Test what your mamma told you.
Did your mother have her ABC of vitamins and minerals right? If you’re practicing what she preached, will you be getting all the good stuff that your body needs? We took some of the most common beliefs about vitamins and minerals to Guy Wood, a naturopathic pharmacist with a special interest in optimal health and sports nutrition.
Mom says: Vitamin C can cure a cold.
Guy says: Cure is a very strong word. There is still no cure for viral infections, but Vitamin C can reduce the duration and severity of infection by supporting your immune system and prevent colds, amongst other illnesses, when taken daily. So rather than waiting until you have a cold, use Vitamin C to help avoid colds - either take low doses more frequently or use a slow release form because Vitamin C is water soluble and cannot be stored by the body.
The issue of whether one can overdose is a point of much controversy. Do stick to manufacturers’ guidelines and only use higher doses in the short term (a few days) for a cold, for example. It’s important to note that vitamins have different effects at different doses, so one would take a higher dose for a cold than one would on a daily basis for optimal health. The average human has 5 000mg in their tissues. The average Westerner, however, eats only 50mg per day (the Government recommends 60mg) and requires 20mg to avoid scurvy, the deficiency disease, but a realistic minimum would be 200mg a day and for optimal health 1000mg a day.
Vitamin C is an anti oxidant, but at higher doses could become an oxidant and so possibly kill infection. But remember that it also has an oxidizing effect on your own body’s tissues, so that’s why you would not want to continue taking too high a dose (especially if you have a disease called Haemochromatosis).
Mom says: Calcium builds strong teeth and bones. The more, the better.
Guy says: In particular with minerals, it’s important to stick to manufacturers’ guidelines, and especially so with calcium, as there’s a tendency to fortify food products such as cereals with this. (The average human has about 1kg of calcium in his body.) Always try to use a multi-mineral supplement that contains at least both calcium and magnesium.
The reason is that calcium and magnesium use the same channel for absorption across the cell membrane, so for every molecule of calcium that is absorbed, one of magnesium is excreted. There is some thinking that magnesium supplementation may even be more important than calcium supplementation due to rumoured magnesium depletion in our soil - farmers fertilize their lands with minerals such as potassium and phosphorus, but not magnesium.
Fair-headed women with parents who suffer from osteoporosis or who have yo-yo dieted during their life are at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis and will benefit from additional calcium and magnesium supplementation. They should try to use a multi-mineral supplement.
Cyclists, because of the intensity of the exercise and the fact that cycling is non weight-bearing (the bones are not sufficiently stressed or flexed to encourage them to harden and so prevent from breaking), should take additional calcium and magnesium supplementation. This may help prevent muscle cramps too.
Endurance athletes also have a far higher demand for calcium so should supplement, eat well and have bone mineral density screens, especially if prone to osteoporosis.
Mom says: Eat your spinach: it’s full of iron. (Remember Popeye?)
Guy says: There is a misconception that spinach is super high in iron, but this arose as a result of a technical error by the company producing tinned spinach last century.
Meat is still the best form of iron (because the animal has already assimilated the iron for you, so you’re getting it in a very bio-available form), but it’s important to remember that green leafy vegetables are very important to the diet. Besides being very high in fibre, which is necessary in preventing colon cancer, something that is a very real risk, they are high in all kinds of minerals and therefore good for you.
Mom says: Carrots are good for your eyesight. (Ever seen a rabbit with glasses?)
Guy says: The pigment that makes carrots bright orange belongs to a large family of nutrients known as Carotenoids. These are found in all brightly coloured vegetables and fruits.
At any one second, your body is busy with an unimaginable number of different chemical reactions that make it function optimally, and the carotenoids are involved in many of these, including all the miniscule but vital processes within the actual eye as it converts light to sight. So certainly the lack of carotenoids would cause your eyes to function sub-optimally. South Africans, being outdoors-lovers, get a lot more UV ray exposure, which oxidises our cells and is particularly harmful to both skin and eyes.
Mom says: You must eat a colourful plate of food.
Guy says: Definitely – make your plate as close to a rainbow as possible. (Without resorting to processed or artificial colours. So, no, Niknaks and Smarties do not count!)
Many of our habits make our lives more efficient but are not necessarily good for us, and we end up with poor food habits. People who rely on fast food – those who eat a lot of pre-packed or long-life food – should take a particularly careful look at their choices. A healthy, varied diet is the key to getting as wide a spectrum as possible of all the nutrients we require, since of the approximately 80 nutrients known to be beneficial to humans, multivitamin and mineral supplements generally only cater for less than half of these.
Mom says: Overdosing on vitamins just makes for expensive pee.
Guy says: When it comes to water soluble vitamins – which is a large proportion of them – it’s not always best to take 100% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) at one time, but better to split the dose over the day, otherwise you may just wee a lot of it out. We also have different nutrient requirements from time to time, for example the body will happily absorb 100 times more Vitamin C than normal when we are acutely sick (if, of course, it is available).
Vitamin B is a relatively large class of vitamins and very important because it plays a role in so many biochemical reactions in the body, including the efficient delivery of oxygen to the brain and the rest of the body, and support and functioning of a healthy nervous system, which is really the telecommunications system of the body. However this vitamin cannot be stored by the body once ingested. After approximately four hours you have used up all your body has.
Vitamin B2, in particular, is the one that creates bright yellow urine, so the common conception that you are weeing all of your vitamins out is not necessarily true, but certainly an excess of this one vitamin would be very evident. Ironically though, Vitamin B2 deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies.
However, new thinking claims that we are more concerned with optimal health than we are with simply remaining disease free. This school of thought suggests that RDA doses are too low, and that we should be following Optimal Daily Allowances (ODA), though these exact quantities are still being established.
Any more questions?
E-mail Guy Wood at Constantia Pharmacy: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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