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A vitamer of a particular vitamin is any of a number of chemical compounds, generally having a similar molecular structure, each of which shows vitamin activity in a vitamin-deficient biological system.[1]

For instance, vitamin A1 has at least six vitamer chemicals that all qualify as "vitamin A", each with slightly different properties.[citation needed] In such a system, "vitamin A" is termed the "generic descriptor" of the vitamin, which is defined by its biological properties in a vitamin-deficient organism, not by its chemical structure. In the "vitamin A"1 system, four of those found naturally in plant origin foods are chemically carotenoids (three carotenes and one is a xanthophyll). However, the all-trans-retinol and retinal forms, which occur in animal-based foods, are several times as effective in humans, per microgram, than are the plant-based forms. All vitamers, in case of "vitamin A"1 mediate the same biological functions serving as a precursor for retinal, for the visual cycle, or for all-trans-retinoic acid, functioning as a hormone-like substance and a ligand for the nuclear hormone receptors, RARs. In some cases these differences are extreme: for example the carotenoid forms of vitamin A1 cannot be absorbed by cats or ferrets at all, and therefore do not have vitamin A activity in these species.

Typically, the vitamin activity of multiple vitamers is due to the body's limited ability to convert one vitamer to another, or many vitamers to the same enzymatic cofactor(s), which is active in the body as a form of the vitamin. Not all vitamers possess exactly the same vitamin potency, per mass. This is due to differences in absorption and interconversion of the various vitamers of a vitamin. Often for the same reason, the toxicity of vitamers varies by molecule, as is the case with vitamin E.[2]

A set of chemicals may be (but is not always) grouped under an alphabetized vitamin "generic descriptor" title, such as "vitamin A". Other examples of vitamers include cyanocobalamin, hydroxocobalamin, methylcobalamin, and 5-deoxyadenosylcobalamin (adenosylcobalamin—AdoB-12), which are all vitamers of B12, and thus all possess "B12 activity". Another example is that both niacinamide and nicotinic acid (niacin) have vitamin B3 activity.

List of vitamins with some of their active forms[edit]

Vitamin generic
descriptor name
Vitamer chemical name(s) or chemical class of compounds (list not complete)
Vitamin A1 all-trans-Retinol, retinal, and alternative carotenoids: the provitamin A carotenoids alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, gamma-carotene; and the xanthophyll beta-cryptoxanthin
Vitamin B1 Thiamine, Thiamine monophosphate,[3] Thiamine pyrophosphate
Vitamin B2 Riboflavin, Flavin mononucleotide (FMN), Flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD)
Vitamin B3 Niacin, niacinamide, Nicotinamide riboside
Vitamin B5 Pantothenic acid, panthenol, pantethine
Vitamin B6 Pyridoxine, pyridoxine phosphate, pyridoxamine, pyridoxamine phosphate, pyridoxal, pyridoxal 5-phosphate
Vitamin B7 Biotin
Vitamin B9 Folic acid, folinic acid, 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate
Vitamin B12 Cyanocobalamin, hydroxocobalamin, methylcobalamin, adenosylcobalamin
Vitamin C Ascorbic acid, dehydroascorbic acid, calcium ascorbate, sodium ascorbate, other salts of ascorbic acid
Vitamin D Calcitriol, ergocalciferol (D2), cholecalciferol (D3)
Vitamin E Tocopherols (d-alpha, d-beta, d-gamma, and d-delta-tocopherol), tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta tocotrienols)
Vitamin K phylloquinone(K1), menaquinones (K2), menadiones (K3)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Keresztesy, J. C. (1944). "The Water-Soluble Vitamins". Annual Review of Biochemistry. 13: 367–410. doi:10.1146/ Early 1944 ref discussing reasons for introduction of the word vitamer.
  2. ^ McCormick, Charles C.; Parker, Robert S. (2004). "The Cytotoxicity of Vitamin E Is Both Vitamer- and Cell-Specific and Involves a Selectable Trait". The Journal of Nutrition. 134 (12): 3335–3342. doi:10.1093/jn/134.12.3335. PMID 15570034. Retrieved 2018-07-23.
  3. ^ Schmidt, Anatol; Pratsch, Herbert; Schreiner, Maximilian G.; Mayer, Helmut K. (2017). "Determination of the native forms of vitamin B1 in bovine milk using a fast and simplified UHPLC method". Food Chemistry. 229: 452–457. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2017.02.092. PMID 28372200.

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