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How Nutrients Communicate: How Your Body Talks

How Your Body Talks:

How Nutrients Communicate

Stan Gardner, MD, CNS

With all of the conversation online and everywhere about nutrients, we might find our heads spinning, or find ourselves getting bored. So many options! So little definitive information!

Perhaps we might think there can be nothing more boring, yet there is nothing more important for our health, than to talk about and understand nutrients.

What this article is NOT:

  • This article is not about dieting, but it is about understanding what the various components of food ultimately do in our body.
  • This is not a treatise on the benefits of each individual vitamin, mineral, and essential fatty acid (which would take up volumes), but rather it is a simplified overview of major nutrients and their importance.

What is a Nutrient?

A nutrient is a biochemical substance the body needs for the normal functions of growth, reproduction and to maintain health. These are substances the body cannot make, so they must be ingested. Food is the best source of all nutrients. Supplements supplement our food; they supplement critical nutrients that have been identified.

The six traditional categories of nutrients include:

  • vitamins
  • minerals
  • proteins
  • fats
  • carbohydrates
  • water

I am also going to include fiber’s important role in the body.

Vitamins and Minerals

In my office in Cleveland, Ohio, we had 3 biochemistry charts on the wall that were 2 1/2 feet tall and 2 feet wide. The small print had all the known biochemical pathways with known enzymes and co-factors responsible for the reactions to take place. Those biochemical reactions are extremely slow unless there is an enzyme. An enzyme is a protein that accelerates (acts as a catalyst) the reaction, near the reaction site. Co-factors are needed so the enzyme works efficiently, or works at all. And guess what the majority of the co-factors are called? Vitamins and minerals!

There are over 300 reactions on the chart that require magnesium. It is fascinating to see where each of the B vitamins participates and is needed for optimal functioning. You can see where vitamin K fits into the clotting mechanism, vitamin A helps with night vision, and molybdenum and copper fit in with iron metabolism.

Proteins

Proteins are made up of amino acids, some of which cannot be made in the body (essential) and others that are made in the body. Amino acids are the building blocks of enzymes, hormones, all of the proteins in the body and most tissues in the body. All organ tissue repair requires amino acids as building blocks.

Fats

The proper role of fats has been muddied by 30 years of anti-fat marketing, cholesterol fears and heart disease. A short review of how the body uses fat includes:

  • transports fat-soluble vitamins—A, D, E, and K
  • healthy skin
  • eyesight
  • nerve and brain develop and maintenance, including the myelin sheath
  • source of energy
  • regulates production of sex hormones
  • forms protective cushion for internal organs (although some of us have too much)
  • muscle movement
  • forms prostaglandins (hormone-like), which regulate inflammation

Each of our 75 trillion cells has a cell membrane with thousands of phospholipids composing the cell membrane. Each phospholipid has 3 strands coming out of a base (glycerol) that connects them. I call it a “threek.” For years our family has called three-pronged forks “threeks” (instead of a four-pronged “fourk”). Typically, two of the three strands of the phospholipid are made up of saturated fats, while the third strand has an omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) or omega-6 (linoleic acid) fatty acid. These are the parent compounds and not the downstream products of DHA and EPA found in fish oils. The proper ratio of saturated fats to omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is important to maintain the proper fluidity and functioning of each cell.

Trans fatty acids, partially and fully hydrogenated oils are seen by the body as omega-3/omega-6 fatty acids and are placed into the ‘threek’ (phospholipid) in the cell’s membrane. Unfortunately, they do not function the same. The cell membrane becomes stiff and no longer functions optimally. The hormones don’t work as well, energy is not produced well, glucose does not enter the cell properly, cell-to-cell communication does not take place, and the list goes on.

Carbohydrates

There is no daily minimum requirement of carbohydrates as there is for fats and proteins. We get plenty of carbohydrates in the normal eating of grains, fruits and vegetables, so we do not need to worry about the amount we eat. Carbohydrates are a good source of glucose for production of energy, especially needed in the brain.

Whole grains not only have carbohydrates, but the hull also contains the vitamins and minerals necessary for their metabolism, in addition to fiber that slows down absorption. “Refined” grains means that those critical nutrients in the hull have been polished off, and the breakdown of the carbohydrate into glucose necessitates depleting vitamins that are in storage. This is what happened in Japan when white rice was introduced and beri-beri, a deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1), occurred. Because of the immediate and long-term effects of refined sugar in our body, sugar should be treated as a toxin and avoided.

Water

With all the trillions of dollars of research money spent, there is no solid science behind the recommendation of how much water to drink on a daily basis. The critical nature of proper hydration and the devastating effects of dehydration on the body are well known. Every organ of the body and every cell needs water to function properly. Perhaps the best guide to determine if we are getting enough is to note the color of the urine (darker yellow means dehydration) and perhaps the frequency and volume of urine output. However, these are also dependent on other factors.

The quality of the water we consume is important, because water can carry toxins that are brought into the body and interfere with function. All tap water for drinking should at least have a filter. Distillation and reverse osmosis are much more effective at eliminating toxins from the water supply.

Supplements

We live in a society where many in the farming and marketing industries are more interested in color and visual appeal of their products and less with nutrient value. Herbicides and pesticides are heavily used and remain on the surface (and deeper) in the food. Crop rotation is not practiced like it was 100 years ago. Fruits and vegetables are often picked before the ripening season so they can be transported thousands of miles. Sometimes they use ripening retardants to preserve food products until they reach market. We are being exposed to a greater number of toxins in the environment, so our need for nutrients for detoxification purposes is greater.

In view of the above concerns, and the fact that we do not have good inexpensive laboratory measures that are clinically significant of the vitamins and minerals we need, and because each of us has different needs of each nutrient (biochemical individuality), I recommend that we all need basic supplements to help ensure we get the nutrients we need.

Recommendations

  • Potent multivitamin (4 to 6 per day), vitamin D, essential fatty acids
  • 60 grams of protein per day (about deck of card size of meat, legumes, eggs). Emphasis should be on legumes for our protein sources.
  • Omega-3 oils—2 to 4 grams per day, both flaxseed and fish oil, omega-6 oils—2 to 4 grams per day
  • No sugar, no processed food
  • Whole grains (if not allergic)
  • At least 6 to 8 cups of water per day; more if indicated

If you would like to order high quality, custom-formulated supplements, or learn more information about Dr. Gardner and his practice in Sandy, Utah, call Keys to Healing Medical Center at (801) 302-5397

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Calories Count? Or Carbs? Or What?

Calorie Counters Have it Right, Diet Study Says

Recently released information in the Wall Street Journal shows that calories do count—that it isn’t what you eat, but how much. Participants were put in one of four diet groups—2 low-fat groups and 2 high-fat groups, with a high-protein and normal-protein groups being the other parameter. All diets were read more »