How much do you need of the various vitamins and minerals and what types of food do you need to eat to obtain them?
There's a big difference between the amount required to prevent deficiencies that would lead to serious degeneration, and the amount of each vitamin and mineral you need for optimum health. A few years ago, scientists at the University of Alabama worked this out for every nutrient and called the amounts Suggested Optimal Nutrient Allowances or SONAs. The following formula is based on SONAs and gives the amount of each essential vitamin and mineral that you need contained in your diet (with supplementation if necessary) for optimal health. Other nutrition consultants will say more or less, but I consider this a safe and effective guide.
The formula provides:
Vitamin A 7500 i.u. - Retinol, a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant, derived from animal sources such as dairy foods, fish liver oil, eggs and liver. Like other fat-soluble vitamins, this form of vitamin A can build up in the body tissues causing undesirable side effects if taken in excessive amounts (much more than 7500 i.u. per day). Excess should particularly be avoided by pregnant mothers or those expecting to become pregnant. A good supply of vitamin A is however essential for optimal functioning of the eyes, gums, skin, the mucous lining of the nasal sinuses, respiratory and digestive tracts. Also for bone development, production of sex hormones and normal immunity.|
Deficiency symptoms: mouth ulcers, poor night vision, acne, frequent colds or infections, dry flaky skin, dandruff, thrush or cystitis, diarrhoea.
Beta Carotene 2500 i.u. - Vegetable pre-cursor to vitamin A, found in orange/red fruit and vegetables, that is not toxic in larger amounts (it is converted in the body to vitamin A only as and when required). As an antioxidant it helps prevent cancer and premature ageing and protects the heart and arteries.
Vitamin D 300 i.u. - Ergocalciferol, a fat-soluble vitamin derived from animal sources (fish, dairy, eggs). Needed for the absorption, utilization and retention of calcium, normal sexual function, and calcification of bone to maintain strong bones and teeth. Helps prevent loss of calcium from urine. Made by the body when exposed to sunlight. Toxic in excess (more than 1500 i.u. daily) as this may cause calcification of the liver.
Vitamin E 150 i.u. - D-alpha tocopherol is a fat-soluble antioxidant found in nuts, seeds and vegetable oils which it helps to prevent becoming rancid, just as it protects fats within the body from oxidation. Its antioxidant properties help limit the damage to all body cells caused by naturally present free oxygen radicals, and therefore helps prevent cancer and ageing. Needed for maintenance of a healthy heart and circulation, normal sexual function, proper growth and repair of skin. Helps heal scar tissue, oxygenate muscles and maintain immunity.
Vitamin K (not included) - Phylloquinone, fat-soluble, required for blood clotting, is found in many vegetables, dairy products and wholegrain cereals. It is also produced by healthy intestinal bacteria, so it is rarely deficient except in young infants (nursing mothers should eat cauliflower and cabbage).
Vitamin C 300 mg - Ascorbic acid, a water-soluble antioxidant found in fruits and vegetables. Strengthens the immune system - fights infections. Makes collagen, the inter-cellular glue, keeping bones, skin and joints firm and strong and strengthening blood vessels. A powerful antioxidant, helping to detoxify pollutants and protect against cancer and heart disease. Helps make anti-stress hormones and needed for metabolism. Helps the absorption of iron from food. Most animals make the equivalent of several grams of vitamin C daily; however, by a quirk of evolution, humans cannot produce their own, so we really do need the benefit of further supplementation.
NOTE: I've steered clear of the "mega-vitamin" approach to vitamin supplementation on this list because: (a) I would prefer to obtain as much as possible of my nutrients naturally in a well-balanced diet and supplement with just a good multi-vitamin/mineral to cover all basics, plus omega-3, plus any nutrients lacking as evidenced by health symptoms; (b) it is an expense that many people cannot afford; (c) it's controversial as to the benefits, depending on whose views you respect. However the approach (pioneered by Sandy Shaw, Carl Pfeiffer and Linus Pauling among others) is interesting and worth investigation, particularly to help with prevention/treatment of cardiovascular or immune system diseases. I would recommend the advice of a professional nutritionist before jumping in. Vitamin C is the number one candidate. This is what an enthusiast of this approach emailed me...
Vitamin C 300 mg? No distinction between L and D ascorbic acid? No L-lysine? One name: Linus Pauling! To summarize, chronic scurvy, chronic dehydration and sugar overload is responsible for most illness in our country. The AMA doesn't have a clue. I take 25 gm of pure L-ascorbic a day and 5-10 gm of L-lysine, along with a very good multi that contains no copper or iron (I am an Atkins dieter, there's plenty of both in my steak). Over the last six months I have turned my health and appearance around. I'm going on 36 and I feel better than I did at twenty six which is the age of my younger brothers and I can run circles around them. I couldn't do that a year ago. Your vitamin picks seem good but you really need to look at L-ascorbic and L-lysine a lot closer. And emphasize that meat eaters shouldn't be taking in iron and copper though supplementation.
This is what Patrick Holford (from whom I learned much of what is on this site) has to say...
Aren't you simply making expensive urine when you take large amounts of supplements? Dr. Michael Colgan investigated this often made rebuttal. He investigated how much vitamin C we use by giving increasing daily doses and measuring excretion. "Only a quarter of our subjects reached their vitamin C maximum at 1,500 mg a day. More than half required over 2,500 mg a day to reach a level where their bodies could use no more. Four subjects did not reach their maximum at 5,000 mg." Increasing vitamin C intake from 50 mg to 500 mg tends to double serum vitamin C levels. Increasing intake to 5,000 mg a day will double serum levels again. Expensive urine? Vitamin C protects the bowel, kidneys and bladder on the way out. As Dr. Michael Colgan points out the average victim of bowel or bladder cancer spends $26,000 for treatment - mostly to no avail.
Vitamin B1 37.5 mg - Thiamin, a water-soluble vitamin, found in association with other B Complex vitamins in wholemeal products, brown rice, many vegetables, meat, nuts and dairy, is unstable and frequently destroyed by cooking or by preservatives. B1 is needed for carbohydrate metabolism and may be deficient in those on a high sugar diet. Helps maintain appetite, normal functioning of the nervous system, eyes, hair, heart and other muscles. Helps keep mucous membranes (digestive lining, lungs, etc) healthy. It is needed for digestion, growth and maintenance of muscle tone.
Vitamin B2 37.5 mg - Riboflavin, a water-soluble B Complex vitamin found in vegetables, fish and dairy, works particularly closely with vitamins B6 and B3 and selenium. It assists in the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats and therefore is needed for energy. It plays a role in cataract prevention and is needed for healthy mucous membranes, skin, nails, hair and the absorption of iron. It is also a necessary factor in healthy functioning of the nervous system and helps to regulate body acidity. Requirement is increased with alcohol or drug abuse, consumption of coffee, the contraceptive pill, antibiotics and pregnancy. Unrequired B2 harmlessly colors the urine yellow.
Vitamin B3 75 mg - Niacin or nicotinic acid, a water-soluble B Complex vitamin found in vegetables, fish, dairy and unrefined cereals, has a vasodilatory effect (felt as flushing of the skin) which helps take nutrients to cells and remove toxins and also reduce stickiness of the blood. (Niacinamide, another form of the vitamin, does not have this beneficial effect). B3 is essential for energy production, normal digestion, nerve function and the skin. Helps balance blood sugar and lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It is also needed for the production of vital hormones such as cortisone, oestrogen, progesterone and thyroxine. Deficiency can occur with alcohol or drug abuse, or protein deficiency, and may, in extreme cases, result in pellagra (dematitis, diarrhoea and dementia).
Vitamin B5 75 mg - Pantothenic acid, a water-soluble B Complex vitamin found in eggs, lentils, unrefined grains and vegetables. B5 is essential in energy production and the synthesis of hormones and blood cells. B5 is known to boost energy levels and immunity. Known as the 'Anti-Stress Vitamin' it is needed to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and therefore for proper brain activity and nerve transmission. It is also needed by the adrenal glands to make glucocorticoids, the anti-stress hormones, and along with glucosamine has been found helpful in arthritis and relieving joint pains and stiffness. Helps healing and counteracts allergy effects. Maintains normal hair pigment.
Vitamin B6 75 mg - Pyrodoxine, a water-soluble B Complex vitamin found in meat, fish, vegetables, bananas, wholegrains, seeds and nuts, may be toxic in extreme doses (above 1000 mg). Works with other B Complex vitamins, zinc and magnesium. Required for the metabolism and synthesis of proteins. Needed for making energy, utilizing essential fatty acids, keeping levels of the female hormone oestrogen stable (and therefore effective in preventing pre-menstrual tension). Essential for efficient nerve transmission, protein digestion and utilization, making healthy red blood cells and antibodies. Involved in the maintenance of the circulation, the skin, the immune system and the production of chemicals in the brain which govern mood, sleep patterns, etc. Helps absorption of B12 and maintenance of fluid balance in the body.
Vitamin B12 15 micrograms - Cyanocobalamin, a water-soluble B Complex vitamin found in fish, eggs, meat and dairy produce which often works together with folic acid in the body. Needed for making energy. Essential for the production of red blood cells and is also needed to make DNA. Helps make the myelin sheath that insulates nerve cells. Vegans and vegetarians are susceptible to deficiency and other causes are: alcohol, coffee, smoking, lack of calcium or iron, diabetes and liver disease. In extreme may cause pernicious anaemia. A third of American older adults suffer shortages of vitamin B12, and many needlessly suffer with symptoms of short-term memory loss, sore tongue, and numb, tingling or burning feet.
Folic Acid 150 micrograms - Folic acid is water-soluble, part of the B Complex group of vitamins, found in leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, eggs, organ meats, wholegrains, seeds and nuts but often destroyed by overcooking. Required for protein synthesis, works with B12 in the formation of red blood cells and is also vital for rapidly dividing cells and the developing foetus. It is needed to make RNA and DNA and therefore essential for the repair and manufacture of all cells. Needed for proper growth, brain activity, normal nervous function. Recent research indicates that folic acid may play a protective role against heart disease due to its ability to lower homocysteine levels; along with B6 and B12 it reduces the risk of heart attacks. It also helps to regulate histamine levels in the body. As with B12, anaemia will result when folic acid is low. 400 micrograms is needed prior to and during pregnancy to prevent spina bifida or other neural tube defects. It is adversely affected in the body by alcohol, coffee, coeliac disease, oral contraceptives, stress, the taking of drugs and smoking.
Biotin 75 micrograms - Biotin, a water-soluble co-enzyme which works with the B Complex vitamins, is found in many vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish, milk, eggs. Biotin is part of many enzyme systems and is involved in the conversion of amino acids to protein. It is involved in the production of energy from carbohydrates, fatty acid metabolism and the conversion of folic acid to a biologically active form. It helps maintain healthy skin and hair, good muscular tone and a balanced hormonal system. Promotes healthy sweat glands, nerve tissue and bone marrow. Antibiotics, excessive intake of alcohol, coffee or raw eggs will inhibit dietary intake.
Choline 30 mg - Choline is a constituent of the emulsifier lecithin, found in egg yolks, meat organs, green leafy vegetables, wheat germ, soy beans, and can be made in the body so strictly speaking it is not a vitamin. It helps make acetylcholine and is therefore essential for brain function. Necessary to help break down accumulating fats. Reduces lactic acid build-up in muscles.
Inositol 30 mg - Like choline, a constituent of lecithin, needed for hair growth, healthy arteries, normal fat and cholesterol metabolism.
Minerals are originally extracted from the soil by plants. Like vitamins, they may be obtained directly from plants or indirectly via meat. However they are frequently refined out of foods and over-farmed soils may be deficient in trace minerals. For this reason it is essential to eat organically grown, unprocessed produce.
Calcium 500 mg (as citrate, phosphate and carbonate) - Calcium (found in dairy, fish, eggs, root vegetables, pulses, nuts, wholegrains and water) is the most abundant mineral in the body, of which 99 per cent is found in the bones and teeth. The remaining 1 per cent circulates in the blood and has many functions. The 800 mg daily requirement is needed for growth and maintenance of bones and teeth, nerve transmission, regulation of the heartbeat, and muscle contraction. It is needed for blood clotting, for helping to maintain the right acidity in the bloodstream and for insulin production. Absorption is increased by exercise and adequate vitamin D status, and decreased with exposure to lead, consumption of alcohol, coffee and tea and a lack of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Continued stress leads to calcium loss. With hormonal changes, post-menopausal women are particularly prone to osteoporosis (weak and porous bones) since the lack of oestrogen negatively affects calcium absorption. Pregnant and breast feeding women may also need extra calcium, accompanied by magnesium.
Magnesium 225 mg (as citrate, aspartate, or other organic form) - Magnesium is present in green leafy vegetables, peas, nuts, brown rice, wholemeal products, seeds and some fruits (and therefore is more commonly deficient than calcium). It is involved as a co-factor in most enzyme reactions in the body and is necessary for the production of energy. It works together and in balance with calcium in maintaining bone density and in nerves and muscles. For bone integrity, calcium needs to be balanced with magnesium, preferably 2:1. Calcification of soft tissues can occur if there is a calcium/magnesium imbalance. The two minerals also act together in the regulation of blood pressure. A lack of magnesium is strongly associated with cardiovascular disease. Shortage of magnesium can also lead to loss of control over the relaxing and contriction of muscles, as again, calcium and magnesium act in balance. Magnesium may be lost through food processing and refining, and its absorption reduced with a high-fat diet, so it is widely deficient among those with a fast-food diet, and indeed, is deficient in most Western people! Magnesium has been shown to be beneficial for women with pre-menstrual cramps or sugar cravings, especially when taken in conjunction with vitamin B6. Deficiency may also arise with prolonged treatment with diuretics. It is a primary cause of most ADD cases (along with Zinc deficiency) and other types of learning disability and psychological disturbance.
Potassium (not supplied) - Potassium (found in fruits, vegetables and wholegrains) works in conjunction with sodium in maintaining water balance and proper nerve and muscle impulses. The more sodium is eaten the more potassium is required and so a relative deficiency of potassium is widespread, with the high amounts of salt in typical diets.
Iron 15 mg (as citrate or other organic form) - Iron (found in meat, eggs, nuts, beans, oatmeal) is needed as part of the haemoglobin molecule to carry oxygen around the bloodstream, and for the production of hydrochloric acid for protein digestion in the stomach. A deficiency of iron can result in anaemia. Those particularly at risk include pregnant women, children, women with heavy menstruation and people with malabsorption problems.
Zinc 15 mg (as citrate or other organic form) - Zinc (found in meat, shellfish, herrings, wheat germ, eggs, cheese, nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds) is needed for normal functions of taste and smell, for insulin formation, reproductive and immune systems, tissue renewal, and for healthy bones, skin and teeth. It is essential (along with B6) for protein synthesis including hormones, enzymes and antibodies. It is needed for over 90 enzymatic processes in the body. High levels are found in semen and a deficiency is linked to male infertility; zinc is also necessary for a healthy prostate gland. Hydrochloric acid, necessary for digestion of proteins and assimilation of minerals, is dependent on zinc and B6 for its secretion by the stomach. Zinc is vital for the growth and maintenance of the nervous system; therefore it is important in brain function and deficiency is linked to depression and anxiety, and it is an important factor in schizophrenia. Stress increases the need for zinc. With zinc deficiency there is increased risk of having a baby with low birth weight or premature. Women suffering from postnatal problems frequently benefit from supplementing zinc and B6. It is especially important to supplement because most zinc is lost in food processing or never exists in substantial amount because of nutrient-poor soil. Vegetarians and others on a high fibre diet may need more zinc to offset the additional phytate present, which binds to zinc and other minerals, making them less easily absorbed by the body.
Manganese 4.5 mg (as citrate or other organic form) - Manganese (found in tropical fruits nuts, seeds, wholegrains, green leafy vegetables, eggs) is associated with iron metabolism and utilization of vitamin E and B vitamins. It has a critical role in the activation of over 20 enzymes involved in growth, digestion and assimilation of nutrients, the nervous system, healthy cartilage and bones, cell protection against viruses, and making energy. Manganese is found in female hormones and is required in the production of nucleic acids that are part of the genetic code. Forms part of the important antioxidant enzyme Superoxide Dismutase. Reduced fertility, birth defects and growth retardation may, in part, be a result of manganese deficiency.
Iodine 45 micrograms (as iodide) - Iodine (found in kelp, vegetables grown in iodine-rich soil, onions and all seafood) is needed for thyroid hormones which control metabolism.
Copper 75 micrograms (as citrate or other organic form) - Copper (found in peas, beans, wholegrains, liver, seafood) is essential for the utilization of Vitamin C and is required to convert the body's iron into haemoglobin.
Chromium 30 micrograms (as picolinate) - Chromium (found in liver and seafood, wholegrains, mushrooms and asparagus) is part of the Glucose Tolerance Factor (with B3 and amino acids) necessary for the regulation of blood sugar levels. Chromium works with insulin for normal glucose metabolism and conversion of amino acids into protein. Continued stress or frequent sugar consumption depletes the body of chromium. A diet high in refined carbohydrates can also lead to deficiency as the food processing removes much of the natural chromium content. Other causes of depletion include infection, strenuous physical exercise and pregnancy. Deficiency is implicated in adult onset of diabetes. Impaired glucose utilization can promote sugar conversion to fats and cholesterol leading to obesity and arteriosclerosis.
Selenium 45 micrograms (as selenomethionine) - Selenium (found in seafoods, liver and kidney and in small amounts in other meats, grains and seeds) helps maintain a healthy heart, eyes, liver, skin and hair. Part of the important antioxidant enzyme Glutathione Peroxidase, giving the body protection against cancer, premature ageing and degenerative diseases. Needed for prostaglandin formation, involved in hormone balance. Potentiates the antioxidant function of Vitamin E. Helps produce CoQ10, required in cells to make energy. Selenium is particularly vulnerable to loss during food processing and the low amounts found in fruit and vegetables make this especially important for vegetarians to supplement. Considerable loss of selenium occurs in the seminal fluid. There have been indications of a connection between inadequate selenium and Downs Syndrome.
Boron 2 micrograms - Recent research indicates that boron (a nutrient found in vegetables and fruits) may prevent prostate cancer and autoimmune diseases (including lupus, Graves' disease, Hashimoto's disease, type-1 diabetes, vitiligo, multiple sclerosis, and more). When examining the data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), researchers uncovered a significant relationship between boron and prostate cancer risk. After comparing the diets of nearly 8,000 men, they found that the risk of prostate cancer for men consuming an average of 1.8 milligrams of boron was less than one-third the risk for men consuming half that amount.
Another group of researchers, from the USDA's Human Nutrition Research Center in Grand Forks, Idaho, reported that studies on animals have shown that the equivalent of 2 milligrams of boron taken daily prevents the activation of "T-helper" and "T-suppressor" cells, both of which are involved in autoimmune disease. These results were significant enough to persuade the researchers to launch a study of supplemental boron as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, which is often cited as an autoimmune disease.
A few years ago Dr. Forrest Nielsen (at the USDA research center) showed that boron helped raise levels of sex hormones internally in women past menopause and in men of the same age group. With all of the bad news about synthetic hormone replacement therapy, it's a relief to know that something as simple and widely available as boron might help boost your hormone levels safely and naturally.
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