Holistic Health: Supplementing with Vitamins
By: Dr. George Obikoya
Being healthy is not merely the absence of disease. Promoting our own health is a major component of our overall health and well-being. One way by which we can promote good health is to eat a nourishing and balanced diet. We all know that this is easier said than done. There are practical issues of modern living that make the attainment of this lofty objective nearly impossible. The cheap and quick availability of fast food saves people time and money, but they pay for it with their health and resultant enormous medical bills later in life, caused by simply a general lack of awareness of how to eat healthy. Think about it, the fast food companies don't exactly make it easy for you by offering organic, vitamin-rich foods. Instead they are loaded with trans fatty acids with hardly a nutritional facts panel in sight.
The business of living has become so frenetic we hardly have time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, such as preparing and eating a nice meal. Junk food is in; balanced diets are out, not to mention the environmental pollution (mercury in the fish, heavy metals in the water, etc) that is making it hard to find the essential nutrients in even a "nice meal."
All we can do is hope that we can make up for the nutritional deficiencies that most of us suffer from by taking vitamin and mineral supplements - at least we still have one option left. Multivitamin supplements provide us with significant health benefits and are the easiest way to solve the deficiency problems in your diet.
Vitamin A, for example, plays an important role in vision, bone growth, reproduction, cell division and cell differentiation, which is the process by which a cell decides what it is going to become. It helps maintain the surface linings of the eyes and the respiratory, urinary, and intestinal tracts. When those linings break down, bacteria can enter the body and cause infection. Vitamin A also helps maintain the integrity of skin and mucous membranes that function as a barrier to bacteria and viruses.
Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system. The immune system helps prevent or fight off infections by making white blood cells that destroy harmful bacteria and viruses. Vitamin A may help lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that fights infections, function more effectively. Some carotenoids, in addition to serving as a source of vitamin A, have been shown to function as antioxidants. Antioxidants protect cells from free radicals, which are potentially damaging by-products of oxygen metabolism that may contribute to the development of some chronic diseases.
We need vitamin B6 for hundreds of enzymes involved in protein metabolism. It is also essential for red blood cell metabolism. The nervous and immune systems need vitamin B6 to function efficiently, and we need it for the conversion of tryptophan (an amino acid) to niacin (a vitamin).
Vitamin B6 also helps maintain your blood sugar within a normal range. When caloric intake is low your body needs vitamin B6 to help convert stored carbohydrate or other nutrients to glucose to maintain normal blood sugar levels. A shortage of vitamin B6 will limit these functions.
Vitamin B12 helps maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells, and we need it to make DNA, the genetic material in all cells.
Vitamin D's main role is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, helping to form and maintain strong bones. It promotes bone mineralization in concert with a number of other vitamins, minerals, and hormones.
Without vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle, soft, or misshapen. Vitamin D prevents rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults, which are skeletal diseases that result in defects that weaken bones. Alpha-tocopherol is the most active form of vitamin E in humans, and is a powerful biological antioxidant. Antioxidants such as vitamin E act to protect your cells against the effects of free radicals, which can cause cell damage that may contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that maintains skin integrity, helps heal wounds and is important in immune functions. It also has antioxidant properties, helping to prevent cell damage by neutralizing "free radicals" -- molecules believed to be associated with aging and certain diseases.
Studies have shown that people who eat foods high in vitamin C have lower rates of cancer and heart disease, though it is unclear whether taking vitamin C supplements produces similar benefits. A 2001 study indicates that supplementation with vitamin C, certain other antioxidants and zinc may slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Folate is necessary for the production and maintenance of new cells. This is especially important during periods of rapid cell division and growth such as infancy and pregnancy. Folate is needed to make DNA and RNA, the building blocks of cells. It also helps prevent changes to DNA that may lead to cancer. Both adults and children need folate to make normal red blood cells and prevent anemia.
Folic acid is promoted primarily as a nutritional requirement for a healthy diet to reduce the risk of some types of cancer, birth defects (eg, spina bifida and anencephaly), and peripheral blood vessel disease. Pregnant women are advised to take folate well before they become pregnant to prevent their babies from developing neural tube defects.
Other vitamins and minerals also have beneficial effects that are important to supplement our daily diet with. You will be hard pressed to obtain the optimum value with foods alone, unless you design your diet from the ground up toh provide proper nutrition. A good quality, inexpensive multivitamin can help bridge the gap between the foods we eat that may not be so good and the optimum diet that our body needs.
A good multivitamin is the foundation of health and nutrition. Take a look at our scientific reviews of many of the popular brands for factors such as ingredients, areas of improvement, quality level, and overall value. If you are looking for a high quality liquid multivitamin, we suggest that you take a look at the Multivitamin Product Comparisons.
Giovannucci E, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA, et al. Multivitamin use, folate, and colon cancer in women in the Nurses' Health Study. Ann Intern Med. 1998;129:517-524.
Traber MG and Packer L. Vitamin E: Beyond antioxidant function. Am J Clin Nutr 1995;62:1501S-9S.