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Three FUNCTIONS OF SUPPLEMENTS. 

Dietary supplements can perform three distinctly different functions.

  • First, they can simply fill in any deficiency of nutrients missing from the diet to help meet the nutritional roles in the body.

  • Next, they could enhance body performance and increase immunity barriers, possibly decreasing risks even against some hereditary linked family conditions.
  • And last, they could function on a therapeutic level to control, modify, or suppress body processes and functions during a disease state or crisis and recovery. 

RightWay's primary focus is on the first function. Supporting basic sound nutrition by supplying an ample amount of nutrients for an efficient operating body could actually eliminate or lessen the need for the other two functions. The vital aspect here is to discover the level of nutrition needed for your body to achieve optimum health. While there is a range of nutrient intake which would satisfy body needs and maintain normal health parameters, finding this optimal amount is rather challenging given the current state of research positions and assumptions.

It is only natural to assume that scientific studies using various nutrient amounts and reporting the most effective amounts should dictate levels for testing supplements. This is not always the case. There is even controversy as to the role supplements might play in health and disease. Research is discovering new answers daily. REF (check out links at end of article on this site too)

NOTE: The term "vitamin" will be used occiasionally to represent not just the typical vitamins and minerals, but also the larger content of dietary supplements. Such as herbs, acidophilus probiotics, enzymes, phytonutrients like CoQ10, and food concentrates; yeasts, alfalfa concentrate, broccoli extract, liver, flaxseeds, fish oils, and sprouted grains. 

As scientists have discovered more nutrient function roles, the dosages of these nutrients have increased in supplements. Research has tested many vitamins for a therapeutic role in disease prevention. Some very strong positive associations exist and some vitamins have completely failed, a few even with negative results. While all this information exists, it is sometimes hard to find, and communication is often subjective. Many sources bend reality to fit a particular product message.  This website will present and review much of this information over time in as neutral a scope as possible.

VITAMIN FUNCTION PREMISES 

Premise one: There are optimal dosage ranges for each nutrient.   There is a tendency in America that if a little is good, more is better.  THIS IS NOT THE CASE WITH MANY NUTRIENTS. Too much zinc is just as damaging as too little, same for selenium. Zinc is needed for immune functions such as wound healing, but too much hinders this function and also interferes with copper absorption. Now, if you think the U.S. Food and Drug Agency is protecting you by making companies stay within dosage boundaries, you are not correct. For many nutrients these levels are not completely known yet. The FDA has only somewhat recently set both upper and lower safe levels as well as their recommended amounts for most nutrients. Vitamin C probably has the widest range while some of the micro-minerals have the narrowest, such as copper and manganese. Sodium has long been on the overdose list while many of the other nutrients are low, especially magnesium, potassium, B12, and vitamins D and K.

The two important concepts to focus here are first:

  • A vitamin deficiency would compromise processes that need that vitamin, either through low intake or competition from excesses of other nutrients. While overt disease states may not be evident or develop, enough processes could fail to influence small areas of body performance. It could be as simple as delaying digestion and absorption, or more pronounced as limiting neurotransmitter production with resulting forgetfulness, or influencing functions such as early programmed cell death.
  • Second, excesses of a vitamin cause the body to create avenues and actions to limit the high levels by either limiting absorption or even by the creation of new enzymes to speed breakdown and elimination, often by increasing kidney action. Problems can be compounded by an abrupt ending of supplementation while these avenues and enzymes are still in place. This creates a process called a rebound effect where the body creates a deficiency even though there is still some coming in from the diet.  

Studies are showing prostate health is compromised by both low and high vitamin D levels.

 SIDEBAR: Not all functions are known for nutrients. It has just come out that the body may use some generated free radicals for positive functions before they are neutralized. High anti-oxidant vitamin intakes could hinder this function by deactivating the radical before it completes these necessary and often vital actions.  The SELECT study on selenium may have uncovered one of these limiting actions hindering insulin/glucose uptake by cells fostering increased diabetes rates.

 

Premise two: Body wisdom controls nutrient absorption from foods.

The body has various methods to control how much of a nutrient is absorbed out of foods or supplements. If more of a nutrient is consumed then the body needs, avenues are activated to eliminate the excess. If you take in less, the body stops the eimination of that nutrient, such as calcium being reabsorbed out of the colon while waiting to be excreted. This helps explain why some people can have strong bones on only 350 mg of calcium a day. BUT NOT AMERICANS, or at least not with the overall dietary habits of today. Ideally, proper levels to supplement would be determined partly by measuring the amount consumed versus the amount eliminated to indicate the level of digestive and absorption capabilites for body needs.

SIDEBAR: Scienctists working on vitamin formulations attempt to short-circuit this natural mechanism in mineral absorption control by utilizing unique forms, often not seen by the body in natural foods.

PREMISE THREE: Vitamins exhibit a synergistic dance with many other nutrients in performing body functions. For calcium, these factors, as mentioned in Hollow Bone Saga, include: Net acid load (protein amounts,  caffeine levels, simple carbohydrates and sugar intake, phosphorus levels,  etc), salt intake, vegetable and fruit consumption, mineral intake (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, fluoride, copper, boron, silicon) activity level including weight-bearing exercises, body weight (heavier is more protective),  bone size (smaller of more concern), and vitamin status (A, D, K, B complex, and C). If one or more of these nutrients are in short supply or even in excess, the whole system feels the pain by either limiting the building of vital body materials or having to spend energy to eliminate the excess to achieve body balances for optimum and regular body processes. 

PREMISE FOUR:  The body has multiple levels of compensation available to survive short term shortages or excesses.   These mechanisms work quite well, often for many years, but there are costs to the body that eventually will have to be repaid. The effects of low omega-3 fats on brain development in childhood may not fully manifest until later in life. Osteoporosis really starts when you are young. By age thirty your bone building has peaked. A few years of negative calcium balance as a child could be responsible for bone fractures sixty years later. Vitamin B12 stores up in the body enough to survive many years of low dietary amounts. The fat soluble vitamins A, D, and K store excesses in fat tissues. Clinical Programs in Africa only have to give children two high doses a year of vitamin A to limit deficiency conditions. A low or no fat diet will eventually deplete these vitamins but it could take many years. These adaptive responses of the body to survive at all costs is both a blessing and a curse. It prevents people from knowing just how much abuse they are actually doing to their bodies. You can't see the damage to artery walls, or kidney cells, or dying brain cells until it is often too late. Autopsies on 18 year old soldiers during the Vietnam War showed damaging plaque had already begun forming in their artery walls. The blessing is that once discovered and dietary and lifestyle patterns changed, progression of the condition can be halted, and in some situations can also regenerate again back to more or less normal. Dr Dean Ornish's cardiovascular disease program is an example.

PREMISE FIVE: Nutrient needs vary with age and gender.    Age and gender present unique hormonal and structural diversity that requires various levels of nutrients and delivery methods. Running the gauntlet from an infant's "breast milk only diet" to the aging senior with limited energy and digestive capabilities. Almost every decade of life presents it's own special needs and challenges. 

PREMISE SIX: Different forms of the same vitamin can exhibit a variety of function levels. Calcium is available in over a dozen different forms or sources. Vitamin K comes in three versions. One vitamin K form lasts in the body for about 2 hours while another stays for 3 days. Vitamin E has at least 6 different forms and vitamin D has two supplemental forms, each with different activity levels. Knowing when one is preferred over the others requires some knowledge.

SIDEBAR: Sometimes the different forms are meaningless as the nutrient is simply stripped away from whatever carrier it came in with by the digestive system and recombined with a new carrier element using built-in body wisdom.

Vitamin E comes in over six different forms. Natural or synthetic, with or without esters. One particular ester form gets better results than the non-ester forms in a certain blood condition, while the non-ester forms are more beneficial in other situations. Again without some insight you could be using the less valuable form. 

PREMISE SEVEN: The human gene pool creates vast variations in vitamin needs.  Individualism is taken to extremes in nutritional requirements. These differences exist not only between ethnic groups but even down to differences among family members. This makes research interpretation very difficult and increases potential biases. The vitamin daily requirements the government scientists establish are based on this fact and have allowances built in to at least cover 97% of people for that vitamin's known functions. Future criteria for medical examinations will test for the many genotypes. Treatments are known to be more effective for certain types and not effective for others. Using this information will increase medicine's effectiveness and reduce side effects as well as determine more accurate vitamin needs.

PREMISE EIGHT: Some Natural and synthetic vitamins have vast differences. It's simply time for truth to prevail. The statement that all vitamins are the same was incorrect from day one. Unfortunately, the science at the time did not have all the facts and made some assumptions that are now verified as never having been true. Some versions of natural and synthetic vitamins have different structures, different function activity levels, absorption rates, and even toxicity levels. Synthetic vitamin E reaches a toxic level before the natural form. Scientists are aware of these facts. It is mainly a marketing story for those making and selling the synthetic vitamins that this issue has persisted so long. Synthetic vitamins do have many of the same functions as the natural, but there are a few important differences you should know.

The body has the ability to convert synthetic folic acid into the natural folate form in the liver. Although at higher levels, "unconverted" synthetic folic acid can spill over into the blood stream which creates a situation that has only recently started to get study attention. The early results are not favorable. But the main complaint against a few synthetic vitamins is that they can block out and lower body actions of natural vitamins. Synthetic vitamin E exhibits this undesirable action against not only vitamin K, but also even other members of the vitamin E family. 

PREMISE NINE: Science has yet to discover all the functions that vitamins perform in the body. This gap in knowledge warrants that a more conservative approach should be exercised in supplement choices. Science classifies nutrients as either essential to life or as non-essential based upon research up to this point. Here is an example that points out the possible shortcomings of such a system. Scientists can duplicate seawater in the lab to the degree that you could not tell the difference between the real and the man made. But when a fish is put in the man-made water, it dies after a relatively short time. If just a few drops of real seawater are dropped into the man-made water, the fish will survive.  Just having the same chemicals is not always the complete answer. Nature has a few magic tricks as to how she arranges things, like molecules.  This information will be important in showing the differences between natural vitamins and man-made synthetic ones. If you approach the current knowledge about vitamins with a closed mind to nature's wisdom, you are likely to miss some still waiting to be discovered vital functions.

PREMISE TEN: The LIVER is the ultimate decision maker as to how effective the different vitamin forms function in the body. This seems like a very straight forward way to measure how the different vitamin forms operate. Between synthetic, isolated, complexed, cultured, fermented, food based, and natural food source, the one that increases the blood plasma co-enzyme vitamin levels the most, wins. The liver pretty much doesn't care what the source of the vitamin form, but only if all the chemical elements are present for it to produce the vitamin co-enzyme form. For vitamin B3, which is niacin, that form is nicotinadenine dinucleotide.  The co-enzyme form is the only active status for vitamins. These are the forms that are either stored, transported, or used in metabolic processes. 

Why do you think this remains such a mystery? The food-form vitamin companies should be jumping all over this one. But so far they have not. A few studies hint at this but no hard and fast results showing advantages. Mega dosages of any vitamin form could overwhelm the liver and create higher than normal non-active forms which could create havoc before the kidneys are able to eliminate or neutralize.

Some vitamin companies create formulas using the co-enzyme vitamin forms. These forms should create an advantage as this is the ultimate form of action for vitamins. The only question needing verification is over the issue of the speed of breakdown of this form in the body. The liver will get its own article since it is so vital to health and plays a major role in supplement usage, including rates of breakdown.

Example:

Alpha-carotene & cancer - greater risk of lung cancer may be associated with low intake of alpha-carotene, not beta-carotene according to researchers - Brief Article

Nutrition Action Healthletter, June, 1996

Call it the beta-carotene quandary. Researchers are scrambling to figure out why foods rich in beta-carotene seem to reduce the risk of lung cancer while high doses of beta-carotene supplements seem to Increase the risk.

One theory--that massive doses of betacarotene keep people from absorbing other substances in fruits and vegetables that may be the real protectors--now has new support from a study from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.

Regina Ziegler and co-workers analyzed the diets that 763 men recalled eating before they were diagnosed with lung cancer. She compared the diets to those of 564 similar men with no cancer.

The results: Lung cancer was more closely associated with a low intake of alpha-carotene than with a low intake of beta-carotene. Among the men who were current or recent smokers, a diet poor in beta-carotene increased the risk of lung cancer by 60 percent, while a diet poor in alpha-carotene roughly doubled the risk.

Alpha- and beta-carotene usually occur in the same foods. Only seven of the men had frequently eaten foods that are especially rich in beta-carotene (like spinach and other leafy greens) and had infrequently eaten foods that are rich in both carotenes (like carrots and sweet potatoes). All seven got lung cancer.

"It is premature to conclude that alphacarotene is protective in humans," says Ziegler. "The most rational way to reduce lung cancer risk is to eat a variety of vegetables and fruits and, most important, to not smoke."

Journal of the National Cancer Institute 88: 612, 1996.

 RESEARCH Point from above Article

Every month hundreds of studies are ongoing to discover how the body uses nutrients. A fundamental problem that develops out of these studies is that only one or just a few body systems or nutrients are being monitored. Other body functions and processes can be influenced but won't be discovered because the scientists are not looking at them. This, coupled with the fact that many disease states take many years to develop, leads to mis-information and incomplete or faulty study results and meanings for application. Research has not studied all the areas of nutritional influence. But since one needs a starting point, the past and current research is all that is available. The rest is still "trial and error" observation. Much of the information made to sound like fact is really just speculation. This is the time to read the "Before You Take...another vitamin" article, as well as Interpretive Studies.

The following Reference from UK has all the research studies used to determine safe upper limits for each nutrient. Excellent resource. Very readable. 

 http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/labellingnutrition/supplements/discus_paper_amount_vitamins.pdf   

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