Vitamins: The building blocks of health

Doctor of Oriental Medicine

In 1937 Dr. Albert Szent-Giorgi discovered vitamin C as the nutritional factor that prevented scurvy. Subsisting on a diet of mostly salted and cured meats, and no fruits or vegetables, many sailors died because of scurvy, a deficiency of vitamin C. Without vitamin C, there would be a breakdown of collagen in the tissues, including the joints and the vascular walls, eventually causing him to bleed to death.

Dr. Szent-Giorgi did not use ascorbic acid by itself, as an isolate, as we do today. He used paprika. On the ships after his discovery, they used potatoes, sauerkraut, lemons and oranges or real lemon syrup. Even though he was able to isolate ascorbic acid, he found that it, by itself, did not cure scurvy. Only the vitamin C found in foods did. He concluded that human cells required a food matrix of nature's co-factors, most of which were as yet unknown in his time, but quickly became evident as a requirement for its biological activities.

Vitamin C from food helps with the metabolism of several amino acids, enzymes and hormones. It raises HDL cholesterol, tones or strengthens bones, gums, teeth, joints, skin and arteries, is instrumental in immune health, and improves iron absorption. It is a critical building block for good health.

What we use today, "ascorbic acid" or "calcium ascorbate" is not the same as it is when it comes from a food. Vitamins are not individual molecular compounds, and are never found as an isolate in nature. They are biological complexes. They comprise elaborate biochemical interactions that are dependent upon multiple variables in the body. Vitamins are working processes that need enzymes, coenzymes, trace mineral activators and other nutrients to perform an action. A vitamin will only work when all the necessary elements are present. If it's not in the ingested complex, it will steal it from the body. When it runs out, the requisite function cannot occur as expected.

This is not only true of vitamin C, but vitamin A and E as well. The synthetic versions we have become so accustomed to: d-alpha tocopherol (synthetic vitamin E), beta-carotene, retinol palmitate, vitamin A acetate (all synthetic vitamin A), are not true vitamin complexes. They too are chemical isolates. The identifying factor of the vitamins (called d-alpha tocopherol, retinol palmitate or ascorbic acid) are just that - identifying factors. They are how we determine whether a food contains that vitamin or not. It is not the vitamin itself, and should not be taken as a single entity, separated from the whole complex.

We have taken essential building blocks, which because of the form we consume them in, instead of building us up as vitamins should, are creating a new generation of health challenges that never should have existed. If you want to build a healthy body, you have to eat real food - and real food vitamins!

Learn more in an upcoming webinar, Understanding Vitamins and Minerals, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 9. This is an online class that you can attend from your computer. Class fee is $5. RSVP: (208) 765-1994.

Holly Carling is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Licensed Acupuncturist, Doctor of Naturopathy, Clinical Nutritionist and Master Herbologist with more than 32 years of experience. Carling is currently accepting new patients and offers natural health care services and whole food nutritional supplements in her Coeur d'Alene clinic. Visit Carling's website at to learn more about Carling, view a list of upcoming health classes and read other informative articles. Carling can be reached at (208) 765-1994 and would be happy to answer any questions regarding this topic.

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