Monthly Archives: January 2011

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 may be one of the most important of all the B vitamins, particularly because only true humanly usable B12 comes from animal sources.  Yes, to all my vegetarian and particularly vegan friends, watch your B12 levels.  There is no such thing as “vegan” or “vegetarian” B12 as far as your body goes.  It needs along with it what is known as “intrinsic factor” which comes from animals.  Fortunately B12 (as other B vitamins) will store in the body, but over time this may become a deficiency.  In fact, a good friend of mine, after years of being a vegetarian has reintroduced more animal product into her diet after seeing a live blood analysis showing a lack of B12 and a move towards anemia.

So what does B12 do?  It is a cofactor for two, yet very important enzymes.  One is used for methionine metabolism.  Methionine is an essential amino acid.  The other enzyme aids in producing energy from proteins and fats.  Overall B12 supports the nervous system, promotes the maturation of red blood cells (hence the tie to anemia when deficient in B12) and other cells, and supports bone and joint health.

B12 is available from animal products such as fish (halibut, salmon, scallops, shrimp, and snapper are best sources), lamb, beef, organ meats, and yogurt.  It is important for the blood, digestive, hepatic, and nervous systems.

Vitamin B6

We’re back to the B Vitamins today with B6.  Like all the other B family vitamins it plays a big role in our metabolic reactions, specifically amino acid metabolism (making proteins for your body to use in building itself) and glycogen utilization (blood sugar control).  It is also involved in supporting the production of hormones and neurotransmitters – the chemicals that are directing all your body’s activities. 

B6 supports the blood, central nervous, digestive, immune, integumentary, and musculoskeletal systems.

It is found in bananas, fish (cod, halibut, snapper, salmon, tuna), lean beef, mushrooms, nutritional yeast, organ meats, poultry, and wheat germ.

Are you noticing how the B vitamins are so prevalent in animal foods?  Wait until we discuss the next B vitamin – B12!

Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid is not Vitamin C)

We’ are all familiar with getting out our Vitamin C when we feel a cold coming on as it is known to enhance immune cell function. Sometimes it works in keeping the cold at bay, other times not. In addition, we hear varying stories about the effectiveness of “Vitamin C.” Well, the first and most important point to understand is that Ascorbic Acid is not Vitamin C – it is just the outer layer of the Vitamin C complex (remember how I spoke of the 20 factors of the Vitamin B complex? – the same applies here). We all remember the story of the British sailors who would get scurvy until they started eating lemons and limes. It was the Vitamin C content of those fruits that saved them. In fact, if you were to give someone with scurvy some ascorbic acid, guess what would happen? Yes, they would die of the disease. You see it is the whole Vitamin C with all its parts that does the magic, not the isolated ascorbic acid. By the way you can make your own ascorbic acid if you like – just mix together sulphuric acid and sugar – now that sounds real healthy!

The other benefits of Vitamin C – it is an antioxidant, so it kills those free radicals to prevent damage to our cells and tissues. It is also involved in forming collagen which is in our connective tissue. It also facilitates iron absorption and assists in cholesterol metabolism. So it is helping the blood, cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, musculoskeletal, and nervous systems.

The best sources of Vitamin C are not your ascorbic acid pills! It is found in Acerola berries, broccoli (yes, another reason to eat your broccoli), Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, carrots, cauliflower, kiwi (an excellent source), oranges, papaya, red bell peppers, and strawberries.

Choline

A little known nutrient – choline – is actually extremely important as it is part of lecithin which is a key structural component of all cell membranes.  It is quite certain that any substance that is in every cell in our body would be quite important.  It is involved in cell metabolism, nerve transmission, and regulation of the liver and gall bladder.   

Are you getting enough choline in your diet?  It is found big time in the cruciferous family (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower), butter, egg yolk, flaxseed, lentils, peanuts, potatoes, oats, sesame seeds, and soybeans.  You will often see lecithin from soybeans in nutritonall supplements.  One of the few useful applications of the soy bean!

Choline supports the cardiovascular, biliary, endocrine, integumentary, nervous, and renal (kidney) systems.

Chromium

Today we explore chromium, another important mineral nutrient.  Chromium is involved in metabolism as it supports insulin function in the body.  In this way it helps in glucose and protein metabolism.  What does this mean to the average person?  In short, it helps us control blood sugar levels.  This is one of the most important functions in the body, and much of what our body does, is about keeping blood sugar levels constant.  We get ourselves into trouble when blood sugar levels stay consistently too low or too high, or when they bounce back and forth (like the sugar high).  Therefore, chromium has also been found to help with weight control and managing cholesterol.

Chromium supports the blood, cardiovascular, circulatory, endocrine, hepatic, immune and nervous systems.  As you can see – almost the whole body!  It is found in cheese, liver, nutritional yeast, onions, Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, vegetable oils, and whole grains.  Its common supplement form is chromium picolinate.

Calcium

Calcium is one of the most talked about minerals and for good reason.  It supports strong bone structure, teeth, and muscle tissue, aids in blood clotting function, supports cardiovascular and nerve functions, and helps in normal functioning of many enzymes.  We often hear about it in conjunction with osteoporosis.  Everyone needs more calcium to build their bones, so everyone is throwing down a whole bunch of calcium supplements.  Well, there’s a couple of problems. 

First off – is the biggest one.  While it is true that we need calcium to build our bones, it is one of 18 nutrients that are required.  And let’s get a little better understanding of how our bones work.  They are constantly breaking down and rebuilding.  What happens in osteopenia and osteoporosis?  The breakdown process continues, but the bone does not rebuild.  Why?  One reason is the lack of the other nutrients required to build bone. What happens when we take certain medications for this?  The breakdown is slowed down, so the bone density scan will show more bone, however, it is weak bone and still likely to fracture.  There are many other resources you can go to read more on this. 

Second – most of the calcium in supplements is not very absorbable for our bodies.  We need to be able to utilize the calcium we take in.  One of the more absorbable forms of calcium is Calcium Lactate.

What else contributes to our calcium shortages?  Soft drink (soda) consumption.  What makes soft drinks bubble?  Phosphorus.  And, phosphorus and calcium need to be in a specific relationship in our body.  So, when we take in excessive phosphorus and don’t have sufficient calcium intakes, our body must take it from a storage location.  You guessed it – the bones!

The best sources of calcium are of course from food.  It is also a misconception that this has to come from milk.  Leafy green vegetables are a great source of calcium.  For calcium choose: bone meal, cheese (best are Cheddar, mozzarella, and Swiss), collard greens, flaxseed, liver, milk, molasses, mustard greens, sesame seeds, spinach, turnip greens, wheat germ and yogurt.

Calcium benefits many systems of the body: blood, circulatory, digestive, enzymatic, immune, musculoskeletal, and nervous systems.

Vitamin B3 – Niacin

Vitamin B3, also called Niacin, is one of the most important of the B vitamins.  We often hear it recommended for cardiovascular health, but it is also important for digestive health as it promotes hydrocholric acid production.  Did you know that most people who suffer from acid reflux actually do not produce enough hydrochloric acid?  The “acid” of acid reflux is usually organic acids produced by foods rotting and fermenting in the stomach due to poor digestion.

Here’s the technical detail: Niacin is converted to the cofactor NAD which is an important part of how our body processes carbohydrates, fats, and protein (amino acids). It promotes a healthy heart, skin, digestion, cellular respiration, and enhances metabolism and circulation. 

You can get too much Niacin, particularly from syntethic sources.  How do you know?  You get what is called the “niacin flush” – your face and ears become red and hot.  I recently experienced this myself and was able to trace it back to this very source.

Niacin supports the cardiovascular, digestive, hepatic (liver), integumentary, and nervous systems.  It also supports the soft tissue and the tongue.

The best food sources of Niacin are: fish (salmon, tuna, halibut), lean beef, liver, mushrooms, nutrtional yeast, organ meats, poultry, and wheat germ.

Are you noticing a trend – the best sources of B vitamins are mainly from animal products.  Keep that in mind when we get to B12 in a few days!

Vitamin B2 – Riboflavin

Vitamin B2, better known as Riboflavin, is an integral part of enzymes involved in oxidation reduction reactions that drive cell respiration.  What does that mean? It is critical in our cell making energy for our body.  It also supports the function of antioxidant enzymes and interacts with the other B vitamins.  It promotes a healthy immune system and regulates the activity of 50 of our enzymes.  Wow!  Remember enzymes are what make things happen in our body.  They drive everything we do.  This is why Riboflavin is often one of the B Vitamins added back into our “enriched” wheat flour, but as you remember from the  B1 discussion, this is synthetic and our bodies need the real stuff.

We get the “real stuff” in lean beef, milk, mushrooms, nutrtional yeast, organ meats, spinach, wheat germ, and yogurt. 

Vitamin B2 supports the cardiovascular, blood, digestive, endocrine, integumentary, and nervous systems as well as our soft tissue.

Vitamin B1 – Thiamine

Today’s Vitamin of the Day is B1, also known as Thiamine.  Did you know that the true Vitamin B complex actually has about 20 different parts to it.  We know these as all the different B’s.  One of the main foods that have the B family are whole grains.  Let’s use wheat as the example.  There are three parts – the germ, the bran, and the endosperm.  The germ and bran have the B vitamins as well as some healthy fats.  The endosperm is the carbohydrate.  When they make refined flour, the main ingredient in white bread and cookies all that gets used is the carbohydrate.  But the food manufacturers are nice to us and they “enrich” the flour with up to 8-12 synthetic B vitamins.  Doesn’t sound like enriching to me – take away 20 and give back 8!

B1 is a required cofactor for some very important enzymes involved in carbohydrate metabolism.  This supports mental alertness and cognitive ability.  It also maintains appetite and normal digestion.  It aids the cardiovascular, digestive, integumentary (skin), and nervous systems along with the eyes.

You can find B1 in black beans, brown rice (not white), green and split peas, lentils, lima beans, mushrooms, navy beans, nutritional yeast, organ meats, pinto beans, sunflower seeds, tuna, wheat germ, and whole grains.

Vitamin A a.k.a Beta-Carotene

Vitamin A is also known as Beta-carotene.  However, here is where it gets confusing – they are not the same!  True Vitamin A is found only in animal products, such as butter, egg yolks, liver, organ meats and shellfish.  Beta-carotene is found in plant food, such as carrots, red bell peppers, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and particularly leafy greens (collard greens, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, turnip greens).  And for the animal product to be a good source of Vitamin A, they should be eating green food, such as cows eating green grass.  Think of the animal as a Vitamin A factory!  When we consume Beta-carotene from plants (or vitamin supplements) our body has to convert it into Vitamin A.  And guess what – we aren’t that efficient in doing that.  To learn all about Vitamin A click here.

Vitamin A supports the endocrine, immune, integumentary (that’s skin), and reproductive systems along with our eyes.  It is required for growth and natural repair of many body tissues, and maintains integrity of blood cells and epithelial tissue lining the gut, lungs, and reproductive tract.