June 5, 2012

Vitamins and Minerals: Nourishing the Ocean Within (Part 2).


When your mind and heart are truly open abundance will flow to you effortlessly and easily.

Read Part 1 of this article HERE!

In the first post devoted to vitamins and minerals, some basic guidelines were laid out. We saw that the pros and cons of vitamins are still clouded by popular beliefs, mass advertising, and scientific confusion. But the overall picture is that a good diet takes care of things for almost every healthy adult. This was the advice given in health class when we were in school, and it’s the advice given by advanced medicine today.

With that is mind, let’s move on to a more detailed level of scientific description.

What are vitamins and minerals?

Vitamins and minerals are classed as micronutrients to differentiate them from the three macronutrients—proteins, carbohydrates, and fats—that sustain life. Vitamins are organic substances, meaning that they are made by plants or animals. Minerals (a category that includes metals, such as iron and copper) come directly from the earth and are inorganic. All began, amazingly enough, as interstellar dust, originating in the explosion of supernovas and the inner process of stars. You are literally made of stardust. Minerals make their way through soil and water into the plants we consume, and from plants into the animals we consume. Once absorbed into the bloodstream, vitamin and mineral molecules help the body complete a remarkable range of critical functions.

Many vitamins and minerals, after being broken down through digestion, are absorbed through the wall of the small intestine directly into the bloodstream. Others have to go through more complex processes. Vitamin B12, for example, binds to proteins in food that react with digestive juices in the stomach. Freed from food, B12 then pairs with a special stomach protein and the two are absorbed only after leaving the stomach.

Thirteen vitamins and sixteen minerals are essential for the body to function.

Vitamins (chemical name) Minerals

Vitamin A (retinol) Calcium
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) Chloride
Vitamin D (calciferol) Magnesium
Vitamin E (tocopherol) Phosphorus
Vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) Potassium
Vitamin B1 (thiamine) Sodium
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) Sulfur
Vitamin B3 (niacin) Chromium
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) Copper
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) Fluoride
Vitamin B7 (biotin) Iodine
Vitamin B9 (folate or folic acid) Iron
Vitamin B12 (cobalamins) Manganese

Fat-Soluble and Water-Soluble
The thirteen essential vitamins break down neatly into two categories: water-soluble and fat-soluble. “Soluble” simply means how the vitamin dissolves before it is absorbed in the system.

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble: they dissolve with the help of lipids (a category that includes fats) and can be stored in cells until they’re needed. The other nine vitamins—vitamin C and the B vitamins, which include riboflavin (B2) and folic acid (B9)—are water soluble. They break down easily in water. Being water-soluble means the body can make fast use of these vitamins, but they can’t be stored. Unused water-soluble vitamins are cleared from the body with other liquid waste and must be replenished every day.

The Function of Vitamins
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) has many functions, such as acting as an antioxidant and helping to create nearly all of the body's connective tissue.

B vitamins serve the body in many ways, such as helping obtain energy from food and aiding in the formation of red blood cells. Members of the B family are also important to vision, skin, and the nervous system.

Vitamin A (retinol) is required in the production of rhodopsin, a protein that helps the eye adjust to dim light. It also ensures the skin, eyes, mucous membranes of mouth, nose, throat and lungs remain moist.

Vitamin D (calciferol) helps normalize calcium levels in the blood by increasing calcium absorption in the small intestines and mobilizing it from the bone into the blood stream. This is essential for proper nervous system and neuromuscular function.

Vitamin E (tocopherol) acts as an antioxidant, disarming free radicals and preventing oxidative damage to cell membranes. It protects vitamins A and C, red blood cells, and essential fatty acids from destruction and helps prevent atherosclerosis.

Vitamin K (phylloquinone) plays an essential role in normal blood clotting and helps promote bone health.

The function of minerals
Minerals cause chemical reactions that kick biological processes into action. Once initiated, these processes are also fed, supported, and maintained with the help of minerals. As nutrients, minerals are the building blocks for the tissues that make up our organs, muscle, skin and bones. They are involved in transporting oxygen through the blood to every cell, and in delivering messages throughout the nervous system.

Minerals are also critical in the body’s many biological balancing acts (homeostasis), including acid-base balance; the balance of electrolytes crucial for nerve and muscle activity; and hormonal balance. We need minerals for strengthening tough structures like teeth and bones, and for delicate jobs like stabilizing fluid levels in the brain. And though minerals don’t produce energy themselves, they help energy to be released from food during digestion.

Major Minerals and Trace Minerals
Minerals are grouped according to how much is needed by the body. We need “major” amounts of calcium, for example, and only “trace” amounts of iron and chromium. The word “trace” connotes amounts that are detectable but so small they are difficult to measure.

Major minerals (macrominerals) include calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulfur. Major minerals are required in larger amounts—generally between 500 mg and 1000 mg, depending on the mineral.

Trace minerals (microminerals or trace elements) include chromium, iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride, and selenium. We require such small amounts of trace minerals that the daily allowances of some are measured in micrograms.

Calcium is required for strong bones and teeth. It’s also essential for the transmission of nerve impulses, muscle contraction and expansion, the functioning of blood vessels, normal heart rhythm, and blood clotting.

Chloride is essential for creating stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) and for activating amylase, an enzyme in saliva.

Iron is essential for producing hemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells, and myoglobin, found in muscles. These proteins transport and store oxygen.

Sulfur is a component of insulin, the hormone that provides cells with energy-giving glucose. It contributes to healthy skin, nails, and hair, and has been linked to brain function.

Potassium helps maintain the body’s balance of sodium and water, in turn playing a role in blood pressure. It’s also essential for muscle contraction, conducting nerve impulses, and synthesizing proteins.

Sodium is crucial to the function of nerves and muscles, and essential for balancing levels of water and other fluids. Like other electrolytes, sodium is important to the chemistry of the blood.

Phosphorus is important for the storage and transfer of energy during chemical reactions, for muscle and nerve activity, and for cell permeability.

Iodine, a trace mineral, is required to form thyroid hormones (T3 and T4), which aid in regulating cellular metabolism.

To supplement or not?
Too often we pluck our meals off supermarket shelves, and we can easily be satiated by foods that have had the nutrients processed right out of them. While there are appropriate uses for multivitamins and beneficial additives, neither is an ideal stand-in for a nutritional diet based on whole foods.

How often have you seen the phrase “Fortified with essential vitamins and minerals!” emblazoned on a box that also features cartoon characters and, very possibly, sugar as a leading ingredient? Nutritional fortification is the addition of nutrients to a food or drink during processing. Any product, from fruit drinks to yogurts to breads and snack bars, may be fortified. But fortification is not a free pass to good health, since naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals are not the same as additives. When you turn down the marketing chatter enticing us to consume processed foods—and when you can keep your sweet tooth in check—the body’s positive response to wholesome foods is unmistakable. Your body reacts favorably to nutritionally dense whole foods because we are physiologically wired for the healthiest edibles.

The healthiest examples of fortified products are those that were wholesome to begin with, such as whole-grain cereals, fortified with iron, and orange juice fortified with extra calcium. One of the great victories of nutritional science was the fortification of milk with extra vitamin D to help prevent rickets (the softening of bones in children, which is due to vitamin D deficiency).

Many doctors take a laissez-faire attitude toward supplements; one must keep in mind that nutrition is one of the most minor subjects taught I medical school. If doctors in general practice wanted to be more helpful in this area, they could stop shrugging their shoulders and tell patients to take the fewest medications within reason, and that goes for nutritional supplements – that’s the best general rule.

There are specific reasons, however, to deviate from the general rule. Here are a few of them.

One micronutrient that may need to be supplemented is vitamin D. A study released in March, 2011 by the Centers for Disease Control indicated that about a quarter of the US population is low on vitamin D, and about 8% are at risk for a full-blown deficiency. Globally, surveys have found that between 40% and 90% of people have less-than-optimal levels. Vitamin D deficiency can be asymptomatic, and the only way to know for sure whether your levels are low is to have a blood test. Those most likely to need vitamin D supplements include seniors, breastfed infants, people with dark skin, and people with certain conditions including liver diseases, cystic fibrosis, and Crohn’s disease. People who are obese or have had gastric bypass surgery may also need a boost.

Increased levels of several vitamins and minerals are crucial for the healthy development of a baby’s brain and body: iron; B vitamins (folate in particular); and vitamins A, C, and D. Increased levels are also a good idea for seniors, and some studies have indicated that as much as 30% of senile dementia symptoms can be reversible through taking more minerals such as magnesium and manganese. A balanced vitamin-mineral supplement is a no-risk preventive here.

In 2008, research by a professor of neurosurgery and physiological science at UCLA revealed how a nutritional diet helps to improve brain function and prevent mental disorders. Fernando Gómez-Pinilla determined that foods with antioxidant properties—such as blueberries, which are rich in Vitamins A and K, and in manganese—can positively influence learning and memory by increasing the flow of information across synapses and improving the plasticity of the synapses themselves.

Beware of adverse interactions between multivitamin supplements and prescription drugs, and take them only under the advice of your doctor. Vitamin K, for example, can reduce the effectiveness of the blood thinner warfarin (trade name: Coumadin). High doses of vitamin A, when taken in combination with tetracycline antibiotics, may lead to intracranial hypertension (a rise in the pressure of brain fluid).

I wish that this whole area were simpler to understand, but folklore and science are both defective. Nature is the best remedy, yet vitamins and minerals are so minute and precise that one wise adage isn’t enough. In terms of biochemistry, experts are still not clear on why, precisely, an ideal balance of nutrients is so difficult to recreate synthetically. Even with a good handle on recommended intakes of each essential vitamin and mineral, we don’t completely understand why nutrients consumed in isolation, as via supplements, do not have the same salubrious effect on the body as foods do.

Perhaps this is a case where ignorance is a blessing, since the last thing anyone needs is a totally synthesized diet. Any step away from our grossly imbalanced national binge on sugar, fat, and processed foods is a desirable one. Once you have reasonably established what you need for adequate vitamins and minerals, move on to the bigger issue of true well-being. It’s not waiting to be solved with a little pill.

Write Your Comment

  1. Michael J Gonzalez

    I totally disagree with Dr. Chopra.Research in Europe has shown that long-term users of antioxidant vitamin supplements have a 48% reduced risk of cancer mortality and 42% lower all-cause mortality. [1] The media did not bother to mention it. There is in fact overwhelming clinical evidence to justify the use of nutritional supplements for the prevention of disease and the support of optimal health. The Lewin Group estimated a $24 billion savings over 5 years if a few basic nutritional supplements were used in the elderly. [2] On the other hand, prescription medication kills over 100,000 people a year. [3] Urine is what is left over after your kidneys purify your blood. If your urine contains, say, extra vitamin C, that vitamin C was in your blood. If the vitamin was in your blood, you absorbed it just fine. It is the absence of water-soluble vitamins in urine that indicates vitamin deficiency. If your body excretes vitamins in your urine, that is a sign that you are well-nourished and have nutrients to spare. That is good. In the real world of today`s processed food, most of us don`t get all the nutrients we need in adequate doses. Most people are deficient in several of the essential nutrients. These deficiencies are responsible for much suffering, including heart disease, cancer, premature aging, dementia, diabetes, and other diseases such as eye disease, multiple sclerosis and asthma. 1. Li K, Kaaks R, Linseisen J, Rohrmann S. Vitamin/mineral supplementation and cancer, cardiovascular, and all-cause mortality in a German prospective cohort (EPIC-Heidelberg). Eur J Nutr. 2011 Jul 22. 2. Suh DC , Woodall BS, Shin SK , Hermes-De Santis ER. Clinical and economic impact of adverse drug reactions in hospitalized patients. Ann Pharmacother . 2000;34(12):1373-9. 3. Lazarou J, Pomeranz BH, Corey PN. Incidence of adverse drug reactions in hospitalized patients: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. JAMA . 1998 15;279(15):1200-5.

  2. Joan

    Dear Deepak, I`m having a realy hard time with my health. I`ve always been active until the last few years after a car accident. I have chronic pain and I`m tired all the time. I`ve been trying to find the solution.I`ve been taking different vitamins and protein shakes but it hasn`t helped. I`am not sure what to do or what to take, or rather what I need. Thank you for the detailed explanation of what food and vitamins do for our bodies,it is most helpful. Also it`s a pleasure to watch you on Ophra and other programs sharing your knowledge and spiritual insights.Do you publish a writen form of health and nutrition of food and vitamins? I don`t have a printer at this time to copy your information. Best wishes always!

  3. Marc Sims

    Please help me to stop eating sugar!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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