David J. Zeiger, D.O.
Science is continually making discoveries about nutrients and their effects on health. Your body requires more than 40 nutrients for energy, growth, and tissue maintenance. Water, the medium for such bodily fluids as blood and lymph, is the most plentiful component in the body and is crucial to survival. Water transports nutrients into cells and carries waste products and toxins out.
Carbohydrates, proteins, and, fats are known as macronutrients which provide fuel in the form of calories. Carbohydrates, the body’s main energy source, are divided into simple sugars and complex starches. Proteins support tissue growth and repair and help produce antibodies, hormones and enzymes which are all essential for your body’s chemical reactions. (Dietary protein sources include meat, fish, dairy products, poultry, dried beans, nut and eggs.) Dietary fat protects your internal organs, provides energy, insulates against cold, and helps the body absorb certain vitamins. Three kinds of fat include saturated (found in meat, dairy food, and coconut oil), monounsaturated fat (found in olive, peanut, and canola oils), and polyunsaturated fat (found in corn, cottonseed, safflower, soy and sunflower oils).
Your diet also supplies important micronutrients called vitamins and minerals. Needed only in trace amounts, the absence or deficiency of just one vitamin or mineral can cause major illness. Your body also needs a supply of dietary fiber, the indigestible portion of plant foods.
Nutrients in Therapy
Conventional and alternative practitioners alike acknowledge the importance of a healthful diet. Alternative practitioners, however, place more emphasis on dietary intervention in some conditions were conventional medicine would resort first to drugs or even surgery.
Nutrients Prevent Atherosclerosis
Treatment of atherosclerosis, for example, may take the form of an extremely low-fat diet along with a program of meditation, exercise, and support-group therapy. Your diet should be not only low in cholesterol and saturated fat, but high in antioxidants, which neutralize free radicals believed to aggravate tissue damage. The key antioxidants are vitamins E and C, beta carotene (vitamin A), and selenium, which can be toxic in high dosages. To be safe, seek advice from a doctor or nutritionist. Some evidence suggests that garlic, eaten in large quantities, deters oxidation of cholesterol. Grape-skin extracts are reputed to reduce plaque deposits. Alfalfa and bromelin, a pineapple enzyme, are reported to have done the same in animals and may work on humans.
Nutrients Protect Against Heart Disease
Even modest changes in diet and lifestyle can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease. Most people now know that eating foods low in cholesterol, saturated fat, and salt will help keep blood pressure low and decrease the formation of plaques — calcified fatty deposits— in the blood vessels. Less known are those specific vitamins, minerals, and nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, niacin (vitamin B3), many other B complex vitamins, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, L-carnitine (an amino acid), and the fatty acids in fish oils, that specifically protect against heart and arterial disease.
Nutrients and Cancer Prevention
Scientific evidence suggests that nutrition may play a role in cancer prevention. Vitamins, minerals, and nutrients may inhibit cancer by neutralizing carcinogens, ensuring proper immune system function and preventing tissue and cell damage. Researchers are particularly interested in antioxidants like vitamins A (particularly beta carotene), C, and selenium, but are also studying, among others, folic acid, vitamin B6, magnesium, and zinc.
If you consistently eat a well-balanced diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and some animal protein, you probably don’t require a nutritional supplement. Multi-nutrient supplements offer insurance for those times when eating well is a challenge — and can be indispensable during pregnancy and times of disease, injury, and extreme stress or physical exertion. Always take supplements in moderation. High doses may be harmful and should be taken only under a doctor’s or registered dietitian’s guidance.