by Lawrence Wilson, MD
© August 2010, The Center For Development
Vitamins function as co-factors, also called co-enzymes, for many chemical reactions in the body. This means that the vitamin must be present for a certain chemical reaction to occur. A particular vitamin may activate, facilitate, inhibit or actually be part of an enzyme or chemical needed in the body.
The word vitamin was coined in 1911 by Dr. Casimir Funk. He was a food scientist who discovered a substance in rice polishings that would cure beri beri. At the time, this was a somewhat mysterious disease that occurred in people who lived on a diet of mainly white rice.
The vitamins are a group of mainly unrelated chemicals that are absolutely required for our health, but are needed in small quantities. Most were discovered and isolated from various foods in the early twentieth century. A group of scientists experimented with animals and found that the animals simply did not thrive without these important chemicals in their diets. Some developed nervous ticks without them, others had defective babies, and others just slowly died without them.
At the same time vitamins were discovered, the drug industry introduced antibiotics and other “wonder drugs”, many of which have turned out to be less than wonderful. The publicity given to drugs outshined the less glamorous vitamins and, as a result, vitamins receive much less attention than they deserve.
Vitamin groups. Vitamins are classified by letters such as A, B, C, and so forth. In addition, they are divided into two general groups – fat soluble (A, D, E, K and P) and water soluble (vitamins B and C). These are the main classifications of vitamins.
The concept of water soluble or fat soluble is important because water soluble vitamins do not remain long in the body and must be eaten on almost a daily basis. In contrast, fat soluble vitamins are stored more easily, usually in the liver. As a result, they need not be eaten on a daily basis, as long as one gets enough of them on some regular basis such as weekly or even monthly.
GETTING YOUR VITAMINS
Today it is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain enough vitamins just from our food for several reasons:
Š Agricultural factors. Modern food crops generally contain much less vitamins than crops grown 100 years ago. This is due to genetic engineering of food, hybridization of foods, the use of chemical fertilizers instead of manures, and pesticide and insecticides that subtly damage the soil or the crop.
Transportation losses. Many crops are grown in south
America or even China, and transported half way around the world. Most vitamins begin to break down as
soon as a crop is picked. Transportation
loss can decrease the levels of vitamin C, for example, by half.
A related issue is that crops that must be transported long distances are often picked before they are ripe. This may also decrease the vitamin levels of the food in some cases. This is why, at times, frozen vegetables that are quickly frozen close to the farm are actually more nutritious than some “fresh” vegetables.
processing. The most important
loss of vitamins and minerals usually occurs during food processing. For example, when whole wheat or whole
rice are processed into white flour or white rice, up to half or more of the
vitamin content of the food may be lost.
This is why I suggest avoiding all white flour, white sugar, and white rice as much as possible. These are called “empty calories” because their vitamins and minerals are missing.
Canning, drying, freezing, and adding chemicals to foods also can deplete some vitamins.
Š Improper food preparation. Overcooking food, eating leftovers that are more than a day or two old, and even smothering food with ketchup and relishes can interfere or destroy some of the vitamin content of the food. Too many foods at once makes it harder for the body to absorb the nutrients from some foods.
Š Improper eating habits. Failing to chew food thoroughly, eating in a hurry, eating when anxious or upset, drinking a lot of water with meals, drinking a lot of coffee or soda pop, and too many foods at one meal can all impair digestion and the absorption of some vitamins.
Š Increased needs for vitamins today. This includes millions of people, and is discussed below.
For all the above reasons, it is very difficult, if not impossible to obtain enough vitamins from food alone. Anyone who tells you there is no need for food supplements, in my opinion, is not aware of the current needs of most people.
FACTORS THAT INCREASE ONE’S NEED FOR VITAMINS
Many common stresses and other lifestyle and dietary factors increase the need for vitamins. Here are some of the most important ones, according to scientific research.
Age. Children are growing fast and often need more B-complex vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and others.
Older people also have increased vitamin needs because they tend not to be able to chew food as well, and have much weaker digestion due to low levels of digestive enzymes.
Pregnancy and lactation. This factor is well understood in medicine, but most doctors ignore it and instead depend upon a “pre-natal vitamin tablet” that is often woefully inadequate. There is no substitute when pregnant or breastfeeding for superior nutrition and supplements of high quality and potency to assist the health of the mother and baby.
Lifestyle habits such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or stress. These lifestyle habits or situations use up many more vitamins as the body seeks to cope with the added stress factors. As a result, they increase the need for vitamins A, B, C, D and perhaps others, for example, if one is smoking anything at all.
Drinking any alcohol at all enhances the need for zinc, magnesium, and vitamins A, B-complexa and others. Stress can increase the need for all of the vitamins, depending on the type of stress.
Illnesses, injuries or traumas. These are stresses that usually increase the need for most vitamins.
Toxic metals or toxic chemicals in the body. These often interfere with or destroy vitamins. As an example, too much copper in the body destroys vitamin C. This type of metal poisoning occurs quite commonly, especially in women. Most people have hundreds of toxic chemicals in their bodies and some of about two dozen toxic metals.
Mental or spiritual development. This fascinating process is the subject of a number of articles on this website. It involves the growth of the brain and changes in several body organs. It, too, requires more of some nutrients including vitamins A, C, D, and K in particular. It is the reason we suggest eating very large portions of cooked vegetables at least twice every day. In addition, development requires vitamin supplements that are found in the metabolic packs and other products used in nutritional balancing programs.
THE MAJOR VITAMINS -
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin discovered in 1906. It is one of the most important, and is often deficient in young people today, especially vegetarians or those who do not eat much meat. Vitamin A can tend to slow the oxidation or metabolic rate.
Food sources. The best sources are meats such as liver, chicken, turkey and fish oils. Vegetables do not contain preformed vitamin A. Instead, some colored vegetables contain beta carotene, which can be converted to vitamin A in the body. However, if the thyroid gland is sluggish, and this is very common, the body often cannot convert carotenes to fully formed vitamin A. Therefore, we never depend upon beta-carotene or other carotenes in vegetables as good sources of vitamin A.
Functions. One of its major roles is to strengthen and support epithelial cells, which make up the skin and mucus membranes of the body. Mucus membranes are exactly like skin, but are inside the body such as the lining of your mouth, throat, digestive tract and elsewhere.
Vitamin A thus strengthens the body’s ability to keep out all invading bacteria and other pathogenic or disease-causing micro-organisms. For this reason, vitamin A assists the immune response of the body. One can take more vitamin A if one feels one is getting a cold, for example, and it will often help stop the cold altogether or reduce its duration and severity.
Vitamin A is also needed in the retina for vision, blood formation, genetic activity such as protein synthesis, proper growth and development, an anti-oxidant, and bone formation. In high doses, it may be helpful for some cancer patients.
Deficiency symptoms. Low vitamin A is a leading cause of blindness in the world. Other symptoms include poor night vision, recurrent infections, skin problems and other subtle health complaints.
When more is needed. Pregnancy, breastfeeding, vegetarian diets, infections, fevers, poor vision, stress and liver problems.
The B-complex vitamins, along with vitamin C, are the water soluble vitamins. They play so many roles in the body it is difficult to list them all here. Among the major ones are sugar metabolism, energy production in the cells, liver function, brain activity and many others. Most of the B vitamins speed up a sluggish oxidation rate except for choline and inositol, which slow it down.
THIAMINE OR VITAMIN B1. Chinese medical textbooks as far back as 2700 BC describe a disease called beri beri, caused by eating a diet high in white rice. Symptoms were mostly neurological including peripheral neuritis, followed eventually by death. In 1926, scientists found a substance in rice bran that reverses beri beri and gave it the name of vitamin B1 or thiamine.
Food sources. Among the best sources are rice polishings, wheat germ, liver, eggs, brewers yeast, nutritional yeast and other organ meats.
Vegetables and fruits are very poor sources. For this reason, vegetarians are often low in this vitamin and this tends to shorten their lives.
Functions. Thiamine is involved in energy production, nerve conduction, and carbohydrate metabolism. It is also required for aerobic metabolism, which means the use of oxygen in the body to heal and produce energy.
This vitamin is used in megadose therapies, at times, for schizophrenia, depression, lumbago, sciatica, facial paralysis and other conditions with some success. This would indicate that some people have a metabolic defect and need more of it. However, it is also possible that toxic metals or intestinal defects are the reason why some people seem to benefit from high doses of B1.
Deficiency symptoms. Fatigue, depression, low body temperature, anxiety, constipation, weight loss or gain, nerve pain or numbness, retarded growth, anorexia, digestive complaints, muscle weakness, low reflexes, circulatory problems, memory loss, and muscle atrophy.
When more is needed. Pregnancy, breastfeeding, heavy exercise, alcohol consumption, high carbohydrate diet, processed food diets, vegetarian diets, old age, digestive disturbances, and use of antibiotics.
RIBOFLAVIN OR VITAMIN B2. This was discovered around 1930 as a growth factor found in some yeasts.
Food sources. The best sources are organ meats such as liver, brewers yeast, nutritional yeast and some dairy products.
Functions. Energy production in the mitochondria, It is also helpful for fetal development of a baby, the eyes and the skin.
Deficiency symptoms. These include fatigue and perhaps cracks on the sides of the mouth called cheilosis. There is no major disease associated with deficiency, as there is for some of the other B vitamins. Some doctors believe that cataracts may occur if one is low in B2 for a long time, though I am not sure I agree.
When is more needed. Pregnancy, breastfeeding, liver problems, alkaline conditions of the water, food or body, heavy exercise, antibiotic use, digestive disturbances, fevers, hyperthyroidism, trauma and stress. Most older people need more as well.
NIACIN, NIACINAMIDE, NICOTINIC ACID OR VITAMIN B3 is a very critical vitamin for energy production, brain functioning and hundreds of other chemical reactions in the body.
Food sources. Peanuts, brewers yeast, nutritional yeast, organ meats, tuna fish, halibut, swordfish, chicken and turkey. (I do not recommend eating tuna fish, halibut, or swordfish due to ther high mercury content.) Fruits and vegetables are poor sources.
Functions: Tissue metabolism, carbohydrate and energy production, fat metabolism
Deficiency symptoms. Common symptoms are fatigue, low stomach acid, retarded growth, depression, schizophrenia, other mental problems, weakness, poor appetite, indigestion, skin diseases, dark pigmentation of the skin, diarrhea, swollen tongue, irritability, headaches, sleep difficulties, memory loss.
If the deficiency gets worse, a disease occurs called pellagra. It is characterized by the four Ds: diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia and death. Many cases of depression, anxiety and other so-called emotional illness can be caused by a mild deficiency of this and other B vitamins.
When is more needed. Pregnancy, breastfeeding, old age, high-calorie diets, malnutrition, skin diseases, perhaps high cholesterol, high intake of corn, digestive disturbances and stress.
PANTOTHENIC ACID OR VITAMIN B5 is essential for energy production in the body. It is especially important to manufacture the adrenal hormones such as adrenalin, noradrenaline, aldosterone and cortisone. The glands are weak in most people today, in part due to low levels of pantothenic acid in many people.
Food sources. Brewers yeast, liver, kidney, eggs, peanuts, wheat germ, herring and royal jelly. Vegetarians are often tired due to low levels of this vitamin.
Functions. The main ones are cellular energy production and adrenal hormone production. However, it is also involved in stress resistance, fat metabolism, acetylcholine synthesis and antibody synthesis. It also works closely with the other B vitamins to prevent B vitamin deficiencies.
Deficiency symptoms. These include fatigue, weakness, muscle tightness, neuromotor disturbances such as tremors, heart disease, digestive problems, low resistance to stress and infections, and depression.
When more is needed. Stress, aging, arthritis, illnesses of all kinds, malabsorption syndromes, weakness, depression, antibiotic use and burning feet syndrome.
PYRIDOXINE, PYRIDOXYL-5-PHOSPHATE OR VITAMIN B6 is a very important chemical in the body. It is required for the synthesis of proteins and amino acids. It is also involved in the metabolism of all foods – fats, proteins, sugars and starches.
Food sources. These include liver, herring, salmon, brewers yeast, nuts, wheat germ brown rice and blackstrap molasses. (I do not recommend eating too much salmon or blackstrap molasses, due to mercury in fish and too much iron in molasses.)
Functions. Vitamin B6 is important for protein synthesis, as well as the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and sugars. It is also an excellent copper antagonist.
Deficiency symptoms. There is no specific disease associated with deficiency. However, most people have too little vitamin B6. This can cause fatigue, copper toxicity, skin diseases, depression, convulsions, seizures, connective tissue problems, tissue breakdown in general, and any high copper symptoms. Low levels can cause a hypochromic, microcytic anemia that looks exactly like an iron deficiency or a copper imbalance anemia. B6 deficiency may cause some cases of carpal tunnel syndrome.
When more is needed. Pregnancy, breastfeeding, irradiation or having a lot of x-rays, inborn errors of metabolism, toxic metal poisoning, especially copper, high protein diets and stress. Slow oxidation and aging increase the need as well in many cases.
CYANOCOBALAMIN OR METHYLCOBALAMIN OR VITAMIN B12 is an unusual vitamin in that it is hard to absorb for many people, especially as they age.
Food sources. Kidney, liver, brain, heart, milk, beef, egg yolk, clams, oysters, sardines, salmon, and herring. (I do not recommend eating any clams or oysters due to high levels of toxic metals. Also, all fish should be restricted to twice per week maximum due to mercury contamination.)
Functions. Vitamin B12 is an extremely important substance for protein synthesis, the nervous system. blood formation, and for fat and nucleic acid synthesis.
Deficiency symptoms. Low levels, which are very common in older people and those under stress, cause nervous ticks, memory loss, dementia, Alzheimer’s like conditions, fatigue, weakness, possibly permanent nerve damage, hyperactivity, and other vague complaints. It also can cause a macrocytic, macrochromic anemia called pernicious anemia.
When more is needed. Pregnancy, breast feeding, infancy and childhood, pernicious anemia, high vitamin C intake, loss of intrinsic factor in the stomach (usually due to stress or aging), low stomach acid, malabsorption syndromes, anorexia, vegetarian diets, low meat intake, neuropathy, alcohol use, aging, stress, digestive disturbances and perhaps antibiotic use.
Note: All vegetarians must take a vitamin B12 supplement, as it is such a critical vitamin and deficiency can occur slowly and insidiously. Some vegetarians claim they obtain it from seaweed or other vegetable sources, but I would not rely on this, since vegetables are very poor sources.
Vitamin B12 is the only vitamin that often must be given intramuscularly or intravenously instead of by mouth. This is because it requires something called intrinsic factor in the stomach for its absorption. This chemical is often low in older people, those with intestinal disorders (which includes many people), and especially those under stress.
FOLIC ACID has many critical functions in the body, mostly involved with the synthesis of nucleic acids, which are chemicals needed in the nucleus of the cells. Many medical drugs, especially cancer chemotherapy agents, can deplete folic acid and this may be how they work to some degree. However, this also makes them very toxic for the body.
Folic acid supplements. Sadly, folic acid levels in vitamin pills are restricted by law to very low levels. Although the rationale for this made sense – to prevent B12 anemia from being masked by high levels of folic acid – the result is even worse. People who take vitamins are not getting enough folic acid, though they believe they are because they are taking a supplement.
Food sources. Liver, kidney, yeast, green vegetables, legumes or dried beans, peanuts, mushrooms, beef, veal, brewers yeast, and egg yolk.
Functions. Nucleic acid synthesis and metabolism, growth, methylation, and porphyrin synthesis. These are pigments that are very important for health. It is also involved in regulating cell division in the nucleus of the cells. Thus it may be important for cancer prevention. It is also a powerful copper antagonist, and it may increase the oxidation or metabolic rate.
Deficiency symptoms. Birth defects, macrocytic anemia, red and swollen tongue, diarrhea, gastrointestinal ulcers or other lesions, malabsorption, celiac disease or gluten intolerance, and pancytopenia (a blood disorder),
When more is needed. Pregnancy, illness, some anemias, old age, alcohol use, mental illness, retardation, gastric disturbance, malabsorption, diarrhea, antibiotic and some anti-convulsant therapy, leukemia, cheilosis (cracks at the sides of the mouth), infections and Hodgkin’s disease.
PABA OR PARA-AMINOBENZOIC ACID. PABA is one of the less essential B vitamins. It is also known as vitamin H or vitamin B7. It is helpful for the skin, hair and nails, and may reverse or prevent premature graying of the hair. A supplement may help with fatigue, depression, irritability, and other common B-vitamin deficiency states.
BIOTIN. Biotin is considered one of the less important B-complex vitamins, but this is a mistake. It is commonly deficient in the population, especially in slow oxidizers. One reason for this is that intestinal bacteria can synthesize some biotin, but only if the intestinal flora is correct, which is often not the case. As a result, many people suffer from a sub-clinical deficiency of this critical B-complex vitamin.
Food sources. Excellent sources are egg yolk, liver, kidney, brewers yeast, whole grains and peanuts. It should be produced in the intestines, but often this does not occur adequately today due to a damaged intestinal tract and incorrect intestinal flora, especially if one has recently taken an antibiotic.
Eating raw egg whites can induce a biotin deficiency. Cooking the egg white, even for 2 or 3 minutes, destroys avidin, a chemical that interferes with biotin.
Functions. Biotin is essential for amino acid metabolism, fatty acid metabolism, protein synthesis from DNA, energy production in the Krebs energy cycle within the cells, hair, skin and nail health, the nervous system, the sex glands, and prevention of some birth defects.
Deficiency symptoms. These are common today, though they usually go undiagnosed. They include dandruff, other skin disorders, fatigue, lethargy, muscle pain, hypersensitivity of the skin, and possibly hair loss.
When more is needed. Eating raw egg whites, certain skin diseases, infants with dandruff, antibiotic or sulfa drug use, and pregnancy.
CHOLINE. Choline is an essential nutrient that is often grouped as a B-complex vitamin, although it differs from the others in some ways.
Functions. Structural integrity of the nervous system, cell membranes and the production of a critical and calming neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. It is also the major source for methyl groups, a system of the body that has to do with the adrenal glands and keeping them functioning properly.
Food sources. Excellent sources are cow’s liver, eggs, chicken, cod fish, milk, especially raw milk, and some of the cruciferous vegetables. Vegetable oils such as soybean oil are other sources. Lecithin, made from soy oil, is a rich source of choline and inositol.
Deficiency symptoms. A mild deficiency of this vitamin is very common. Symptoms can include irritability, anxiety, bipolar disorder, perhaps seizures, and an elevated ALT enzyme level. More severe deficiency causes liver disease, atherosclerosis, , neural tube defects and memory problems in newborns, elevated homocysteine, higher risk for pre-eclampsia, premature birth, and low birth weight babies, a greater risk for colds, breast cancer and inflammation, and a risk of copper imbalance.
When more is needed. Old age, endurance athletes, pregnancy, vegetarian diets, alcohol use, and diets of refined foods.
INOSITOL. This is another important B-complex substance that is usually classified as a vitamin.
Food sources. Excellent sources are whole grains, but not white flour or white rice, nuts, beans, and fruit, especially cantaloupe, other melons and oranges.
Functions. The main functions are regulatory or signaling activities. Inositol and related compounds help regulate insulin, calcium concentration in the bones and the blood, the cell membrane electrical potential, serotonin and cholesterol and other fat levels in the blood.
Deficiency symptoms. Some studies indicate that a deficiency is associated with some cases of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, agorophobia, bulimia and bipolar disorder, although the research is thin. More may be helpful for some cases of polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS.
When more is needed. Generally, more is required whenever one is under stress. Particular times include pregnancy, breastfeeding, illnesses and other types of stressful situations.
NEWER B-COMPLEX SUBSTANCES:
PANGAMIC ACID OR VITAMIN B15. This was isolated from apricot pits in 1951 by Ernst Krebs, Jr. and his father, Ernst Krebs, Sr. It is mainly involved in energy production and it is still controversial as to whether it is an essential nutrient. Most research about it has come from the former Soviet Union, where it has been used to increase athletic performance and to help correct a number of health conditions.
NITRILOSIDES OR VITAMIN B17. This interesting substance also isolated from apricot pits by Ernst Krebs, Jr. it appears to have a specifically an anti-cancer effect. A cyanide-containing molecules releases the deadly cyanide ion only at the site of cancer in the body.
Food sources include the pits of apples and many other common fruits. It has a slightly bitter taste.
Deficiency may be associated with an increased risk of cancer. Those most at risk today include the entire population. Therefore, if one eats apples, for example, chew up the pits. The pits of peaches, apricots and other fruits may also contain some B17, but you must first crack open the hard shell of the pit to obtain it.
VITAMIN C OR ASCORBIC ACID
Vitamin C is an important vitamin. It is a modified sugar and is usually made from corn, or other sugary foods. It is water soluble and does not stay long in the body, so it must be eaten daily. Most animals can synthesize enough of it, but humans often cannot, so they need to ingest some from food.
Vitamin C is found in highest concentration in the retina of the eyes and adrenal glands, as well as all the other glands of the body. However, it is present in all human tissues. It is extremely yin in Chinese medical terms, but an extremely important substance in human physiology. Most people do not ingest enough of it.
Food sources. Vitamin C is found in most foods, but mainly in green vegetables and some fruits. Cooking food for more than about 15 minutes can destroy most of it, so raw foods are richer sources. One of the best sources is carrot juice that we recommend for everyone, about 10-12 ounces daily for adults.
Functions. It is a powerful anti-oxidant, and required for many oxidation-reduction reactions in the cells. It is important for wound healing, formation of bone and cartilage, growth, adrenal activity, health of the capillaries and other connective tissue, and detoxification of metals and chemicals from the body.
It may have other roles, such as helping to prevent or heal many infections, particularly viral infections. It also chelates and removes toxic substances, and enhances cell respiration.
Deficiency symptoms. Severe deficiency causes scurvy, a disease that was common among sailors who had little access to fresh food. The British navy figured out how to prevent or cure the problem by requiring the sailors to eat limes. This gave rise to a nickname for British sailors of limies.
Symptoms of scurvy include adrenal exhaustion, bleeding gums, bleeding or hemorrhages into the tissues from weak capillaries, and eventually breakdown of connective tissue everywhere in the body leading to death.
Today, subclinical or mild scurvy occurs in some people around the world who live on refined, cooked food diets with few fruits, vegetables or fresh food. Symptoms may include fatigue, depression, bleeding or fragile gums, and weak connective tissue that can cause tendon, ligament, artery, vein and skin problems. Other possible symptoms are achy joints, rough skin, tooth decay and bone abnormalities and deformities. Vitamin C deficiency in infants may cause a rare megaloblastic anemia.
Overdose symptoms. An acute overdose often causes diarrhea, which remove the excess vitamin C. Chronic overuse of vitamin C can increase iron absorption, which can be toxic. It also depletes copper and many other vital minerals. This can severely unbalance body chemistry and even contribute to illnesses such as gout, infertility (low copper), kidney stones and cancer from its yin effect and mineral depletion.
When more is needed. Scurvy, pregnancy, breast feeding, heavy metal toxicity (everyone has this to a degree), stress, trauma, allergies, old age, high protein diets, and infections of many kinds.
Vitamin C is a powerful copper antagonist. Copper oxidizes vitamin C. Vitamin C chelates and helps remove copper, as well as all the toxic metals.
Effect on the oxidation rate. Due to its action on the adrenal glands, vitamin C always enhances the oxidation rate. More vitamin C is found in the adrenals than anywhere else in the body.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble and extremely important vitamin. It was discovered around 1920 as a factor in yeast and other foods that would prevent a common disease of the time called rickets. Vitamin D is receiving much more attention in the past five years because testing reveals that most people, except young children, are low in vitamin D. This occurs in spite of living in a sunny climate and eating dairy products enriched with vitamin D. Sunscreens can reduce vitamin D synthesis by the skin.
Is vitamin D a hormone? Some call vitamin D a hormone because it seems to affect every body system. However, hormones are usually produced by the body by a particular gland. The kidney does produce the active form of vitamin D, but only if the precursor is supplied from food, nutritional supplements or sunshine. Therefore, I would not call vitamin D a hormone. Food sources. Among the best sources are fish liver and especially fish liver oils. Some salt water fish are also high in vitamin D. Sources that are not quite as high, but are very good include raw egg yolks and raw dairy products. It is easy to eat a raw egg yolk by soft boiling, poaching or lightly frying an egg so the yolk remain runny.
Functions. Vitamin D has many functions. A major one is to enhance calcium and phosphorus absorption and utilization. Others include bone health, immune response, cancer prevention, cardiovascular health, and it is anti-inflammatory in a number of ways.
Deficiency symptoms. Formerly, the main deficiency diseases were rickets and osteomalacia. Rickets is a malformation or retarded growth of the long bones, and low serum calcium and phosphorus. Osteomalacia can lead to bone loss.
These diseases are not common today because pasteurized milk is fortified with vitamin D by law. In the past 20 years or so, however, scientists have discovered that although people are obtaining the minimum daily requirement of vitamin D from their food and sunlight, more vitamin D is needed.
Subtle deficiency symptoms seem to be related to excess cancers, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects, periodontal disease, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, immune deficiency, weight gain, dementias and more vitamin D may also protect against radiation damage.
When more is needed. Most adults need a supplement of about 5000 iu daily. While usually enough, more may help when breast feeding, with low sun exposure, improper diet, and increasing age. Children need less, in general. The general toxicity of the body may be one factor in determining how much vitamin D supplementation is needed.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble and very important vitamin. It was discovered in 1922 and for a number of years was called “factor X” until it was later renamed vitamin E. Vitamin E is actually a group of factors called tocopherols and tocotrienols.
Food Sources. Fortunately, vitamin E is found in many foods. Among the best sources are wheat germ, soybean oil, many green and yellow vegetables, yeast, sunflower seeds, margarine, and other foods.
Functions. Vitamin E is a powerful anti-oxidant that, along with selenium and other nutrients, protects cell membranes against oxidant damage. It also protects the delicate enzymes in the mitochondria of the cells that are needed for energy production within each cell.
Vitamin E is also essential for adrenal gland activity, and for this reason, perhaps, tends to increase the oxidation or metabolic rate in all cases. Other functions include increasing the circulation and preventing certain birth defects. Vitamin E is also protective for the heart and arteries, and can prevent stroke damage if used immediately after a stroke in large doses. The reason is probably that damage to the brain is due to oxidants, and vitamin E helps prevent this damage.
Deficiency symptoms. These include anemias, creatinuria, cystic fibrosis of the pancreas, oxidant damage of the body, fatigue, impaired circulation, general poor health, poor muscle development or muscle wasting, and asthma or other lung damage due to polluted air.
When more is needed. Pregnancy, infancy, breathing polluted air, diets of processed foods, diets high in polyunsaturated oils, and aging.
VITAMIN F - THE ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS
The essential fatty acids, sometimes called vitamin F, are linoleic, linolenic, and arachadonic acids, and perhaps others. These were discovered over 100 years ago, but attracted little attention.
Today they are recognized as extremely important nutrients. Most people are deficient in one type of fatty acid called the omega-3 fatty acids. The reasons for this are:
Š Livestock are no longer fed grass, and are instead often raised entirely on grain that is low in omega-3 fatty acids. This affects our commercial meats and our dairy products today. Only wild game, and grass fed meats and dairy products have any appreciable amount of omega-3 fatty acids.
Š Pasteurization of dairy products destroys any omega-3 fatty acids left in our dairy products.
Š Overcooking meats and fats also destroys many omega-3 fatty acids.
Š The substitution of cheap processed vegetable oils in the diet, such as corn or soybean oil, instead of butter or lard has reduced the intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
Food sources. Among the best sources are certain cold-water, salt-water fish such as sardines, salmon and tuna. Other sources are krill, wild game, and raw or lightly cooked grass fed meats and dairy products.
Functions. The essential fatty acids are needed for cell membrane function and prostaglandin synthesis, primarily.
Deficiency symptoms. Common symptoms are rough and dry skin, and mental symptoms such as anxiety, depression, irritability ADD, ADHD, and many others. Delayed or impaired mental development of children is a serious symptom that may be related to omega-3 deficiency in the mother and in breast milk. Baby formula often does not contain enough omega-3 fatty acids for optimum brain development and must be supplemented.
Impaired cell membrane permeability may cause a wide variety of sometimes subtle health conditions from malnutrition and fatigue to severe problems such as cancers.
Another important symptom is inflammation, which can manifest as hundreds of symptoms such as arthritis, gastritis, arteritis, headaches, PMS, high blood pressure and many others. Hormonal imbalances are also often related to deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids.
When more is needed. Most people need a daily omega-3 supplement. Pregnancy requires more, and children must have enough to develop normally. Anyone with inflammation, hormone imbalances, PMS and mental or emotional conditions may need more. Stress may cause an increased need as well.
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin involved in blood formation, blood clotting and bone function that is found in some common vegetables, liver and kidney. It was discovered in 1929. The main forms are called K1 and K2.
Food sources. While vitamin K can be produced by intestinal bacteria, many people’s intestinal system is so deranged that they must obtain it from food. Rich sources include cooked cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, spinach, bean sprouts, alfalfa and soy oil. Other good sources are pork (which I do not recommend eating as it may contain parasite eggs even if well cooked), beef liver and beef kidney.
Functions. Vitamin K is needed for blood clotting, cell growth and prevention of osteoporosis. In lower animals it also is required for energy production and in plants for photosynthesis, which is also a form of energy production.
Deficiency symptoms. The main one is bleeding or hemorrhages, which can be fatal. Deficiency increases the clotting time of the blood, or can prevent clotting altogether, leading to hemorrhages. Symptoms may include easy bruising and bleeding that may be manifested as nosebleeds, bleeding gums, blood in the urine, blood in the stool, tarry black stools, or extremely heavy menstrual bleeding. The drug Coumadin or warfarin works by causing a vitamin K deficiency to “thin the blood”. Taking a lot of vitamin K can therefore interfere with the action of this drug.
When more is needed. Infancy, especially right after birth, breastfeeding, improper diets, antibiotic use that destroys the intestinal flora, and perhaps aging.
VITAMIN P OR BIOFLAVOINOIDS
The bioflavinoids are a large group of complex chemicals that are sometimes considered as vitamins, although they may not be absolutely essential for life. However, they are very important nutrients for optimum health.
Many are pigments that give color to our fruits and vegetables. The names of common ones are quercitin, rutin, hesperidin, lutein, zeoxanthin, anthocyanadins, catachins, astaxanthin and some others. All have anti-inflammatory and other effects on the body, and are found in many foods.
Food sources. Very rich sources are the material under the skin of citrus fruits, berries, gingko biloba, red onions, parsley, whole grains such as blue and yellow corn, tea – especially white and green tea, red wine and dark bitter chocolate.
Functions. Bioflavinoids have anti-oxidant, anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-cancer activities. Much of this activity may be due to their property of stabilizing capillaries and preventing capillary fragility. They may be very protective of the heart and the cardiovascular system, as well as protective of most body systems.
Deficiency symptoms. These include allergies, inflammation, infections, poor general health and possibly cancers.
When more is needed. Inflammation, allergies, stress, pregnancy, infancy, and perhaps other situations.
CAN ONE TAKE TOO MUCH OF SOME VITAMINS
In theory, yes. However, too little is the general rule today. Too much vitamin A, D, E or K can build up in the liver, but it usually takes months for this to occur, and the effects go away when the supplementation stops. Eskimos eat fish liver and fish liver oil that is very high in vitamins A and D, and do not seem to suffer any ill effects. I have given people 100,000 iu of natural vitamin A for up to a few months with no problems, though reports exist in the medical literature of overdoses of vitamin A.
Too many B-complex vitamins are not that toxic, but can speed up the oxidation rate too much. This is quite a common problem and can occur just by eating too much meat, in a few cases. Usually, however, it is due to taking a high-potency B-complex supplement. Stopping the supplement causes the symptoms of anxiety and irritability to disappear quickly in almost all cases. High doses of some B-complex vitamins causes the urine to turn a bright yellow. However, this is not toxic of itself.
Too much vitamin C lowers copper in the body too much, and can chelate and remove many minerals such as zinc, calcium, manganese and others. This will only happen if the amount used exceeds about 2000 mg daily or more for a few weeks or more. Excessive vitamin C also causes diarrhea.
Too much vitamin D can cause lethargy. Some people who spend a few hours out in the sun experience a mild form of this. I am not famliar with overdosing on essential fatty acids or bioflavinoids, although I suppose it is possible.
SYMPTOMATIC VITAMIN USE VERSUS NUTRITIONAL BALANCING SCIENCE
Symptomatic use. Today most doctors and nutritionists use vitamins in a symptomatic way. This means that certain vitamins are recommended based upon one’s symptoms. This is fine as far as it goes. However, taking a high dose of any vitamin or mineral for more than a few days can unbalance the body chemistry and often lead to deficiencies of other vitamins by upsetting the natural balance of vitamins in the body. Also, most vitamins are extremely yin in Chinese medical terms. This is usually not very helpful for overall health, even if the vitamin corrects a symptom.
Nutritional balancing approach based on the stress theory of disease and oxidation types. Another way to recommend vitamins that is safer and often much more effective utilizes hair mineral testing and the method of interpretation of the hair mineral analysis of Dr. Paul Eck. This science is called nutritional balancing. Based upon stress theory and empirical work by Dr. George Watson, PhD, this method uses vitamins, minerals and other substances to gently balance certain mineral ratios and levels as revealed on a hair mineral test.
While not always as good for rapid symptom removal, nutritional balancing is far safer, and often much more effective in the long run to improve overall health. High doses of vitamins, also called megadosing or pharmacological doses, are never used so the chance of unbalancing the body is minimized. Also, the practitioner does not need to recommend ten or more single vitamins or minerals, as they are supplied together in the right proportions in a “metabolic pack” for one’s oxidation type. Experience shows that the balance of the vitamins, like the balance of the minerals, is the key.
FOOD-BASED VERSUS SYNTHESIZED VITAMINS
Some believe that only food-based vitamins should be used as they are better absorbed and utilized. This is not my experience at all. In fact, food-based vitamins, while very good at times, can cause problems due to the food from which they are made, their cost, their low potency, and other problems with their use. This subject is discussed in detail in a separate article entitled Food-Based Supplements.
INTRAVENOUS AND OTHER VITAMIN DELIVERY METHODS
Most vitamins are well-absorbed when taken by mouth. Vitamin B12 may need to be taken intramuscularly if a person cannot absorb it well orally.
Some holistic doctors use intravenous vitamin “drips” to push a lot of vitamins into the body quickly. This is necessary with some such as vitamin C, as large doses will cause diarrhea. It is also helpful for some people who are very deficient in vitamins. However, overall, I do not use this method and would discourage it.
The buffering systems of the body limit the amount of vitamins and other nutrients that will be absorbed in the intestines. If possible, I prefer to honor this system and use it. Circumventing the body’s natural buffering system with vitamin shots and drips can easily lead to severe imbalances in the body if the process is repeated for several months or longer.
Some vitamins work very closely with certain minerals, organs or glands in the body. The following relationships are often the most important:
Vitamin A – zinc, the eyes
B1 - manganese, thyroid and adrenal glands
B1, B3, B5, B6 - sodium
B5 – the adrenal glands
B6 - magnesium
Choline - magnesium and calcium
Inositol - lithium
C – may increase iron, and lowers copper, the adrenal glands
D - calcium, thyroid and parathyroid gland
E - sodium, selenium