Improve Your Health by Getting Your Vitamins
Maybe like many of us, you had a mother or grandmother who liked to nag you (or maybe even still does!) about taking your vitamins. Guess what? They’re right—as long as you’re getting them from pure sources. Making sure you get the proper amount of vitamins will help your body function better.
Think of it this way: if you aren’t taking vitamins and eating well, or if you only take one or two supplements, it’s like driving through a city during the summer—some days, the roads are clear and flow easily; other days, there are traffic back-ups and construction that causes delays and detours. Traffic can’t run smoothly and while you’ll still eventually get to your destination, it requires a lot more work and is much more stressful. On the other hand, if you eat well and supplement with vitamins for any deficiencies or increased requirements, you’re giving your body what it needs to keep things running smoothly—like traffic moving through a city without any construction or back-ups.
As Dr. Susan Blum, founder of the Blum Center for Health says, “You may not get a disease, but you can end up with impaired functioning, because vitamins are co-factors for all the bio-chemical reactions in the body. We need them in order to function properly.”
It’s important to know a few things about vitamins. First, the different types:
- Synthetic: These are 100% chemical and are sometimes referred to as vegetarian or vegan because they do not contain any animal products.
- All-Natural: Don’t be tricked—this claim can be made even if the vitamin only has 10% natural ingredients and 90% chemical. The term “natural” refers to how an ingredient was grown, and not how the vitamin as a whole is processed
- Pharmaceutical: These are 100% food-based and biologically complete. These adhere to an identity preservation program (IPP) that tracks all of the ingredients. (Companies such as Shaklee use this process to ensure the quality of their vitamins and supplements).
Next, what makes up a vitamin? As a biological complex, they contain:
- Trace Mineral Activators
All of these must be present in order for our bodies to be able to absorb the nutrients so the vitamin can do its job. Once we take a vitamin, our bodies need to figure out how to absorb what the vitamin contains. With synthetic vitamins, our bodies will draw from existing mineral stores for absorption, which results in deficiencies, instead of increased presence of the vitamins we need. If the key vitamins are isolated, they cannot perform their specific life functions within the cell.
*The natural vitamin C and the pharmaceutical grade vitamin show the full biological complex, whereas the synthetic vitamin C is isolated.
Here are some common vitamin deficiencies and what they may cause:
This is a key part of various proteins and enzymes. One of the most important roles is to provide hemoglobin (the protein found in red blood cells), a mechanism through which it can bind to oxygen and carry it throughout the tissues in the body. Without this oxygenation, the cells quickly start dying and this often results in fatigue, decreased immunity and iron-deficiency anemia. In fact, anemia is the most common consequence of iron deficiency and not only causes tiredness and a weakened immune system, it can also result in impaired brain function. Iron deficiency is common in children and pre-menopausal women. Natural food-based sources of iron include red meat and organ meat, shellfish (such as clams, mussels and oysters) and canned sardines.
It’s important to watch the ratio of omega vitamins that are in your system. Often, we have too much inflammatory omega-6 present (processed vegetable oils), and not enough anti-inflammatory omega-3 (fish oil, flax seed oil). The ideal ratio is 1:1 and when in this proper balance, the omegas will help absorb oil-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Omega-3 deficiency is believed to be a significant factor in up to 96,000 premature deaths each year, and low concentrations of omega-3 fats EPA and DHA are associated with increased risk of death from all causes, as well as accelerated cognitive decline.
If you live in a location that doesn’t see much sun (otherwise known as November-March where I live), you may notice a vitamin D deficiency causing digestive/gut issues, depression, weakened immune system and muscle weakness. It can also cause bone loss and increase the risk of fractures. The best source of this vitamin is, in fact, exposure to the sun. To optimize your levels, you need to expose large areas of your skin—such as your back, chest, legs and arms—to the sun (in a careful and sensible way, of course). The best time to do this is as close to solar noon as possible, when the UVB rays are most intense. You only need to expose your skin until it turns the lightest shade darker—once this happens, your body won’t take in any additional vitamin D because it self-regulates; additional exposure will cause skin damage. Other indications that you may be deficient in vitamin D include being over the age of 50, darker skin, achy bones, obesity, feeling blue and head sweats.
if you find yourself having cavities, red bumps on the backs of the arms, PMS, low energy or thyroid issues, you’re probably deficient in vitamin A. This can also cause temporary and permanent eye damage; in fact, vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of blindness. It’s also important for maintaining healthy skin, teeth, bones and cell membranes, and is essential for the immune system. Vitamin D cannot function properly if you’re deficient in vitamin A, so a balance of both is essential. There is even evidence that indicates that without vitamin D, vitamin A can be toxic; instead, the two need to work in tandem to regulate hormones and the expression of your genes. The best way to get them is from sun exposure, instead of relying on supplements. While retinol and beta-carotene are also sources of vitamin A, there are important things to know about the two. Retinol is pre-formed vitamin A that is found in animal products such as grass-fed meat and poultry, liver, fish and raw, organic dairy products like butter. This is the form your body can use. Beta-carotene is found in plant foods like fruits and vegetables, but in order for your body to use it properly, it first needs to be converted into retinol. This requires a well-functioning digestive tract and a sufficient amount of bile being produced by the gallbladder; specific enzymes are also required to break down the beta-carotene for the conversion to occur. By eating colourful vegetables and getting good sun exposure each day, you’ll provide enough vitamin A and D to your body to make sure all of these systems work optimally.
If you’re deficient in K-vitamins, you may experience crooked teeth, cavities, osteoporosis, cancer and kidney stones. Vitamin K1 is the primary form of vitamin K that is responsible for blood clotting. This can be found in leafy vegetables. Vitamin K2 is only present in fermented foods such as natto (a fermented soy product), fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, and certain raw dairy products such as cheeses, butter and kefir. This vitamin is essential for bone strength, artery and blood vessel health, and plays a role in other processes like tissue renewal and cell growth, healthy pregnancy and cancer prevention. Vitamin K2 is dependent on vitamin D to work properly and vice-versa, and both work synergistically with magnesium and calcium—you should consider them a foursome.
This is the fourth most abundant mineral found in the body; however, 80% of Americans are found to be deficient, resulting in leg cramps, muscle twitches, anxiety, insomnia and constipation. Magnesium plays a role in detoxifying the body and minimizing damage from environmental chemicals, heavy metals and other toxins. Low magnesium levels are consistently found in those with elevated insulin levels, so proper intake may help reduce the risk of developing diabetes for high-risk individuals. Glutathione, one of our body’s most powerful antioxidants, requires magnesium to be produced, and proper magnesium levels play a role in preventing migraine headaches, cardiovascular diseases (including high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes), sudden cardiac death and even reduces deaths from all causes. Magnesium sulfate can be found in Epsom salts, which can be absorbed into the body through the skin, and magnesium oil (made from magnesium chloride) can be used for topical application and absorption.
This is known as the “energy vitamin” because deficiency often results in muscle weakness, fatigue, apathy, tingling in the extremities, mood swings and “mental fog” or memory problems. It is required for a number of essential functions, including energy production, blood formation, DNA synthesis and myelin formation. If you can’t absorb it from the food you consume, you’ll require a proper supplement. Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal-based food sources such as beef and beef liver (grass-fed preferred), lamb, snapper, venison, salmon, shrimp, scallops, organic-pastured poultry and eggs. The best versions of supplements are injectable B12, or sublingual drops or spray; however most oral supplements tend to be lower in efficacy because B12 is poorly absorbed.
This is very important for brain health, and also helps support normal cholesterol levels, and protects against free radical damage and signs of aging. Deficiency may cause brain damage, and studies have found that supplementation with it may help delay the loss of cognitive function in people with Alzheimer’s disease. The version found in most stores is synthetic and shouldn’t be used if you want to enjoy any of the health benefits that vitamin E offers. Natural vitamin E will be listed as “d-“ forms (ie: “d-alpha-tocopherol” or “d-beta-tocopherol”), whereas synthetics will be listed in “dl-“ forms. There are some good dietary sources of vitamin E, including nuts (hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts and pecans), seeds (sunflower), olive oil, legumes and green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli.
This is essential for healthy thyroid function and efficient metabolism. The most common symptom of deficiency is an enlarged thyroid; it may also cause increased heart rate, shortness of breath and weight gain. There is also increasing evidence that low iodine is related to numerous diseases, including cancer and can also create dysfunction in tissues. For example, salivary glands may become unable to produce saliva, resulting in dry mouth; skin may become dry and sweat may be unable to exit via the skin (this can usually be reversed by three or four weeks of iodine supplementation). Iodine deficiency can cause reduced alertness and lower IQ in the brain, as well as result in scar tissue, pain, fibrosis and fibromyalgia in the muscles. Ideal natural sources of iodine are toxin-free sea vegetables and spirulina; raw milk and eggs also contain iodine.
Most of us know this is required for strong, healthy bones; but it’s important to not overdo it with calcium supplements. Calcium should be balanced with vitamins D, K2 and magnesium; otherwise it can cause more harm than good. Lack of balance is associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke, and can cause muscle spasm and sudden cardiac death. Vitamin K2 removes calcium from areas where it isn’t needed, such as your arteries and soft tissues, and shuttles it to appropriate areas, such as bones and teeth. A diet rich in fresh, raw, whole foods that maximize natural minerals will let your body do what it was designed to do, and the body can use calcium correctly if it comes from plant-derived sources. These include milk from pasture-raised cows, leafy green vegetables, the pith of citrus fruits, carob and wheatgrass. Sources of silica and magnesium are also essential; good sources of silica are cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes and herbs such as alfalfa, horsetail, nettles, oat straw and raw cacao, which is also rich in magnesium.
This is a B-vitamin known for its role in brain development, but your body can only synthesize small amounts of it, and it needs to come directly from your diet. To enjoy choline’s anti-inflammatory properties, the best sources are animal foods such as organic pastured eggs and grass-fed meats and beef liver. Vegans or vegetarians are often at particular risk of deficiency and can increase their intake of choline by eating Brussel sprouts, broccoli, and raw milk.
With so many health benefits, yet only 12% of synthetic vitamins being absorbed by the body, the importance of a proper balance of vitamins from natural sources becomes clear. The purity of the ingredients and potency of the nutrients will allow for better absorption, and therefore result in better results and bodies that work properly and efficiently each day.
Getting your daily requirements of vitamins from whole foods would be ideal but let’s be honest, unless you are eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, along with the perfect amount of fats and a varied range of proteins you aren’t getting enough. We need to supplement to stay healthy, knowing which supplements to take can be confusing and intimidating. Reach out to a trusted nutrition or health coach, we can help clear some of the confusion and get you started on being the best you can be.