I think just about every supplement stack has a multiple-vitamin and mineral complex as the base supplement. If it doesn't, it should. Vitamins and minerals are generally considered to be the most important aspect of maintaining optimal health. Now, although plenty of people will speak of their preferred multi-vitamins and give suggestions as to what is best and why, what I find to be the most fascinating and reliable is an educated decision based on actual facts. Thus, I am writing an article that will focus solely on the facts rather than unfounded information. My hopes are that this article will lay the proper foundation of knowledge to ensure your educated decision.
What Are Vitamins?
Vitamins are substances, which are totally organic and considered to be essential, in small amounts, to sustain life. They must be obtained from food for they are generally not made within the body in amounts high enough to sustain growth and vitality. When a particular vitamin is deficient, the result can be any number of health problems from hampered metabolism to a deficiency related disease. Vitamins play a role in the function of nearly every organ and combine with other substances to produce certain necessary chemical reactions.
Large doses of vitamins have the potential to slow and possibly reverse many diseases thought to be inevitable with age. It must be remembered that vitamins can never substitute food and actually cannot be assimilated without the consumption of whole food.
The word vitamin was coined in 1912 by the Polish biochemist Casimir Funk who suggested that the substance was both indispensable for life and contained nitrogen. The word vita means life as amine means nitrogen; this created the word "vitamine". Later it was proven that few of these substances actually contained nitrogen, so the "e" was dropped giving us the word we use today: vitamin. Officially there are thirteen vitamins listed in the USA. Those vitamins are: vitamin A; C; D; E; K and the B complex vitamins B1 (thiamin); B2 (riboflavin); B3 (niacin); B6 (pyridoxine); B12 (cobalamin); folic acid; biotin; and pantothenic acid. Quite a few other substances such as para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), inositol, and coenzyme Q10 are considered actual vitamins by some researchers, but this idea is generally not accepted thus leaving the aforementioned substances out of vitamin status.
Usually vitamins are separated into the categories of "fat-soluble" and "water-soluble". Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble and require a sufficient amount of minerals and fats in order to be properly absorbed within the digestive system; these vitamins are stored in the liver. All of the remaining vitamins are water-soluble and need to be replenished frequently as any excess is excreted in the urine.
How Much Of Each Vitamin Is Needed?
It is no question that every persons needs are different. Factors such as genetics, stress levels, and biochemical individuality play a part in our daily vitamin needs. The nutrient needs of an athlete are quite higher than those of a sedentary person. As well, people who smoke or have a history of illness will also have greater requirements than the average person. Multiple variations exist pertaining to a range of differences such as sex, age, life occurrences, and environmental factors. If you are worried about your personal absorption rates or possible hereditary factors that may affect the amount of vitamins you need, it might be wise to do some research and find out how you differ and what aspect of your vitamin intake needs to be changed. However, all of that may be too complicated and probably unnecessary making the choice for a well-rounded multiple-vitamin the best alternative for most.
In an attempt to help us confused humans decide how much to eat for optimal health, the Food and Nutrition Board of the US National Academy of Sciences National Research Council created the recommended dietary allowance or RDA. Originally created in the 1940's, the RDA undergoes regular updates and is now joined by the Dietary References Intake or DRI, the Estimated Average Intake or EAR, the Tolerable Upper Intake Level or UL, and the Adequate Intake or AI. I don't think I have ever seen the DRI, EAR, or UL listed on anything so don't worry about checking labels for those. The RDA is always listed and sometimes for substances that lack enough data to establish an RDA the AI is used in its place.
Remember, RDA's are based on the person of average height, weight, nutrient absorption, ability, and stress levels. Keep in mind that the term RDA is sometimes used interchangeably with RDI (Reference Daily Intake) and DV (Daily Value) and in other countries the terms RDI (Recommended Dietary Intake) and RNI (Recommended Nutrient Intake); there are other forms of measuring intake as well. Technically each one of these values is slightly different but I see no reason to fill space and generate apprehension with such details.
The vitamin RDA's set in place by the FDA is as follows:
|Vitamin A||5,000 IU|
|Vitamin C||60 mg|
|Vitamin D||400 IU|
|Vitamin E||30 IU|
|Vitamin K||80 mcg|
|Thiamin (B1)||1.5 mg|
|Riboflavin (B2)||1.7 mg|
|Niacin (B3)||20 mg|
|Pyridoxine (B6)||2 mg|
|Cobalamin (B12)||6 mcg|
|Pantothenic Acid (B5)||10 mg|
Now, according to recent research, the appointed RDA's are considered by many nutritionists to be drastically low. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said, "All food is medicine and the best food is medicine." Hippocrates knew the power of the vitamins, minerals, and other substances within food. But how does this connect with the RDA's being too low? Consider the fact that the FDA is holding hands with the AMA (American Medical Association) and it becomes obvious that setting a low recommendation on essential nutrients would create more of a dependence on the sales of pharmaceutical drugs.
In black and white: it is all about money! We would like to think that our doctors can advise us on optimum nutrition, but the fact is that doctors receive only a few hours of nutritional training. I would recommend consuming AT LEAST two times the amount stated in the RDA from natural food sources and supplements when necessary; and supplements will most likely be essential, bearing in mind the mineral-depleted soils that our food is grown in. I like to get my nutrients from a variety of fresh food sources while using supplements throughout the day. The vitamin supplements that I currently use to meet the demands of bodybuilding are: multivitamin, ZMA, Coral Calcium, chromium picolinate, Sea Silver.
One example I would like to use (for the sake of argument) is the eight year study conducted by the College of Medicine at the University of Chicago which determined that a daily dosage of 10,000 IU of vitamin D per pound of body weight to not only be safe but highly beneficial. It is strange that the FDA has set the RDA for vitamin D at a meager 400 IU.
Getting Your Vitamins
First one must try to get as many vitamins from food as possible as these vitamins often come in specific ratios and in the presence of bio-flavanoids, which aid in absorption and maximum utilization. When obtaining food source nutrients, the effects of preparation need consideration, as many vitamins are effected by storage and cooking.
- Vitamins A, D, E, K, riboflavin, and beta-carotene are destroyed when exposed to light.
- Vitamins C, A, B12, folic acid, and thiamin are destroyed by heat.
- Vitamins C, A, D, E, K, B12, and folic acid are destroyed by exposure to air.
- Vitamins C, B6, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin will seep into cooking water.
- Vitamins C, B12, folic acid, thiamin, and riboflavin are destroyed when combined with acid or alkaline substances.
- When cooking food it should be done as quickly as possible with the lowest amount of heat and water necessary.
- Do not cook vegetables soggy. Do not thaw frozen vegetables before cooking.
- Cook meat, eggs, and milk at a low to medium temperature.
- Try to use any leftover liquid, such as water used to cook vegetables, as a base for sauces.
Although the RDA's are low, still many people do not consume what is recommended. One easy way out to getting your RDA is in the use of fortified foods. Now I'm not suggesting that you go out and buy a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch because it is fortified with your daily dose of this and that, I'm saying that, when chosen wisely, fortified foods, although usually quite processed, can be an easy way to increase your vitamin intake. Then again you might as well just take a multivitamin. That's even easier and more efficient.
I recommend getting a multivitamin that has bio-flavanoids, enzymes such as papain and bromelain, is derived from natural sources, or one that is chelated. Vitamin supplements should be taken with food (exceptions do exist such as ZMA), with oil-soluble vitamins consumed before a meal and water-soluble vitamins after a meal. Dr. Abram Hoffer, one of orthomolecular medicine's founding fathers, said: "Components [of food] do not exist free in nature; nature does not lay down pure protein, pure fat, or pure carbohydrates. Their molecules are interlaced in a very complex three-dimensional structure, which even now has not been fully described. Intermingled are the essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, again not free, but combined in complex molecules." What does this mean? Natural substances such as vitamins and minerals are the best medicine and the most important source of this medicine is food.
The Label On The Supplement
The US government creates regulations on the labeling of supplements, which apply to vitamins, minerals, herbs, and amino acids. All of the information will be found under the "Supplement Facts" panel and will list the RDI for the nutrients within the product and for substances with no RDI, an ingredients list will be provided. Labeling such as "High Potency" can only be used if the supplement has 100 percent or more of the RDI for at least two-thirds of the nutrients. Amounts are indicated in the following way:
- A milligram is 1/1000th of a gram
- A microgram is 1/1000th of a milligram
- The international unit is used to measure vitamins A, D, and E.
- Retinol equivalents (RE) is used to measure vitamin A and tocopherol equivalents (TE) are used to measure vitamin E because these two vitamins are found in several different forms.
This is "the preservation of good health and the treatment of disease by varying the concentrations of substances in the human body that are normally present and required for health" as quoted by Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling. One such way to achieve this is through megavitamin or megadose therapy, which is the use of vitamins and minerals in amounts greater than ten times, the RDA. Cells make enzymes to which vitamins bind. When such enzymes are completely bound and no longer available (that is, all used up) a greater physiological effect may not be generated.
When doses larger than are needed for these effects are consumed, pharmacological effects may be exerted. For example: using forty times the RDA of Niacin to lower blood cholesterol. Of course the use of vitamins and minerals in such a way is controversial and generally unaccepted by medical doctors. Once again I feel that the fact of medical doctor's lack of training in nutrition must be pointed out. I also feel that the AMA and FDA have reason (money being that reason) to block our ability to naturally, safely, affordably, and effectively find alternatives to synthetic drugs in food and supplements.
F. Balch and A. Balch. A-to-Z Guide to Supplements. New York: Avery Publishing Group, 1998.
Gastelu and Hatfield. Dynamic Nutrition for Maximum Performance. New York: Avery Publishing Group, 1997.
Mindel, Earl. Earl Mindel's Vitamin Bible. New York: Warner Books, 1985.
Nicola Reavley. The New Encyclopedia of Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements, and Herbs. New York: M. Evans and Company, Inc, 1998.
Robert R. Barefoot. Death by Diet. Pennsylvania: King Media Inc, 2002.