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Overview of water-soluble vitamins

Sassan Pazirandeh, MD
David L Burns, MD
Section Editor
Timothy O Lipman, MD
Deputy Editor
Alison G Hoppin, MD


Vitamins are a number of chemically unrelated families of organic substances that cannot be synthesized by humans and are essential in small amounts for normal metabolism. A few are conditionally essential, meaning that they are essential under certain conditions (such as vitamin D, which is essential in the absence of adequate sun exposure). Vitamins are divided into water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins (table 1).

Many of the vitamin deficiency diseases, such as scurvy (vitamin C), beriberi (thiamine), and pellagra (niacin), have been almost completely eliminated in resource-rich countries, except in occasional patients with underlying medical disorders or highly restricted diets. Great interest and controversy continues into whether vitamin supplementation in pharmacologic doses can prevent cancer, heart disease, upper respiratory infections, and other common diseases. (See "Vitamin supplementation in disease prevention".)

This topic review will focus on the water-soluble vitamins excluding folic acid and vitamin B12, which are discussed separately. (See "Etiology and clinical manifestations of vitamin B12 and folate deficiency".)

Minerals and fat-soluble vitamins are also reviewed elsewhere. (See "Overview of vitamin A" and "Overview of vitamin D" and "Overview of vitamin E" and "Overview of vitamin K" and "Overview of dietary trace minerals".)


Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) were developed by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine to guide nutrient intake in a variety of settings [1]. DRIs are comprised of:


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