Today's Post: Tuesday, 4-17-2012
Most doctors know little about supplements including vitamins and minerals and are too busy to find out more unless they somehow get updated by their patients or other doctors who know more.
Some doctors have studied supplements and find they can get superior results with patients by using the indicated supplements. Since the supplements cost less than drugs and have virtually no side effects that harm quality of life, far more of their patients actually take the supplements than take many drugs.
The drug companies don’t like the competition from those supplements that do work but have none of the side effects most of their drugs do and the supplements cost less.
(Some drugs do important things and do them fast that supplements cannot do. And, for some things the drugs are the better choice. Then too some supplements may not be that effective.
But the drug companies appear to be deliberately misinforming doctors and the media and thus many of the rest of us about supplements that do work.)
So you may have seen headlines like “Vitamins are a waste of money or dangerous” AND “Vitamin E causes Prostate Cancer.”
But the truth is far different. Very different!
1. Most vitamins and minerals are beneficial and some are spectacularly beneficial.
There a few vitamins and minerals that do have side effects in doses that are too large. But if you know what level is safe on those few, those same vitamins and minerals can benefit you.
This makes the headline, “Vitamins are a waste of money or dangerous” false & I think deliberately misleading.
2. We know 4 things about vitamin E and prostate cancer. The headline as quoted, “Vitamin E causes Prostate Cancer" is completely false. And the other 3 things help prevent prostate cancer! (The study did not test real vitamin E but a poor artificial copy that was not real vitamin E!)
We covered vitamin E the first week in this series, on Tuesday, 3-13-2012.
We covered vitamin D3 last week, on Tuesday, 3-20-2012.
We covered vitamin B3, niacin, on Tuesday, 3-27-2012.
We covered the other B complex vitamins last week on Tuesday, 4-3-2012.
We covered vitamin C last week on Thursday, 4-12
This week we cover vitamin A & carotenes and related compounds.
The animal based form of vitamin A or its synthetic form, retinol, has that name because it is essential to the retina of the eye and when deficient produces night blindness. Some vegan vegetarians get that unless they take vitamin A supplements. (Lacto vegetarians often drink vitamin A fortified milk and some cheeses have vitamin A. So does butter.. And ovo vegetarians get plenty of vitamin A from egg yolks.)
The needed amount of retinol ranges from 300 mcg or 1,000 iu a day for toddlers to 1200 mcg a day or almost 4,000 iu for women who are breast feeding. For adults, 900 mcg or a bit less than 3,000 iu is about right. A supplement of 2500 iu a day for adults might make sense for example. It definitely would for vegan vegetarians. 5,000 iu taken every other day after the first week would also work.
With the animal or retinol form, the safe upper limit really is about twice that. That means that 5,000 iu of retinol is the maximum you should take long term. Before this was known, people took 10,000 or even 25,000 iu and ran into real problems. Some doctors prescribe 10,000 iu a day for people with upper respiratory disease on a temporary basis only. The next section shows why they do that. Bottom line, unless a doctor prescribes it, never take more than 5,000 iu a day of retinol. (That’s about 1500 mcg.) [100 mcg = 330 iu]
The oxidized form, retinoic acid, Wikipedia says, acts as a hormone like growth factor or catalyst. The NIH article shows that this has dramatic benefits all over your body:
NIH says this:
Vitamin A is a group of compounds that play an important role in vision, bone growth, reproduction, cell division, and cell differentiation (in which a cell becomes part of the brain, muscle, lungs, blood, or other specialized tissue.) [1-5]. Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system, which helps prevent or fight off infections by making white blood cells that destroy harmful bacteria and viruses [1,6-10]. Vitamin A also may help lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) fight infections more effectively.
Vitamin A promotes healthy surface linings of the eyes and the respiratory, urinary, and intestinal tracts . When those linings break down, it becomes easier for bacteria to enter the body and cause infection. Vitamin A also helps the skin and mucous membranes function as a barrier to bacteria and viruses [9-11].
The carotenes, particularly beta carotene, can convert to retinol to some degree. But in foods that conversion is only a twelfth as much as full strength. The better news is that you can get more than enough carotenes in foods if you eat enough plant foods high in them. And, you can’t get too much of them to convert to retinol. So, carotenes from dietary sources are not toxic even in quite large amounts if from food. Apparently once you convert enough of them to retinol, your body stops the conversion.
The good news is that the carotenes and carotenoids in plant foods have spectacular and multiple other health benefits.
One study found that the people with the highest blood levels of alpha carotene were dramatically healthier in almost every way than people with low levels. (Canned pumpkin and pureed carrots have the most alpha carotene directly.)
People who eat multiple foods every week with many kinds of carotenes are less likely to get cancers in general I’ve read. And this may even help reverse some cancers. Some doctors have even used a multi-carotene and carotenoid supplement for that purpose.
People who eat multiple foods every week with many kinds of carotenes have been tested to have far less sunburn sun damage to their skins from sun exposure than people who don’t. This specifically may help prevent melanoma. The rising rates of it may be from more people eating junk foods and less vegetables than they once did in fact.
And, the carotene lycopene -- found in tomatoes most often and best absorbed from cooked tomatoes or tomato sauce with oil, ideally extra virgin olive oil – tends to prevent or slow prostate cancer according to some studies that made the cover of TIME magazine. (It had already been found that men who ate a lot of cooked tomatoes and tomato sauce with extra virgin olive oil get fewer cases of prostate cancer.) The 30 mg of lycopene a day in that study can now be taken as 3 10 mg capsule each day also.
I now both eat the tomato sauce and olive oil on most days and take 30 mg a day of the supplement Lycopene myself.
Last but far from least, when you eat enough carotenes and carotenoids, your skin gets a slightly reddish glow that studies found causes people to see you as healthy even if they don’t realize it or know why!
The best animal sources of retinol, the animal form of vitamin A that are commonly eaten are calves liver, chicken livers, and cod liver oil.
Butter, cheddar cheese, and egg yolks are decent sources too.
The best plant source, something I just found out on Wikipedia today, is Dandelion Greens.
Most dark green, leafy vegetables and yellow and orange and red vegetables tend to be high in carotenes and carotenoids. Kale and spinach leaves are good sources.
Broccoli is high in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin that are also critical to eye health and many of the greens are also high in them.
Carrots, Yams, Sweet Potatoes, pumpkin, and most other kinds of yellow and orange squash are high in carotenes and carotenoids.
As with tomatoes, these vegetables are good for you raw. But you may get far more carotenes and carotenoids absorbed if you eat them in a salad with extra virgin olive oil or when they are cooked with extra virgin olive oil.
Apricots and cantaloupe also have some carotenes and carotenoids.
The last reason to get carotenes and carotenoids from foods is that one source I read once said there were over 20 kinds in carrots alone.
Some of those may benefit your health as much as the far fewer better known ones.
If you eat a variety of these foods, you’ll bet an ample supply of them.
That’s likely why the high blood level of alpha carotene acts as a marker for good health.