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Updated February 15, 2021
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the value of vitamins. By now, you’ve read the headlines, based on the recent Journal of the American College of Cardiology study, proclaiming things like, “You’re wasting your money on vitamins!” and “Yet another study shows vitamins don’t deliver!”
It’s true that the research was damning, showing that bestsellers like Vitamin C produced no real change in study participants over time. But while people may agree to disagree about whether certain supplements deliver results, one thing is true beyond a doubt: our bodies do need certain vitamins. And by “need,” we mean that you literally can’t survive without them.
Whether through supplements or the food you eat, it’s crucial to your health to get the 13 essential vitamins. Here’s a quick primer on why you need them and the latest figures on their market sizes.
First, let’s clear the air on vitamins versus minerals. Vitamins are organic, which means they can be broken down by air, heat or acid. Minerals are inorganic. Why does that matter? Because vitamins break down much more readily, it’s more difficult to get them into your body in an active form. Minerals can get into your body, relatively unchanged, pretty easily. Trace minerals are similar, but as their name implies, you need much less of them—only small amounts—for your body to function properly. Think: iodine and fluorine.
Vitamins can be either water soluble or fat soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins often aren’t needed by your body daily, so they tend to hang around—stored in your fatty tissues or liver and released when your body needs them. Your body doesn’t hold on to water-soluble vitamins, instead excreting them via urine. Because they don’t get stored, you have less change of experiencing a toxic buildup of water-soluble vitamins than fat-soluble ones.
Here are the 13 most important vitamins for your body
The 13 vitamins your body needs fall into one of those two categories and, not surprisingly, that affects how you should take them in supplement form.
1. Vitamin A, fat soluble
What it does: Vitamin A might not get as much attention as vitamins C and D, but it’s crucial nonetheless. This fat-soluble vitamin helps keep your immune system strong, fosters communication among your cells and much more. Its beta-carotenes are crucial for your eye health.
The lowdown on supplements: Bolstered by its beauty benefits, the Vitamin A market is expected to eclipse $860 million by 2024. Between 27% and 34% of U.S. adults take a supplement containing this vitamin; standalones typically outline the percentage of Vitamin A versus beta-carotene.
The B Vitamins, water soluble
What they do: The water-soluble B vitamins are crucial for transforming nutrients into energy.
The lowdown on supplements: The ever-popular B complex vitamin was one of the only shown to produce measurable results in the major vitamin study released last month. That could be one reason why the market is booming, expected to grow 4.3% year-over-year through 2019. It’s most common to take the B vitamins in a blend since they all work together, so we won’t break out the individual market size of each in the sections below. But if you’re not taking a B complex, make sure to find food or supplement sources of these eight “Bs.”
2. Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
The first B vitamin discovered by scientists, hence its “1” title, thiamine helps turn carbs into energy.
3. Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
Riboflavin coordinates with the other B vitamins to produce red blood cells.
4. Vitamin B3 (niacin)
This vitamin is key to keeping your digestion and nervous systems in top form.
5. Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
Want to ensure fats and carbs are broken down properly and transformed into energy? Load up on Vitamin B5. It’s also good for your liver and eyes.
6. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
This vitamin, most often just called B6, helps your body create antibodies and hemoglobin, and break down fats.
7. Vitamin B7 (biotin)
This supplement has recently jolted to rock star status thanks to its potential beauty-boosting properties. It’s expected to grow by nearly 8% over the next four years.
8. Vitamin B12
This B is crucial to metabolizing protein and maintaining a well-functioning central nervous system.
9. Folic Acid (Vitamin B9)
This pregnancy must-have helps you create, and maintain, healthy cells.
10. Vitamin C, water soluble
What it does: You need Vitamin C for wound healing, skin health, strong immunity and healthy gums and teeth. It also triggers the production of collagen.
The lowdown on supplements: Aside from multivitamins, Vitamin C is typically the most popular supplement among U.S. adults. The market is predicted to generate about $9.8 billion between now and 2022.
11. Vitamin D, fat soluble
What it does: Vitamin D can help your body absorb calcium (a nutrient, not a vitamin; hence its omission from this list). This hormone boosts your bone health, helps regulate your body and can play a role in warding off age-related issues like osteoporosis.
The lowdown on supplements: Vitamin D is actually produced within the body, and can be absorbed through exposure to the sun (though that’s no excuse for skipping sunscreen). Vitamin D supplements have surged in popularity along with the aging population, expected to reach $2.5 billion in the next two years. Ergocalciferol, the vegetarian form, and cholecalciferol, from animal sources like fish liver oil, are two common types of Vitamin D supplements. Opt for the fast-absorbing animal form.
12. Vitamin E, fat soluble
What it does: Vitamin E is crucial for the health of your immune system, eyes and skin. As an added bonus, this antioxidant can also reduce the visible signs of aging by fighting free radicals.
The lowdown on supplements: The Vitamin E market supplement hit $820.18 million last year. These supplements could be a good option if you have a Vitamin E deficiency, but there are also risks associated with taking the vitamin in high doses.
13. Vitamin K, fat soluble
What it does: One of the least popular of the essential 13, Vitamin K is crucial nonetheless, aiding in blood clotting and other important functions within your body.
The lowdown on supplements: You’ll find Vitamin K in many multivitamins. As a standalone supplement, you’ll most commonly see Vitamin K1, from plants, or Vitamin K2, from dairy. Vitamin K hasn’t seen a market explosion like vitamins C, D and E, which leaves many analysts predicting its golden days are yet to come.
If you’re exploring the world of nutrition supplements, keep in mind that many top-rated fat burners and high-quality nootropics contain some B vitamins. So if you’re concerned you’re not getting enough of these magic 13, multivitamins or single vitamin pills don’t have to be your only options.