Friday, June 19, 2009

Should I Take a Multi-Vitamin?

Vitamins and minerals are, of course, best absorbed when they come from our food. The digestive enzymes in our saliva and stomach start breaking down the food we eat as-soon-as it hits our mouth. The digestive process breaks down bites of food into small chemical parts that are picked up by the blood stream and delivered to the correct locations. A healthy individual who eats a balanced diet, with a variety of foods, typically can absorb everything they need from their food. What happens, though, when someone doesn't eat a variety, or their body isn't processing something exactly the way it should?

Food sensitivities
Occasionally, a specific food becomes unrecognizable by your bodies digestive system as a food substance. After your partially digested food enters your small intestines, tiny bacteria and other chemicals go to work breaking down the components and determine what each tiny piece is. If a broken down food is not recognized as food, the body deems it as an invader and attacks it. Gluten is a good example of a food substance that many people are not able to digest. When gluten is introduced to the intestinal tract and it is recognized as a foreign substance instead of a food, it causes an inflammatory response in the body. This can over time cause a plethora of symptoms, including auto-immune disease, and eventually mal-nutrition. To simplify this process, your body is spending so much time fighting off "the gluten*", that it has a harder time processing other foods too. This chain reaction can cause "leaky-gut" syndrome, allergic responses such-as eczema or migraines, and many other problems. To complicate the process even further, if this food sensitivity is causing an inability to absorb foods, guess what? Your body cannot absorb the nutrients in that food!

If someone has an illness that causes the body to use more of a specific vitamin or mineral than a healthy person, that person may need to supplement vitamins and minerals to make up for the deficiency. The other side of the coin is, if someone has an illness like Wilsons Disease which is a condition where the body can not properly handle copper, they may need other nutrients to help the body deal with the excess copper in the liver and other organs. Too much of some vitamins and minerals can cause toxicity which, if left untreated, can cause organ damage and even death in some cases.

Poor diet
Do you eat the proper amounts of fruits and vegetables? Have you looked at the Food Pyramid lately? You can visit the webpage here . Eating a balanced diet, for example: the proper amounts of food in the correct quantities & a variety of foods from all of the food groups, is the best way to ensure you are getting proper nutrition. If a person eats a large amount of one food, and not eating other foods, they are not providing the body with enough variety to extract the vitamins & minerals they need. For example: Joe loves cheeseburgers. Of his three meals a day at least one or maybe 2 of them are cheeseburgers and fries. He is getting protein from the meat, but probably more fat and cholesterol than he needs. He may be getting some vegetables such as onions, tomatoes, lettuce etc. French fries technically do not count as a vegetable. Potatoes are more starch than vegetable based, and they are high on the glycemic index. They are also deep-fat fried which adds more fat to his diet. Even if he eats a healthy breakfast, he is coming in very short on his dietary needs. He is not receiving enough calcium, vitamin's A, B complex, C, E, K or many other required vitamins and minerals. Not to mention his dietary fiber is very low. If he continues to eat this way for an extended period he can become mal-nourished due to a lack of variety in his diet. Another example is someone who chooses to eat only vegetables. Vegetarians often do not receive the proper amount of vitamins from the vegetables and fruits they eat, and they must make sure to get protein and fat from non-animal sources, they too, can suffer from shortages in vitamins and minerals.

Many people choose to supplement with one or more nutrients rather than taking a multi-vitamin. This can be beneficial if you are careful to make sure that you are using the proper dosages, and getting support from the other vitamins and minerals that are required for proper break down of these nutrients. For example: Calcium requires magnesium, in a specific ratio, in order to be absorbed. If you do not have enough magnesium the calcium is not broken down and therefore, is not used as calcium. Specific B vitamins and folic acid must be taken with a complete B vitamin source to be effective. There are many other vitamins and minerals that work together to provide the body with proper nutrition. If you are supplementing with one vitamin or mineral, you may want to check with your health professional to see if you have enough of the other required vitamins and minerals to ensure it will have the desired effect.

In Conclusion
As you can see, it takes some knowledge and care to ensure that you are receiving the proper nutrients from your diet. For many people a multi-vitamin from a good source, which is proven to provide the correct amounts of vitamins and minerals in a form that can be used by the body, is a great way to make sure their body is functioning at its optimum level. Many nutrients do require the assistance of other vitamins and minerals to do their jobs properly, if you are unsure of how to balance supplementation, a multi-vitamin may be the best way to supplement. In the case of specific deficiency states for example; subclinical/clinical scurvy, subclinical/clinical rickets, diabetes mellitus etc., specific individual supplements of vitamins and minerals may be required.

If you want to know more about how your body uses the vitamins and minerals in your food or supplements, speak to a health care professional that practices functional, naturopathic or holistic medicine. They will be happy to explain how it works, and can recommend proper supplements for you on an individual basis. We as humans are all different, we have different eating and exercise habits, and we each have different nutrition requirements depending on our level of health. If you take responsibility for your own health, you will find that you live a longer, healthier, life.

*Gluten is just one of many common food sensitivities that are commonly experienced. Many people have difficulty digesting cows milk, wheat, yeast and other common foods. Any time the body senses something does not belong, it treats it as an enemy and attacks it. This attack is what causes an immune response. Continued ingestion of a food that your body sees as a non-food will eventually cause undesirable symptoms and health concerns.

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