We’re deep into flu season and so many of us start to ramp up our daily doses as a result. This leads us to ask some interesting questions such as…
- Are there any risks associated with taking too many vitamins?
- Which vitamins should we be taking, and where should they be obtained?
- What kind of benefits can we expect from taking vitamin and mineral supplements?
These are the kind of questions we’ll be discussing in the following post.
History of Vitamin Supplementation
The health of our bodies depends on getting the optimal amount of vitamins and minerals. There are two ways to reach those optimal levels, through food or supplementation.
Our ancestors recognized there was a direct link between what they ate and how they felt and they relied on their diets to stay healthy. One example of this is the ancient Egyptians who discovered that eating liver allowed them to see better at night. Now we know that having a Vitamin A deficiency can cause blindness and that liver is a rich source of it. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather take a supplement rather than eat liver!
In the 1700’s, it became apparent that sailors were developing a disease that resulted in gum bleeding, poor wound healing, severe pain and sometimes death. Halfway through that century, Dr. James Lind recommended that to remedy this condition that the British Royal Navy use lemons and limes to address this. British sailors came to be known as “limeys”. Today we know that this disorder as Scurvy, which is a disorder that comes from a deficiency in vitamin C, and we know that citrus fruits are high in vitamin C.
Food manufacturers in the mid-1800’s began processing rice by removing the outer husk. With the increased consumption of white rice, a new disease began to emerge. Characterized by muscle wasting, weakness of the legs, difficulty walking, and mental confusion, it was labeled Beriberi. A scientist named Christiaan Eijkman also noticed that chickens were showing similar symptoms. As it happened these chickens were being fed white rice. Once the chickens began consuming unprocessed rice they recovered! Now we know that Beriberi is a result of having severe vitamin B1, or Thiamine deficiency. In 1912, Dr. Casimir Funk examined rice bran and isolated a complex of micronutrients therein and called them “vitamines”, now known as vitamins, such as Pellagra (vitamin B3 deficiency) and Rickets (vitamin D deficiency.
Fast forward to today, and the average American diet is packed with processed, genetically modified and nutrient deficient foods.
This means that it is particularly difficult to acquire the number of vitamins and minerals in our diets that are required for good health. This leads us to a very important question…
Will vitamin supplements help fill in the nutritional gaps?
What is a Vitamin?
A vitamin is an organic compound essential for good health, taken in limited amounts.
Generally, “vitamin” is a term used to encompass 4 groups of essential micro-nutrients that our body needs:
- Essential amino acids (needed in greater amounts than vitamins)
- Essential fatty acids
Vitamins have a diverse set of biochemical functions. Vitamin D, for example, can provide hormone-like functions, some are antioxidants, such as vitamin C and E, and Biotin is integral to making fatty acids.
Vitamins can be categorized into two types:
- Fat soluble
- Water Soluble
This pertains to how the vitamin is absorbed, stored and removed from the body. Water-soluble vitamins dissolve easily and any excesses are excreted in urine, whereas fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and fatty tissues for future use. It is important to follow your doctor’s recommendations or manufacturer’s directions on dosing as taking too many fat-soluble vitamins can be toxic. Over a prolonged period of use, even water-soluble vitamins can cause damage