Have you heard about “vitamin traffic”?
Vitamin traffic is a biological phenomenon that shows how one organism “outsources” the needs for manufacturing vital molecules to another organism living in the same community.
Smart, right? Why spend the energy making something while you can share that with others who can make it for you?
This is the underlying reason that we humans don’t make many of the nutrients that we absolutely need to keep us alive and functioning properly. Out of the 13 critical vitamins, we cannot make Vitamin C or B12.
Sixty million years ago, our ancestors could make some vitamins that we cannot today such as Vitamin C. We lost the ability to make it because we moved to a new dietary environment that had fruits and vegetables that were rich in it. So our biological machine decided that we didn’t need to make it any more. The gene that made Vitamin C turned off, to save us energy.
As humans continue to thrive as a species, we get smarter and more advanced. First, we invented agriculture. Hunter-gatherers quickly evolved into farmers and tool users. Then, we invented food processing such as steam-powered mills that stripped off vitamin-rich outskin of rice. Meanwhile, we’ve driven ourselves into a much more nutrient-poor food environment compared to that of our ancestors.
How do we live in a modern food environment while maintaining our vitality?
We know that meeting our nutritional needs by consuming a balanced, whole foods diet is ideal for our health. However, this is not always easy to achieve or a reality for some of us. This is especially true when we do not have access to a variety of foods, don’t always eat enough vegetables, or exclude whole food groups from our diet.
Dietary preferences can also play a role in getting enough of each nutrient. For example, individuals who dislike fish may have a harder time reaching omega-3 fatty acid needs. Additionally, our age, gender, race or ethnicity can impact our overall nutrition status.
Equally important is how we metabolize or synthesize certain nutrients, which can be significantly affected by our genes and our unique genotypes. Variations in genes such as the MTHFR gene are linked with impaired folate status while polymorphisms in the BCMO1 gene may reduce an individual’s ability to convert beta-carotene into the active form of vitamin A. This means that you might not be getting everything you need out of eating your orange foods like carrots and peppers. Our genes also impact our dietary preferences and eating habits which could contribute to further issues with adequate nutrition intake.
In addition to diet behaviors, genetics, or other biological factors, environment and lifestyle can play a role in our risk of nutrient deficiencies. Certain populations may be at risk of nutrient deficiencies and could benefit from supplementation.
Did you know that living in the northern hemisphere with less sunlight and/or having darker colored skin pigmentation decreases chances of synthesizing Vitamin D from the sun? In the United States, approximately 35% of adults are deficient in Vitamin D! (1)
Vegans, who do not consume any meat products and vegetarians who do not consume eggs or milk products may find getting adequate Vitamin B12 (a nutrient found primarily in meat) a challenge.
Certain medical conditions are also correlated with deficiencies. For example, individuals with autoimmune or inflammatory disorders may be at risk for lower vitamin B6 levels. Other common deficiencies include magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin A.
The USDA nutrient guidelines as well as the majority of research on supplementation have been based on the general population and do not take into account individuals with gene variations, impaired nutrient metabolism or absorption, and those who have a limited diet. Moreover, in many cases, individuals may need vitamins or supplements due to current nutrient status or to reduce the risk of certain poor health outcomes.
For example, it is advised that women who may become pregnant take folate supplements to significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects (3).
Vitamin D is often prescribed by health providers for the treatment of disorders such as osteoporosis or other diseases. In fact, vitamin D status is linked with overall improved health in a number of conditions (4) including during pregnancy and early life health (5).
Zinc is another nutrient that has shown to be beneficial when taken as a supplement. Zinc supplementation is associated with decreased complications due to various metabolic conditions (6) and has been shown to support immune function (7).
Additionally, certain nutrients have been shown to be more effective when taken together. Clinical trials have found that combining magnesium and vitamin B6 is superior to taking magnesium alone (8). Other beneficial combinations include vitamin B12 and folate (9) as well as calcium and vitamin D for bone health or a combination of vitamins C and E as well as the minerals zinc, copper, and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin for eye health (10).
It has become increasingly evident that a standard one-size fits all approach to supplementation is not effective and the need for personalized nutrition, including personalizing our approach to supplementation is warranted.
Taking a supplement will not fix an unhealthy diet and we still encourage you to enjoy a variety of whole foods from your GenoPalate report.
Additionally, be sure to talk with your medical team before starting any new regimen. This is especially important if you are taking any medications or if you have a pre-existing medical condition.