Know Your Vitamins

Words: Dr Rajgopal NIDAMBOOR

Vitamins and minerals should be a part of our wellness indemnity — just like life insurance — in health and illness. Here’s why — vitamins are a group of organic nutrients, found in plants and animals. They are called essential vitamins. They are fundamental to regulate the chemical processes that go on in the body — they help release energy from food, maintain strong bones, and also control hormonal function, among other things.

There are two types of vitamins, as everyone knows: water-soluble and fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins [B-complex vitamins and vitamin C] are easily absorbed by your body. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, they don’t have to be absorbed using bile acids to digest fats.

However this may be, our body does not stockpile large amounts of water-soluble vitamins. The water-soluble vitamins, which we do not need, or are present in excess, are eliminated by our kidneys, and passed through urination. Our body has to use bile acids to absorb fat-soluble vitamins [A, D, E and K]. Once these vitamins are absorbed, our body stores them in body fat. They are summoned from the storage areas, as and when needed. Each of the essential vitamins has a specific activity in the body. They are essential for good health and well-being, vitality, growth and longevity.

Why Vitamins Are Vital

What leads to illness, a specific deficiency illness, or disease, is the absence, or improper absorption, of a certain vitamin, or complex of the essential nutrient, or nutrients. Another downside is — a normal person may have a minor deficiency without even being aware of it.  It is only when actual symptoms surface, does one think of, or get diagnosed, for the problem. Not otherwise.

It was until recently observed that if one ate healthy foods, or a good diet, there’s no need to take vitamin/mineral supplements. Research today suggests that even if people consume healthy diets, there’s a certain need to take a multivitamin pill each day, especially among adults. Vitamins are not just needed to keep deficiency illnesses, such as rickets and scurvy, at bay. The incorporation of a good vitamin-nutrition plan, on a daily basis, is crucial to prevent and also avert the onset of chronic diseases — e.g., osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Vitamin Deficiency

It is well-known that most of us, to one extent, or another, are deficient in key nutrients — most notably, vitamins and minerals. Though it is not clear whether deficiencies contribute to certain diseases, or there are extra-nutritional demands imposed by certain diseases, or ailments, it makes sense for adults [also, most importantly, growing children] to take adequate intakes of select nutrients. The most useful nutrients are vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, aside from minerals, such as magnesium, calcium, boron, selenium, and zinc.

It would also make sense for one to eat a balanced diet and/or combine a multivitamin and mineral supplement that offers all the nutrients to your diet — with their appropriate doses provided and taken care of.

All the same, it would be prudent to exercise caution while taking supplements, because excess dosage may increase other health risks. For instance, extremely high vitamin A intake could harm our auto-immune activity, just as much as excess daily doses [>100mg] of zinc may lead to detrimental changes in blood cholesterol.

Mineral Marvel

Minerals, unlike vitamins, are inorganic nutrients. They are essential for good health. Minerals come from the earth, or water. Plants and animals too absorb them to get nutrients. More importantly, vitamins cannot be assimilated without the presence of minerals.

Minerals are classified into two groups:

  • Minerals that we need in quantities greater than 100mg per day
  • Minerals that we need less than 100mg per day.

The first group is called macro-minerals; the second, micro-minerals, or trace elements.

One ideal way to get adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals our body needs is to derive them from the food we eat. As a matter of fact, most of us don’t need to take additional mineral supplements. We need to take extra vitamins, or minerals, in the presence of deficiency, or certain health problems. But — the fact is — thanks to our modern-day lifestyle, what with the soil being not as fertile as it was before, aside from stress, lack of sleep, and improper food habits, there is a realistic need for vitamin-mineral supplementation, even if many of us are unaware, or not ‘clued up’ to accepting the necessity.

In addition, we would all do well to taking vitamins and minerals at certain times in our life, such as the following:

  • Before and during pregnancy
  • If you’re pregnant, or breastfeeding, you need to take a prenatal mineral and vitamin pill that includes iron to protect you against anaemia, aside from folic acid, and calcium to keep your bones strong
  • If you’re a woman aged 40+, and are at risk of osteoporosis, a good calcium supplement is critical to support the health of your bones
  • If you eat a vegetarian, or vegan, diet [one that restricts the use of animal products], you’d need to take a good vitamin B12 [cobalamin] supplement
  • If you have a deficiency, or health problem, such as high blood pressure, diabetes etc., you’d need to take magnesium, CoQ10 [coenzyme 10], and alpha-lipoic-acid [ALA], among other supplements.

To sum up, here’s a quick list of nutrient-minerals one just cannot do without.

Calcium. Calcium keeps your bones strong and prevents them from becoming fragile. It also helps to control high blood pressure in mild-to-moderate forms of hypertension. The main source of dietary calcium is milk. Interestingly, however, most people, especially teenagers, don’t get even half of their daily needs from the dairy source. Women would do well to take 1,000-1,200mg of a good calcium supplement daily. Men: 600-800mg.

Copper. Copper helps absorb iron; it also heals wounds. Grown-up adults need 1.5-3.0mg of copper every day in their diet.

Chromium. This helps to maintain the body’s balance of glucose [blood sugar]. It is also required to release energy from glucose. Chromium is a supplement of choice for diabetics. The recommended dose is: 100-200mcg per day.

Iron. This mineral is essential for the transport and release of oxygen throughout the body. Recommended dosage: 10mg a day for men; and, 15mg for women.

Magnesium. This ‘unsung’ nutrient ‘hero’ maintains normal muscle and nerve function. It keeps heart rhythms stable, the immune system in top gear and bones strong. Magnesium helps to regulate blood sugar levels and promotes normal blood pressure too. It is vital for energy metabolism and protein synthesis. Dosage: 300-400mg/day.

Selenium. This mineral supports the function of vitamin E. It is also evidenced to prevent cancer. The recommended dosage: 70mcg for men; and, 50mcg for women.

Zinc. Zinc provides us with our sense of taste. It also plays a key role in sperm production, heals wounds and supports immune defence, genetic substances and proteins. Recommended dosage: 15mg a day, for men; and, 12mg for women.

The best thing to do is, of course, seek the advice of your physician and specialist nutritionist, and embark on a supplement, or choice of supplements, that offers you the best possible outcome — for optimal wellness and healthy longevity. 

Dr RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR, PhD, is a wellness physician-writer-editor, independent researcher, critic, columnist, author and publisher. His published work includes hundreds of newspaper, magazine, web articles, essays, meditations, columns, and critiques on a host of subjects, eight books on natural health, two coffee table tomes and an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy. He is Chief Wellness Officer, Docco360 — a mobile health application/platform connecting patients with Ayurveda, homeopathic and Unani physicians, and nutrition therapists, among others, from the comfort of their home — and, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkWellness360.

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