With all the fake news in the media these days, it’s not surprising to read “The only thing vitamins are good for is making expensive urine.” This was actually a headline I saw just a few weeks ago. And, I actually used to believe that line of reasoning until I learned about nutrient-deficiency in the standard American diet (SAD). The more I studied and researched food and nutrition, the more I realized
that proper supplementation is essential for well-being. Diving headfirst into learning about nutrition can be a daunting task often times leading you down a rabbit hole of misinformation and flat out lies. Hopefully, this article will educate and empower you to take control of your health.
What exactly are fat-soluble vitamins?
Vitamins are essential micro-nutrients required in the diet to promote growth, reproduction, and maintain good health. Vitamins come in two forms; fat-soluble and water-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and vitamin B and can dissolve in water and are excreted in the urine (yes-making expensive urine). The fat-soluble vitamins include D, A, K, and E, and each one of these plays a pivotal role in maintaining vitality. Fat-soluble vitamins can be dissolved in fats and oils and are stored in the liver and fatty tissues of the body.
Fat-soluble vitamins are most abundant in high-fat foods and are much better absorbed into your bloodstream when you eat them with fat. Given America’s misplaced “low-fat diet fad” many people are not sufficiently absorbing and properly utilizing vitamins D, A, K, and E. Vitamin deficiencies have been associated with many chronic diseases possibly leading to cancer, vascular disease, and even death.
Vitamin A, also known as retinol, is mostly associated with vision and eye health but it is also essential for the maintenance of healthy mucous membranes. Vitamin A occurs naturally in animal-based foods such as eggs, liver, and butter but can also be converted from carotenoid antioxidants in plants such as spinach, kale, and carrots.
Vitamin A deficiency can lead to blindness, hair loss, and poor immune function.
Multiple studies have teased out an inverse risk of lung cancer to the intake of foods rich in vitamin A. One study revealed that an increased intake of foods with vitamin A activity was inversely associated with cancers of the bladder, mouth, larynx, esophagus, and breast. Given its importance in the maintenance of healthy mucous membranes, vitamin A is useful for strengthening the respiratory system against influenza attacks as well. It is also shown to reduce infant mortality due to measles by 50% in developing countries. Surprisingly, a study of well-nourished children in California suffering from the measles, it was noted that 50% of the children were vitamin A deficient.
Vitamin D, in its most active and effective form D3, also known as the sunshine vitamin, has long been known to regulate serum calcium levels thus affecting bone density and strength. But new studies are showing that vitamin D also plays a crucial role in reducing your risk of chronic disease. Optimal vitamin D levels have been shown to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, chronic inflammation, and even Alzheimer’s disease. A French study indicated that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (but not other types of dementia) was 77% lower in those in the highest versus the lowest quintiles of vitamin D dietary intakes. Another study demonstrated that patients with Parkinson’s Disease were more likely to have vitamin D insufficiency and their levels should be monitored more frequently than the general population to potentially slow the progression of the disease.
According to the National Cancer Institute, vitamin D has been found to have multiple anti-cancer activities that might slow or prevent the development of cancer, including “promoting cellular differentiation, decreasing cancer cell growth, stimulating apoptosis cell death (cell death), and reducing tumor angiogenesis blood vessel formation (blood vessel formation). One large-scale study supported a reduced cancer risk by as much as 60 percent with optimal vitamin D levels. Other studies have demonstrated that maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D can prevent up to 16 different types of cancer, including lung, ovarian, skin, and pancreatic cancers. In fact, a 2016 paper reported: “It is believed that vitamin D binding to certain conserved sequences called vitamin D response elements in the DNA can alter the expression of genes involved in tumorigenesis.”
In population studies, vitamin D deficiency has been consistently associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and hypertension. Only in the last 30 years was it discovered that the heart and blood vessels contained numerous vitamin D receptors (VDR) along with vitamin D metabolizing enzymes. Laboratory studies show that VDR-knockout mice (mice without VDR) have increased cardiovascular disease including atherosclerosis and increased inflammation in the cardiovascular system. At the 2011 American College of Cardiology conference in New Orleans, researchers from the Emory/Georgia Tech Predictive Health Institute stated: “That people with vitamin D deficiency had vascular dysfunction comparable to those with diabetes or hypertension."
Many people associate vitamin K with the blood thinner Coumadin, which inhibits vitamin K and prevents clots, but this is only one of the essential physiologic roles of vitamin K. Vitamin K modifies an array of functional proteins known as vitamin K-dependent proteins (VDKs). These VKD’s are found throughout the body and encourage health-promoting effects including downregulating IL-6 and prostaglandin E2, both well-known to cause inflammation. The VDK‘s osteocalcin and osteodentin transport calcium into the bones and teeth respectively building strong bones and teeth. Another VDK known as matrix Gla protein (MGP) found in the skin, soft tissues, and in the walls of arteries and veins prevents the calcification of blood vessels, decreasing the risk of coronary artery disease. Yet another VDK, GAS-6 protein, affects cell differentiation and apoptosis and is involved in supporting the innate immune system thus improving the amount of and the efficacy of natural killer (NK) cells known to fight certain types of cancer. Vitamin K also plays a role in cholesterol balance similar to that of statins.
Many of the VDK’s mentioned above require vitamins A and D to be synthesized. So, for vitamin K to perform its life-saving and longevity-preserving functions, the levels of vitamin A and D must be optimized. Hence, you should always take a combination of K2 and D3. Vitamin K has been used as a drug in Japan, and a therapeutic nutrient in the United States to combat or even reverse osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and cancer prevention. In fact, a population study on a Dutch community found a reduced risk of overall cancer incidence and mortality by 14% and 28% in people in the upper quintile of vitamin K2 intake.
Vitamin E is found in two primary forms in nature, tocopherols and tocotrienols, each with 4 subgroups. Only alpha-tocopherol meets human vitamin E requirements because it was discovered that alpha-tocopherol was preferentially bound in the liver to transport-proteins delivering it to extrahepatic tissues. But vitamin E in the form of tocotrienol has been shown to possess superior antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties over α-tocopherol.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects lipids, lipoproteins, and membranes from damage created by oxidation. Along with maintaining the integrity of cell membranes (unhealthy cell membranes contribute to chronic disease) vitamin E decreases the number of oxidized low-density lipoproteins – thought to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
According to the Rotterdam study, high intake of vitamin E and vitamin C has been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The reduced risk of cognitive decline is believed to result from a decreased accumulation of the Tau fibrils and amyloid plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. It is theorized that the anti-inflammatory and potent antioxidant properties of Vitamin E account for the decreased cognitive decline seen in multiple studies.
Only a few studies have shown benefit with supplementation of vitamin E and cancer reduction. The Shanghai Breast cancer Study observed a 20% reduction in breast cancer with supplementation of vitamin E amongst women with low dietary intake. The intravenous form, vitamin E succinate (VES), was shown to arrest colorectal cancer (CRC) tumor cells from dividing and was associated with increased survival time in CRC when given with omega 3 oils. Vitamin E is also known to help balance T-cells and boost immune function subsequently decreasing the risks of certain types of cancers, but more research is needed to verify its cancer-fighting properties.
In recent decades, significant advances have been made in understanding the role and importance of fat-soluble vitamins in human health. Given the poor nutrient status of the SAD diet, supplementation with fat-soluble vitamins may be warranted. It is this authors opinion that supplementation with fat-soluble vitamins is easily justified to increase longevity and ward off disease. But, like any other supplement program, talk to your naturopathic or medical doctor before taking. And remember, don’t think “if a little is good then a lot is better.” Fat-soluble vitamins can build up in your system and cause harm because they are very powerful with significant metabolic and physiologic activity.