The Regulators That Control How The Body Runs
By William R. Kellas, Ph.D
What are vitamins?
Vitamins and minerals are the micronutrients (micro means small) needed by the body in amounts much smaller than an ounce. If you compare the human body to a car, macronutrients such as carbohydrates are like the gasoline, and micronutrients are like the spark plugs and regulators. Just as the car cannot run without both, neither can your body operate very well without a balance of these vital components. Vitamins regulate our metabolism through our enzyme systems and, like an electrical system regulates the firing of a car’s spark plugs, they similarly keep our body systems functioning at peak performance.
All vitamins are essential to the normal functioning of the body, and a deficiency in even one vitamin (or mineral) is like one missing spark plug — our bodies will not function optimally no matter what other nutrients are present. In fact, each vitamin and mineral is so important that a severe deficiency, or lack of any one of them, can endanger your life! It is no accident that the word “vitamin” comes from the same word root as “vital”, meaning necessary. It cannot be said that one vitamin or mineral is more important than another. Balance and sufficiency is key.
What are vitamins good for?
Although nearly all vitamins are useful to nearly all parts of the body, some vitamins target specific areas.
What is the difference between vitamins and minerals?
Vitamins are organic in the chemical sense of the word; that is, they contain carbon, while minerals do not. A mineral is a single ion (electrically charged form of an element), while vitamins are compounds, or combinations of atoms.
Do vitamins work alone?
The micronutrients do not work in isolation. They are synergistic, or interdependent. An excess or deficiency of one of them will affect the function of others. For this reason not only the absolute amount but the balance is important. No one nutrient can substitute for another.
Where are vitamins found?
Vitamins are found in food, extracted from food, or synthesized in the laboratory to be chemically identical to naturally occurring vitamins. A few vitamins such as vitamin A can be synthesized by the body from certain foods, and biotin and vitamin K can be made in the bowel by friendly bacteria. Most vitamins, however, must be ingested in the form of food or supplements.
Are synthetic vitamins identical to natural vitamins from food?
Yes and no. With synthetic vitamins, the molecular structure of the vitamin is the same as that of the natural vitamin as far as science knows today, but that isn’t the whole story. Natural vitamins from food sources contain cofactors without which the vitamin does not work as it should. For example, a molecule of synthetic ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is identical to a molecule of natural ascorbic acid. However, the natural ascorbic acid has co-factors called bioflavonoids. In addition, vitamin C, a mineral chelator, grabs hold of minerals and metals on its journey through the body.
If you take pure ascorbic acid, especially in large doses, it may deplete the body of essential minerals, especially copper. Food which naturally contains vitamin C usually contains some copper to offset this. If you are taking vitamin C supplements, copper and lysine should also be taken. The copper and lysine form copper lysinate, a chelated compound that is resistant to removal by vitamin C. Large doses (1-6 grams) of vitamin C are sometimes taken to ward off a cold or flu. Although vitamin C has some antihistamine action, which reduces the symptoms, vitamin C’s removal of copper and virus fighting copper lysinate can actually worsen the illness unless copper and lysine are also taken.
How should vitamins be taken?
Vitamins are synergistic with food and are meant to be taken as part of your food intake, preferably in the morning. They should usually not be taken with minerals, although there are some exceptions. An adequate intake of healthy oils is necessary for the proper assimilation of oil-soluble vitamins.
Do vitamins increase your energy?
Vitamins are not pep pills. They have no caloric or energy value of their own. However, since vitamin deficiencies often show up as fatigue or lack of energy, among other symptoms, a correction of the particular deficiency can increase one’s energy and sense of well-being, but only to the extent that the fatigue was caused by the deficiency of vitamins.
What are the two basic types of vitamins?
There are two basic types of vitamins:
• Oil soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K
• Water soluble vitamin C and the B vitamins
There are other little-known nutrients that either are arguably necessary for life (vitamins B13, B17, or U), are included as part of a better-known vitamin (bioflavonoids as part of vitamin C), go by another name (niacin rather than vitamin B3), or are actually macronutrients (fatty acids are sometimes called Vitamin F). Vitamin D is sometimes considered to be a hormone.
Who needs more than the RDA of nutrients?
Most of us need more than the RDA for optimal health. Anyone with the following problems has increased nutrient needs:
• Poor digestion
• Smoking, alcohol use, other drugs
• Heavy metals such as mercury, nickel, cadmium
• Fungus, parasites, worms
• Infection of any type
• Cancer, autoimmune disease, AIDS
• Heavy exercise
• Chemical toxicity of any kind, which is more likely now than in 1941 when the RDAs were developed.
The body needs more nutrients under any less than optimal conditions because it has more work to do in healing or detoxifying. This is similar to the way a car going uphill has more work to do than a car on a level surface, and so needs more gas to function.
Can vitamins be toxic?
Oil soluble vitamins remain in the body far longer than water soluble vitamins. Although unused vitamin E is excreted after a few days, vitamins A and D can accumulate to the point of causing toxic symptoms if large doses are taken for a long period of time. To put this in perspective, however, vitamins even in excess are far less toxic than most drugs. The toxicity of oil-soluble vitamins lies in their potential for retention and accumulation by the body.
By contrast, unused water soluble vitamins are excreted rapidly. For example, note that vitamin B2 (riboflavin) colors urine bright yellow. If you take vitamin B2 alone or as part of the B complex, you should notice that your urine is bright yellow within an hour after taking it. Several hours later your urine color is back to normal. This shows that the body begins to excrete the excess of vitamin B2 — and by implication all water-soluble vitamins — within a very short time, and has completed doing so within a few hours. For this reason, water-soluble vitamins are best taken in smaller doses several times a day.
There are a couple of exceptions to the “water soluble vitamins are safe” rule. Niacin (vitamin B3) dilates the blood vessels and can cause a drop in blood pressure if taken in too large a dose (the amount varies, but over 100 mg should not be taken at once unless you have built up a tolerance to it). The drop in blood pressure can be dangerous if you have low blood pressure to begin with and take large excess. In addition, the histamine effect of niacin cause skin warmth and flushing, and a too-large dose can cause acute discomfort for up to an hour.
Some B vitamins, especially vitamin B6, can cause nerve damage in large excess, so large doses of these are not entirely harmless.
It is nearly impossible to obtain an excess of any vitamin through food sources. Most vitamin overdose symptoms can be reversed when excessive intake is stopped. Many side effects and symptoms are merely unpleasant, not toxic to the body.
Data taken from annual reports of the American Association of Poison Control Centers shows that in the seven-year period from 1983 to 1989, there were no deaths due to vitamins.
Dr. William R. Kellas is the co-founder for the Center For Advanced Medicine in Encinitas, CA; he is the host of a weekly syndicated talk show “Health Talk-A Second Opinion” heard Sat. from 11 a.m. to noon on KPRZ 1210 AM in the San Diego area and KKLA 99.5 in the LA and OC areas. He is also co-author of “Thriving In A Toxic World”, “Surviving The Toxic Crisis” and the author of “Toxic Immune Syndrome Cookbook.” For more information call 1-888-244-4420, check out his website at www.ctradvmed.com .
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