Vitamins: Why Do We Take Supplements
supplements are so common among us. We can easily buy them at
supermarkets or our local drugs store. But what are vitamins? And why
should we take them? Nobel Laureate, Fritz Lipmann, once commented,
"Doctors like to prescribe vitamins and millions of people take them,
but it requires a good deal of biochemical sophistication to understand
why they are needed and how the organism uses them."
essential micronutrients that the body cannot supply in sufficient
quantities. They therefore must be obtained from the environment (diet
or supplements). For simplification, vitamins are classified in two
groups, according to whether they are water-soluble or fat-soluble. The
water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins;
these are considered for the most part relatively non-toxic. The
fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, K, tend to accumulate in tissues and can
be quite toxic at high doses.
What are Enzymes?
Enzymes are the
work horses of the body in that they function to facilitate biochemical
reactions necessary for activities such as muscle contraction, wound
healing, digestion of food, metabolism of carbohydrate, fat and protein,
and virtually all the numerous chemical reactions necessary for growth
and vitality. The body manufactures approximately 4,000 different
enzymes, and 22% of them require a helper molecule, a coenzyme, to carry
out their activity. The relatively tiny B vitamin fits snugly into a
specific site on the enzyme, much like a ball in a catcher's mitt. This
interaction between enzyme and vitamin must be a near perfect fit for
the enzyme to be active. Once this reaction is complete, the enzyme, now
known as a holoenzyme, can perform work for the cell.
Why should we supplement with vitamins?
especially as we age, require more nutrients than the diet supplies.
Unfortunately, few of us eat the recommended 5-7 servings of fruits and
vegetables per day. Scientific evidence continues to accumulate to
strengthen the view that vitamin deficiencies are more common than
previously thought. It has been estimated that at least 50 human genetic
diseases are caused by specific errors in the DNA blueprint, and that
these diseases can be corrected or attenuated by taking vitamins
several-fold in excess of the recommended daily intake. Other disorders
that may be related to genetic factors and vitamin deficiencies include
fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, migraine, rage, depression,
bipolar, and other more minor disorders.
How can mega-dosing with a particular vitamin make up for some genetic
Vitamins must fit
tightly in the pocket of the enzyme for full activity. If an enzyme is
produced from a gene containing a genetic error (especially in the
formation of the vitamin pocket), the error will most likely affect the
ability of the enzyme to bind with the vitamin. This will result in
reduced enzyme activity, because the vitamin will not be properly fitted
to the enzyme. However, enzymologists working in the laboratory have
demonstrated a method to force the vitamin into a pocket of an enzyme
with low binding affinity. The technique involves raising the
concentration of the vitamin, thereby increasing the chance of a
productive interaction between the vitamin and its binding site (pocket)
on the enzyme.
This is precisely
what is believed to occur in some of the 50 or so known genetic diseases
that are corrected or improved by ingestion of mega doses of vitamins.
The high doses essentially force the imperfect pocket to pop into the
vitamin-binding conformation, thereby creating the active holoenzyme.
Other genetic errors can also interfere with the transport of the
vitamin into the cell. For example, a protein known as intrinsic factor
is produced by the stomach and functions as a vehicle to carry vitamin
B-12 from the intestine into the plasma. A defect in this factor will
also produce a B-12 deficiency, which can be corrected by B-12
injections or high doses of sublingual B-12; both of which by-pass the
intrinsic factor block.
vitamins have carrier proteins, this type of error is potentially more
common than presently realized. Furthermore, stomach acidity is
important in vitamin absorption and it is known that some individuals
(more common in the elderly) have low vitamin absorption due to abnormal
stomach acidity, which again may be corrected by high-dose vitamin
Vitamins may also
serve a role in protecting enzymes from free radical attack. Enzymes are
longer-lived when they are in the company of substances they normally
work with or bind to, such as the vitamins. The enzyme-bound vitamin
affords a shield from free radical attack, as well as promoting a more
compact, stable enzyme structure.
How much should one take?
One should avoid
taking vitamins in excess of the safe upper limit (UL), unless
prescribed by a qualified physician. This safe UL can be several hundred
times the recommended daily required intake, yet clearly within the
range of the vitamins and minerals present in one multiple vitamin plus
a super-B complex per day. A complete list of vitamin-mineral UL can be
obtained from the US government National Institutes of Health Office of
Government's dietary guideline of 5 to 7 fruits and vegetables per day
is widely cited, but often not well understood. Will 5 fruits and no
vegetables meet the guideline? What about all veggies and no fruit?
Could it be that they mean 5 to 7 fruits AND 5 to 7 vegetables?
examination of the guidelines reveals that the recommendation is to
consume at least 2 servings of fruits and 3 servings of vegetables per
day. The rationale is that different fruits and vegetables provide
different nutrients. For further information and details on what
constitutes a serving, go to Dietary Guidelines: Build a Healthy Base at
Although the need
for vitamins and minerals is widely recognized, most people don't bother
to take supplements that would ensure adequate vitamin intake. A
national survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
produced data indicating that 60% of the U.S. population had not taken
at least 1 vitamin or mineral in the past month.
Vitamin C is the
most commonly consumed vitamin, followed by several B vitamins. Vitamin
E is 7th, A is 8th and D is 9th on the list of the top ten most common
ingredients. Folic acid, well known for its importance during pregnancy,
consumption correlates with age, education, gender and geography. The
groups with the highest vitamin supplementation are those who are
non-Hispanic whites, women, 50 and over, have 13+ years of education,
and live in the West.
For most of us,
vitamins are synonymous with good health. Yet most Americans do not take
vitamins. Changing diets affects the need for vitamins, as does dosage
requirements, since older bodies don't absorb vitamins as well as
Ito Nakamura is an internet health entrepreneur specializing in marketing
contact lenses, health supplements; exercise equipment & beauty products.
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