VITAMINS FOR VITALITY—THE B VITAMINS
Let's chat about the least understood of vitamins—those known as the B-family or B-complex.
There are eight B vitamins currently published: B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, folic acid, and biotin, nearly all of which are involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats; that is, B vitamins are needed for energy. This fact may explain, at least in part, why many people feel an energy boost when they start supplementing with B vitamins.
You've probably heard about folic acid. If so, it's not surprising because folic acid is needed (either directly or indirectly) for pretty much every chemical reaction in your body. It's needed for synthesis of DNA and RNA, and as Dr. Cass Ingram points out, this means “all cells depend on this vitamin for their growth and regeneration...there is no life without it” (Ingram).
Despite the central role that folic acid plays in the human body, the Harvard School of Public Health warns that most North Americans don’t get enough of it. Here are some reasons why:
- It’s difficult to get adequate levels of folic acid from food, even though some foods are fortified. People just don’t eat enough dark green, leafy vegetables (foliage that contains folate), beans, or certified organic calves’ liver.
- Folic acid can be depleted or entirely destroyed by light and cooking.
- Common lifestyle choices can play a significant role. Alcohol, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, aspirin, antibiotics, marijuana, and hard drugs all can deplete or destroy folic acid.
- It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that folic acid deficiency “is alarmingly common in the USA, with all age groups being adversely affected” (Ingram)¹. Teenagers, particularly, are at very high risk. Studies show that as many as 90% consume less than the Recommended Daily Intake in their diets (Ingram).
What’s even more alarming is that the RDI may not adequately support optimum nutritional status. Orthomolecular physicians have long argued that RDI levels are too low, and new research seems to support that view. As a result, RDI recommendations are “likely to change over the next few years as data from ongoing randomized trials are evaluated” (Harvard Medical School). For now, however, the optimal level for B vitamin intake has not been established.
B VITAMINS, HEART DISEASE, STROKE, & CANCER
Considering the current RDIs for B vitamins are likely too low and that only a small percentage of people get even those minor amounts, taking a broad-spectrum multi-supplement and a B-vitamin complex appears to be much more important than healthcare providers once thought. Here's a summary of what researchers are learning about the links among vitamin B, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
HEART DISEASE AND STROKE
One important discovery receiving the attention of heart and stroke researchers is the relationship between higher intake of B vitamins and lower levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine is a by-product of protein that promotes plaque buildup on blood vessel walls. It was first implicated in heart disease following the fatal, massive strokes of two children in 1968. Since then, various studies (though not all) have linked higher intake of certain B vitamins with lower homocysteine levels and decreased risk of heart disease and stroke.
New research shows the risks of colon cancer and breast cancer appear to be lower in people “who get higher than average amounts of folic acid from their diets or supplements” (Harvard).
According to Harvard, researchers don’t know if high intake of folic acid and the other B vitamins actually prevents cancer or whether there is merely a loose association between these vitamins and reduced risk.
The Health Sciences Institute (HSI) doesn’t quite concur. They argue that a significant association exists “between dietary intake of folate (folic acid) and vitamin B6 and a reduced risk of colorectal cancer” (Thompson, February 9, 2006)².
HSI’s comments are based on research conducted at Harvard and at its teaching affiliate Brigham and Women’s Hospital where researchers followed nearly 38,000 female subjects for ten years. It appears so far in the on-going research that supplementing with a broad-spectrum multivitamin-mineral containing all the B vitamins, as well as a totally terrific B vitamin complex may offer inexpensive insurance against various types of cancer.
B Vitamin deficiency also has been implicated in age-related diseases, birth defects, carpal tunnel syndrome, and a range of psychiatric disorders (after all, the brain is an energy-intensive organ). For more information, read Chapter 9 in Eat to Save Your Life.
1. Ingram, Dr. Cass. Nutrition tests for better health. 2004. Buffalo Grove, IL.: Knowledge House.
2. Thompson, Jenny (Ed.). “Secret protector.” 2006. Health Sciences Institute e-Alert. February 9.
Freaky FactA study published in the British Medical Journal in 2002 estimated that even a very small decrease (3 micromoles per liter) in homocysteine levels can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease by 16 percent and cut your stroke risk by 24 percent.
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