Friday, February 5, 2010

To B12 or not to B12?

Working as a nutrition assistant in health food stores over the past year or so has given me some insight into supplements and herbs. There are thousands of products to choose from, and I see when people come in how they get easily overwhelmed. But for every person who worries that they're not taking enough, there's several more people who aren't taking anything at all.

So I devote this blog to basic supplement information. I will tell you the three basic supplements that you probably should take. It's debatable, as a lot of people like to get their nutrition solely from food, but the reality is that most of us aren't eating a whole-foods diet.

Number One: You need a multivitamin. It's easy to forget, and to think you need instead a miracle green powder or fish oil combination, but a daily multivitamin is the main supplement you need. It contains just about all the essential daily nutrients. An "essential" nutrient, like vitamin C or zinc, is something that a person needs to get from food, or somewhere outside the body, because the body can't produce it on its own. Many people come into a health food store because they lack energy, and want an interesting herb or antioxidant from the rainforest to pep them up, but they're not taking a daily multivitamin. It's amazing how much more energy you have when your daily nutrition needs are met.

People wonder, also, why the amounts of vitamins and minerals are so high on a multi. What it is is the difference between maintenance and "optimal" nutrition. For example, if your multi has 60 mg. (or 100% daily value) of vitamin C, it is performing at a maintenance level to prevent scurvy and other complications. However, if it has 250 mg. of vitamin C, as many vitamins do, the vitamin C begins to perform at the "optimal" level and acts an an anti-aging nutrient, and it is also good for your heart health. So a lot of vitamins today are formulated at the "optimal" level.

Number Two: You need a calcium/magnesium combination. Calcium and magnesium are also essential minerals, and thus you'll see them in your multivitamin, but they won't be there in high enough quantities. Many people get confused or upset that there's not enough calcium and magnesium in their multi, but the problem is that the vitamin is not big enough to hold the calcium and magnesium. The daily required dose of calcium is 1 gram (1,000 mg.), and magnesium is 400 mg., making them the largest essential supplements in your diet. They usually are sold in a combination together, but you can also buy them separately.

Many people find out from their doctor that they need to be taking calcium, but the doctor fails to mention that they also need magnesium. You can take calcium on its own, but you run the risk that it may not absorb into your bones well enough if you do that. When you take it with magnesium (and a good combo will also have a little vitamin D and/or K), it absorbs much better into your bones where it's supposed to be, and stays out of your arteries.

Men also need calcium/magnesium. Women are often encouraged to take it to prevent osteoporosis, but the minerals are just as essential form men.

Number Three: You may need to take an iron supplement.

For reasons I don't quite understand, it's becoming common for multivitamins to be sold without iron these days. It may be because iron upsets some people's stomachs, so the manufacturers take it out. Either way, iron is an essential mineral, and you should always check your vitamin to make sure it's there. If it's not there, you need to take it separately.

The good thing is that iron supplements run cheap--$6 or $7 per bottle. And you should be able to find something called "gentle iron" or "easy iron," which is easier on the stomach.