Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

The Nutrient Robbers

You stick to a healthy diet, take lots of exercise, get plenty of sleep, enjoy your job and have a happy home life - but you're always tired, aches and pains are your constant companion, you're always catching colds and your digestive system never seems to work as it should. The nutrient robbers are at work.

Every day there's yet another story about a skinny female celeb who says she 'just can't cope anymore' in spite of an army of minders, vast amounts of cash and never having to lift anything heavier than a Prada handbag or a glass of bubbly. They're dropping like flies with chronic fatigue, exhaustion and a host of other self-inflicted ailments.

So it's hardly surprising that 'real' women struggling to juggle children, home, money problems and job don't always get things right when it comes to managing a healthy lifestyle.

Nicotine, excessive alcohol, lots of coffee, too much strong tea and endless cans of cola drinks can have a really bad influence on your vitamin and mineral levels. A couple of glasses of wine, three or four teas and coffees or the occasional cola are fine, but not much more.

Exercise can also be an important factor - and although taking the dog for a stroll in the park is hardly demanding, serious physical activity can quickly deplete your stores of essential nutrients.

High protein diets, too much salt and sugar, excessive amounts of bran, coffee, tea and fizzy drinks, too much alcohol and a lack of vitamin D can all increase the loss of calcium from your bones or reduce the amount which the body can absorb from your food.

The first step is to reduce the risk factors - and the second is to increase your intake of calcium and vitamin-D rich foods. A daily half a pint of milk, a pot of yoghurt and a matchbox-size piece of cheese, plus three portions of oily fish a week will give you all you need.

Everyone knows about the links between smoking, lung cancer and other chest diseases, but smoking also seriously reduces the amount of vitamin C in your blood. Even more worryingly, it does the same to your children and anyone else exposed to your secondary smoke. Every puff of smoke fills you and the atmosphere around you with billions of cell-damaging free radical chemicals, which combined with the lower levels of protective vitamin C is a recipe for disaster. If you can't quit, you need a drastic increase in the amount of fresh fruit, vegetables and salads in your diet. Aim for around 800g a day.

We are turning into a nation of couch potatoes, so anyone who takes up regular exercise is doing a good thing. But this, too, can be a nutrient robber because exercising increases the body's oxygen consumption. It also increases the release of the damaging free radicals, which uses up the body's anti-oxidant vitamins, A, C and E. There's also an increased demand for iron to carry the extra oxygen and this can be really bad news, especially for women. If you're a regular exerciser, you need fruit, vegetables, salads and juices for vitamin C, fresh, unsalted nuts, seeds and olive oil for vitamin E, meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dark green leafy vegetables for extra iron.

Too much alcohol robs your body of the B vitamins, which aren't only essential for your nervous system, but are a vital link in the chemical chain that converts food into energy. A modest consumption of alcohol is good; it's pleasurable and extremely protective against heart disease, as long as you stick to a couple of glasses of wine, a pint of beer or two pub measures of spirits a day. More than that on a regular basis and your B vitamins will plummet. Top up the levels with extra lean meat, fish, wholegrains, nuts and seeds, eggs and beans.

Very few people understand how these simple lifestyle factors affect your nutritional status, but hardly anyone - and that includes most doctors - knows that many prescribed and over-the-counter medicines are some of the worst nutritient robbers of all. This is where appropriate supplements can make all the difference.

ANTACIDS can interfere with the absorption of vitamins A and the B complex as well as the minerals calcium, magnesium, iron and phosphorus. Those containing aluminium also interfere with the body's uptake of vitamin D. The combination of vitamin D and calcium deficiencies can greatly increase your chances of osteoporosis (brittle bone disease) in later life.

ANTIBIOTICS in general interfere with the B complex and vitamin K, partly because they destroy some of the natural bacteria in the gut which are involved in the body's manufacture of some parts of the vitamin B group.

ANTI-COAGULANTS including warfarin, aspirin and all their relatives, affect vitamin K - part of the body's blood clotting mechanism. These drugs are usually prescribed for that very purpose so if you're taking them to 'thin' your blood, don't take extra doses of vitamin K. These medicines can also reduce the absorption of vitamin D.

ANTI-CONVULSANTS interfere with the body's absorption of vitamins B6, D and K as well as folic acid. These drugs are normally taken for very extended periods of time as in the treatment of epilepsy.

ANTI-INFLAMMATORIES Those used in the treatment of bowel disease may cause loss of folic acid. But this should be dealt with by eating a wider range of folic acid-rich foods - liver, spinach, frozen peas, beans, and all the cabbage family.

ANTI-ULCER drugs reduce the stomach's production of acid and can cause poor absorption of vitamin B12. If you're taking this type of drug continuously, a B12 supplement is essential.

CHOLESTEROL-LOWERING DRUGS can cause poor absorption of iron, betacarotene, vitamins A, D, K, and folic acid when used for several months continuously. A multivitamin and mineral supplement is advisable on a daily basis.

DIURETICS Many of these drugs deprive the body of vitamin B complex, potassium, magnesium and zinc. Those containing slow release potassium may have a particularly bad effect on your B12 levels.

LAXATIVES when used regularly lower the body's levels of calcium, iron and vitamins A, D and E. Laxative abuse is a common cause of drug induced malnutrition and may seriously increase the risk of osteoporosis in later life. Even natural laxatives like linseeds have the same effect.

THE PILL adversely affects folic acid, vitamins C, E and B complex.

SLEEPING PILLS, ANTI-DEPRESSANTS AND TRANQUILLIZERS Barbiturate-type sleeping pills affect the uptake of vitamin D. Anti-depressants interfere with B2 absorption and with the uptake of zinc and magnesium. Chronic fatigue may be caused by zinc deficiency, yet patients are often prescribed anti-depressants which lower their zinc levels even more.

Nutrient robbery is insidious. It creeps up without warning, and it's last thing you need if you're already having to take medication for an existing illness.


Supplements that fight the nutrient robbers
- Healthcraft's Vitamin B Complex - GBP 2.69 for 30 tablets
- Ester-C, a new non-acid version of vitamin C, which doesn't cause indigestion or heartburn - around GBP 8 for 2 months supply
- Beneflora, probiotic granules of gut-friendly bacteria, which include the essential nutrients that the bugs need to thrive (SORRY EMMA, DIDN'T HAVE TIME TO CHECK THE COST, BUT IT'S A CEDAR HEALTH PRODUCT TEL: 0161 484 2323)
- Genesis Multi-Vitamins and Minerals by Wassen, well balanced supplement, best value for money - mail order only


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