Everybody knows that vitamins are vital to good health. But did you know that some substances in our food and environment, as well as some medications, are antivitamins, chemicals that counteract the benefits of the vitamins in food and supplements? Here is brief overview of the most important antivitamins you are likely to encounter in day to day life.
Phytic acid, also known as phytate, inositol hexakisphosphate, and IP6, is a major component of many foods we ordinarily consider very healthy. It is especially abundant in wheat, oat, and rye bran, as well as wheat, oat, and rye germ, and fiber-rich vegetables.
Phytic acid is a natural chelator. It binds to calcium, iron, and zinc, and makes them insoluble in water, with the result that they cannot be digested out of food. It also binds to vitamin B1 (thiamine), making it unavailable for absorption into the bloodstream. A cross-reaction of phytic acid and molds in improperly stored grains used to bind so much of the vitamin B1 in corn that whole populations that depended on corn meal for the principle source of food developed a B1-deficiency disease called pellagra.
There is a very simple way to avoid the antivitamin and antimineral effects of grains that are high in phytic acid: Ferment them. Sourdough bread made with wheat or rye releases the vitamin B1 that regular bread made with wheat or rye flour retains. Sourdough is also a better source of minerals and raises blood sugars more slowly than bread that has not been through the sourdough process.
Corn that is fermented to make moonshine (an alcoholic beverage) is free of phytate, but there is a better way to get rid of phytate out of corn. Corn that has been nictalized, treated with lye to make hominy, releases vitamin B1 and minerals better than corn that has not. Hominy and hominy grits are more nutritious than regular cornmeal.
It's important not to take supplements at the same time you eat untreated whole grains or cornmeal. It's OK to take supplements after eating sourdough bread, hominy, or hominy grits.
Nitrates are used to preserve ham, bacon, sausage, and cold cuts. In in any highly acidic environment, such as the human stomach, nitrates are converted into nitrosamines. These destructive chemicals are also found in beer, cheese, and pickled fish.
Most nitrosamines are carcinogenic. They also deplete the vitamin A stored in the liver. The first sign that you may have been consuming too many nitrosamines is dry skin, but the second sign might be cancer of the stomach or liver.
The best way to avoid nitrosamines is the avoid nitrates, which means cutting back on or eliminating ham, bacon, sausage, and cold cuts, as well as beer, cheese, and pickled fish. It also helps to cut back on or eliminate grilled or charcoal broiled meats and fish. If you simply cannot avoid these foods, however, eating berries or cherries at the same time you consume the problem food greatly reduces its effects on the liver.
Avidin is a protective compound that naturally occurs in egg whites. The B vitamin biotin is essential for rapid growth of the baby animal inside a fertilized egg, but it also essential for bacteria that can find their way through shell. The yolk of the egg is rich in biotin, but the white of the egg contains avidin to neutralize biotin. This way the developing embryo receives the biotin it needs from the yolk but bacteria are not able to penetrate the white.
Cooking eggs neutralizes avidin. If you eat products made with egg white powder, like certain brands of bodybuilding supplements, you will need to take supplemental biotin.
Many Common Medications
Probably no medication causes more vitamin deficiencies in more people than the diuretic furosemide, also known as Lasix. In the USA, nearly everyone who has a heart attack with heart muscle damage is given Lasix to lower blood pressure.
Lasix acts by increasing the excretion of both sodium and potassium from the bloodstream into the urine. Unfortunately, the drug also reduces copper, zinc, and B vitamins. Many people who take Lasix develop B-vitamin and mineral deficiencies that cause double vision and mild symptoms similar to stroke, and find themselves put on still more medications by doctors who are not aware of nutrient depletion. Any use of Lasix at any dosage is likely to cause thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), and pyridoxine (vitamin B6) deficiency.
What other medications cause vitamin depletion?
- The contraceptive Yaz depletes the alpha-tocopherol form of vitamin E.
- Other oral contraceptives deplete the gamma-tocopherol form of vitamin E.
- Frequent use of aspirin can deplete vitamin C, which can lower the effectiveness of vitamin E.
- Medications for arthritis usually deplete both folic acid and pyridoxine (vitamin B6).
- Many blood thinners work by counteracting vitamin K. They prevent blood clots but increase the risk of osteoporosis.
Don't stop taking medications just because they deplete vitamins. Instead, ask your physician or pharmacist whether taking supplemental vitamins might help.