Whole-food concentrates unleash a multivitamin’s full potential.
It is a piece of practical health advice that you’ve heard as long as you can remember: Take a multivitamin every day. No one can argue with that. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued in 2005, many people are deficient in key nutrients – especially calcium, magnesium and vitamins A, C and E – with older individuals, strict vegetarians and women of childbearing age running even higher deficiency risks. In addition, regular multivitamin use has been associated with everything from reduced cataract risk to improved recovery after gastric bypass (Ophthalmology 4/08, Obesity Surgery 2/08).
The catch with multivitamins is finding a product that will provide the greatest bang for your nutritional buck. One of the biggest assets a high-quality multi can possess is the presence of whole-food concentrates.
The Cofactor Factor
It had been known for centuries that diets devoid of fresh foods could result in diseases such as scurvy, which is caused by a lack of vitamin C. But it wasn’t until 1747 that James Lind, a ship’s surgeon in the British Navy, showed that fresh citrus helped protect sailors from scurvy while vitamin C, the specific “anti-scurvy” nutrient, was not isolated until the 1930s.
One of the researchers who discovered vitamin C – and won a Nobel Prize for doing so – was Hungarian physiologist Albert Szent-Györgyi. A colleague asked him to treat a patient who showed signs of scurvy. When Szent-Györgyi gave the person vitamin C in the form of fruit juice extract, the patient quickly recovered. After purified vitamin C became available, Szent-Györgyi was asked to treat yet another scurvy patient. The doctor expected even better results with pure C; to his surprise, the second patient didn’t respond as quickly as the first.
Obviously the juice extract had contained a special extra something that the purified vitamin didn’t. Scientists now call such “somethings” cofactors, compounds that make vitamins more effective within the body. These cofactors are missing from synthetically produced vitamins. What’s more, researchers suspect that only a fraction of the cofactors found in whole foods have been discovered, which means there’s a lot of these substances that science doesn’t even know about yet. The answer to this puzzle: Look for a multivitamin that contains whole-food concentrates to ensure you get all the cofactors those foods provide.
Superfruits to the Rescue
Some of the whole foods used in high-grade multivitamins have an extensive history of usage. For example, barley grass juice is often used in detoxification programs because of its chlorophyll, the substance that helps plants generate energy. Spirulina, a blue-green algae, has shown an ability to enhance immune function and reduce inflammation.
The hottest properties in the supplement world today, though, are superfruits such as açai, blueberry, cranberry, goji, mangosteen, noni and pomegranate. These special fruits, packed with antioxidants galore, are just starting to yield their health-enhancing secrets in laboratories the world over. But what researchers already know gives great promise: Pomegranate and blueberry have been studied for their protective effects on the brain, goji may ease fatigue and protect cholesterol against oxidation, and mangosteen has shown anti-cancer properties.
So heed that time-honored advice to take a daily multivitamin. Just be sure it contains the whole-food concentrates those vitamins need to do the job right.
-Lisa James (from Energy Times, January 2009)