It might shock you to know that today, roughly 16 million people in the U.S. are deficient in vitamin C. It enhances the activity of T-cells, macrophages, and other immune cells, helping to fight off infections and reduce the severity of allergic reactions. A double-blinded study published in Lancet reported that 1,500 mg of vitamin C worked as well as the antibiotic azithromycin for the treatment of acute bronchitis. Vitamin C levels decline rapidly during periods of illness and emotional and physical strain. This may be one more reason why people perceive that they get sick more often when they are under persistent stress. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and studies show that the higher the dietary intake, the lower the risk of certain cancers (gastric, breast, esophageal, mouth, pancreatic, cervical, and rectal).
Vitamin C is necessary for the synthesis of collagen. There it plays an important role in the healing of wounds and maintaining the health of our gums. As vitamin C levels fall and our ability to synthesize collagen becomes impaired, we begin to bruise more easily, our skin becomes thick and dry, wounds take longer to heal, and our joints begin to hurt. Dr. Low Dog recommends to her patients that they take 200 to 300 mg of vitamin C four times a day for a few weeks before and after surgery to help support the healing process. Natural (rose hips or acerola) and synthetic forms of vitamin C will both get the job done, though nothing can come close to all the supportive phytonutrients you get when you actually eat an orange or bowl of berries. Absorption decreases as you increase the dose: almost 100 percent of doses up to 200 mg are absorbed, compared to only 63 percent of a 500 mg dose. Prolonged use of high-potency chewable vitamin C (500 mg) has been associated with erosion of tooth enamel.
There are two primary forms of vitamin D: ergocalciferol (vitamin D2), which comes from yeast and is present in mushrooms, and cholecalciferol (vitamin D3), which is synthesized in the skin. Vitamin D controls calcium and phosphorous levels, which are necessary for strong bones, muscle contraction, nerve conduction, and the general function of all our cells. Vitamin D interacts with more than 30 different tissues in the body and affects more than 1,000 genes! It has a significant impact on the immune system. It increases our resistance to infections, particularly bacterial and viral infections that impact our respiratory tract. Your heart contains vitamin D receptors as well, and vitamin D is important for maintaining healthy heart function and blood pressure. While more research is needed, given that heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S., making sure your vitamin D levels are normal is a smart idea. While sunscreen protects us against the damaging effects of UV radiation, an SPF of 8 blocks the production of vitamin D by a whopping 95 percent. As we age, our skin becomes thinner, making it more difficult for our skin cells to produce vitamin D. Why are we seeing such low levels of vitamin D? Compared to our ancestors, we spend more time indoors, wear more clothes, use sunscreen, many of us live farther from the equator, and the population is aging. For all these reasons, taking a vitamin D supplement makes sense for all of us.
Dr. Low Dog recommends 2,000 IU per day for adults and 1,000 IU per day for kids and teens. The upper limit is 4,000 IU per day.
Partner nutrients: Vitamin D works closely with calcium, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin K to maintain bone health.
Tocopherol comes from the Greek tokos, meaning “offspring,” and phero, meaning “to bear”- for its critical role in reproduction. Vitamin E is a powerhouse nutrient that helps maintain the health and function of the reproductive, vascular, and nervous systems, as well as our muscles. A 2015 meta-analysis of clinical trials published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that natural vitamin E supplements in the form of alpha-tocopherol or gamma-tocopherol significantly reduce inflammation. This has important implications for the potential role for vitamin E in conditions other than heart disease: diabetes, arthritis, and possibly even cancer. Vitamin E is important for healthy skin, hair, and nails; it is often used to help promote wound healing and prevent scarring, but there really isn’t any evidence to support this practice. A couple of small postsurgical studies failed to show any significant beneficial effect.
This is one instance where synthetic is not as good as natural. Vitamin E listed as dl-alpha-tocopherol or dl-alpha-tocopherol acetate is synthetic and only one-half as bioavailable as the natural d-alpha-tocopherol. Some experts recommend supplements that provide the full complement of all eight antioxidant forms of vitamin E.
Vitamin K is named for the German word Koagulation (coagulation). Today, we know that vitamin K is essential for far more than blood clotting. It is actually three fat-soluble vitamins: vitamin K1, K2, and K3. K1 is highest in leafy green vegetables, while K2 is found in fermented foods, such as natto, sauerkraut, and cheese, as well as egg yolks, butter from grass-fed cows. K3 is a synthetic form of vitamin K. The body is capable of converting K1 to K2.
Vitamin K2 acts like a traffic cop for calcium, directing it toward the bones and teeth and away from tissues where it doesn’t belong, such as the blood vessels. Eating foods rich in natural vitamin K2 resulted in a 50 percent reduction in arterial calcification and death due to cardiovascular disease. This study (Rotterdam) was fascinating in no small part because the foods providing K2 were meat, eggs, and cheese.
Supplementing with vitamin K2, preferably as MK-4, seems reasonable if you have cardiovascular disease, diabetes, are at risk for osteoporosis, or are concerned about prostate cancer. Vitamin K2 has a number of subtypes, and the two that are of the most interest in human health are MK-4 and MK-7.
Vitamin K deficiency in a newborn can lead to a serious bleeding disorder called hemorrhagic disease of the newborn (HDN). An intramuscular vitamin K1 injection is typically given after birth to protect against both early and late vitamin K deficiency bleeding. Some parents prefer to use an oral solution, but if you choose to do so and are breastfeeding, it’s absolutely critical to give it as directed by your pediatrician for the full three months.
Next up: minerals.