Monday, November 5, 2012


   Several national surveys indicate that more than half of the U.S. population takes some form of vitamin and mineral supplement. Most malls across the country have some vitamin or GNC store that manages to keep its lights on all year long. The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) indicated that among adults, the dietary supplement usage was more prevalent in women than men. This is certainly the case in my house, my wife is always offering me a vitamin pill and of course, taking one herself on the daily basis. Before my paleo days, I simply accepted my daily dose of "Centrum for Men One a day" pill from my wife. Lovingly, the pill was always there with my breakfast Cheerios or Corn Flakes. The pill always made me sick, but I simply could not turn down the kind gesture of love. Who was I to argue, vitamins are good for you and they make you healthy, was the extent of my vitamin knowledge any ways. Little that I knew that every food you ate contained vitamins and minerals. The higher the education and income level the more dietary supplements you consumed, was another interesting fact revealed by the NHANES III survey. Once again, in my small sampling this fact was confirmed by conducting several secret interviews of my friends. Since adopting a paleo lifestyle, I have not consumed a single vitamin, asprin, tylenol, or any other type of over the counter pill. My recent blood works was clean and showed absolutly no vitamin or mineral deficiency. so what is all this fuss with the vitamins? why do folks continue to spend in the neighborhood of 70 billion dollars per year on dietary supplements and minerals? Why do we take vitamins? Why are women obsessed with vitamins? Lookout, because I did some reading and now I am full of vitamin information that I will gladly share with you at no charge..:-)

What are Vitamins?
   Vitamins are non-energy producing nutrients; like their counterparts, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, vitamins offer no calories. So if vitamins offer no calories, then how are they important in the functioning of a healthy body? The roles of vitamins is to help release energy from energy yielding nutrients and make it available to the body. For example, when I move my fingers to write these sentences, certain vitamins help release the energy from glucose which eventually gives electrical signals, that twitch my fingers and create motion. Without vitamin B the energy will not be fully released and will not produce motion. There are certain vitamins who assist in the production of various proteins and DNA molecules. Yes, vitamins are very important to our well being, that is why nature has cleverly packed them in foods that we consume. No need to consume a dietary supplement pill. The vitamins are classified by their solubility. The water soluble vitamins are B and C. The fat soluble vitamins are A, D, E, and K.

Water Soluble vitamins
   There are two major vitamins in this class; B and C. The water soluble vitmins are absorbed directly into the blood stream and help with many metabolic functions. The water soluble vitamins travel freely in water-filled parts of the body. Usually kidneys detect their excess and remove it via urine. Because of frequent disposition the water soluble vitamins need to be consumed more frequently. The amount of vitamin C consumed by us is mind boggling. We consume way more than what we need and end up excreting most of it via urine. The joke is that each time you urinate you are excreting few dollars worth of water soluble vitamins. Americans probably have the most expensive urine in the world..few billion dollars worth. The family of B vitamins contains 8 vitamins; they have collectively been labeled B complex vitamins. Below is an extremely over simplified function of each vitamin in B complex family:
  • Vitamin B1 Thiamin is responsible for converting carbohydrates into energy. Thiamin is also responsible for the well being of the nervous system. Thiamin deficiency is rare and usually occurs in alcoholics, who tend to obtain most of their energy from empty calories and forget to eat real meals.
  • Vitamin B2 Riboflavin is another coenzyme involved in many metabolic reactions. Another important vitamin in releasing energy from the carbohydrates. Riboflavin is responsible for processing the oxygen and ensuring adequate oxygen supply is provided to the internal organs.
  • Vitamin B3 Niacin plays a major role in creating various hormones in addition to the metabolism of glucose in your body. Pellagra is the disease caused by the deficiency of niacin. In patients Pellagra causes severe diarrhea, skin rashes, and dementia. 
  • Vitamin B5 Pantothenic Acid is very important in the synthesis of lipids, neurotransmitters, steroid hormones, and hemoglobin. 
  • Vitamin B6 is another important vitamin helping the breakdown of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Vitamin B6 also assists in the synthesis of genetic materials. 
  • Vitamin B7 Biotin is important in metabolism of fatty acids and amino acids to produce glucose. In prolong period of starvation, biotin assist in the process of gluconeogenesis to produce glucose from non carbohydrate sources such as amino acids. Another way for nature in preserving and prolonging life. The bacteria in the GI tract can also produce biotin and make up the dietary gap.
  • Folate is also known as folic acid. Folic acid works closely with vitamin B12 in the synthesis of DNA in growing cells. Hence, folic acid is an essential part of the prenatal kit and is commonly consumed by pregnant women to assist the growing baby. 
  • Vitamin B12 and folate work closely in the synthesis of amino acids. Vitamin B12 in addition to helping release energy from carbohydrates, also plays a major role in keeping the red blood cells healthy. Vitamin B12 can only be obtained from animal products. 
Vitamin C
   Vitamin C is the second water soluble vitamin. Vitamin C has a dual personality. In some settings, vitamin C acts as coenzyme helping an enzyme complete its job of releasing energy from nutrients, and in some settings vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, because of its unique ability to quickly lose electrons. In the antioxidant role, vitamin C is able to bind to the free radicals and remove them from the body. The free radicals are molecules that are missing electrons and are not complete. These free radicals are looking for other molecules and cells to bind to and complete their existence. Most often free radicals end up binding to iron, magnesium, and calcium and prevent these important minerals from being absorbed in the body. Vitamin C sacrifices its own life to protect the hundreds of water soluble substances from free radicals. Vitamin C also helps form the fibrous structural protein tissues called collagen. Collagen is the building block for forming bones and teeth. Collagen also helps when a person is wounded by creating a scar and sealing up the wounded area. Collagen is also responsible for holding cells together, especially the arterial walls that  must withstand a constant pressure from heart pumping blood. The popular belief that common colds are cured by vitamin C is not true. Once again media plays a major role in spreading this myth. To this date there is no scientific evidence that vitamin C cures common colds. Vitamin C is probably the most consumed vitamin in the world. Folks consume it in almost toxic quantities. The toxic effects of vitamin C are abdominal cramps, nausea, and diarrhea. Common sense advice, no need to spend your hard earned money on vitamin C supplements, most fruits and vegetables contain ample amount of vitamin C. Paleo folks are covered by eating variety of vegetables and seasonal fruits.

Vitamin Name Food Source
B1 Thiamin Lean meats, spinach, green peas, squash, acorn
B2 Riboflavin Organ meats, lean meats, eggs, broccoli, and spinach
B3 Niacin Organ meats (liver), fish, poultry, and red meats.
B5 Pantothenic Acid Organ meats, mushroom, avocado, and broccoli
B6 Vitamin Meats, fish, poultry, potatoes, and non-citrus fruits.
B7 Biotin Bacteria in the GI tract can make biotin. Eggs
Folate or Folic Acid Spinach, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, okra, asparagus.
B12 Meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, and eggs.
Vitamin C Citrus fruits, most vegetables and fruits.

The paleo folks have nothing to worry about. The foods listed in the above table provide sufficient vitamins and there is no need to consume any water soluble vitamin supplements.
Fat Soluble vitamins
   The fat soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K. The fat soluble vitamins can be stored in the fat tissue and are used by the body on the need basis. Because of their long term storage, they don't need to be consumed often. On the flip side if consumed in large quantities, they can be toxic. Below is an simplified function of each fat soluble vitamin:
  • Vitamin A exists in three active forms in the body:  retinol, retinal, and retinoic acid. Collectively they are called retinoids. One of the major roles of vitamin A is promoting vision. Vitamin A helps maintain crystal clear outer window, the cornea, and participates in the conversion of light energy into nerve impulses at the retina. Despite its most important role in vision, only one thousandths of the body's vitamin A is in the retina. Much more is available in the cells lining the body. In this role vitamin A participates in protein synthesis and cells differentiation. Other words, vitamin A differentiate inner cells from the outer cells. Thanks to vitamin A, otherwise our outer skin could have mucous, not a good thing for our social life. Retinol, one of the active form of vitamin A participates in creating sperms in men, and in women supports normal fetal development during pregnancy. One of the major deficiency of vitamin causes blindness, and overdose of vitamin A is simply toxic to the body. Beef liver eaten in large quantities can provide almost an overdose of vitamin A. 
  • Vitamin D There is no need to consume vitamin D via foods. Just spend enough time in the sun. Vitamin D plays a major role in bone growth. Vitamin D is not an essential vitamin, our body can make it from ample exposure to sunlight.
  • Vitamin E is a fat soluble antioxidant and one of the body's main defenders against free radicals molecules. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of chemical reactions happening every second inside our bodies. These chemical reactions are occurring whether we are sleeping or in a waking state. The by products of these chemical reactions are the free radical molecules. These molecules are usually missing electrons or some critical carbon, oxygen, or hydrogen to make them stable. Most often these free radicals end up bonding with iron, magnesium, and other trace minerals to complete their existence. Of course this is bad for the body, now these trace minerals are not available for absorption. Vitamin E actively stops the chain reactions of free radicals producing more free radicals. If free radicals go undetected for a period of time, they end up making compounds and may even lead to cancerous cells. You can certainly over do vitamin E and high dosage is toxic and may interfere with blood clotting actions of vitamin K. 
  • Vitamin K The main function of vitamin K is to create blood clot. The vitamin name comes from the Danish word koagulation coagulation or clotting. If vitamin K was not present in our bodies, a simple pin prick on the skin will drain all the blood in our body in matter of hours. A bucket with a small hole is rendered useless for holding water. Because of the importance of blood clotting, the bacteria in our GI tract produces vitamin K in abundant supply. 
Vitamin Name      Food Source
Vitamin A              Spinach, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, beef liver, and butter squash.
Vitamin D              Sun bathing. 
Vitamin E              Nuts seeds, oils, liver and eggs.
Vitamin K              Mostly leafy vegetables, liver, and synthesized by the bacteria in GI tract. 

The paleo folks have nothing to worry about. The foods listed in the above table provide sufficient vitamins and there is no need to consume any fat soluble vitamin supplements.

   There are many factors why we are obsessed with vitamins and supplements. One of the major factor is media influence. The media tends to sensationalize everything and creates a fear factor. If we don't do this then this will happen. Usually, the worst possible scenario is presented as the consequence for not taking the supplements. The real fact is that most foods contain the necessary vitamins and there is absolutely no shortage of vitamins in our diet. But somehow, we have collectively bought into the plethora of messages from the media that we need to take supplements for our well being. So most adults simply take vitamin supplements as dietary insurance, just in case they are not getting enough nutrients from their food. In 1930's many discoveries were made in the biochemical science and most of the vitamins were named and classified, still the primary source of obtaining vitamins was eating variety of foods. About 50 years ago, no one was spending their money on buying the dietary supplements for a simple reason--the dietary supplements did not exist. The dietary supplement are a recent phenomena, of course popularized by the media. The prenatal vitamins hit the market about 30 years ago. Since, the responsibility of giving birth to a new baby lies exclusively with women, the women became the first consumers for vitamins, calcium, folic acid, and host of other prenatal care nutrients. This perhaps explains the reason, why women are more prevalent users of vitamins and supplements than men. As mentioned earlier that just few decades ago, no one even heard of buying vitamin supplements. The women gave birth as usual. The men went about their business. There were no prenatal vitamins like folic acids, or calcium. The expecting mothers simply ate different foods and their cravings changed from child to child. I have observed many pregnant ladies in my country eating a dried piece of clay from the local river. It never made any sense, why would pregnant ladies want to eat a piece of dirt. The piece of clay probably contained many trace minerals that expected mothers could use during their pregnancy. The various cravings also force the expectant mothers to eat different foods to fullfil the deficient vitamins or nutrient gaps left by their diet. An advice for the fathers to be; don't argue with your pregnant wife when she asks for the peanut butter, jelly, banana, ice cream, avocado sandwich in the middle of the night. It is not her, the growing baby inside her is probably deficient in some nutrient that only the sandwich can provide. Nature has all the bases covered. During the year, the human body  requires and craves for different foods. That is why eating seasonal fruits and vegetables is very beneficial. The seasonal vegetables and fruits provide the optimal nutrients at the right time of the year. The watermelon just doesn't taste good in the month of December. 
   The role vitamins play for our well being is uncontested; they are essential part of our diet. The good thing is that foods that we eat contain all the vitamins. Heck, the foods our paleolithic ancestors ate contained sufficient vitamins. I am a big fan of herbal medicine, I believe herbal extracts are good and should be incorporated in our diets. I personally use spices like turmeric and cumin. Not only they are good for flavoring many dishes, but they also have many medicinal qualities. Like everything in the nutritional field, the nutritionist scientists took another wrong turn in promoting the use of vitamin supplements. Maybe the big profit producing industry had something to do with influencing the nutritional scientists. Vitamin supplements are a very recent phenomena. We are all looking for that silver bullet or one pill that fixes everything. The media plays to this sentiment and we humans in search for that ultimate fix always end up buying into the hoopla. After being on the paleo diet for more than a year, I recently had my blood works done and found no deficiency of minerals or vitamins. This past year I have not consumed a single multivitamin pill or any other mineral supplement. Our paleo ancestors were pretty smart, they ate good wholesome foods, got plenty of sun, exercise, and sleep. Buying family size vitamin packs from Costco was never in their daily plans, instead they looked for fresh game to kill. So the question is do we need vitamin supplements? The answer is not really, especially, if you are on paleo diet. Common sense advice is to save your money and spend it on grass fed beef, free-range eggs, or eat some liver.


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