Glossary Of Vitamin Terms
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A Glossary of Vitamin Terms and Definitions – From A to Zinc

Vitamins are very important to us every day of our lives, but it can get confusing at times, so here is a guide to the meanings of some words you may come across in the world of nutrition.

  • Absorption
    The physiological process where nutrients are assimilated into the bloodstream from the digestive tract. (See Malabsorption).
  • AI (Adequate Intake)
    A recommendation of amount of dose on product labeling when RDA’s are not present. (See RDA).
  • Alpha-lipoic Acid or Lipoic Acid
    This chemical is a strong antioxidant that works in conjunction with vitamin C and vitamin E to protect cells from stress and damage by regenerating glutathione. (See Glutathione).
  • Amino Acids
    Extremely small molecules that join with each other to construct complex proteins.
  • Antioxidants
    A number of substances that battle against oxygen-derived free radicals to prevent them from over reacting with body tissue that could cause cellular damage. Compounds like vitamins C and E, the vitamin A precursor beta-carotene, alpha-lipoic acid, and the minerals selenium and zinc, are all quite common antioxidants. (See Free Radicals).
  • Assay
    The physical and chemical analysis of something to decide on its constituent parts and what percentage of the whole each individual substance takes up.
  • Ascorbic Acid (or Ascorbate)
    The chemical name for vitamin C. This vitamin is necessary to prevent the terrible disease known as scurvy, which killed many hundreds of thousands of men at sea in times past. It also stops your teeth from falling out! And amongst other uses heals wounds like burns. So drink plenty of citrus fruit juice, where vitamin C is prevalent. It is also found in all other fruits and vegetables.
  • Avitaminosis
    The extremely unhealthy state of the human body caused by near total vitamin deficiency.
  • Beta-carotene
    This organic compound, chiefly found in all orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, is used by the body to make vitamin A. It is also a strong antioxidant in its own right. (See Antioxidants).
  • Bioassay
    A special assay test for measuring the biological actions of a substance. (See Assay).
  • Bioavailability
    A term for a substance’s speed of, and extent of, absorption into the circulating bloodstream so that it can be effectively administered by the body to where it is needed. This is expressed in a fraction of a given dose.
  • Biological Marker Compound
    This is a quality control test to check that certain materials are indeed contained in an advertised product.
  • Bioflavonoids
    Sometimes known as vitamin P, they are a number of compounds found in citrus fruits and elsewhere that aids the absorption process. (See Absorption).
  • Biotin
    A vitamin that used to be known as vitamin H. Biotin delivers and frees energy from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and is required for good growth and healthy skin. It is present in liver, milk, yeast, and butter.
  • Botanicals
    Any products on the shelves of stores made from herbs or other plants. (See Herbs).
  • Calciferol
    The chemical name for the anti cancer vitamin D. This vitamin is famous in the United States for its enrichment in milk to prevent rickets in children (a disease of bone softening, particularly in the legs), but it is also important to adults to prevent possible later weakening of their bones. As well as milk, vitamin D can be found naturally in eggs, butter, margarine and fish oils; and it can also be produced by exposing skin to sunshine.
  • Catalyst
    Any substance that initiates a change or reaction in other substances without altering its own state is known as a catalyst.
  • Carnitine
    An important amino acid that works by itself or jointly with other materials to break down fat and release available energy. It may also have properties to aid the heart and fight against toxins.
  • Certificate of Authenticity
    Official paperwork that proves that the materials used to produce dietary and food supplements is authentic.
  • Chemotherapy
    The chemical war against cancer, fought by attempting to prevent growth and spread of cancerous cells.
  • Clinical Trial
    Research programs on new or existing products to test their effectiveness and safety, and to look for side effects, where the test subjects are people (who volunteer) rather than animals (who do not). Some of these people will receive the real product and some, merely a placebo (a fake substitute). (See Placebo).
  • Coenzymes
    Molecules that assist larger enzymes in the body’s biochemistry. Most vitamins are or become coenzymes. (Also see Enzymes).
  • Cobalimin (Cyanocobalimin)
    Vitamin B12’s chemical name. This vitamin is used for the formation of blood cells in bone marrow and the production of genes, and nerve tissue. A deficiency can lead to severe anemia. (A lack of oxygen in the blood). The chief sources of vitamin B12 are red meat, fish, poultry, eggs and milk.
  • Cytokines
    These are molecular compounds given out by cells as part of the immune system.
  • Dietary Supplements
    These are popular products for providing additional health improving substances including amino acids, botanicals, herbs, minerals and vitamins. They can be taken as capsules, pills, tablets, or in liquids.
  • DRI’s (Dietary Reference Intakes)
    A generic term for values and measures that are used in recommendation of quantity of doses in supplements. For example AI’s (Adequate Intake) UI’s US RDA’s (see UI and USRDA) amongst others. They are watched over by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy and Sciences.
  • Disintegration
    How quickly dietary supplements lose or lessen their effectiveness over time. Or due to factors in storage like heat and light levels, or amounts of moisture.
  • Dissolution
    This is the percentage of an ingested substance that dissolves in the digestive tract to then enable it to be ready for further absorption into the blood. A mix of dissolution and absorption rates control how much of the substance can actually be used and not lost after being taken.
  • DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid)
    The building blocks of genes. DNA is themselves made up of amino acids.
  • DV (Daily Value)
    A term in use in the labeling of supplement and vitamin products in the United States as a recommendation.
  • EAR (Estimated Average Requirements)
    This is the value given where half of a certain group of people, according to age and/or fitness and/or gender would have their supplement requirements met sufficiently. An EAR is one of the DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) guide values. (See DRI‘s).
  • EFA ‘s
    This stands for Essential Fatty Acids.
  • Efficacy
    Another word used to mean effectiveness.
  • Effectiveness
    How much likely benefit can be reasonably expected from a product when properly taken according to given instructions.
  • Enzymes
    A type of protein produced in the body from other ingredients that works as a biochemical catalyst for the reactions of other substances. (See also Catalyst and Coenzymes).
  • Excipient
    This is the title of a substance, itself inactive, used in supplement capsules and pills to deliver other active ingredients.
  • Extract
    A plant extract is acquired by the timed soaking of plant materials such as; leaves, flowers, berries, stems, or roots, or the whole plant; and then causing this liquid to evaporate, then condense into solution.
  • Extramural Research
    The research work done outside of a given organization or company. (See Intramural Research).
  • Fat-soluble Vitamins
    Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble. That is, they dissolve in liquid fat or fatty oils, and not in water alone. They are usually obtained from fatty foodstuffs and more fat may be required for their effective transportation into the bloodstream via the digestive tract through absorption.
  • Folic Acid
    This is the chemical name for vitamin B4. It helps with cell division, strengthening arterial walls, the maintenance of healthy blood, and the growth of the nervous system of fetuses. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause this vitamin from working. Folic acid can be found in many foods like pulses, yeasts, liver, nuts, eggs and whole wheat.
  • Food Additive
    Anything added to food to enhance aroma, color, flavor, texture, storage capacity, or nutritional value.
  • Free Radicals
    A highly unstable group of atoms with unpaired electrons, which react with anything within the body that they come into contact with, very often doing damage to the others’ cells or genes at the molecular level. They are constantly produced as a byproduct of human metabolism and may have their number increased by factors such as excess ultraviolet radiation, tobacco smoke from cigars and cigarettes, and air tainted with industrial pollution. They may also increase during stress. Free radicals can be neutralized, or their harmful activities limited by defending . (See Antioxidants)
  • Free Radical Scavenger
    Any substance that blocks or removes free radicals.
  • Function Claims (See Structure Claims)
  • Functional Foods
    A generic term for a type of foodstuff specially formulated to provide certain health benefits.
  • Gene
    A hereditary structure made of DNA that forms proteins. (See DNA).
  • GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organism)
    Foodstuffs that have been genetically engineered to alter their form or characteristics by tampering with their DNA. (See DNA).
  • GMP ‘s (Good Manufacturing Practices)
    The code that if followed during manufacture means supplements are of higher quality, with a longer shelf life, and also have the proper labels on them.
  • Glutathione
    A chemical guard to cells that cannot be directly replaced with supplements. Instead, alternates can be used in the supplements or precursors provided for the body to remake its own glutathione. (See Alpha-lipoic Acid).
  • GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe)
    An abbreviation used by the Food and Drug Administration.
  • Health Claim
    A claim by a manufacturer or retailer of supplements that a certain product can prevent, treat or cure, a given condition or disease. (See also Structure Claims).
  • Herbs
    Low-growing seasonal plants that are noted for their aromatic or medicinal properties. Some supplements use herbal derivatives or extracts amongst their ingredients. (See Extract).
  • Hypervitaminosis
    A condition where poisonous toxins are present in the body as a result of too high concentrations of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K.
  • Hypovitaminosis
    This is a problem when certain diets are followed for too long, resulting in a low level of any individual vitamin which may not have easily observable symptoms, but produce fatigue, depression, or increased irritability.
  • Immune System
    The body’s own internal defense against foreign intruders like viruses or certain damage causing bacterias.
  • Interaction
    Another term for any side effects from the simultaneous use of a number of differing dietary supplements. These can take form by either lessening or increasing the measured and actual effects of any of the parts involved. This interaction may or may not be harmful.
  • In Vitro
    Biological studies or events that occur outside of the body (in laboratory test-tubes or Petrie dishes for example).
  • In Vivo
    Biological studies or events that occur inside the body.
  • Intramural Research
    This is research only done inside a given organization or company. (See Extramural Research).
  • IU (International Unit)
    This is an international standard measure for gauging the biological action of vitamins A, D, and E. One IU stands for different quantities, depending on which vitamin is being shown.
  • LOAEL (Lowest Observed Adverse Effect Levels)
    This is the least dose (smallest) of every supplement where side effects have ever occurred.
  • Macronutrients
    These are the nutrients the body needs large amounts of, like carbohydrates, fats and proteins. (See also Micronutrients and Nutrition).
  • Malabsorption
    This is the poor, very low levels of absorption of nutrients from the digestive tract in the intestines to the bloodstream. This condition may result from disease, drug side effects, pathogens, or defective genes. (See also Absorption, Genes, Nutrients, and Pathogens).
  • MCG
    Micrograms. 1 microgram (1mcg) is one millionth of one gram (1g). (See MG).
  • MCT’s (Medium Chain Triglycerides)
    These are quickly absorbed fats that give energy without apparently also involving the gaining of bodily weight, as oppose to long chain triglycerides (LCT’s) which do. MCT’s are very often used by patients suffering from malabsorption since many less enzymes need to be involved to break them down and release their energy.
  • Metabolism
    All physiological and biochemical changes that take place naturally inside a living body system, including growth, digestion and excretion. Also, the transfer of chemical energy in our food to mechanical energy in our muscles and kinetic energy in our body heat.
  • Metabolite
    Any substance used in the metabolic process.
  • MG
    Milligrams. 1 milligram (1mg) is one thousandth of one gram (1g). (See MCG).
  • Micronutrients
    Nutrients the body only needs very small amounts of, like vitamins and minerals. (See also Macronutrients and Nutrition).
  • Minerals
    Inorganic (non carbon containing) nutritious substances essential for health like calcium, phosphor, potassium, sodium, sulfur, copper, zinc, iron, iodine, selenium, magnesium, nitrogen and others.
  • Natural Foods
    Foodstuffs that are organically grown without the use of pesticides and/or are unprocessed and are higher in vitamin content.
  • Naturopathy
    A medical science that uses herbal remedies and alternative treatments and medicines like homeopathy, acupuncture, etc. to heal without the use of synthetic modern drugs it rejects. (See Synthetic).
  • Niacin (Nicotinic Acid)
    This is the chemical name for vitamin B7. It is used for continuing health of body cells and to free energy from carbohydrates and fats. This vitamin also prevents the disease pellagra. Niacin is found in bread, milk, yeast, liver and kidneys, pulses and nuts.
  • NOAEL (No Observed Adverse Effect Levels)
    A level of intake of a supplement where no side effects have ever been known.
  • Nucleus
    The ‘heart’ of a cell, ringed by a membrane and containing the controlling genes.
  • Nutrient
    A foodstuff or other substance that provides the body with nourishing factors for continued metabolism and survival, through the sustainability and transference of energy. (See also Macronutrients and Micronutrients).
  • Nutrition
    The entire processes included in the metabolism’s take up of nutrients by ingestion, digestion, absorption, and utilization.
  • Osteopathy
    A medicinal system based on the premise that all aspects of the living body are fundamentally interconnected, and that any disturbance in the healthy balance in one area can be the cause of problems in another.
  • Overage
    Deliberately included extra potency of ingredients in vitamin and other dietary supplements to counterract the disintegration rate, and therefore help to make sure the product lasts in effectiveness up to its expiry date. (See Disintegration).
  • Oxidation
    This is a description of a chemical reaction that takes place when oxygen meets and reacts with another substance, resulting in transformation.
  • Oxyradical
    A type of free radical that is a derivative of oxygen molecules. (See Free Radicals).
  • Pantothenic Acid
    This is another of the vitamin B group. It is extremely common in almost all foods, and helps maintain an active metabolism. Pantothenic Acid is also needed for hormone production.
  • Pathogen
    A disease causing agent.
  • Phytochemical
    This means chemistry of plants and plant processes.
  • Phytomedicinals
    These are medicinal products that are derived from plants.
  • Placebo
    A fake medicine used for research. It helps to balance results of trials by better establishing whether the genuine medicine is responsible for any improvements of conditions, or whether there are other, as yet unconsidered factors present.
  • Precursor
    See Provitamin.
  • Provitamin (Precursor)
    Any compound capable of being converted into a vitamin by the body. Like beta-carotene, which the body can convert into vitamin A when required.
  • Pyridoxine
    The chemical name for vitamin B6. It is important for the freeing of energy from proteins and is present in poultry, fish, potatoes, liver and bananas. The daily requirement will depend upon the amount of proteins in the person’s food.
  • Random off-the-shelf Testing
    A regime of totally random quality tests carried out on products by organizations fully independent of the manufacturers and/or retailers. (And their competitors).
  • RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance)
    There are various different nutritional intake levels worked out for differing gender and age groupings by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • RDI (Reference Daily Intake)
    See DRI.
  • Retinol
    This is the chemical name for vitamin A, which is an anti cancer vitamin. This fat-soluble vitamin is extremely important for the health of the eyes. It prevents them from drying out and the eyeball from atrophying (wasting away), and helps to improve night vision. Vitamin A also assists with the skin and mucous membranes. It is commonly found in egg yolk, butter and all yellow and orange fruit and vegetables, like carrots for example, which really do help us to see in the dark!
  • Riboflavin
    The chemical name for vitamin B2. It can be found in dark green leaves, milk, red meat, and mushrooms and pulses amongst other places. Deficiency can lead to a swollen tongue, cracked lips and other skin disorders like dandruff. It is also used in the body’s metabolism, like many of the vitamin B group.
  • Synergistic
    This word means; an action carried out by a number of substances that produces an effect that none of the number could produce alone.
  • Synthetic
    Anything made artificially is said to be synthetic.
  • Structure Claim
    These are claims made that a dietary supplement is of greater benefit to the user by the maintenance of a healthy body or continued healthy individual functions of the body. (See Health Claim).
  • Thiamine
    Vitamin B1’s chemical name. Vitamin B1 helps with growth, digestion and keeping the nerves healthy. Almost half of the quantity of thiamine in the body is used by the muscles, and a severe deficiency can lead to the paralyzing disease of beriberi. This vitamin is found in pulses, whole wheat bread and pork.
  • Tocopherol
    The chemical name for the anti cancer vitamin E. This is present in butter, margarine and green leaves as well as most foods. It keepd cells and blood healthy and assists vitamin A. It also lessens the damaging oxidation of compounds.
  • Tryptophan
    One of the many amino acids that make up proteins. It is special because it can be converted into the Niacin (vitamin B7).
  • Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UI)
    This is the maximum amount of intake advisable of the given nutrients before a risk is accrued.
  • Toxic Levels
    Substances that become poisonous to us when present in these amounts, but are not otherwise dangerous.
  • Toxins
    Substances that our poisonous to our bodies.

    United States Recommended Daily Aloowances. These are widely used recommendations on supplements chosen by the Food and Drug Administration (the FDA).
  • Vitamin A
    See Retinol.
  • Vitamin B1
    See Thiamine.
  • Vitamin B2
    See Riboflavin.
  • Vitamin B4
    See Folic Acid.
  • Vitamin B6
    See Pyridoxine.
  • Vitamin B7
    See Niacin.
  • Vitamin B12
    See Cobalimin.
  • Vitamin C
    See Ascorbic Acid.
  • Vitamin D
    See Calciferol.
  • Vitamin E
    See Tocopherol.
  • Vitamin K
    A highly important vitamin as it aids the coagulation (thickening) of blood to prevent hemorrhaging (uncontrollable bleeding) when a wound has occurred. It is found in all green vegetables and a variant can be formed by helpful bacteria in our intestine. This variant is known as vitamin K2.
  • Vitamins
    Essential nutrients for the health of our bodies that we cannot ourselves directly produce.
  • Water-soluble Vitamins
    Vitamin C and the entire vitamin B group. These vitamins can easily dissolve in water; they can also be lost if over boiled whilst cooking. Steaming is better to keep them retained in the food.

About The Author

Matt Jacks is a successful freelance writer providing tips and advice for consumers purchasing or comparing vitamin supplements & organic herbs, calcium supplements for osteoporosis treatment and Dr. Atkin's low carb menu plans. His numerous articles offer moneysaving tips and valuable insight on typically confusing topics.

This "Glossary of Vitamin Terms and Definitions" reprinted with permission.

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