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Are you a skeptic about vitamins? 

I once had a conversation with a doctor friend who was skeptical about the value of daily vitamins. “I think people get all the vitamins they need from a good diet,” he said.

Knowing that he was an avid gardener, I asked, “Don’t you add plant food to your garden?  Shouldn’t those plants get all the nutrition they need from regular dirt?”

In an ideal world, if you and I ate a wonderfully nutritious, healthy diet all the time, we probably would be able to obtain most of the nutrients we need for good health from dietary sources alone.  That is assuming that we always ate fresh fruits, grains and vegetables that were grown in optimum conditions in healthy soils, harvested at exactly the right time and served fresh to our table.

It also assumes that the meats we eat are from animals that are fed an organic, natural diet free from hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals. It also assumes that we eat well balanced meals that contain an ideal mix of nutrients on a daily basis.

I wish I could say that is a likely scenario, but it just isn’t. The food we have available today comes from various countries around the world that have extremely varying standards of food growing, harvesting, storage and handling. Fruits and vegetables may be grown in another country in depleted soils, harvested too early and shipped in gas-filled container ships to make the produce appear ripe. 

Even locally grown vegetables may be produced in soil that is deficient in minerals or may be short of the essential vitamins we need for healthy function.

Most people really don’t eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables even if they are available. We live in a world of convenience foods. Much of our food choices come in a bag, can or box. The food is either packaged dry, canned or frozen. That inevitably means a lack of important vitamins and minerals.

Most people are simply unable to obtain an ideal range of important vitamins and minerals through their diet. Just like plants we may be able to survive without ideal nutrition, but we will not thrive. Surviving is not the same thing as being healthy.

What is a vitamin?

Vitamins are crucially important to staying healthy. Vitamins are organic (carbon containing) compounds that our body needs in small amounts. Vitamins make our body work properly.  Without the right amounts of vitamins, we will inevitably have some type of health problem. It is impossible to be truly healthy without an appropriate amount of vitamins in our body.

There are 13 named vitamins. These are chemicals that are needed throughout our body to make sure that all the other chemicals in our body interact as they should.

Our bodies are enormously efficient and complex chemical factories. The number and diversity of chemical reactions going on at this instant in your body is staggering. Considering that you have trillions of cells carrying on routine or sometimes non-routine activities using the 60 chemicals that you are made of, it is easy to imagine that the chemistry going on is astounding.

Just existing requires a multitude of chemical reactions to occur in repetitious fashion in your body. Lungs breathing in, breathing out, heart pumping, digestive processing proceeding, bone and muscle building, blood filtering and cleaning … on and on it goes. All of these activities are the result of an endless array of chemical processes.

Vitamins come into play in many of the chemical processes as catalysts. A chemical catalyst is a compound that will initiate or hasten a specific chemical process. Sort of like a squirt of charcoal lighter fluid helps to ensure that dinner will be cooked on time.

You may be able to light plain charcoal with a match … eventually. But it may take quite a long time for ignition to occur. Using a chemical starter fluid that ignites easily allows you to get a fire going in the charcoal quickly.

Or you may prefer to use paper to start the charcoal. In this case, igniting the paper is easier than trying the light the charcoal directly, and the flame from the paper fire is hot enough to light the charcoal.

In these examples, the chemicals in the starter fluid or the paper act as catalysts. They are not the end reaction that we are seeking; that is the charcoal fire. But using the catalysts helps make sure that the charcoal fire takes place.

Likewise, chemical catalysts in our body are not the end result that is needed, but their presence helps to ignite or start the important chemical reaction that is important.

Vitamins aren’t needed in great amounts. That is why so many popular multivitamin pills are so small. The amount needed is so small that a tiny pill can help supply all that you need for a day.

Without the right amount of vitamins in our bodies at the right time, some chemical reactions that are essential to our health simply will not occur. If this lack of vitamins is persistent, our health will suffer. That is why it is a good idea to take a vitamin supplement on a daily basis.

Your body is able to store enough water-soluble vitamins for a few days.  In the case of fat-soluble vitamins, you can store enough to last much longer. However, without consuming enough of the essential vitamins eventually the amount of vitamins on hand to be used as needed by your body will be deficient. That may result in a feeling of fatigue or other conditions.

The effects of vitamin deficiency are subtle. That also means the benefits of correcting deficiencies by supplementing vitamins will often be subtle. It may take a while to recognize that your health is improving as a result of taking a quality vitamins supplement.

Dr. Mark Kestner is a chiropractor in Murfreesboro. His office is at 1435 NW Broad St.

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