The health supplement industry is worth billions of dollars and pounds annually. However, there is a danger that we will turn to the magic of pills or sprays to provide us with the nutrients that should be provided by foods as we restrict our diets in line with the latest official edicts.
The reality is that your body absorbs the nutrients that it requires from food, because over the last few hundred thousand years, that is how we have evolved. Not just humans but every animal across the millions of species, has also evolved that way. Which is why, however enriched a dry dog or cat food might be, it can never take the place of real meat, fish, fowl and some plants that animals would consume in the wild.
Put aside the fact for a moment that we are intelligent human beings, and look at your body as a fine example of thousands of years of fine tuning. Part of our problem with health and obesity is that we have gone from foraging and hunting and being opportunistic eaters, to being able to walk into a supermarket and pick stuff off the shelves all year around.
The body requires a wide range of nutrients to obtain what it needs, and up until the food industry began importing foreign produce and canning foods, we would have eaten seasonally. Do you get into May or June and start to crave crisp salad leaves, tomatoes, cucumber and spring onions? Do you get to October and suddenly want to dive into root vegetable stews and soups and mashed swede or parsnips with a pudding of berries on porridge? That is your ancestral instinct for seasonal foods.
Now that we can pick and choose our food to buy rather than gather… it does mean that sometimes we are not getting the right combination of nutrients together to be effective. Some nutrients require other vitamins or minerals to be absorbed by the body and this applies not only to the food that we consume but any supplements that we take.
Let me give you some examples.
You will usually see calcium supplements sold as either Calcium and Magnesium or Calcium and Vitamin D3.
CALCIUM: The most abundant and essential mineral in the body. There are approximately two to three pounds mainly found in the teeth and bones. Apart from its role in the formation of teeth and bones it is also required for blood clotting, transmission of signals in nerve cells and muscle contractions. There is some indication that higher dietary calcium intake protects against cardiovascular disease particularly in women. If you are at risk of kidney stones consult your doctor before taking in additional calcium supplements. This also applies if you are suffering from prostate cancer where there may be a link between increased levels of dietary calcium in dairy products and this form of cancer. It is thought it is thought that excess calcium causes lower levels of Vitamin D, which helps protect against prostate cancer.
The best dietary sources for calcium are dairy (moderate intake) milk (semi-skimmed is good), yogurt, cheese such as Feta and cottage cheese sardines, canned salmon (the bones), green leafy vegetables such as watercress, broccoli, kale and spinach; soy products such as tofu and nuts such as almonds. Figs and oranges, fortified oats and other cereals, almond or rice milk and even tinned baked beans.
Although an excess of dietary calcium is indicated as lowering levels of Vitamin D it actually requires Vitamin D to be absorbed efficiently from the stomach and for the various calcium functions within the body. Which means that you would need to increase foods that contain Vitamin D or obtain adequate amounts of sunshine to allow your body to produce effectively to help boost your immune system and to prevent diseases such as prostate cancer.
VITAMIN D: CHOLECALCIFEROL; Essential for maintaining blood levels of calcium by increasing absorption from food and decreasing loss from urine. This maintains a balance preventing calcium from being removed from the stores in the bones. It also plays a role in maintaining a healthy immune system and blood cell formation. It may protect against prostate cancer. It is needed for adequate levels of insulin and may protect the body from Multiple Sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and juvenile diabetes.
Why Vitamin D is essential for healthy bone density
A network of collagen fibres forms the base of bone and they are then overlaid with minerals. The strength of the finished bone is dependent on the amount of mineralisation that takes place. Osteoclasts will remove old bone when needed and this results in a need to produce new collagen matrix to attract new minerals for the repair process.
Here is an example of healthy bone.
Vitamin D is essential to ensure that sufficient calcium and phosphorus is attracted to the new matrix and that strong new bone is produced. It begins its work in the intestines where your food is processed and assists in the absorption of calcium. If you are deficient in Vitamin D the bone becomes calcium depleted (osteomalacia) increasing your risk of fractures.
Unfortunately, if you are deficient in this vitamin more bone is discarded than replaced leading to soft and malformed bones.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and is mainly synthesised by the body during exposure to sunlight although it is also found in Cod liver oil, oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna and free-range eggs. It is also added to fortify milk and cereals including in bread.
As you can see from the above calcium and Vitamin D work together.
However, during the winter months when sunlight is restricted there is a danger that the relationship will become one sided with the constant intake of calcium in everyday foods but a decrease in available vitamin D.
If you cannot get enough Vitamin D through the winter months from eating an increase in oily fish or eggs, then you can opt to take a Vitamin D3 supplement. For example I take it in a spray form that is absorbed quickly into the body through my cheek membranes..
But taking a Vitamin D3 supplement adds another wrinkle.
To activate the D3 supplement and to prevent the calcium build up in the bloodstream, you need to make sure that you have adequate intake of both magnesium and Vitamin K2.
MAGNESIUM: It is essential mineral needed for bone, protein and fatty acid formation, forming new cells, activating the B vitamins, relaxing muscles, clotting blood and forming ATP the fuel the body runs on. The secretion and action of insulin also needs magnesium. It is needed to balance calcium in the body and too much can result in very low levels of calcium.
The best food sources are whole grains such as brown rice and oats, almonds, bananas, beans, pumpkinseeds and sesame seeds, wheat germ, dried apricots, dark green vegetables such as spinach and kale, Brussel Sprouts, mushrooms, egg yolks soybeans and fish. Chicken, lamb and turkey, white fish and tuna.
VITAMIN K: PHYLLOQUINONE; Necessary for proper bone formation and blood clotting, and has been largely ignored until relatively recently, as not just necessary, but essential for bone health and cardiovascular health because of its working relationship with calcium.
The vitamin is fat-soluble and is stored in the liver. Studies indicate that approximately 50% of the stores come from our diet and the balance from bacteria in the intestines. We need healthy bile production for efficient absorption of Vitamin K and our lymphatic system circulates it throughout the body.
Vitamin K1 is mainly found in leafy green vegetables such as spinach and dark lettuce, raw cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, and olive oil. It is also produced by the body from bacteria in the intestines.
There are two forms of of the Vitamin and the other is K2 (MENAQUINONE) and since the focus on Vitamin K has always been on blood clotting, it is only recently that the significance of inadequate amounts of K2 has been identified.
Without adequate K2 in relation to Vitamin D (particularly as a supplement) there is an over absorption of calcium leading to deposits in the arteries and heart disease.
Therefore K2 is essential to help maintain the calcium in our bones and prevent it leaching into the bloodstream; resulting in not only harmful calcium deposits but also osteoporosis.
Best food sources for K2 are in organ meats such as liver, egg yolks and butter, milk, cheese such as Brie and Gouda and fermented foods such as Sauerkraut etc. (Fermented foods help maintain a balance of healthy bacteria in the gut and as Vitamin K is also produced in the gut it is a great addition to your diet)
Here are some ideas and you can mix and match from each of the groups to vary your meals. Depending on your usual routine you can swap lunch and dinner around.
Breakfast – A bowl of porridge with semi-skimmed milk and a chopped banana. Glass of fortified orange juice.
Snack – Handful of pumpkin seeds.
Lunch – A two egg omelette made with milk, cheese and spinach, served with a spinach, tomato and avocado salad and a slice of wholegrain bread and butter.
Snack – An orange
Dinner – Roast pork with broccoli, brown rice, carrots and a dessertspoon of sauerkraut or other pickled vegetables. Followed by a yoghurt with chopped dried apricots.
If you are taking these nutrients in supplement form.
If you are taking a Calcium and D3 supplement, then I suggest that you look at changing to a Calcium and Magnesium combined supplement, and during the winter months particularly when sunlight is in short supply, a Vitamin D3 and a separate K2 supplement.
Part Two next Wednesday
©Sally Cronin – Just Food for Health – 1998 – 2020
I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-two years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.
If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here: My books and reviews 2020
Your feedback is always welcome and if you do find that following any of the posts that I have shared are beneficial then it would be great to hear about it.. you can email me on email@example.com.