Love Your Vitamins

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RICHARD FIRSHEIN

Steve, for one, was not alone in neglecting to pack his diet with the proper nutrients. In fact, the United States, or any other country, as a whole is guilty of consuming insufficient amounts of B vitamins. While the optimal dose of folic acid, for instance, is 650-1,000mcg a day, most of us only get about 200mcg. Getting enough folate is important because it plays such a key role in keeping us healthy.

A deficiency of this vitamin is suspected to assist in the initiation and development of cancer. Even slight deficiencies of folate can damage white blood cells, eventually leading to anaemia.

Luckily, there are many places to find folic acid. Good sources include broccoli, spinach, turnip greens, legumes, green vegetables in general, and cooked lima beans. Unfortunately, 50-90 per cent of the folates in most cooked foods are lost, so it’s necessary to eat as much as we can get our hands on. This is safe, since there are reportedly little to no known side-effects from taking high folate doses.

One of the few downsides of folic acid is that high levels mask a vitamin B12 [cobalamin] deficiency, so you should make sure to consume lots of this nutrient too. Getting enough B12 into the body is actually quite difficult, since it absorbs slowly, and peak levels may not show up for 8-12 hours after ingestion. What’s worse, absorption rates decrease with increased intake, so the more you eat the slower your body is at storing it. This is why it can be especially hard to recover from a B12 deficiency; no matter how much you eat, your body cannot get enough.

Inadequate absorption of B12 is actually responsible for 95 per cent of the vitamin deficiency in the United States alone. Getting enough of the cagey vitamin is worth it, though, because it keeps our nerves myelinated and protected, as well as warding off anaemia. Both B12 and folic acid deficiencies have been shown to cause psychiatric illness, such as dementia. B12 can be found in products like chicken, fish, eggs, and legumes.

Last but not least is vitamin B6 [pyridoxine]. Severe deficiencies of B6 can produce some scary physical responses: glossitis [a swollen tongue], seizures [fits], and debilitating fatigue. Bioavailability of the vitamin depends on how much your food has been processed, since much of it can be lost through heating, cooking, and canning. Its absorption rate, however, is a fairly high 71-82 per cent. Like its B12 relative, B6 can be found in foods like salmon and chicken, as well as nuts and bananas.

B vitamin deficiency is not difficult to remedy. Just by eating the right foods, or taking daily supplements, you can protect your heart from a prolific killer. One study found that taking a combination of all three vitamins reduced homocysteine concentrations in the blood by 49.8 per cent. Fortifying yourself with vitamins is a win-win situation. You not only eliminate the risk of heart disease, you eliminate the risk of being vulnerable to illness at all.

Generally, I recommend 5-10mg of B6, 50-100mcg of B12, and 400mcg of folic acid daily. However, this may vary from individual to individual, based on their weight, health history, and needs. I may reduce this amount by half for people with normal homocysteine levels and no risk factors for heart disease. In other patients, I may possibly increase the dose.

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