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Characteristics of Water-Soluble Vitamins

By Lynn Hetzler

Vitamin C and the eight B vitamins, known as B-complex vitamins, are water-soluble, which means they dissolve in water. By contrast, vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble, which means they dissolve in fat before entering the bloodstream. Your body stores excess fat-soluble vitamins in your liver and uses them when you do not consume enough vitamins A, D, E or K. Your body cannot store water-soluble vitamins. Your kidneys remove excess vitamins C and B-complex, and urine carries these excess nutrients out of your body. The lone exception is vitamin B12, which is the only water-soluble vitamin stored in your liver, according to the National Library of Medicine. You need to consume a constant supply of water-soluble vitamins for your body to function properly.

Function

Vitamin C is important to circulatory function, wound healing and healthy bones and teeth. The B-complex vitamins are important to metabolism, forming red blood cells and maintaining healthy skin, bones and nerves. Some B vitamins work together to perform various functions.

Deficiency Symptoms

Vitamin C deficiency manifests itself in bleeding gums, wounds that will not heal, dry skin, scurvy, bruising, increased infections and sore bones and joints. B-complex vitamin deficiency symptoms include skin disorders, confusion, diarrhea, irritability and a smooth tongue.

Overconsumption Symptoms

Overconsumption of vitamin C is not toxic under normal conditions, but you can suffer symptoms of scurvy once you stop taking the high doses. Most B-complex vitamins pose no overconsumption symptoms, with the exception of niacin, in which overconsumption may cause abnormal liver function, irritability, cramps and nausea. Taking too much folic acid may mask vitamin B12 deficiency.

Common Sources

You must replenish your body’s supply of vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins each day through the foods you eat. Citrus fruits, including oranges, limes and lemons, are sources of vitamin C. Consume more strawberries, melons, broccoli, green peppers and tomatoes to increase your vitamin C intake. Pork, poultry, fish and other meats provide B-complex vitamins, especially meals that include liver and kidneys. Look for B vitamins in dark, leafy vegetables, legumes, eggs, milk products, shellfish, oysters and peanuts. Eat whole-grain products enriched with vitamin B.

Stability

Water-soluble vitamins are delicate and easily destroyed through storage and food preparation. Colorado State University Extension suggests refrigerating vegetables to prevent vitamin loss and to protect milk and grains from strong light. Transfer water used to cook vegetables into soups and stews to rescue vitamins you would otherwise pour down the drain. Food refinement destroys many B-complex vitamins found in whole-grain products like bread and rice. For example, polishing rice removes its outer layer, which is rich in thiamine. This causes thiamine deficiency, or beriberi, in cultures where rice is a dietary staple. Manufacturers enrich these products to reintroduce lost nutrients, such as niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, folate and iron. Enriched products include breads, cereals, white rice and white flour.

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