Fat Soluble Vitamins

August 1, 2012

By Anna Varriano

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This month I thought I’d write about a topic that is related to what I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on over the past few weeks, and that is: 1) preparing for one of several courses I’ll be teaching this fall, and 2) taking an extremely interesting course that will contribute to my annual requirement for continuing education credits. Both of these courses focus on nutrients that are essential to our health, so in this month’s tip, I’d like to briefly touch on the health benefits and food sources of some very important vitamins – the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K.

They are called fat-soluble because their proper absorption and utilization can only occur in the presence of fat.  It’s important to note that our livers have the ability to store fat-soluble vitamins, which is also true for animals. This is why beef liver is commonly mentioned as a source of fat-soluble vitamins. In addition, they are abundantly found in animal products containing fat, such as red  meat, organ meats, fish oils, eggs, and full fat dairy products (especially raw milk and dairy products made from raw milk where available).

Here are a few basics about these powerful vitamins.

Vitamin A. This vitamin’s primary claim to fame is proper tissue growth, healing and repair. It is essential to the body’s assimilation of many important minerals and plays a major role in the health of our immune, reproductive and hormonal systems. It is also critical to the health of our eyes.

The best sources of vitamin A are seafood (e.g. oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, fish eggs/caviar/roe, fish liver/fish liver oils), and foods  from grass-fed animals (e.g. red meat, liver, butter, cheese, cream, egg yolks). There is NO vitamin A in plant foods. What plants can provide is  beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A. It takes several molecules of beta-carotene to make one molecule of vitamin A and the process is not very easy (and sometimes impossible) for babies, children, diabetics and many other individuals, due to insufficiencies with various organs (e.g. liver, thyroid), or organ systems in the body. Food sources of beta-carotene include carrots, dark leafy greens, and yellow or orange fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin D. I’ve written a few Tips about vitamin D in the past (see the November 2008 entry ‘Vitamin D – The Sunshine Vitamin’ in my Tip of the Month Library).  Most of us know that vitamin D is important for healthy bones. It is also very important in balancing insulin and blood sugar levels (important in weight management), a healthy nervous system (including our moods – vitamin D deficiency has been linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder), and boosting our immune system (vitamin D deficiency has been related to increased risk for various types of cancer, and unfortunately, the majority of us are deficient in this important vitamin). While the body can make vitamin D out of cholesterol (we need cholesterol!) when we expose our skin to sunlight, specifically UV-B rays, as with the conversion of beta-carotene to vitamin A, there are many factors that interfere with this process – including living in the Northern part of the world!

The active form of vitamin D in the body is vitamin D3 and the best sources are animal sources – similar to those of vitamin A (in particular, fatty fish and fish liver oils). This is not surprising, given that these two vitamins have many synergistic functions in the body. Interestingly, animals that are pasture-raised and get plenty of sunshine have higher levels of vitamin D in their tissues compared to factory-farm animals; another health benefit associated with eating pasture-raised animals/animal products. Since many people don’t get enough vitamin D through food sources, supplementation with vitamin D is often necessary to correct and prevent deficiencies, and is especially important for vegetarians and breastfed babies.

Vitamin E. There are many forms of vitamin E present in natural food sources. Vitamin E is a strong anti-oxidant, and therefore a natural preservative of the highly unstable polyunsaturated fats; in fact, vitamin E is nature’s way of preventing these fats from going rancid. When foods containing polyunsaturated fats (e.g. nuts, seeds, grains) are highly processed and refined and/or heated, the vitamin E is destroyed and can no longer keep the fats ‘fresh’. These oxidized fats should be avoided as they wreak havoc in the body, leading to numerous health issues. Vitamin E also assists in delivering oxygen to the body’s tissues, which is critical to good health – especially  heart health. It also plays an important role in the health of the reproductive system in both men and women. Good food sources include wheat germ oil, liver and other organ meats.

Vitamin K. There’s a lot of new research being done on this vitamin. I’ve heard many sources claim that vitamin K is the new vitamin D! It has long been known that the main function of vitamin K is blood coagulation (blood clotting), and that it plays a role in bone health. More recent research shows that vitamin K is critical to the proper utilization of calcium – in particular, preventing calcium from being deposited in places where it does more harm than good, including blood vessels.  Vitamin K has many synergistic roles with vitamins A and D, so once again, it is not surprising to find it in many of the same food sources as vitamins A and D (e.g. organ meats, egg yolks, full fat dairy products).  Good non-animal sources include dark leafy greens, green drinks (including liquid chlorophyll) and especially natto, which is a traditional Japanese breakfast food made with fermented soy beans. You can find natto in most Asian grocery or health food stores – look for organic, non-GMO brands. [Natto tip courtesy of my daughter: adding natto to soup (she uses miso soup) tastes good – and makes its ‘gooey’ strings melt away!]

The importance of fat-soluble vitamins to our health is best summarized by the findings of Dr. Weston A Price, the author of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration:

“A question arises as to the efficiency of the human body in removing all of the minerals from the ingested foods.  Extensive laboratory determinations have shown that most people cannot absorb more than half of the calcium and phosphorus from the foods eaten. The amounts utilized depend directly on the presence of other substances, particularly fat-soluble vitamins. It is at this point probably that the greatest breakdown in our modern diet takes place, namely, in the ingestion and utilization of adequate amounts of the special activating substances, including the vitamins [A and D] needed for rendering the minerals in the food available to the human system. It is possible to starve for minerals that are abundant in the foods eaten because they cannot be utilized without an adequate quantity of the fat-soluble activators.”

Bascially what Dr. Price is saying is that the common phrase, “You are what you eat”,doesn’t give us the entire story. A more correct saying is: “You are what you eat, digest, absorb and assimilate”  – and fat-soluble vitamins help us with this.

Fat-soluble vitamins are just ONE type of nutrient that the body requires for healthy, normal function. There are dozens more, including water-soluble vitamins (e.g. B vitamins, vitamin C), minerals (e.g. calcium, iron, zinc), essential fatty acids (e.g. omega-3s) and amino acids (e.g. lysine, tryptophan).  A deficiency in any of these nutrients can lead to a wide variety of health issues.

I get a lot of questions from clients about nutrients, such as:

  • Can we get all the nutrients we need from food?
  • What if I have problems with my digestion? Am I still absorbing my nutrients?
  • Should I be supplementing, and if so, what is the best way to do so?
  • What are signs that I’m getting too much of, or not enough of, a particular vitamin?

If you’d like to learn the answers to these questions and more, you may be interested in registering for a course I’ll be teaching on behalf of The International Academy Health Education Centre (http://www.intlacademy.com) starting next month. This 24-hour course will be held every Thursday evening from 6-8pm, for 12 weeks, from September 27th to December 13th  2012. No pre-requisites required. Click here to register or to get more information.

Hope to see you there!

Anna

References:

The Weston A Price Foundation

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