Vi­ta­mins: sup­ple­men­tary ques­tions

The Jewish Chronicle - - JC SPECIAL - BY LAURA SOUTH­ERN

THE QUES­TIONS I am asked most in my job as a nu­tri­tional ther­a­pist are: “should I take vi­ta­mins?” and “what vi­ta­mins would you rec­om­mend?” The an­swers are never straight­for­ward. There are 13 vi­ta­mins, di­vided into fat-sol­u­ble and wa­ter-sol­u­ble. The fat-sol­u­ble vi­ta­mins are A, D, E and K and the wa­ter sol­u­ble are C and the Bs — B1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9 (folic acid) and 12 (there is no B4, 8, 10 or 11).

Fat-sol­u­ble vi­ta­mins are stored in the body’s liver and fat cells and are best eaten with a fat source (they are of­ten found in fatty foods, for in­stance vi­ta­min A in liver, or E in nuts). We do not store wa­ter-sol­u­ble vi­ta­mins — the body takes what it needs from food and ex­cretes the rest (think of eat­ing lots of fruit to keep you “reg­u­lar” — it is not just the fi­bre but the vi­ta­min C, too). For this rea­son, we need to in­clude daily sources of th­ese vi­ta­mins.

So, should we take vi­ta­min sup­ple­ments? Well, in the­ory, apart from vi­ta­min D, we should be able to ob­tain all the vi­ta­mins we need from food. To do this, though, re­lies on sev­eral fac­tors. Firstly, it de­pends on the qual­ity and va­ri­ety of one’s diet. A mainly plant­food based diet, with a lit­tle meat and fish and no pro­cessed, or high-sugar foods, is op­ti­mal. But not many of us man­age to eat like this. B12 and A are ob­tained only from an­i­mal prod­ucts; the other vi­ta­mins are found in veg­eta­bles and fruit but you need a va­ri­ety of colour, types (stalks, leaves, roots) and cook­ing meth­ods.

Se­condly, even if you are eat­ing a “per­fect” var­ied diet, the vi­ta­min con­tent of our food has de­clined since largescale, in­dus­tri­alised farm­ing. This is largely out of our hands but you can make sim­ple changes by “eat­ing lo­cal”, so check the ori­gin of your veg. Vi­ta­mins are likely to be more plen­ti­ful in as­para­gus grown in Here­ford­shire, which has not trav­elled far, than in as­para­gus flown over from Kenya.

Also, if your di­ges­tion is com­pro­mised, you will not be ad­e­quately ab­sorb­ing vi­ta­mins from food. It is not a case of “you are what you eat” but rather “you are what you ab­sorb”.

Cer­tain peo­ple have higher-thanaver­age nu­tri­ent re­quire­ments, such as those with an auto-im­mune or chronic dis­ease, men­tal health is­sues, anx­i­ety or stress.

One vi­ta­min is hard to ob­tain from yet es­sen­tial for most bod­ily sys­tems, im­mu­nity and pre­ven­tion of chronic dis­ease — and 90 per cent of UK res­i­dents are de­fi­cient in it. This is vi­ta­min D. We can ob­tain some from oily fish and for­ti­fied foods but not enough. We get vi­ta­min D from ex­po­sure to the sun but in the UK the sun is at the right lat­i­tude only between March and October (if your shadow is longer than your body, you can­not gen­er­ate vi­ta­min D). Even in sum­mer, vi­ta­min D may be lack­ing in those who spend all day in­doors, cover their bod­ies for mod­esty or never ven­ture out­side with­out sun­screen.

If you con­clude you might ben­e­fit from vi­ta­min sup­ple­men­ta­tion, you need to find a suit­able prod­uct.

Re­mem­ber, vi­ta­mins are not a magic pill to be popped, to cure an ail­ment. They are there to help the body get back to health by en­sur­ing it has the most ef­fec­tive re­sources. This means diet al­ways comes first — there is no point in tak­ing vi­ta­mins if you are eat­ing a rub­bish diet. Vi­ta­mins work in con­junc­tion with min­er­als (trace el­e­ments used in the body for proper func­tion­ing) and it is usual for sup­ple­ments to com­bine both.

I rarely rec­om­mend my adult clients take a mul­ti­vi­ta­min and min­eral sup­ple­ment but chil­dren and teenagers of­ten ben­e­fit from spe­cific for­mu­la­tions. For clients who are low in en­ergy, try­ing to re­duce or cut out sugar, or have a heavy life load, I usu­ally sug­gest a good-qual­ity B vi­ta­min com­plex. For those who are of­ten run down or catch fre­quent colds and in­fec­tions, I would point to an im­mune sup­port com­plex (con­tain­ing vi­ta­mins A, C, E and zinc). Vi­ta­min D, I gen­er­ally al­ways rec­om­mend, un­less a blood test tells oth­er­wise.

For more com­plex health is­sues, I se­lect tar­geted sup­ple­ment for­mu­la­tions care­fully and ad­vise seek­ing help from a nu­tri­tional ther­a­pist. The sup­ple­ment com­pany Sol­gar also rec­om­mends go­ing to health stores for ad­vice, say­ing: “Sol­gar focus heav­ily on en­sur­ing store staff are well trained on our en­tire prod­uct range, so they are well qual­i­fied to pro­vide the best rec­om­men­da­tions to the pub­lic.”

Choose a “prac­ti­tioner grade” sup­ple­ment — you can tell th­ese from in­for­ma­tion on the com­pany’s web­site and whether they of­fer “tech­ni­cal” ad­vice. Then se­lect the type that suits you best — liq­uids (drops) and pow­ders are the most ab­sorbable; cap­sules of­ten have the high­est nu­tri­ent levels and are good for those with di­ges­tive is­sues; tablets can be eas­ily bro­ken to tri­tate the dose, or make for eas­ier swal­low­ing. Some chil­dren’s sup­ple­ments are noth­ing more than for­ti­fied sweets.

Cer­tain sup­ple­ments, es­pe­cially cap­sules, con­tain gelatin, so be wary if you keep kosher or are ve­gan. Sol­gar’s range in­cludes 189 kosher prod­ucts. Some Virid­ian and some Lam­berts prod­ucts are also kosher, as is the whole Wild Nutrition range.

There should be no need to stay on a spe­cific vi­ta­min for­mu­la­tion longterm. Seek a pro­fes­sional opin­ion and have reg­u­lar re­views. You can find a fully qual­i­fied nu­tri­tional ther­a­pist from the BANT web­site.

Vi­ta­min D is vi­tal and 90 per cent of us are de­fi­cient’

Laura South­ern has a busy nu­tri­tional ther­apy prac­tice in Finch­ley, lon­don­foodther­apy.com

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