Vitamins and Minerals

Recent trends in nutritional science include highlighting the health benefits of the more "designer" nutrients such as polyphenols, phytosterols, glyconutrients, and others. Vitamins and minerals, on the other hand, are not as trendy. For many in the industry, vitamins and minerals are just not exciting. Thus, their benefits are widely known-yet often taken for granted.

However, the important role of vitamins and minerals in promoting health and preventing disease can't be denied. In the paradigm of health and wellness, adequate vitamin and mineral intake constitutes the first pillar.

While many of the health benefits of vitamins and minerals are well-documented, several lines of research continue to yield exciting information. Some of the more exciting research over the last two years has been conducted on vitamins D and vitamin K (as vitamin K2), and on the minerals magnesium and strontium (nonradioactive, of course).

Vitamin D

Research into the many benefits of vitamin D has exploded in recent years. From fighting cancer, osteoporosis, and heart disease, to preventing infections, vitamin D is the new darling of the vitamins. There is good reason for this optimism. Scientists believe that vitamin D, acting in its capacity as a prohormone, regulates the expression of well over 2000 genes. Thus, vitamin D is much more than just an ordinary vitamin.

A large proportion of the population is deficient in vitamin D, because commonly eaten foods are not a great source of the vitamin, and sun exposure is often woefully inadequate to produce sufficient daily amounts.

A paper in the May issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease postulates that maintaining adequate vitamin D intake could be a significant factor in reducing the risk of dementia. The author, William B. Grant, states that vitamin D plays a major role in neuroprotection and cites a multitude of studies showing vitamin D levels to be suboptimal in several chronic conditions that are risk factors for dementia.

Laboratory evidence is also supportive of the role of vitamin D in reducing inflammation, which is thought to precede the development of dementia. Adding to this line of research is a paper published last October in the Archives of Neurology, authored by Marian Evatt and colleagues. The researchers analyzed blood samples of patients with Parkinson's disease and found that 55% of these individuals had insufficient levels of vitamin D compared with 36% of individuals in age-matched controls.

Furthermore, an article published in July by David Lee and colleagues from the University of Manchester found that European middle-aged and elderly men with the lowest levels of vitamin D had poorer performance on standardized tests for cognitive function. By contrast, higher levels of vitamin D were associated with the best scores on these standardized measures.

While this is a rapidly developing area of research, supporting cognitive function with age is a further reason among the myriad others to ensure optimal vitamin D status.

VITAMINS AND MINERALS PRODUCTS

Doctor's Best High-Absorption Magnesium: This product features a highly bioavailable form of magnesium as magnesium glycinate/lysinate chelate from Albion Advanced Nutrition (Clearfield, UT). Albion's amino acid chelated minerals feature enhanced absorbability. Doctor's Best also adds Bioperine, which is a thermogenic nutrient from black pepper known to be an absorption enhancer.

Purity Products Dr. Cannell's Advanced D: This product contains a highly potent 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 per two-capsule serving, along with vitamin K2, magnesium, zinc, taurine, quercetin, and boron, which are cofactors that help with vitamin D’s biological effects. Since vitamin D levels are extremely low in a majority of the general population, many researchers feel that 5,000 IU per day is a good starting dose for this vitamin.

Trace Minerals Liquid Ionic Magnesium: This product features highly bioavailable sea minerals in the form of ConcenTrace, a full-spectrum mineral complex derived from Utah's Great Salt Lake. Each 4 ml serving contains 400 mg of ionic magnesium along with other mineral cofactors that ensure optimal bioavailability and utilization.

Thorne Research Citramin II: This is a multiple mineral formula containing calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, chromium, boron and other minerals in their citrate salt form. Citrate salts are more bioavailable than certain other forms of mineral salts. The product features a balanced combination of these essential minerals for supporting optimal health.

Doctor's Best Strontium Bone Maker: Stable strontium is provided for bone health in the form of strontium citrate, a form that may be easier on the stomach than other forms of strontium. Strontium has been studied for its beneficial effects on bone metabolism. It decreases bone resorption and enhances bone formation. A two-capsule serving contains 680 mg of elemental strontium.

Purity Products Perfect Multi Super Greens: This formula is an advanced multivitamin/mineral combination that contains 2000 IU of vitamin D3 in a daily serving along with all of the essential vitamins, several minerals and healthy phytonutrients in a fruit and vegetable blend (green foods). A combination formula such as this provides an excellent assortment of the essentials and is excellent foundational nutritional support.

Vitamin K2 (Menaquinone)

Vitamin K1 is often the sole form of vitamin K in dietary supplements. While vitamin K1 has documented benefits for bone health, vitamin K2 (derived from the Asian fermented food natto and other sources) has been shown to be a safer, and possibly more effective, form of vitamin K.

Several studies published over the last two years document the bone health benefits of vitamin K2. Researchers have found that vitamin K2 promotes the production of quality bone tissue through its effects on a bone mineralization protein known as osteocalcin. Osteocalcin is secreted by osteoblasts (cells responsible for bone-building) and plays an important role in calcium incorporation in bones. Two studies published earlier this year by Jun Iwamoto and colleagues confirm the beneficial effects of vitamin K2 intake on bone health in an animal model of osteoporosis, as well as in reducing the risk of fractures in postmenopausal women.

Apart from bone-health benefits, two exciting papers examined the cardiovascular effects of vitamin K2 intake. A paper published this year by Gerrie-Cor Gast and colleagues assessed the relationship between intake of K1 and K2 and development of coronary heart disease. After examining a cohort of 16,057 women ranging between the ages of 49 and 70, the researchers concluded that vitamin K2 intake was inversely associated with the risk of developing heart disease (a protective effect), while there was no such benefit associated with K1.

Interestingly, a study was conducted in the Netherlands by Joline Beulens and colleagues looking at the effects of vitamin K1 and K2 intake on coronary arterial calcification in 564 postmenopausal women. The results revealed that high vitamin K2 intake was associated with a reduced risk of coronary calcification, whereas no such association was seen with vitamin K1.

Based on this research, it seems that vitamin K2 intake has a multitude of health benefits and is the preferential supplemental form of vitamin K.

Magnesium

Magnesium is essential to more than 300 metabolic reactions in the body. This alone illustrates its importance for human health.

Magnesium is involved in energy production, DNA synthesis, and plays crucial roles in bone and structural health. Recent interest in the concept of inflammation as a cause or contributor to chronic disease has shifted the focus to magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is common in the general population. Studies suggest that deficiencies of magnesium lead to an increase in inflammation.

A paper published this year in Magnesium Research found that magnesium intake is inversely associated with levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an important inflammatory marker associated with cardiovascular disease. This makes sense when one thinks about the benefits of magnesium intake for cardiovascular wellness.

The paper's author, Dana King from the Medical University of South Carolina, states that magnesium plays a key role in modulating the inflammatory process. The link between magnesium deficiency, inflammation, and cardiovascular disease is further highlighted in a paper by Jay Kramer and colleagues published in July. The paper emphasizes the prevalence of magnesium deficiency in diabetes and other diseases. It also describes a cascade of events initiated by magnesium deficiency, including widespread inflammation and, ultimately, heart disease. Magnesium deficiency increases the susceptibility of various organs to oxidative stress.

Increased inflammation due to magnesium deficiency also manifests in other areas. An interesting Brazilian study published in February 2009 found that magnesium deficiency contributes to metabolic syndrome and plays a role in insulin resistance.

The researchers found that serum magnesium levels were inversely correlated to BMI, systolic blood pressure, and waist circumference in individuals with metabolic syndrome, all factors for cardiovascular disease. Further research conducted at the University of Minnesota by Tetsuya Ohira and colleagues found that higher magnesium levels were predictors of lower incidence of hypertension and diabetes in a cohort of more than 14,000 middle-aged men and women.

Taken together, this research suggests increasing magnesium intake is protective of cardiovascular wellness and may help prevent the onset of various chronic diseases.

Strontium

Although not as well-known as other minerals, research on nonradioactive strontium for osteoporosis has been ongoing since the 1950s. Studies dating back to that era show the benefits of strontium salts, including carbonate, lactate, and others, for supporting bone health.

More recently, strontium ranelate, marketed as a drug in Europe, has been extensively studied and shown to promote increased bone density when used for extended periods of time. It appears that strontium ions can substitute calcium in the bone matrix and can increase bone strength.

While numerous studies conducted over the past several years illustrate this, a placebo-controlled study involving Asian women with osteoporosis published in November of last year by J.S. Hwang and colleagues found that strontium ranelate (2 g per day) significantly increased lumbar spine, femoral neck, and total hip bone mineral density after 12 months, whereas a placebo had no significant effect.

Furthermore, a longer-term study led by Christian Roux and colleagues in December 2008 found that the same dose of strontium ranelate was able to reduce the risk of vertebral fractures by 35% in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis who had already had a vertebral fracture.

Significant increases were also seen in bone mineral density over the course of the four-year study. Since strontium displaces calcium from bone tissue, it is recommended that adequate dietary and supplemental calcium should be taken concurrently. However, these results demonstrate significant benefits of strontium for osteoporosis.

Irfan Qureshi, ND, is vice president of technical and regulatory affairs for AIBMR Life Sciences (Puyallup, WA). AIBMR Life Sciences Inc. offers full-service natural products and nutraceutical consulting services.