Monday, March 23, 2009

Vita "For Life"

In the 1500’s the British Royal Navy was entering a time of sea exploration and the race to reach new lands was on.  Their provisions consisted of meat, fish, biscuits and cheese.  These men were out to sea for months and sometimes years.  In a 20-year span, 10,000 men died of a mysterious disease where they had frequent bruising, rotten gums, and painful bodies (1).  James Lind, a surgeon, found that giving the sailors limes cured them of this awful disease.  Of course, Vitamin C was the missing link here, and is needed to synthesize collagen as its most basic functions.  This story is one of the earliest, most well documented cases of vitamin deficiency.  From it was born the idea that these small substances can help our bodies accomplish hundreds of normal functions, most importantly, keep us alive.

Fast forward to the year 2009, and there are thousands of products lining health food store shelves and vitamin shops across the nation.  There is no reason we should be deficient in ANY vitamin right?  The problem in this country is certainly over-nutrition, whereas many third world countries struggle to get the basic nutrients essential to life.  The point is we have plenty of food available and even more supplement choices.  This can overwhelm in the most seasoned consumer.  I am not going to try and attempt to weed through all nonsense being sold out there.  There are a few products I do believe in and will mention.  However, first and foremost I will try to convince you that FOOD is the only vitamin supplement you need.

When scientists began studying food and vitamins at great lengths they became obsessed with isolating particular substances and matching those with diseases/ailments.  As each new vitamin was discovered, and its function slowly realized, scientists figured we could basically survive on vitamins alone, with food merely a delivery system for them.  As vitamin pills began to hit the shelves, people were excited to get these magic chemicals into their bodies and enjoy great health.  Today, you can’t go to the grocery store without seeing slogans like, “Omega 3’s added” or “No fat” or “Rich in vitamin C.”  The food industry has found brilliant ways to add and subtract nutrients from our food.   The problem is, those foods were fine just the way they were.  In fact, they have been promoting human health for thousands of years.

I think its great we can isolate individual nutrients and give them to people in concentrated doses like multi vitamins.  However, the value I see in it is mainly for therapeutic uses, not general health.  For example, if someone has high blood pressure they can improve with larger doses of magnesium, which would be nearly impossible to obtain from food alone.  For the normal, healthy person though, I am a huge advocate from obtaining all the vitamins and minerals you need from food sources and here’s why:

-Nutrition is a very young science.  In my opinion, there is no way we have discovered and isolated every single important vitamin.  So, that orange you are eating has vitamin C for sure, but what about hundreds of other chemicals that interact in our body and undergo important jobs that improve our health.  Skipping the orange for a vitamin C supplement limits your vitamin potential. 

-Our ancestors and even a few native cultures today eat a variety of whole foods and are perfectly healthy.  They are active, disease-free, and never take vitamins.  Everything their body needs is provided for them in nature.  Along these lines, religious or not, it is my belief that god didn’t make a mistake and forget to provide us with everything we need to thrive.  We didn’t evolve to take pills, we evolved to eat food.

 -Research is a bit inconsistent here, so we still don’t know exactly how well we absorb vitamins via supplementation.  We do know that our bodies recognize food and can absorb and assimilate (meaning cells take up) all the important substances needed for functioning.

-Synergy. “The sum of the parts is bigger than the whole.”  Let’s say we eat a dozen blueberries.  All the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals within this food combine in the stomach and work together to promote health.  Many antioxidants like Vitamin C and E work side by side replenishing each other to continue to fight free radicals.  We just can’t be certain this is as effective when supplementing the two together. 

Having said all this let me now tell you vitamins are important:

-We are not perfect everyday.  We may miss out on certain vitamins on a daily or even a weekly basis, and a multi vitamin ensures we pick up all the pieces.  Vitamins are a great insurance policy even when we are eating well

-As I mentioned before the food industry has stripped many vitamins from products, especially bread.  They try to add them back in but it’s not the same.  White bread is wheat bread minus the B-vitamins.  In addition, some argue that our soils are being depleted of vitamins/minerals and an apple today is not as nutritious as an apple 50 years ago.  A supplement can help make up for this depletion

-Conventionally grown produce (that uses pesticides) has less nutritional value.  When you spray a crop to keep insects away, you are taking away the chance for the produce to use its own defense mechanisms to fend off its foes.  Organically grown produce is said to have thicker outer membranes, which exist because it had to naturally protect itself from the elements.  The result, more nutrition and antioxidants in these plants due to its heightened defense activity.

I’ve kind of played devils advocate with myself so let me say a few bottom line statements about vitamins:  Never let vitamins become an excuse not to eat a vitamin-rich food diet.  Let food be your vitamins and supplemental vitamins be your insurance policy. 

What I do is buy a multi vitamin that recommends taking 3-a-day.  I only take one a day though.  If that day I ate particularly terrible, I’ll take 2 to cover my bases.  Shop around for quality multi’s.  Typically the cheaper they are, the less they resemble something in nature.  I also supplement things that are hard to obtain in the diet.  For example, I take Milk Thistle Seed (for the liver, lets face it some of us have been cruel to this organ), Turmeric (anti inflammatory and heart healthy), and cod liver oil (because I can’t eat liver).   Listen to your body.  If taking extra calcium makes you feel better, it’s probably helping.  If you have individual questions about herbs or any other supplements, message me and I’ll try to answer them.


Here are all the vitamins/minerals listed a few good sources of each:

Vitamin A:  retinol-fish, egg yolks, milk   beta carotene: yellow/orange vegetables

Vitamin D: sunlight, fish liver oil, mushrooms, dark green veggies

Vitamin E:  safflower oil, nuts, seeds, wheat germ

Vitamin K: dark greens, kelp, alfalfa (K is normally made in the gut by good bacteria)

B1 (Thiamin): wheat, pecans, pine nuts, oats

B2 (Riboflavin): fish, eggs, wild rice, sunflower seeds

B3 (Niacin): fish, peanuts, meats, avocados, whole grains

B5 (Pantothenic Acid): egg yolks, fish, chicken, sweet potatoes, green peas

B6 (Pyridoxine):meat, whole grains, walnuts, garlic, cabbage, bananas

B7 (Biotin): peanuts, almonds, egg yolks, carrots (intestinal bacteria make most of it for us)

Choline: soybeans, potatoes, lentils, oats, egg yolk, fish

B9 (Folic Acid): green leafy vegetables, oranges, pineapple, strawberries

Inositol: whole grains, citrus fruits, raisins, peanuts

B12 (Cobalamin): meat, fish, egg yolk, shrimp, yogurt

Vitamin C: citrus fruits, red and green peppers, cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, asparagus


Calcium:  milk, dairy products, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, almonds, pinto beans

Magnesium: dark green vegetables, almonds, cashews, brazil nuts

Potassium: spinach, tomatoes, peas, broccoli, oranges, bananas, whole grains

Sodium: we get enough, its everywhere

***The Image above is that of organic orange juice.  The picture was taken with a Kirlian image capturer that picks up electromagnetic energy.  It is said to show an objects "aura."  All I can say is no vitamin can emit that kind of energy!

1. Haas, Elson.  Staying Healthy With Nutrition.  Celestial Arts. Berkeley, Ca, 2006




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