Vitamin tests measure the levels of certain vitamins
in an individual's blood. They are generally used to aid in the diagnosis of vitamin deficiencies or in detecting toxic amounts of a vitamin in a patient's system.
Vitamins are components of food that are needed for growth, reproduction, and maintaining good health. The vitamins include vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin A, and vitamin K, which are the fat-soluble vitamins, and folate, vitamin B12
, biotin, vitamin B6
, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and ascorbic acid, which are the water-soluble vitamins. Vitamins are required in the diet in only tiny amounts, in contrast to the energy components of the diet, such as sugars, starches, and fats. However, not receiving sufficient quantities of a certain vitamin can be devastating, resulting in vitamin deficiency diseases such as scurvy
, pellagra, or rickets
. Conversely, consuming too much of a certain vitamin can be toxic to a person's system. Vitamin tests are used to assess the level of certain vitamins in an individual's blood so that doctors can more accurately diagnose vitamin deficiency diseases or vitamin overdoses and devise effective therapy. The vitamins that are most commonly measured by doctors are folate, vitamin B12
, vitamin K, vitamin D, and vitamin A.
Most of the vitamin tests are conducted by acquiring a sample of blood, and then preparing plasma or serum from the blood sample. Each vitamin occurs at extremely small concentrations when compared to levels of most other molecules in the blood. Blood contains a great number of chemicals and molecules, and many of these tend to interfere with the vitamin tests. For this reason, a procedure that separates the vitamin from contaminating substances is usually performed immediately prior to conducting the actual test. Most laboratories use high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC), also called high performance liquid chromatography, as this purification step. In HPLC, the sample is pumped at high pressure through a tube lined with an absorbent material, to which the different molecules cling at different rates. Following separation or purification by HPLC, the vitamin is detected by a color reaction or fluorescence reaction. In these reactions, the amount of color or fluorescence that is formed is proportional to the amount of vitamin in the sample, allowing the analyst to calculate the amount of vitamin present in the original sample. In the case of some vitamins, the purified vitamin is reacted with a special chemical (reagent) prior to detection.
Levels of some vitamins may be measured indirectly by a biological test that mimics the actual function of the vitamin in the body. Riboflavin status is often measured by a test in which the rate by which a certain enzyme converts one molecule into another indicates how much Vitamin B2
is present in a person's blood. Vitamin K is often measured by a test that times how long it takes for a spontaneous blood clot to form in a prepared sample. Vitamin E status is often measured by placing the red blood cells in a test tube, adding hydrogen peroxide, and assessing the resulting breakdown of the red blood cells. When a vitamin E deficiency
exists, the red blood cells have a greater tendency to break.
Most vitamin tests require no preparation; however, some may require that the patient fast for at least eight hours before giving a blood sample, or stop using some medications.
The values that are considered to be normal for each vitamin can vary slightly. This variability can arise from different testing machines or from different types of chemistry that are used in conducting the vitamin assays. In interpreting data on plasma vitamin levels, it should also be noted that different normal ranges may exist for different age groups and genders. For example, the normal range for plasma vitamin B6 for males is 7-52 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) for males and 2-26 ng/mL for females.
The normal ranges for levels of certain vitamins are as follows. Please note that, by convention, the units referring to the levels of each of the vitamins may differ from each other. The units picogram/milliliter (pg/mL), nanogram/milliliter (ng/mL), and micrograms per deciliter (micrograms/dL) refer to the weight of vitamin in the specified volume. The units nanomoles/liter (nmol/L) and micromoles/liter (M/L) refer to the concentration of vitamin in the specified volume.
- folate (folic acid): 3.1-18.0 ng/mL
- vitamin B12: 200-1100 pg/mL
- thiamin: 9-44 nmol/L
- riboflavin: 6.2-39 nmol/L
- vitamin B6: 7-52 ng/mL
- vitamin C (asorbic acid): 28-84 M/L
- vitamin A: 28-94 micrograms/dL
- vitamin D (25-hydroxy-vitamin D): 25-50 ng/mL
- vitamin K: 80-1160 pg/mL
In all cases, abnormal results fall below or above the normal concentration range. However, as noted above, values that are considered to be borderline or severely abnormal can differ according to the discretion of the medical laboratory or physician.
Brody, Tom. Nutritional Biochemistry. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.