It’s been said that people are only as healthy as they feel. While this is by no means a complete prescription, it is an outstanding philosophy when it comes to forming a foundation of health. Fortunately for us, many times the very same substances that can benefit the body can also brighten the spirits, and it is only sensible—and efficient—to look to these first on the course towards a healthy 2012.
First and foremost, there is consensus among health professionals for taking a daily multivitamin, regardless of the quality of diet. Although it may seem surprising, America is currently suffering the consequences of what is sometimes called hidden hunger—consuming diets that are calorie-rich, but nutrient deficient.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans has singled out the key nutrients that Americans may be deficient in. Surveys commonly reveal shortfalls for vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin D, magnesium and potassium in the diets of most Americans. None of these are nutrients the body can go without and remain healthy.
The fat-soluble antioxidant Vitamin E, for example, works to neutralize harmful free radicals and also maintains protection of cell membranes, nerves and muscles. Vitamin C effectively fights blood cell infection, is vital in collagen formation and also provides antioxidant defense. There is much more—the vitamins A, D, K, and others, along with minerals and even metals such as copper and iron all work both individually and as a group to maintain normal metabolic function, support the immune system and make the most energy available out of the foods we eat.
The combined benefits of all the nutrients found in multivitamins working together in an interdependent fashion is the reason it is crucial to receive the necessary amounts every day—a lack of a single nutrient can make it impossible for others to work effectively. A daily multivitamin is only reasonable to provide that nutritional equilibrium.
Although the once popular “mega-dosing” of vitamins is unnecessary, it is important to note that RDAs are established based on the amounts needed to avoid symptoms of deficiency, not for optimum performance. As most people’s lifestyles are more demanding than ever, it is reasonable for daily intake to fall somewhere between 100 and 200 percent of the RDA.
Another nutrient group that has been getting lots of attention lately for benefits to both brain and body are the Omega 3 fatty acids, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, or EPA and DHA, the Omega 3s found in fish oil. Fish oil helps in the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis and has been shown to lower levels of triglycerides as well as LDL (or “bad” cholesterol). This means a lower risk of heart attack, stroke, and abnormal heart rhythms. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as cancer and arthritis as well. Also very interesting is that Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and are very important for cognitive and behavioral function. Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include poor memory, mood swings, depression, heart problems, poor circulation and fatigue (mental as much as physical).
Although Omega 3s are different from water-soluble vitamins, they are used by the brain and body constantly, and the amounts that are required to enjoy all health benefits are often underestimated. An intake of 3000mg (3 grams) is a reasonable baseline to start from.
The final component of a solid nutritional foundation is energy—both physical and mental. The B vitamins are often referred to as the energy vitamins, but it more accurate to say they are the keys that unlock energy from the foods we eat. Fatigue, irritability, poor concentration, anxiety and depression can all be the result of a B vitamin deficiency.
This is because compounds in the B complex are needed for the metabolism of carbohydrates, which are the brains primary source of fuel, as well as the maintenance of cell structure within the brain itself. B-vitamins are also important for protecting the physical structure of nerves, particularly the myelin sheath, which helps to insulate nerves and optimize their ability to carry impulses. Three of the B vitamins in particular—B6, B12 and folic acid—aid in the manufacture of the excitatory neurotransmitter GABA, as well as serotonin and dopamine, the neurotransmitters which regulate mood and aid in proper cognitive function. For all of these reasons, sufficient intake of B-vitamins is thought to lower the risk of nerve and brain-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Because B-vitamins are water-soluble, they are regularly eliminated from the system and require routine replacement. It is important to aim for an intake that is 100 percent or higher than the RDA.
The simple reality today is that people are experiencing constant variation in their access to quality nutrition—sometimes by choice, but just as often by circumstance—in their eating patterns and exercise plans. The simple solution is to allow for these circumstances by taking advantage of some of the basic nutritional resources that are available.
Variety, after all, is not only a fact of life, but the spice of life, and a little variety should not compromise the quality of life. For a healthy foundation in 2012, this is as good a resolution as any.