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Background on Nutrients. We are often given the advice to eat a variety of different foods that complement each other, because these are supposed to provide all the nutrients we need. However, recent studies and books point out that our diet does not contain enough of some critical nutrients. This is important information, and the stakes are very high -- in our society today there is an epidemic of diseases caused by nutrient deficiencies. By eating right, we can prevent common causes of heart disease and greatly reduce cancer and viral/bacterial infections.
The traditional meaning of "vitamin" is a chemical required in tiny amounts in the diet, so one might imagine that we only need small quantities of vitamins, and that they can be readily obtained from an ordinary well-balanced diet. However, our requirement for vitamin C (ascorbate) is not tiny -- we need several grams/day, more when sick. And it is virtually impossible to get enough vitamin D from food. Further, one might also imagine that our normal diet gives us enough magnesium. However, our requirement for magnesium is several hundred mg/day, but we don't get that much from our food.
Individuality of nutrient needs. As individuals we differ in our nutritional requirements because of differences in genetics, biochemistry, and daily life. Therefore, our needs for essential nutrients differ widely. Most of us are commonly malnourished in one way or another. These nutritional deficiencies are the cause of much illness and suffering, but are easy to correct, because for most of the essential nutrients the body can absorb and beneficially use a much higher amount than the minimum we need. For several nutrients including vitamins C & D and magnesium, to get enough we need to take special care, which usually means taking additional supplements. Further, as we age, we have a much worse problem -- as we get older we tend to eat fewer raw fruits and vegetables, and our aging digestive system has difficulty absorbing nutrition. Thus, older people tend to need a higher level of nutrients in their food to stay healthy.
Universality of nutrient benefits. A question often posed about nutritional supplements is, do they really provide big benefits? The answer is that a deficiency of these nutrients has been documented to have detrimental effects throughout the body on many aspects of our health. But these deficiencies aren't obvious because they have so many symptoms. The information listed below explains the importance of these nutrients and how to get enough of them. Doses shown are recommended for adults. Those with smaller or larger body weight may need to vary their dose, and those with special needs should see a nutrition-aware doctor.
To stay healthy: 3-10 grams/day. (For adults, 15-50 mg/pound/day; for children, half their age in grams/day.) Vitamin C is an anti-oxidant that helps to preserve the body's health, and is also essential for the synthesis of collagen, the most common protein in the body. Therefore vitamin C can prevent hemorrhagic stroke and reverse atherosclerosis, and can also prevent allergy and asthma. It is essential for most of the body's biochemical and protective processes, to hold the body together in growth and healing, and to strengthen the immune system. However, vitamin C deficiency is common in humans eating processed foods. To stay healthy, take 1-3 grams of vitamin C with water 1/2 hour before each meal. Capsules of 1000 mg (1 gm) are convenient, but vitamin C powder dissolved in juice can be absorbed more quickly. At a dose too high vitamin C is a mild laxative, and can cause bloating and gas, so if you notice this, reduce intake by 20-50% and take smaller doses spread throughout the day. Some people tolerate buffered ascorbate (sodium, calcium, or magnesium ascorbate) better for it is non-acid. Some people may prefer taking timed-release vitamin C before you go to bed at night.
When sick, 3-15 grams/hr. (15-100 mg/pound/hr) Vitamin C at a sufficiently high dose can prevent viral infections and neutralize bacterial toxins that spread with an acute deficiency. At first sign of symptoms (fever, headache, scratchy throat), many nutritionists recommend 1-3 gms every 20 minutes with water until symptoms are relieved. The body absorbs more vitamin C when under stress so when you're sick you can take more than normal. If you're already sick, take as much as you can tolerate for faster recovery. Continue taking vitamin C at a high dose until the symptoms of the cold/flu are gone. For other illness or any other type of physical and mental stress, vitamin C helps the body to recover. Vitamin C is relatively safe because it is non-toxic and non-immunogenic. See Hickey & Saul (2008) book below.
Daily dose: Summer. For people throughout most of the lower 48 states with light skin, a 20 minute daily exposure to direct midday summer sun (11-3 PM), on the face, lower arms and legs is sufficient. For people with dark skin, a daily exposure of the face, lower arms and legs up to 2 hours in the summer midday sun may be required. To minimize the sunburn risk, the best advice for those with light skin is to expose your back, arms, and legs to sunlight for 2-4 minutes, or for dark skin, for 10-20 minutes. Direct sun exposure is essential because the UVB that creates vitamin D is not transmitted through clouds, glass windows or sunblock.
Daily dose: Winter. We get almost no vitamin D from the sun when it is less than 45 degrees above the horizon (in North America, April-September: sunrise-10 AM, 4 PM-sunset; October - March: all day). Therefore in the winter supplements are necessary. Some dairy products are fortified with vitamin D, but they don't provide enough. Milk provides 100 IU/cup, requiring 5 quarts to get a 2000 IU daily dose. A person of 200 lbs may need 7000-10,000 IU/day in supplements when sun exposure is inadequate. To see the full benefit of vitamin D supplements in a blood test usually takes 6 months to a year, so the test should be done regularly.
To recover from deficit, take 200-600 mg/day in divided doses. It may be necessary to supplement with a lot of magnesium at first to relieve the deficit for several weeks, then take a lower level (100-200 mg/day) to maintain a sufficient body level. However before taking magnesium supplements make sure your kidney function is OK.
Sources of magnesium: (see List of Nutrients in Foods below) seeds (sunflower, pumpkin), nuts, legumes, tomatoes, chocolate, dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains, wheat germ. A craving for chocolate and nuts may be related to their high level of magnesium. Note that any processed flour including enriched flour has lost almost all of its magnesium -- so any white or "wheat" bread, cake, and most pastas have virtually none. Because most of us don't get enough magnesium in our diet, we must take supplements: magnesium chloride, chelate, citrate, and malate are recommended for they are readily absorbed by the gut.
To recover from deficit, eat foods containing calcium instead of taking supplements (depending on how much calcium you eat in food). It is important to balance the amount of calcium with a proportionate amount of magnesium, and also to take enough vitamin D which facilitates the absorption, regulation, and utilization of calcium. Most of us have had a magnesium deficit throughout our lives, and as we get older many of us have a calcium deficit. See Dean (2007) book below.
Sources of calcium: (see List of Nutrients in Foods below) dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, sardines and canned salmon (with bone), rhubarb, molasses, peas and beans, supplements: calcium is often combined with magnesium in a 2:1 ratio -- calcium carbonate is the most common form, but is not well absorbed, so other forms (calcium lactate/malate/citrate/aspartate/orotate) are better.
Sources of iron. The most absorbable form of iron is found in liver, red meat and turkey. Other good sources of iron include chocolate, beans and lentils, tomato sauce, and spinach. Daily multi-vitamin tablets for women contain ~20 mg of iron, and many other multi-vitamin tablets contain ~10mg (the RDA for men), and tablets without iron are also available and recommended for men. Many people, especially those who eat a lot of meat, get enough iron in their diet, and therefore should not take iron-containing supplements. Those with special problems should check with their doctor for advice. Many nutritionists and doctors recommend iron intake on the low side to combat infections and other consequences of iron overload. Blood tests for iron are readily available and recommended. See weblinks and Saul (2012) book below.
List of Nutrients in Foods.
Nut grower's guide: nutrient content of nuts.
Vitamin C: The Real Story, the Remarkable and Controversial Healing Factor, by Steve Hickey and Andrew W. Saul (Paperback - Nov 15, 2008) ISBN-13: 9781591202233 (Best overall book I've seen on vitamin C and the effects of its deficiency. Explains how a vitamin C deficiency can cause atherosclerosis and how to determine the correct dose of vitamin C to prevent viral infections.)
The Vitamin D Revolution: How the Power of This Amazing Vitamin Can Change Your Life, by Dr. Soram Khalsa M.D. (Paperback - Mar 1, 2009) ISBN-13: 9781401924706 (Best overall book I've seen on vitamin D and the effects of its deficiency. It is essential in preventing inflammation, cancer, and in activating the immune response. Explains how to get vitamin D from the sun, and why we can't get vitamin D from the sun in the winter, so we must use supplements, 2000 IU/day or more for adults.)
The Magnesium Miracle by Carolyn Dean (Paperback, 2007) ISBN-13: 9780345494580 (Best overall book I've seen on magnesium and the effects of its deficiency. Explains symptoms and effects. )
Doctor Yourself: Natural Healing That Works, 2nd Edition, by Andrew Saul, PhD. (Paperback, 2012) ISBN-13: 9781591203100 (Highly recommended. Comprehensive guide to practical use of vitamins and nutrients to solve even difficult health problems. Some people may not want to consider the approaches but they work and are often safer than drugs. The associated web site is kept up to date with the latest information. http://www.doctoryourself.com)