin.

Vitamin D is found in fish oils (amongst other food sources) and is involved in the development of teeth.

Vitamin E is a derivative of a group of molecules called tocopherols. It is involved in fertility and acts as an antioxidant.

Vitamin K is a derivative of a group of molecules called menaquinones and is involved in blood clotting.

If you teach this option, how do you teach about vitamins? Do you do any lab work? If so, please share with us what you do as we would all love to hear more about this!

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