Vitamins & Supplements

  • What Are Probiotics (and Why do I Need Them?)

    YogurtProbiotics are microorganisms, including both bacteria and yeast, that live in the small and large intestines (also referred to as the gut). Collectively, all organisms in the gut are referred to as flora.

    There are more than 400 different types of bacteria species living in the gut, accounting for a whopping 3-5 pounds of body weight. Your gut is also home to a network of lymphoid tissue that makes up 60-70 percent of your immune system. That’s why keeping a healthy balance is critical to your ability to fight infection and optimally digest and metabolize food.

    Two genuses of bacteria—Lactobacillus (L.) and Bifidobacterium (B.)—are the most beneficial strains commonly used in probiotics, and a complete probiotic should contain strains of both in order to provide protection for both the small and large intestine. Here are a few examples of specific strains of these genuses that have unique capabilities:

    L. acidophilus strains predominantly live in the mouth, small intestine and vagina. They greatly benefit digestion by producing enzymes that break down food (e.g. lactase, which breaks down dairy), assisting in absorption of vitamins K and B, calcium and fatty acids, and protecting against infection and disease by lowering the pH of the gut to make it uninhabitable by bad bacteria.

    B. bifidum predominantly live in the large intestine and vagina, and adhere themselves to the walls of each, thus preventing bad bacteria from colonizing. B. Bifidum also produces substances that lower the pH of their environment so bad bacteria cannot thrive, and enhances assimilation of minerals.

    Many more strains exist that have shown specific beneficial properties. Consult with a qualified health practitioner for strains that are specific to helping certain health conditions (e.g. L. Rhamnosus, called the “travelers’ probiotic,” because it has shown protection against diarrhea while traveling).

    Beneficial yeast can also serve as probiotics. Here are a few examples of yeasts commonly found in probiotic formulas:

    Saccharomyces boulardii is a yeast that can sustain flora in the gut and help prevent and treat diarrhea from various causes (e.g. traveling or antibiotics).

    Saccharomyces cerevisiae, also known as brewer’s yeast or nutritional yeast, has been used for thousands of years to make dough rise and create alcohol (due to the yeast’s special ability to ferment certain sugars). S. cerevisiae has many beneficial effects, and is high in protein, fiber, B vitamins and folic acid.

    Different types of probiotics can be helpful for a variety of health conditions—they aid nutrient absorption, produce key vitamins, improve digestion and immunity, balance intestinal and vaginal flora, protect us from antibiotic use damage and improve overall wellbeing.

    Now that we know a bit about types of probiotics, the next step is in figuring out how to choose which one is right for you.

  • The Scoop on Vitamins: B12 – Cobalamin

    NutritionSupplements16-ArticleB12 is the most complex and unique of all B vitamins. The only source of B12 in nature is from microbial synthesis from good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract and from eating meat. Because it is not found in plants, it is a common deficiency for vegans and vegetarians, and because B12 is created in the intestinal tract, its absorption is also greatly inhibited by gastrointestinal disorders like Celiac Disease, Crohn’s, ilietis, colitis, parasites or any other disorders that impair intestinal function.

    So why is B12 so important? B12 is vital for amino acid synthesis, DNA replication and the manufacturing of neurotransmitters that are partially responsible for stabilizing mood and sleep patterns. Signs of deficiency include gastrointestinal disturbance, hypotension, fatigue, numbness, tingling in extremities, confusion and agitation.

    B12 is also needed to metabolize essential fatty acids, so a deficiency can result in impairment of brain and nerve tissue, like the myelin sheath. Prolonged deficiency of B12 can lead to a variety of central nervous system symptoms, and some neurological disturbances can become permanent. Maintaining and replenishing B12 is most effective by injection or supplementation, combined with the right diet.

    The body’s daily needs for B12 are minimal—it’s such a valuable nutrient that the body doesn’t readily excrete it. The average required daily allowance is about 2-3 mcg. High dietary sources of B12 are organ meats, clams, oysters, salmon, sardines and egg yolks.

    Relying on proper dietary choices to support the good bacteria in the gut is a vital way to ensure you're getting the B12 you need. Maintain balanced gut flora through high-quality probiotics such as Dr. Ohhira's, a superior, fermented food-based probiotic, Pharmax’s HLC High Potency Probiotics or Thorne Research's FloraMend Prime Probiotic. You may also want to incorporate fermented foods like unpasteurized kimchi, miso and sauerkraut into your diet, and ensure you’re getting enough fiber from vegetables, nuts and seeds in order to maintain balance in the digestive tract.

    Following are some of the high-quality, B12 supplements we offer at Pharmaca, all forms of methylcobalamin, which is naturally the most bioavailable form: Pharmaca’s Vitamin B12 Sublingual, Superior Source’s No Shot Vitamin B12 or Natural Factors B12 Methylcobalamin.

  • The Scoop on Vitamins: B9 - Folic Acid

    This is part of our continuing series on the function of vitamins in the body.

    Folic acid is one of the more well known B vitamins because of its importance during pregnancy for healthy fetal development, particularly during the first trimester. While the connection isn’t completely understood, the demand for folate most likely increases because of unique hormonal changes. It’s important to note that women who are on the birth control pill but are not pregnant also have an increased need for folate and other B vitamins because the pill creates hormone demands that mimic pregnancy.

    Folate (also called folacin) deficiencies are observed in the depressed and the mentally ill, as well as the elderly. Smoking, alcohol and stress also readily deplete folate. Folacin deficiency is one of the most prevalent deficiencies, though it is difficult to identify because its symptoms can mimic those of a B12 deficiency—folate is dependent on B12 for proper utilization, and without it is useless in the body. Symptoms of deficiency include irritability, weakness, apathy, forgetfulness, hostility, paranoid behavior, headache, gastrointestinal disturbance and heart palpitations.

    Proper folate levels are critical for a healthy system. This powerful nutrient is used to nourish and repair tissues, and plays a key role in the manufacturing of neurotransmitters that help regulate sleep, pain and mood. Aim for at least 400 mcg of folate daily to maintain tissue stores and give your body the building blocks it needs.

    Supplementation of folate is an easy and affordable way to support energy, mental health and the demands of growth and aging. Studies have shown that the body responds quickly to supplementation therapy. I always recommend B vitamins taken together in the form of a B-complex supplement.

    My top recommendations:

    Basic B-Complex by Thorne Research, which offers 400 mcg of folate per serving. Thorne is a medical-grade company and I often recommend it for its potency, quality and avoidance of allergens, fillers and preservatives.

    I also recommend food-based supplements like MegaFood’s Balanced B Complex because they offer pure, bioavailable formulations.

    Studies have also shown that good folate levels can be maintained with the ingestion of two portions of leafy green vegetables each day (folate and folacin derive their names from “foliage”). That includes nutritionally rich and health-boosting greens such as spinach, kale and collards, along with other nourishing vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, green peas, cauliflower, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe. But like the other B vitamins, folate is sensitive to high-heat cooking methods like boiling and microwaving that can deplete the nutrients, so it is vital to eat both fresh, raw produce as well as cooked.

    Elizabeth Willis is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and Herbalist. She has a private practice in Boulder, Colo., and also works at Pharmaca’s downtown Boulder location. Elizabeth specializes in a holistic approach by connecting her clients with the more dynamic roles of food and nutrition. She believes that by eliminating food intolerances, building optimal nutrition and working directly with the emotional body, it is possible to greatly revive one’s health by reconnecting body with spirit.

  • The Scoop on Vitamins: Vitamin B2 - Riboflavin

    This is part of our continuing series on the function of vitamins in the body.

    Vitamin B2 is a powerhouse of energy, and a key member of the B vitamin family. B2, or riboflavin, is comprised of two enzymes: flavin mononucleotide and flavin adenine dinucleotide, which play an essential role in the breakdown and assimilation of food. As a potent enzyme, riboflavin helps us to synthesize essential fatty acids and amino acids. It also enables better absorption of iron and B6. Riboflavin is so vital to the system that cells cannot grow without it, and deficiency is quickly seen in cells that are frequently reproducing, like the mucous membranes, eyes, hair and in vitro.

    Because B2 is such an intricate part of cellular energy and metabolism, its requirements are based on the amount of calories a person consumes, as well as their body weight and their lifestyle. According to The Nutrition Desk Reference, we need roughly 0.6 mg of vitamin B2 per 100 pounds of body weight every day.

    For example, a pregnant woman needs no less than 1.6 mg/day to nourish herself and the cellular demand of her growing infant. Similarly, because young children and teens are growing so rapidly, they need a daily dose of .8-1.2 mg/day. (Signs of deficiency among this group include red cracks at the corners of the mouth.) Because of their larger build, an active adult male will need more substantial dose of around 1.7 mg/day.  

    Like most other B vitamins, B2 is water soluble, meaning it is used rapidly in the body and can be excreted quickly under stress and with the use of diuretics like caffeine. Depletion can stem from the birth control pill, strenuous exercise, antibiotic use and alcohol. Unfortunately B2 deficiency isn’t terribly easy to recognize—that’s why it’s imperative to reach for whole foods that offer the nutrient in abundance, like organic milk products, tuna and salmon, chicken, dark leafy greens, mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli, sprouts, and eggs. Choosing foods loaded with this essential nutrient will keep your energy levels up and prepare your body to repair tissue and ward off sickness. A daily multivitamin or B complex can also be a good way to supplement this essential vitamin.

    The Nutrition Desk Reference, by Robert Garrison and Elizabeth Somer

    Elizabeth Willis is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and Herbalist. She has a private practice in Boulder, Colo., and also works at Pharmaca’s downtown Boulder location. Elizabeth specializes in a holistic approach by connecting her clients with the more dynamic roles of food and nutrition. She believes that by eliminating food intolerances, building optimal nutrition and working directly with the emotional body, it is possible to greatly revive one’s health by reconnecting body with spirit.

  • The Scoop on Vitamins: Vitamin B1 - Thiamine

    This is part of our continuing series on the function of vitamins in the body.

    The family of B vitamins is collectively called the B Complex. B Vitamins are used in many ways, from helping the liver clear toxins and excess hormones to creating energy within our cells. Every system in your body requires B vitamins to function.

    B1, also called thiamine, is a unique nutrient that plays an integral role in the brain and central nervous system. B1’s coenzyme form is important for the synthesis of acetylcholine, which is critical in preventing memory loss and nerve inflammation. B1 is also important for the repair and prevention of any impairment of nerve function.

    Another of B1’s major contributions to the body is the dynamic way it facilitates proper digestion:

    B1 assists in the production of hydrochloric acid (stomach acid), which is vital to the proper breakdown and assimilation of food.
    B1 helps maintain muscle tone in the intestines and stomach, prevents constipation and plays a role in the metabolism of carbohydrates.
    B1 provides nourishment for all digestive organs, helps us to get maximum nutrition from our food and regulates appetite.

    Symptoms of B1 deficiency include loss of reflexes, peripheral paralysis or numbness in the extremities. These symptoms have engendered theories that B1 deficiency may be a player in diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis and Restless Leg Syndrome.

    B1 deficiency often stems from high amounts of exercise or a diet that’s high in carbohydrates or alcohol. An optimal amount of B1 for an active adult is between 1.2-1.5 mg daily. Dietary sources include pork, nuts, beans, peas, brown rice, egg yolks, asparagus, broccoli and raisins. It’s important to note, however, that B1 is often lost during food preparations in which the cooking water is discarded. A simple way to maintain the B1 content is to try soups and stews that combine some of the above ingredients—it’s a delicious way to enjoy the flavor and nutrients our bodies need.

    Supplementation is also an excellent way to support your body’s thiamine needs. Try taking a quality B-complex supplement and a food-based multivitamin every day to ensure your daily B1 needs are met.

    The Nutrition Desk Reference, by Robert Garrison and Elizabeth Somer

    Elizabeth Willis is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and Herbalist. She has a private practice in Boulder, Colo., and also works at Pharmaca’s downtown Boulder location. Elizabeth specializes in a holistic approach by connecting her clients with the more dynamic roles of food and nutrition. She believes that by eliminating food intolerances, building optimal nutrition and working directly with the emotional body, it is possible to greatly revive one’s health by reconnecting body with spirit.

  • Do I Really Need a Multivitamin?

    Multivitamins are filled with nutrients—but if we eat healthfully, shouldn’t we be getting all those nutrients through our diets? According to the Harvard School of Public Health, a diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, good protein and healthy fats should provide most of the nutrients needed for good health. Still, many Americans fall short of the recommended micronutrient intake set by the American Institute of Medicine, especially vitamins like D and E. As a result, "A daily multivitamin is an inexpensive nutrition insurance policy," the Harvard experts advise.

    Our practitioners recommend a good multivitamin for a variety of health goals, however. For instance, “Adults with athletic and active lifestyles can benefit from a multivitamin’s ability to repair tissue, replace electrolytes and provide antioxidants to stop free radical damage,” says Elizabeth Willis, herbalist and nutritionist at our downtown Boulder store.

    For people undergoing large amounts of stress, Elizabeth says a multivitamin can help flush stress hormones from the body, increase energy and help the body better adapt. “A quality multivitamin is also a good choice for those on a restricted diet or those with digestive disorders,” says Elizabeth (such as vegetarians or those who eat a gluten-free diet), since those conditions can limit your ability to intake all of the nutrients you need.

    “Medications such as antibiotics, sleeping pills, aspirin and oral contraceptives can deplete vitamins and nutrients in the body,” says Don Summerfield, Pharmaca’s vice president of integrative health, in addition to smoking, dieting, alcohol consumption and obesity. “A good multivitamin can do is give you reassurance that you are getting the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals needed for good health.”

    "Remember that a multivitamin won't compensate for a poor diet—but it can help fill nutritional gaps in a good one,” says Summerfield. Ultimately, it’s about eating a healthy, varied diet that meets your nutritional needs, and adding the “insurance” of a good multi.

    Speak with a Pharmaca practitioner about finding the right multivitamin for your nutritional needs.

  • The Healthy Benefits of Omega-3s

    The reported health benefits of omega-3s keep piling up—from boosting heart health to improving memory and concentration. Omega-3s are considered “essential” fatty acids because our body needs them for a variety of bodily functions. Since we can’t make them on our own, however, we must get them through diet or supplementation. The two main omega-3s are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are found most commonly in coldwater fish, but are also present in oils from algae, plants and flaxseed.

    Despite their “essential” label, many people are still deficient in omega-3s, and this deficiency has been cited as one of the top 10 causes of preventable death in the US among dietary, lifestyle and metabolic risk factors.

    Here are some of the most well-researched benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.

    Cardiovascular health
    Omega-3s have more scientific research backing their benefits for cardiovascular health than any other nutritional supplement. Strong evidence—thousands of clinical trials, in fact—suggest that EPA and DHA enhance overall cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol, high blood pressure and elevated triglycerides. The American Heart Association even recommends that people with coronary heart disease get 1 g each of EPA and DHA per day.

    Omega-3s also seem to reduce the risk of recurring heart attacks and abnormal heart rhythms in people who have already had a heart attack. In addition, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, large population studies have shown that people getting significant amounts of omega-3s in their diets have a 50 percent lower risk of stroke.

    Alzheimer’s and Dementia
    Recent research has shown that omega-3s may slow cognitive decline and reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. In a study published in May in the journal Neurology, researchers found that people who consumed the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids had the lowest levels of beta-amyloid plaque buildup, a marker in the brain for dementia and Alzheimer’s.

    According to the Mayo Clinic, omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in brain function. Because people with depression may have lower levels of EPA and DHA—important brain chemicals—they can benefit from supplementing with the EPA and DHA found in fish oil. It has also been shown that cultures that consume more omega-3 rich foods have generally lower incidences of depression.

    Prenatal health
    It is widely know that the EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids are vital for healthy infant development, especially for the eyes, nervous system and brain. In addition, supplementing with fish oil during pregnancy has been found to reduce the rate of respiratory illness in infants (according to a study published last year in the journal Pediatrics).

    Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, MD, member of Pharmaca’s Integrative Health Advisory Board, recommends 200-300 mg of DHA starting in the 25th week of pregnancy (learn more about her prenatal nutrition recommendations).

    Rheumatoid arthritis
    A number of small studies have found that fish oil helps reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, including joint pain and stiffness. A 2007 article in the journal Pain analyzed studies that tested the effects of omega-3s on pain and inflammation and showed that by taking omega-3s, patients were able to lower their doses of prescription anti-inflammatory medications and experienced a decrease in pain.

    Dr. Tori Hudson, ND, and member of Pharmaca’s Integrative Health Advisory Board, highly recommends omega-3 fatty acids for her patients experiencing any kind of joint pain.

    Explore our selection of omega-3 fish oils either in store or at

  • What Do Those Expiration Dates Mean, Anyway?

    Chances are you’ve got a few bottles of expired medicine lying around the house. So what happens when you’re in dire need of some cold medicine and the only package you’ve got is two years old? Here’s how expiration dates work.

    Prescriptions and OTC drugs  
    In 1979, a law was passed that mandated that all drug manufacturers put a stamped expiration date on their drugs. This stamp represents the manufacturer’s guarantee of the full efficacy and safety of the drug. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the drug is not stable after this date; it simply guarantees that it is stable in a sealed container with full potency up to this date. The average expiration date is between one and five years.

    A study conducted by the FDA found that 90 percent of more than 100 tested prescription and over-the-counter drugs were found to be safe and effective far past their expiration date—many up to 10 years. While the original effectiveness of the drug may decrease over time, many drugs can be considered safe for use past expiration (with the exception of certain drugs such as nitroglycerine, insulin, EpiPens and liquid antibiotics).

    Dietary supplements
    While the FDA does not require expiration dates for nutritional dietary supplements, manufacturers often include this information in an effort to ensure products provide consistent results. To set an expiration date, a manufacturer must perform stability tests to determine active ingredient degradation over time. And the FDA requires that manufacturers who put an expiration date on their products can prove that the product maintains the original potency listed on the label until the stamped expiration date.

    Here is the general wisdom on the expiration dates of different types of supplements:

    • Herbal, vitamin, mineral, enzyme and amino acid supplements slowly weaken with age. As a general rule of thumb, these supplements may maintain potency for 1-2 years following their expiration date.
    • It is thought that quality B vitamins may not sustain potency following expiration, so it’s a good practice to purchase new B vitamins once yours are past the expiration date.
    • Fish oils and probiotics can maintain potency for around three months past the posted expiration date.
    • Juice or liquid and glandular supplements may maintain potency up to a year past the expiration date.

    Generally, the higher the quality and grade of the supplement, the longer a dietary supplement will maintain potency past the expiration date. Natural supplements generally do not degrade into anything toxic or harmful over time—this also would be dependent on proper storage.

    To ensure potency of any substance, make sure you store it safely. Always keep drugs and supplements in their original packaging. Keep them out of heat, moisture and light, and only refrigerate them if told to do so by your pharmacist. And never store your drugs in the bathroom cabinet, as the bathroom carries a lot of moisture.

    Lastly, never flush prescription medications or supplements down the toilet. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove and destroy drugs, and doing so can lead to contamination of drinking water as well as oceans, lakes and rivers. Polluting marine life in turn has a hazardous impact on our food chain and the drugs can end up back in our bodies. (Click here for more information about proper medication disposal.)

    Kate Brainard attended Bastyr University’s doctorate program in Naturopathic Medicine. She currently manages Pharmaca’s La Jolla store

  • Coconut: Packed with Healthy Benefits

    What is this nut that’s so hard to crack? Coconut is cropping up everywhere these days—coconut water, coconut flour, shredded coconut, coconut milk, coconut oil, coconut cream. When I was a young girl we’d shake them to check for water inside (an indication of a good coconut, according to my mom). The next task was actually getting the hairy orb open so we could drink the water and carefully pry the meat out.

    I’ve always thought of coconuts as a special treat, but in the islands of the South Pacific, coconuts have long been a staple food item. While doing research on the benefits of this mysterious “nut,” I found that the people of Polynesia have been consuming coconuts for centuries, and their population is amazingly healthy—free of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and arthritis.

    Now it’s true that coconut contains saturated fat, and it’s fair to say that most people are concerned about consuming too much saturated fat for fear of increasing their cholesterol and triglyceride (fats) numbers, along with the potential for heart disease.

    But coconut doesn’t contain just any saturated fat—it contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and medium-chain lauric, capric and caprylic fatty acids, which are associated with many health benefits. In fact, medium-chain fatty acids (MFCAs) have long been used in hospitals to treat critically ill patients who have malabsorption and digestive problems, as well as in premature infants (MCFAs provide many of the same nutrients as human breast milk). In fact, coconut water is still a primary ingredient in infant formulas.

    Let’s look at some of the other benefits of coconut.

    Metabolism: A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that medium-chain fatty acids were three times more effective at raising metabolism than long-chain fatty acids. This is for two reasons: First, MCFAs do not circulate into the bloodstream. Instead, they are sent directly to the liver, where they are immediately converted into energy. Second, they don’t raise blood sugar. And it has been reported that coconut oil can actually help to control sugar cravings.

    Candida: The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil have been shown to destroy Candida, a condition of yeast overgrowth in the body that triggers symptoms of weight gain, carbohydrate cravings and fatigue. Additionally, coconut oil slows the digestion of food, which helps you feel more satiated after a meal. The added bonus is that coconut oil has no carbohydrates or sugar—another reason coconut oil can help with weight loss and is a good alternative for diabetics.

    Digestion: The saturated fats present in coconut oil have anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and help in dealing with bacteria, fungi, parasites, etc., that can cause digestive problems. MCFA molecules are smaller, and require less energy and fewer enzymes to break down for digestion, which reduces strain on the pancreas and digestive system. Coconut oil also helps in the absorption of other nutrients such as fat-soluble vitamins, minerals and amino acids, which can be beneficial for people who suffer from gallbladder disease, pancreatitis, Crohn’s disease and diabetes.

    Cholesterol: Coconut oil contains about 50% lauric acid, which has been shown to help increase HDL (healthy cholesterol) and does not lead to increased levels of LDL (unhealthy cholesterol). As such, the saturated fats found in coconut oil are clearly not the same as those found in animal fat—the difference is in the length of the fatty acids.

    5 easy ways to make coconut part of your healthy lifestyle

    If you’re thinking about incorporating some of this “healthy” saturated fat into your lifestyle, here are some ideas to make it quick and easy.

    Replace other cooking oils with coconut oil. I would start out by using half of the amount that you would normally use. If you don’t care for the flavor or smell of coconut, look for oil that says it’s odorless and tasteless. It’s great for cooking vegetables, eggs, meats and fish—even baking.

    Add a tablespoon to hot cereal
    along with some raw walnuts or almonds, a drizzle of agave nectar and some fresh berries for a heart-healthy breakfast.

    Coconut oil is a fantastic moisturizer and hair conditioner. Keep a jar of coconut oil in the bathroom and use it as a moisturizer after a warm bath or shower. It’s also great on dry heels and elbows. If you suffer from dandruff, apply a small amount to your scalp, massage it in and leave on for about 15 minutes (or even overnight), then wash your hair as you normally would.

    Try using coconut in smoothies, soups, dressings, cakes, cookies, sauces, cereals or pancakes. Coconut products are relatively easy to find—look for coconut water or milk, coconut flour, shredded or flaked coconut, coconut cream or butter, and coconut sugar.

    Use it as a deodorant. OK, you might think this one is a stretch, but consider the fact that coconut oil is anti-microbial, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. If you’ve been searching for a healthy alternative to conventional deodorant, give coconut oil a try. I’ve been applying odorless coconut oil as a deodorant for about four months and so far, knock on wood, no complaints from my co-workers at Pharmaca.

    Pharmaca carries several types of coconut oil from Jarrow Formulas and Nature’s Way, as well as a variety of coconut waters, both plain and flavored.

    Sharon Wegner is a Certified Holistic Health Coach, Nutritional Consultant and member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. Sharon teaches her clients how to make healthier food and lifestyle choices by creating simple and sustainable changes. She shares her passion for cooking with her clients by teaching them how to make fresh and delicious REAL food. You can find out more about her work at her Essentials for Healthy Living blog.

  • The Scoop on Vitamins

    Ever wonder exactly how and why we need vitamins in our diet? Here’s a little primer on how vitamins function in our bodies. 

    Put plainly, a vitamin is an organic compound essential for life. It is essential because it cannot be created in the body, and must be obtained through food for the body to stay alive. Vitamins are called “micronutrients” because the body only requires a small quantity of them. Macronutrients, on the other hand—such as protein, fat, carbohydrates and water—are necessary in larger quantities because the body uses them to create bodily structures and provide energy. Vitamins also work intricately with enzymes, creating action in the body like assisting in the breakdown of food and allowing assimilation.

    There a few major classes of vitamins. First, vitamins are either water soluble or fat soluble. Water-soluble vitamins must be consumed daily because the body has no real way of storing them (these include the B vitamins and vitamin C). Fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, K and E, on the other hand, can be stored longer in fatty tissues and the liver.

    Another distinguishing category of vitamins is whether they are synthetic or natural. Synthetic vitamins are made in laboratories, and though they appear to be identical to the vitamins found in food, they lack the complexity of natural vitamins. That’s because when vitamins occur in nature they're never isolated—they’re always interlaced in very complex multidimensional structures of macronutrients. And studies show that when nutrients are bonded to proteins in this way, they’re better assimilated and more readily used by the body.

    Most importantly, vitamins work together in a synergistic way to create the delicate balance of energy that the body needs to maintain life and to thrive. If there is an imbalance of even one nutrient—whether it’s a deficiency or an excess—it can produce disease in the body and create a host of confusing symptoms. "Scientific research has proved that an excess of isolated vitamins or minerals can produce the same symptom as the deficiency... For example high doses of B-vitamins have been shown to cause the depletion of the other B-vitamins" (From Prescription for Nutritional Healing, by Phyllis Balch, CNC, and James F. Balch, MD).

    Getting to know vitamin basics is an important step in taking care of our own health. Using a vitamin at the proper time can increase healing time and prevent illness. Dr. Balch gives us one important example: "The absorption of vitamin C is greatly reduced by antibiotic drugs, so a person taking antibiotics requires a higher than normal intake of this vitamin." Knowing about and having a better understanding of the intricate dance of vitamins within the body is a profound way to observe the intelligence of the body, and to increase one's quality of life.

    Next we’ll be exploring the different roles that vitamins play in the body. Our first exploration will be meeting the water-soluble vitamins and seeing the fascinating role they play in our health.

    Elizabeth Willis is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and Herbalist. She has a private practice in Boulder, Colo., and also works at Pharmaca’s downtown Boulder location. Elizabeth specializes in a holistic approach by connecting her clients with the more dynamic roles of food and nutrition. She believes that by eliminating food intolerances, building optimal nutrition and working directly with the emotional body, it is possible to greatly revive one’s health by reconnecting body with spirit.

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