Monday, January 13, 2014

Expansionist Knowledge - Piecing Together Vitamin and Mineral Supplements (Article)

There are many essential ingredients in a healthy diet. Because I showed vitamin A palmitate some disrespect in a previous article, I felt an explanation was due. Of concern in today’s article are vitamins and minerals. Vitamins are carbon-based molecules that our bodies depend on so that proteins, especially enzymes, can complete their function.  The lack of vitamin C led to scurvy, which is why long-distance sea voyagers tried to bring citrus trees along with them when it was feasible. Minerals are individual atoms that are necessary for the body to complete a wide variety of functions. Sodium is found in the nervous system. Potassium is vital for healthy heart function. Calcium is involved as muscles expand and contract. Most minerals, these three included, serve multiple purposes. Here is some exciting information I have picked up over the years concerning vitamins.

There are many sources of information. I discussed how I personally investigate people who present themselves as experts in the previous article. Another source of information is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA is tasked with the unenviable responsibility of “protecting and promoting Americans’ health.” The FDA offers their counsel in the form of Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). The RDA values need to be taken with a grain of salt. First, much of the good science behind the RDA is based on applying that information to the American public as a whole. Second, while medical literature names and describes many illnesses caused by an abundance or lack of nutrients, the quantities the FDA has released tend to err on the side of caution. In some cases, such as chromium, copper, and other micronutrients, this is a good things. In the case of fat soluble vitamins like A and D, this is also a good thing. But in others, the safety range is much broader than described. Look at the B vitamins in energy drinks. They are at least hundreds of times the RDA, sometimes thousands, even tens of thousands times the RDA. But because vitamin B is a water soluble vitamin that is quickly flushed, it doesn't create much consternation in the medical community.

When describing overdoses of minerals, medical texts rely frequently on epidemiological studies of miners that are pulling that mineral from the ground. Their exposure to higher than typical levels provides clues through changes in health. Those changes are then measured, recorded, analyzed, and reported. In the case of selenium, selenium miners have a higher incidence of brittle fingernails. That is the most damaging medical symptom recorded in this population. That doesn’t mean you should start popping selenium supplements like Smarties or munching Brazil nuts like popcorn. As mentioned before, medicine describes overdoses of many nutrients including case studies in selenium. The grain of salt is that long term exposure to elevated levels of selenium does not produce the symptoms of selenium overdose induced by ingesting selenium intentionally in high doses as described in medical journals.

Let’s look at taking a potassium supplements. I used to take them for my leg cramps. Worked great. When I started on Lisinopril for high blood pressure, I stopped the potassium supplements on my doctor’s recommendation. I was surprised at his stern insistence that I stop taking them. Two pills contained only 3% of the RDA. But I consented. I stopped ingesting the supplement for the last several years. I had been on well water. Out water source was a private well. I like well water. We moved. Now we are on city water. I miss well water. As a substitute, we buy filtered water in multiple 5 gallon jugs. We add magnesium, calcium, potassium, and other minerals to the jugs from a liquid mineral source. This is an easy way to dose everyone in the family. In the case of potassium, the recommended dose described on the container is 1 teaspoon per day for <1% of the RDA. I add 1 tablespoon to the 5 gallons. This means I would have to drink 27 cups of water to reach the same dose of potassium as 1 teaspoon of the original solution. While drinking 27 cups of water is theoretically achievable in one day, so is flushing the potassium throughout the course of the day induced by drinking that same 27 cups. With my health in mind, I am keeping aware of the symptoms associated with too much potassium while on Lisinopril. So far, no symptoms of too much or too little potassium have occurred. And if the concern is raised by my doctor again, I will switch doctors. No, I will be adding a third jug to our two jug technique. Because my beautiful wife needs more calcium than the rest of us, so I make up the 5 gallon jugs with the family in mind and then pour a separate 1 gallon jug off of that to add even more calcium to that specific jug for her. This technique of separate water for individual nutrient concerns can be used for an untreated-by-potassium water source for me.

In the case of potassium and other minerals that I add to our drinking water, the source is a man-made solution from natural sources that I purchase. In the case of my vitamin supplements, again a man-made supplement. For some vitamins, the scientific literature shows that the source makes a difference. Others, it doesn't appear to. If you have a diet rich in the food sources of vitamins, then supplements should not be a concern. But if you cannot get it any other way, take supplements. And in some cases such as micronutrients, the best option is supplements because of the sheer quantity of raw sources necessary to ingest additional micronutrients. There are also concerns for specific diets. Vegetarian diets are low in some B vitamins. But most B vitamin supplements have animal sources used to obtain the B vitamin. This puts the vegetarian in something of a bind. As much as possible, get the vitamin from the source. There are additional health benefits from the food beyond the specific nutrients from that item of food. The orange, for example, offers benefits beyond getting your vitamin C. These additional health benefits come from the environment of the vitamin.

But the environment can hinder as well as help. Calcium is found in cheese. But we absorb very little of it. There are two reasons for this low absorption. First, the calcium binds to the protein and will be separated at the point the protein is digested. This leads to little of the calcium being released. Second, most of the calcium we absorb into our blood stream is at the duodenum, the part of the small intestines just past the stomach. This is why there are problems with calcium deficiencies in people who undergo gastric bypass. Also, the duodenum doesn't treat all forms of calcium equally. Calcium carbonate, one of the most common forms of calcium supplements, is poorly absorbed. Calcium chloride is much better absorbed. Calcium paired with larger organic ions, like calcium citrate, fair in the middle. And ignore claims of calcium citrate as “rock calcium”. Calcium citrate is not the geologic source, calcium carbonate. As described in the example above with calcium and the duodenum, the source of many supplements isn't as important as how our body treats it. For dietary sources of calcium, look to almonds, kale, and broccoli. Of all of the dairy studies I have personally reviewed, if you want to get calcium from your dairy, eat yogurt.

But be careful of reading too many studies. Right now, calcium supplements are in something of a limbo as researchers argue via journal publications whether or not calcium supplements reduce incidence of bone fractures and increase incidence of coronary issues. There are arguments of pairing the calcium with vitamin D, vitamin K, magnesium, zinc, or combinations of those nutrients as aids to absorbing and utilizing calcium, which complicate the studies. And then there are studies within select demographics that argue for an entire population based on a subset, the most common for calcium being postmenopausal women. Within my family, we eat quite a bit of broccoli. And we like our almonds. But I feel we need a little boost. We take a calcium chloride supplement that is in a liquid form even though we calcium rich foods and soda, which has been shown to leach calcium from our bodies, and other calcium thieves are a rare part of our family’s diet.

The environment of the nutrient matters. As discussed in the previous article, extraction and absorption are still in play for getting the nutrients your body desires. It also matters the form, especially when it comes to supplements. Here is where the focus on vitamin A comes in. Vitamin A is found as an additive in many dairy products. If one researches the scientific literature for the consequences of consuming appropriate proportions of vitamin A, the results range from negligible benefit to super nutrient that will slow down and possibly prevent intestinal cancer. What matters most is which form of vitamin A. Vitamin A palmitate is the synthetic form of vitamin A. If there is no other source of vitamin A, I would not hesitate to use it. But a much better form of vitamin A is from vegetables, better known as beta-carotene. Vegetable sources include paprika, red pepper, cayenne, chili pepper, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, and kale. If you are looking for a good source, select vegetables like these that are high in beta-carotene or take a beta-carotene supplement. For a great source, select an animal source for vitamin A. The best sources are from seafood sources. The dietary danger a nutritionist will warn you about is the food sources high in best form of vitamin A are frequently in the company of cholesterol. With that in mind, my vitamin A comes from a supplement made from seafood sources.

I mention the warning of cholesterol because of heart health concerns. For those concerned about heart health, you need to be aware of homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine are known to be associated with increased risk of heart attacks and other coronary dangers. There is some argument about whether or not B vitamins help reduce homocysteine. It is known that removing homocysteine from the blood stream requires B vitamins. But increasing the quantity of generic B vitamins does not lower homocysteine levels. Further investigation shows that B vitamins are necessary in too many metabolic reactions to single out homocysteine. However, taking an increased quantity of just the B6, B9, and B12 vitamins has been shown to lower homocysteine levels.

Like anything else, this article is meant to be a launch point for your own additional research. You have to find the nutrient source, the nutrient form, and the nutrient environment that works for you.  There have been problems recorded in medical journals that serve initially as cautionary tales but more importantly as motivation for personal research. For example, the sunscreen push by medical and government groups of a few decades ago led to problems in the American populace. The problem was a record deficiency in Vitamin D among kids since Vitamin D was introduced to dairy products. This came about because parents started slathering their kids in SPF tar to block cancer-causing ultraviolet rays. Not enough sunlight was reaching their skin to turn the Vitamin D precursor that is actually in milk into the Vitamin D their bodies needed. There are also instances of people losing large quantities of weight coming down with Vitamin E poisoning. As their fat cells gave up their fat, the fat gave up the Vitamin E that was stored. This is where your preferences, your research, and the signals that your body is sending you become important.

My vitamin A / vitamin D supplement is from a seafood source. My calcium is from a liquid version of calcium chloride. I take a vitamin C supplement. I also take cod liver oil and soy lecithin as supplements. But none of these preclude the necessity that I eat a healthy diet. My idea of a healthy diet is being adjusted through the last and most difficult stage of them all: reducing the caloric total. We have a large amount of fresh fruits and veggies in our diet. That started years ago as evidenced by the fact that, toddler to teenager, they all enjoy the fruits and vegetables we serve. We grind our own wheat to bake our own bread, although we are careful in limiting how much bread we let the kids eat. When we are feeling spunky, we sprout and dry the wheat before grinding. As ingredients in the bread, we include ginger and lecithin. The ginger feeds the yeast. The lecithin increases the breads ability to within stand mold. It is rare, however, that the bread is around long enough for the mold to show. Junk food only enters the house as gifts from neighbors and as the occasional favored treat around holidays or birthdays. We do eat the junk food because it tastes incredible by design. Prepackaged products are rare. We do have two boxes of macaroni and cheese. Those are for treats for the kids when time is short. But there are never more than two boxes in the house. Have you read the ingredients list on a box of mac ‘n’ cheese? If you are what you eat, I don’t want my family becoming any of those things. This (and much, much, much more) is what works for us based on our research. What works for you?

Be your own best advocate for your health! - Eliot from the Expansionist Knowledge articles
Posted: 13 January 2014

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