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Organic compound required in small amounts in the diet to maintain normal metabolic functions. The term vitamine (1911) was changed to vitamin when it was realized that not all vitamins are amines (i.e., not all contain nitrogen). Many vitamins act as or are converted to coenzymes. They neither provide energy nor are incorporated into tissues. Water-soluble vitamins (vitamin B complex, vitamin C) are excreted quickly. Fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K) require bile salts for absorption and are stored in the body. The normal functions of many vitamins are known. Deficiency of specific vitamins can lead to diseases (including beriberi, neural tube defect, pernicious anemia, rickets, and scurvy). Excess amounts, especially of fat-soluble vitamins, can also be dangerous: e.g., too much vitamin A causes liver damage, an effect not seen with beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. Several vitamins are now known to support the immune system. Most vitamins are adequately supplied by a balanced diet, but people with higher requirements may need supplements.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on vitamin, visit Britannica.com.