As cofactors of enzymes, vitamins help:
Despite all this attention from the scientific community and the media, there is still much controversy and confusion surrounding vitamins. In part, the difficulty with understanding the ABC’s of these nutrients has been the necessity of wading through all the information to separate fact from fiction. Such an exercise forces many questions to surface-
Ideally we should be able to obtain all the nutrients we need from our daily food intake. However, the American diet has dramatically changed over the last 100 years. Our great-grandparents would not recognize most of the fast convenience foods this current space-age society depends on for ‘nourishment’. That’s because our ancestors ate wholesome foods that were organically raised on local farms without the aid of chemical fertilizers. Their fresh fruits and vegetables were grown without poisonous sprays, and meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products were obtained from their own healthy farm animals. They ate little processed or refined products and these natural unadulterated foods contained more of the essential nutrients, including vitamins and less sugar, hydrogenated fats and salt, than their present counterparts.
Modern agricultural practices and methods of food processing and preparation have greatly altered the nutritional value of our food supply. Before we can depend on a tomato or orange to provide us with the vitamins that official government food tables claim they contain, the following must be considered:
Even though humans need the same nutrients to stay healthy, the amount of vitamins required by each person may vary.
It depends on your
Recent nutritional surveys report that a substantial percentage of senior citizens are not getting adequate levels of some important nutrients in their diets including:
In the two-week period before menstruation many women find relief from such symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) as anxiety, water retention, and craving for sweets, by taking additional B-Complex vitamins, particularly vitamin B6.
Sports nutritionists highlight vitamins as an important asset to improved athletic performances and endurance. In his best seller, Eat To Win, Dr. Robert Haas states, “Recent nutritional research has shown that active people require specific nutrients in amounts that cannot be replenished by diet alone.” These include the powerful antioxidants vitamins A, C and E, which help protect cells from the damaging effects of “free radicals” (high energy molecules) created when the body’s oxygen-processing capacities are increased through exercise. As a result, these vitamins (along with the trace mineral selenium) help keep the cells alive longer, thereby slowing down the aging process. Also the B-Complex vitamins are essential in the conversion of carbohydrates into glucose, which the body “burns” as fuel for energy.
Many essential nutrients are depleted by:
More and more concerned individuals are routinely taking food supplements as an insurance policy against environmental stressors. The ominous hi-tech pollution we’ve created pulsates throughout our daily work and play. Much of this detriment is unavoidable, dictating counterattack by those concerned.
More is not necessarily merrier. Vitamins can become toxic and do more harm than good when taken in high doses. For example, hypervitaminosis A (vitamin A toxicity) can create the same symptoms of a vitamin A deficiency state including dry, itchy skin, hair loss, visual changes and headaches. It has long been believed that only the fat-soluble vitamins: A, E, D and K, which accumulate and are stored in the fat cells, could be harmful in large doses. However, there are clinical reports of toxicity from water-soluble vitamins, such as thiamin (vitamin B1) and vitamin B6, ranging from mild side effects to significant potential for harm. It’s important to remember that your body has a limit to how much of any vitamin it actually needs to be healthy.
Vitamins that are harmless to the healthy may be contraindicated for those with medical problems like aplastic anemia, diabetes, kidney stones, gout, peptic ulcer, malabsorption syndrome, hemorrhage and hypertension. Supervision by a health practitioner knowledgeable in the field of nutrition is advised.
While each vitamin has its own specific job to perform in the body, none work alone. Let’s look at a couple examples. For those who have a tendency towards iron anemia, additional Vitamin C may do the trick because it enhances iron absorption. Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of the mineral, calcium. An inadequate supply of this fat-soluble vitamin can weaken our bones and lead to a condition known as rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Consequently, an adequate supply of either mineral won’t help much unless we can absorb it. We aren’t just what we eat, we are more importantly what we absorb and metabolize.
Some nutrients are not so harmonious. Inorganic iron destroys vitamin E; therefore a multiple vitamin-mineral formula containing these two nutrients is not advisable. For best results, they should be taken at least 8 hours apart.
Over the counter remedies as well as prescription drugs can interfere with the absorption and excretion of vitamins. Aspirin, which is all too often popped in the mouth at the first sign of an ache or pain, can block vitamin C from entering the blood and also affects folic acid utilization. L-dopa used in Parkinson’s disease and certain diuretic drugs can cause vitamin B6 deficiency. Mineral oil, commonly used as a laxative, interferes with the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins.
Scientists originally discovered vitamins while examining deficiency diseases. First they pinpointed what foods could cure these diseases, and then they isolated the chemicals in the foods that were the sources of the cure. There are approximately 20 known vitamins to date. The National Research Council’s Food and Nutrition Board established the Recommended Dietary Allowance known as the RDA to set nutritional standards and guidelines for the general public.
Ideally if we are healthy and consuming 100% of the RDA for all vitamins, we will not exhibit any clinical deficiency symptoms, such as scurvy, pellagra or beri-beri. However, this approach only guarantees a minimal level of nutrition rather than an optimal degree. If 60 mgs. Of vitamin C for the average adult will stave off scurvy, what will 100 or even 500 mgs. do?
Vitamins are absorbed best when they are taken with other foods and minerals. The best time is after meals and as evenly throughout the day as possible.
The three leading killers - heart disease, cancer and diabetes have been linked to our diet. The typical American cuisine replete with refined packaged, processed and chemically treated foods needs to be challenged and cleaned up before it is dependable as a safeguard against disease.
Proper nutrition, like any other aspect of a health-building program, must be sensibly approached. It’s important to remember that no two people are identical. A high quality meal plan filled with wholesome fresh foods, and a supplement program designed specifically for your biochemical needs, is the best path for optimizing your health.
© Copyright 2017 Mary Ann Reidy, M.S
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Mary Ann Reidy, M.S. Clinical Nutritionist