According to a new review of research, evidence suggests that adequate treatment of vitamin D deficient athletes could dramatically improve their performance. Activated vitamin D is a steroid hormone which regulates more than 1,000 human genes. Recent research indicates that intracellular vitamin D levels in numerous human tissues, including nerve and muscle tissue, are increased when inputs of its substrate, the prehormone vitamin D, are increased.
Researchers reviewed the world’s literature for evidence that vitamin D affects physical and athletic performance. Numerous studies, particularly in the German literature in the 1950s, show vitamin d-producing ultraviolet light improves athletic performance. Furthermore, a consistent literature indicates physical and athletic performance is seasonal; it peaks when vitamin D levels peak, declines as they decline, and reaches its nadir when the levels are at their lowest.
Vitamin D also increases the size and number of fast twitch muscle fibers. Most cross-sectional and randomized controlled studies show that vitamin D levels are directly associated with musculoskeletal performance.
Additionally, a robust and growing body of research clearly shows that vitamin D is absolutely critical for good health and disease prevention. Vitamin D affects your DNA through vitamin D receptors (VDRs), which bind to specific locations of the human genome. Scientists have identified nearly 3,000 genes that are influenced by vitamin D levels, and vitamin D receptors have been found throughout the human body.
Is it any wonder then that no matter what disease or condition is investigated, vitamin D appears to play a crucial role? This is why I am so excited about theD*Action Project by GrassrootsHealth. It is showing how you can take action today on known science with a consensus of experts without waiting for institutional lethargy. It has shown how by combining the science of measurement (of vitamin D levels) with the personal choice of taking action and, the value of education about individual measures that one can truly be in charge of their own health.
In order to spread this health movement to more communities, the project needs your involvement. This was an ongoing campaign during the month of February, and will become an annual event.
To participate, simply purchase the D*Action Measurement Kit and follow the registration instructions included. (Please note that 100 percent of the proceeds from the kits go to fund the research project. I do not charge a single dime as a distributor of the test kits.)
As a participant, you agree to test your vitamin D levels twice a year during a five-year study, and share your health status to demonstrate the public health impact of this nutrient. There is a $65 fee every six months for your sponsorship of this research project, which includes a test kit to be used at home, and electronic reports on your ongoing progress. You will get a follow up email every six months reminding you “it’s time for your next test and health survey.”
The study above, co-authored by noted vitamin D expert Dr. John Cannell of theVitamin D Council, offers compelling arguments for the benefits of vitamin D on athletic performance.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s the Germans and Russians won many Olympic medals, and they were convinced vitamin D was their natural wonder drug. One study dating back to 1938 showed that 100-meter dash times were improved from 13.63 to 12.62 seconds, using vitamin D-producing ultraviolet lamps.
Another 1945 study found that UV radiation for up to 2 minutes, three times a week, improved cardiovascular fitness scores by 19 percent, compared to 2 percent for students who did nothing.
These and other facts were intriguing enough to peak Dr. Cannell’s interest.
How Can Vitamin D Improve Your Athletic Performance?
In order to understand how vitamin D may impact your athletic performance, it’s important to remember that the active form of vitamin D is not really a vitamin, but rather a steroid in the same way that testosterone is a steroid. It’s also a hormone in the same way as growth hormone is a hormone.
Says Dr. Cannell,
“Steroid hormones are substances made from cholesterol that circulate in your body and work at distant sites by setting in motion genetic protein transcription. That is, both vitamin D and testosterone set in motion your genome, the stuff of life. While testosterone is a sex steroid hormone, vitamin D is a pleomorphic steroid hormone.”
However, whereas both steroids and vitamin D can improve athletic performance, steroids are obviously quite dangerous to your health. Vitamin D on the other hand is not only safe, but also vital for literally hundreds, if not thousands of other health conditions.
So, could vitamin D be the next all-natural performance enhancing drug?
Dr. Cannell’s research shows that vitamin D increases the size and number of Type II (fast twitch) muscle fibers. And most cross-sectional studies show that vitamin D levels are directly associated with musculoskeletal performance in older individuals.
It is thought that peak athletic performance will likely occur with vitamin D levels of about 50ng/mL. These levels may also protect you from an astonishingly diverse array of other acute and chronic diseases, such as:
Cancer Hypertension Heart disease Autism Obesity Rheumatoid arthritis Diabetes 1 and 2 Multiple Sclerosis Crohn’s disease Cold & Flu Inflammatory Bowel Disease Tuberculosis Septicemia Signs of aging Dementia Eczema & Psoriasis Insomnia Hearing loss Muscle pain Cavities Periodontal disease Osteoporosis Macular degeneration Reduced C-section risk Pre eclampsia Seizures Infertility Asthma Cystic fibrosis Migraines Depression Alzheimer’s disease Schizophrenia
According to Dr. Cannell, if you are vitamin D deficient, the medical literature indicates that the appropriate amount of vitamin D will make you faster, stronger, improve your balance and timing, etcetera. But to what degree you may see an improvement will depend on how deficient you are to begin with.
Are You Deficient in Vitamin D?
Your chance of being deficient in this essential nutrient is very high. One recent study found that even in sun-drenched area
such as southern Arizona, people are commonly deficient in vitamin D, particularly those with darker skin who produce less vitamin D in response to sunlight.
In fact, more than a quarter of Arizona adults tested had dangerously low blood levels of the vitamin.
Based on healthy, clinically significant ranges, anything below 50 ng/ml is considered a deficiency state.
So it’s important to realize that even if you live in a perpetually sunny environment but work the entire week indoors and don’t make a conscious effort to go outside during the weekends you can, and probably will, become vitamin D deficient.It is simply not enough to walk from your car to work and home and expect to get enough sunshine to alter your vitamin D levels.
In order to reap any and all the benefits that vitamin D has to offer you need to make sure your levels are within the therapeutic range of 50-65 ng/ml.
How do you get there?
According to Dr. Heaney — whom I interviewed for my Inner Circle expert segment on the topic of sun exposure and melanoma, earlier this year — your body requires 4,000 IU’s daily just to maintain its current vitamin D level. So in order to actually raise your levels, you’d have to increase either your exposure to sunshine, or supplement with oral vitamin D3.
Remember, if you chose to take an oral supplement it’s essential that you get your levels tested regularly by a proficient lab to make sure you’re within the therapeutic range and not reaching toxic levels. In the U.S. I recommend using LabCorp.
For even more information on therapeutic vitamin D levels, and vital updates on testing, please review my article: Test Values and Treatment for Vitamin D Deficiency.
Beware: Tanning Behind Glass Can Worsen Your Vitamin D Deficiency!
Last but not least, it’s also important to realize that sitting by a window, or getting sun exposure while driving your car can be more detrimental than helpful.
This is because your windows screen out the vast majority of UVB’s, which produce vitamin D in your skin, while allowing harmful UVA’s in.
UVA radiation actually destroys vitamin D, which, normally, helps keep your vitamin D levels in balance; it’s one of the protective mechanisms your body has to avoid overdosing on vitamin D when you’re outside.
However, when you’re exposed to sunlight through windows — in your office, your home or your car — you get the UVA but virtually none of the beneficial UVB. This can lead to significant health problems, because in addition to destroying vitamin D3, UVA’s also increase oxidative stress.
It’s the UVA rays, not the vitamin D-producing UVB’s, thatare one of the primary culprits behind skin cancer, andare responsible for much of the photo aging of your skin.
Eating vitamin-rich foods instead of taking copious amounts of vitamin supplements is the same idea as eating foods with high water content instead of guzzling endless amounts of water each day. If you are strategic about the foods you put into your body, you can maximize the benefits on a physical and cellular level. Naturally, some of us prefer to stay away from supplements and taking pills in general. It feels a little more “synthetic” than say, munching on a plate of red peppers, Raw Chickpea-less Hummus or a kale salad. Many people believe that if vitamin supplements are good, then a higher quantity of them is better. However, this is not always the case. High vitamin doses can be toxic and can cause imbalances in the body. Some supplements are beneficial, but they should never be relied on a replacement for a healthy diet. Instead, try incorporating some of these Beauty Detox vitamin-rich foods into your diet to optimize your health!
Vitamins “101″: Here are 13 essential vitamins for bodily function: Vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and B vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, thiamine, folate, B12, B6, niacin, pantothenic acid and biotin). Contrary to popular belief, the optimal way to get the vitamins you need is by consuming a varied diet rich in fruits, vegetables and other plant foods, including seeds, nuts and whole grains. There are two types of vitamins- water soluble (i.e. vitamin C, thiamine) and fat-soluble (vitamins D, E, & A). All this means is that some vitamins are found and stored in oils and fats while others dissolve in water and mix easily in your blood. Fat-soluble vitamins tend to stick around in the body longer, while water soluble vitamins are eliminated through the urine quicker and small amounts are stored in the body at one time. A handful of vitamins serve as antioxidants, like Vitamin E, C and beta-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A), and are beneficial for our bodies because they can slow aging and protect against cancer. Now that you know a little more about vitamins, let’s get to the food!
Vitamin A: Vitamin A is typically found in food sources high in cholesterol and saturated fat such as cheese, milk and cream. We want to stay away from these types of foods. But there is hope! Focusing of foods rich in beta-carotene will generate Vitamin A in your body.
Beta-carotene: Beta-Carotene is a natural antioxidant that is used by the body to make Vitamin A. So instead of consuming fatty and high cholesterol foods to get our dosage of Vitamin A, I encourage you to find it indirectly through vegetables and certain fruits. The stronger or more intense the color of a vegetable or fruit means a higher concentration of beta-carotene content.
Foods: Cantaloupe, pink grapefruit, broccoli, spinach, sweet potato, carrots, mango
Vitamin K: Our intestines typically produce Vitamin K and it’s function is primarily to allow blood clotting when you are injured. It also ensures calcium gets to the bones and blood and helps prevent calcification from occurring in the arteries and soft tissues. I recommend that you increase your intake of these foods for preventative measures to combat injury and to prevent calcification.
Foods: Cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, cabbage, kale and other dark leafy greens
Vitamin D: This vitamin is essential for the absorption of calcium and for the formation of healthy strong bones. In the Beauty Detox Solution (BDS) I go in depth about why dairy is detrimental to our bodies and does not belong in our diet. Most of us think that Vitamin D can only be derived from drinking milk, but we are forgetting our largest natural provider of Vitamin D- the sun! Spending at least 20 minutes outside a day will take care of your Vitamin D needs. (I recommend a brisk 20-minute walk in the morning) Our bodies can organically synthesize Vitamin D when your largest organ, your skin, is exposed to the sun. Pretty cool, huh?
On the other hand, if you do not have regular access to the sun for whatever reason, in that case a D3 supplement is recommended.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant and helps repair and regenerate collagen. It is essential for beautiful, youthful skin. Most people think they are getting a good dosage of vitamin C through the containers of orange juice they buy. But these types of store-bought products are pasteurized, so much of the bioavailability of the vitamin to your body is compromised, and in any case these products are acid-forming in the body and high in sugars, which will destroy your skin’s beauty. I’d rather blend the orange with its fiber, or eat the orange, but not juice the orange. These foods are better sources:
Foods: Broccoli, citrus fruits (use your lemons!), tomatoes, cabbage, red bell pepper, Brussels sprouts, papaya, strawberries, leafy green vegetables
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is involved in immune function and is an antioxidant. It can help protect your skin from free radical damage. Increase your intake of these foods when you feel yourself coming down with a common cold, and notice the strength of your body’s immune system in warding off minor infections.
Foods: Almonds, almond milk, sunflower seeds, almond butter, olives, spinach, asparagus, leafy green vegetables, olive oil (use moderate amounts)
Folate: Folate is an underrated vitamin and is integral to our cellular functioning. In particular, Folate helps to produce and maintain new cells. That’s why it is so important for my Pregnant Beauties. It also helps prevent changes to DNA that may lead to cancer. Additionally, folate is what your body uses to make red blood cells and is vital in preventing anemia.
Foods: Sea vegetables, asparagus, collard breeds, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, parsley, cantaloupe, spinach, tomato, broccoli
B6, Niacin, Riboflavin, Pantothenic acid & Thiamin: These are all B vitamins that work as a complex, essentially providing you with energy and helping you to maintain proper brain function. They are also essential for beautiful, healthy hair. These are the energy vitamins, so stock up!
Foods: Bananas, nutritional yeast, millet bread, mushrooms, spinach, seaweeds, green beans, peas, broccoli, avocado, coconut yogurt, sunflower seeds, collard greens, squash, sweet potato, yam, nuts (except peanuts!)
B12: A deficiency in B12 can be identified by symptoms of fatigue, vision problems and soreness of the mouth. B12 helps create strong hair, nails and skin and it helps to maintain a healthy digestive system. B12 reduces fatigue and regulates our central nervous system, minimizing stress. As with other B vitamins, your gut can manufacture and synthesize missing components of the complex when your inner ecosystem is balanced with a healthy ratio of probiotics. Incorporate nutritional yeast into your diet. Try using my Classic Dressing or the Oil-Free Basil Lover’s Dressing on a bed of freshly tossed kale lettuce and vegetables. But if you are vegan, supplementation is still generally recommended.
Foods: Probiotic & Enzyme Salad, nutritional yeast, sea vegetables, blue-green algae
I meet so many people that take dozens of different supplements every day. While a wholefood-based multi-vitamin/multi-mineral can be good insurance, challenge yourself to have an excellent diet. Incorporate these vitamin-rich foods into your diet and eliminate unnecessary supplements. These foods have added benefits and will absorb more effectively into your body.
After investigating into the world of vitamin-rich foods, you will see that there is a BIG emphasis on greens and vegetables! Keep this in mind when incorporating your Beauty Detox Solution principles into your diet and transitioning into a healthier, more beautiful you. You can eat your pounds away while nourishing your body on the cellular level. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Cod liver oil, sweet potatoes, carrots, leafy vegetables, and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals. Needed for good eyesight and normal functioning of the immune system.
Enriched, fortified, or whole-grain products such as bread, pasta, and cereals. Helps the body process carbohydrates and some protein.
Milk, breads, fortified cereals, almonds, asparagus, dark meat chicken, and cooked beef. Used in many body processes, such as converting food into energy. It also participates in the metabolism of many drugs and helps in the production of red blood cells.
Poultry, fish, meat, whole grains, and fortified cereals. Aids in digestion and converting food into energy. Also used by the body to help make cholesterol.
Fortified cereals, fortified soy-based meat substitutes, baked potatoes with skin, bananas, light-meat chicken and turkey, eggs, and spinach. Vital for a healthy nervous system. Helps the body break down proteins. Helps the body break down stored sugar.
Beef, clams, mussels, crabs, salmon, poultry, soybeans, and fortified foods. Needed for creating red blood cells and general cell division.
C (Ascorbic acid)
Citrus fruits, red berries, tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, red and green bell peppers, cabbage, and spinach. Helps promote a healthy immune system and is required to help make collagen, which holds cells together. It is also required for making chemical messengers in the brain.
Fortified milk, cheese, and cereals; egg yolks; salmon; and sunlight. Needed to process calcium and maintain bone health. May have other effects on all cells of the body.
Leafy green vegetables, almonds, hazelnuts, and vegetable oils like sunflower, canola, and soybean. Functions as an antioxidant.
Folate (Folic acid)
Fortified cereals and grain products; lima, lentil, and garbanzo beans; and dark leafy vegetables. Vital for cell development, prevents birth defects, promotes heart health, and helps red blood cells form.
Leafy green vegetables like parsley, chard, and kale; olive, canola, and soybean oils; and broccoli. Helps clot blood and maintains bone health. Minerals Sources Function
Dairy products, broccoli, dark leafy greens like spinach and rhubarb, and fortified products, such as orange juice, soy milk, and tofu. Helps build and maintain strong bones and teeth. Helps muscles function. Involved in cell communication and signaling.
Some cereals, beef, turkey, fish, beer, broccoli, and grape juice. Helps maintain normal blood sugar (glucose) levels.
Organ meats, seafood, cashews, sunflower seeds, wheat bran cereals, whole grain products, and cocoa products. Aids in metabolism of iron and red cell formation. Helps in the production of energy for cells.
Fluorinated water, teas, marine fish, and some dental products. Prevents dental cavities and stimulates new bone formation.
Iodized salt, certain seafoods, kelp, and seaweed. Works to make thyroid hormones.
Leafy green vegetables, beans, shellfish, red meat, eggs, poultry, soy foods, and some fortified foods. Needed to transport oxygen to all parts of the body via the red blood cells.
Whole grain products, leafy green vegetables, almonds, Brazil nuts, soybeans, halibut, peanuts, hazelnuts, lima beans, black-eyed peas, avocados, bananas, kiwifruit, and shrimp. Helps muscles and nerves function properly, steadies heart rhythm, maintains bone strength, and helps the body create energy and make proteins.
Pecans, almonds, legumes, green and black tea, whole grains, and pineapple juice. Involved in bone formation and wound healing, metabolism of proteins, cholesterol, and carbohydrates. It is also an antioxidant.
Legumes, grain products, and nuts. Plays a role in processing proteins and other substances.
Dairy products, beef, chicken, halibut, salmon, eggs, and whole wheat breads. Helps cells function normally and help the body make energy. Helps red blood cells deliver oxygen. Important in the formation of bone.
Broccoli, potatoes (with the skins on), prune juice, orange juice, leafy green vegetables, bananas, raisins, and tomatoes. Aids in nervous system and muscle function. Also helps maintain a healthy balance of water in the blood and body tissues.
Organ meats, shrimp, crabs, salmon, halibut, and Brazil nuts. Helps protect cells from damage and regulates thyroid hormone action and other processes.
Red meat, fortified cereals, oysters, almonds, peanuts, chickpeas, soy foods, and dairy products. Vital to many internal processes and supports immune function, reproduction, and the nervous system.
Vitamins & Minerals
Are You Getting What You Need?
Essential nutrients for your body
- Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients because they perform hundreds of roles in the body.
- There is a fine line between getting enough of these nutrients (which is healthy) and getting too much (which can end up harming you).
- Eating a healthy diet remains the best way to get sufficient amounts of the vitamins and minerals you need.
Every day, your body produces skin, muscle, and bone. It churns out rich red blood that carries nutrients and oxygen to remote outposts, and it sends nerve signals skipping along thousands of miles of brain and body pathways. It also formulates chemical messengers that shuttle from one organ to another, issuing the instructions that help sustain your life.
But to do all this, your body requires some raw materials. These include at least 30 vitamins, minerals, and dietary components that your body needs but cannot manufacture on its own in sufficient amounts.
Vitamins and minerals are considered essential nutrients—because acting in concert, they perform hundreds of roles in the body. They help shore up bones, heal wounds, and bolster your immune system. They also convert food into energy, and repair cellular damage.
But trying to keep track of what all these vitamins and minerals do can be confusing. Read enough articles on the topic, and your eyes may swim with the alphabet-soup references to these nutrients, which are known mainly be their initials (such as vitamins A,B,C,D,E, and K—to name just a few).
In this article, you’ll gain a better understanding of what these vitamins and minerals actually do in the body and why you want to make sure you’re getting enough of them.
Micronutrients with a big role in the body
Vitamins and minerals are often called micronutrients because your body needs only tiny amounts of them. Yet failing to get even those small quantities virtually guarantees disease. Here are a few examples of diseases that can result from vitamin deficiencies:
- Scurvy. Old-time sailors learned that living for months without fresh fruits or vegetables—the main sources of vitamin C—causes the bleeding gums and listlessness of scurvy.
- Blindness. In some developing countries, people still become blind from vitamin A deficiency.
- Rickets. A deficiency in vitamin D can cause rickets, a condition marked by soft, weak bones that can lead to skeletal deformities such as bowed legs. Partly to combat rickets, the U.S. has fortified milk with vitamin D since the 1930s.
Just as a lack of key micronutrients can cause substantial harm to your body, getting sufficient quantities can provide a substantial benefit. Some examples of these benefits:
- Strong bones. A combination of calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K, magnesium, and phosphorus protects your bones against fractures.
- Prevents birth defects. Taking folic acid supplements early in pregnancy helps prevent brain and spinal birth defects in offspring.
- Healthy teeth. The mineral fluoride not only helps bone formation but also keeps dental cavities from starting or worsening.
The difference between vitamins and minerals
Although they are all considered micronutrients, vitamins and minerals differ in basic ways. Vitamins are organic and can be broken down by heat, air, or acid. Minerals are inorganic and hold on to their chemical structure.
So why does this matter? It means the minerals in soil and water easily find their way into your body through the plants, fish, animals, and fluids you consume. But it’s tougher to shuttle vitamins from food and other sources into your body because cooking, storage, and simple exposure to air can inactivate these more fragile compounds.
Interacting—in good ways and bad
Many micronutrients interact. Vitamin D enables your body to pluck calcium from food sources passing through your digestive tract rather than harvesting it from your bones. Vitamin C helps you absorb iron.
The interplay of micronutrients isn’t always cooperative, however. For example, vitamin C blocks your body’s ability to assimilate the essential mineral copper. And even a minor overload of the mineral manganese can worsen iron deficiency.
A closer look at water-soluble vitamins
Water-soluble vitamins are packed into the watery portions of the foods you eat. They are absorbed directly into the bloodstream as food is broken down during digestion or as a supplement dissolves.
Because much of your body consists of water, many of the water-soluble vitamins circulate easily in your body. Your kidneys continuously regulate levels of water-soluble vitamins, shunting excesses out of the body in your urine.
(Click on the links below for more information from the Harvard School of Public Health nutrition source website)
- Biotin (vitamin B7)
- Folic acid (folate, vitamin B9)
- Niacin (vitamin B3)
- Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- Thiamin (vitamin B1)
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
What they do
Although water-soluble vitamins have many tasks in the body, one of the most important is helping to free the energy found in the food you eat. Others help keep tissues healthy. Here are some examples of how different vitamins help you maintain health:
- Release energy. Several B vitamins are key components of certain coenzymes (molecules that aid enzymes) that help release energy from food.
- Produce energy. Thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, and biotin engage in energy production.
- Build proteins and cells. Vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid metabolize amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and help cells multiply.
- Make collagen. One of many roles played by vitamin C is to help make collagen, which knits together wounds, supports blood vessel walls, and forms a base for teeth and bones.
Words to the wise
Contrary to popular belief, some water-soluble vitamins can stay in the body for long periods of time. You probably have several years’ supply of vitamin B12 in your liver. And even folic acid and vitamin C stores can last more than a couple of days.
Generally, though, water-soluble vitamins should be replenished every few days.
Just be aware that there is a small risk that consuming large amounts of some of these micronutrients through supplements may be quite harmful. For example, very high doses of B6—many times the recommended amount of 1.3 milligrams (mg) per day for adults—can damage nerves, causing numbness and muscle weakness.
A closer look at fat-soluble vitamins
Rather than slipping easily into the bloodstream like most water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins gain entry to the blood via lymph channels in the intestinal wall (see illustration). Many fat-soluble vitamins travel through the body only under escort by proteins that act as carriers.
Absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
- Food containing fat-soluble vitamins is ingested.
- The food is digested by stomach acid and then travels to the small intestine, where it is digested further. Bile is needed for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. This substance, which is produced in the liver, flows into the small intestine, where it breaks down fats. Nutrients are then absorbed through the wall of the small intestine.
- Upon absorption, the fat-soluble vitamins enter the lymph vessels before making their way into the bloodstream. In most cases, fat-soluble vitamins must be coupled with a protein in order to travel through the body.
- These vitamins are used throughout the body, but excesses are stored in the liver and fat tissues.
- As additional amounts of these vitamins are needed, your body taps into the reserves, releasing them into the bloodstream from the liver.
Fatty foods and oils are reservoirs for the four fat-soluble vitamins. Within your body, fat tissues and the liver act as the main holding pens for these vitamins and release them as needed.
To some extent, you can think of these vitamins as time-release micronutrients. It’s possible to consume them every now and again, perhaps in doses weeks or months apart rather than daily, and still get your fill. Your body squirrels away the excess and doles it out gradually to meet your needs.
(Click on the links below for more information from the Harvard School of Public Health nutrition source website)
What they do
Together this vitamin quartet helps keep your eyes, skin, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and nervous system in good repair. Here are some of the other essential roles these vitamins play:
- Build bones. Bone formation would be impossible without vitamins A, D, and K.
- Protect vision. Vitamin A also helps keep cells healthy and protects your vision.
- Interact favorably. Without vitamin E, your body would have difficulty absorbing and storing vitamin A.
- Protect the body. Vitamin E also acts as an antioxidant (a compound that helps protect the body against damage from unstable molecules).
Words to the wise
Because fat-soluble vitamins are stored in your body for long periods, toxic levels can build up. This is most likely to happen if you take supplements. It’s very rare to get too much of a vitamin just from food.
A closer look at major minerals
The body needs, and stores, fairly large amounts of the major minerals. These minerals are no more important to your health than the trace minerals; they’re just present in your body in greater amounts.
Major minerals travel through the body in various ways. Potassium, for example, is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, where it circulates freely and is excreted by the kidneys, much like a water-soluble vitamin. Calcium is more like a fat-soluble vitamin because it requires a carrier for absorption and transport.
What they do
One of the key tasks of major minerals is to maintain the proper balance of water in the body. Sodium, chloride, and potassium take the lead in doing this. Three other major minerals—calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium—are important for healthy bones. Sulfur helps stabilize protein structures, including some of those that make up hair, skin, and nails.
Words to the wise
Having too much of one major mineral can result in a deficiency of another. These sorts of imbalances are usually caused by overloads from supplements, not food sources. Here are two examples:
- Salt overload. Calcium binds with excess sodium in the body and is excreted when the body senses that sodium levels must be lowered. That means that if you ingest too much sodium through table salt or processed foods, you could end up losing needed calcium as your body rids itself of the surplus sodium.
- Excess phosphorus. Likewise, too much phosphorus can hamper your ability to absorb magnesium.
A closer look at trace minerals
A thimble could easily contain the distillation of all the trace minerals normally found in your body. Yet their contributions are just as essential as those of major minerals such as calcium and phosphorus, which each account for more than a pound of your body weight.
What they do
Trace minerals carry out a diverse set of tasks. Here are a few examples:
- Iron is best known for ferrying oxygen throughout the body.
- Fluoride strengthens bones and wards off tooth decay.
- Zinc helps blood clot, is essential for taste and smell, and bolsters the immune response.
- Copper helps form several enzymes, one of which assists with iron metabolism and the creation of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood.
The other trace minerals perform equally vital jobs, such as helping to block damage to body cells and forming parts of key enzymes or enhancing their activity.
Words to the wise
Trace minerals interact with one another, sometimes in ways that can trigger imbalances. Too much of one can cause or contribute to a deficiency of another. Here are some examples:
- A minor overload of manganese can exacerbate iron deficiency. Having too little can also cause problems.
- When the body has too little iodine, thyroid hormone production slows, causing sluggishness and weight gain as well as other health concerns. The problem worsens if the body also has too little selenium.
The difference between “just enough” and “too much” of the trace minerals is often tiny. Generally, food is a safe source of trace minerals, but if you take supplements, it’s important to make sure you’re not exceeding safe levels.
A closer look at antioxidants
Antioxidant is a catchall term for any compound that can counteract unstable molecules such as free radicals that damage DNA, cell membranes, and other parts of cells.
Your body cells naturally produce plenty of antioxidants to put on patrol. The foods you eat—and, perhaps, some of the supplements you take—are another source of antioxidant compounds. Carotenoids (such as lycopene in tomatoes and lutein in kale) and flavonoids (such as anthocyanins in blueberries, quercetin in apples and onions, and catechins in green tea) are antioxidants. The vitamins C and E and the mineral selenium also have antioxidant properties.
Why free radicals may be harmful
Free radicals are a natural byproduct of energy metabolism and are also generated by ultraviolet rays, tobacco smoke, and air pollution. They lack a full complement of electrons, which makes them unstable, so they steal electrons from other molecules, damaging those molecules in the process.
Free radicals have a well-deserved reputation for causing cellular damage. But they can be helpful, too. When immune system cells muster to fight intruders, the oxygen they use spins off an army of free radicals that destroys viruses, bacteria, and damaged body cells in an oxidative burst. Vitamin C can then disarm the free radicals.
How antioxidants may help
Antioxidants are able to neutralize marauders such as free radicals by giving up some of their own electrons. When a vitamin C or E molecule makes this sacrifice, it may allow a crucial protein, gene, or cell membrane to escape damage. This helps break a chain reaction that can affect many other cells.
It is important to recognize that the term “antioxidant” reflects a chemical property rather than a specific nutritional property. Each of the nutrients that has antioxidant properties also has numerous other aspects and should be considered individually. The context is also important—in some settings, for example, vitamin C is an antioxidant, and in others it can be a pro-oxidant.
Words to the wise
Articles and advertisements have touted antioxidants as a way to help slow aging, fend off heart disease, improve flagging vision, and curb cancer. And laboratory studies and many large-scale observational trials (the type that query people about their eating habits and supplement use and then track their disease patterns) have noted benefits from diets rich in certain antioxidants and, in some cases, from antioxidant supplements.
But results from randomized controlled trials (in which people are assigned to take specific nutrients or a placebo) have failed to back up many of these claims. One study that pooled results from 68 randomized trials with over 230,000 participants found that people who were given vitamin E, beta carotene, and vitamin A had a higher risk of death than those who took a placebo. There appeared to be no effect from vitamin C pills and a small reduction in mortality from selenium, but further research on these nutrients is needed.
These findings suggest little overall benefit of the antioxidants in pill form. On the other hand, many studies show that people who consume higher levels of these antioxidants in food have a lower risk of many diseases.
The bottom line? Eating a healthy diet is the best way to get your antioxidants.
Adapted with permission from The Truth About Vitamins and Minerals: Choosing the Nutrients You Need to Stay Healthy, a special health report published byHarvard Health Publications.