Supplements and vitamins – do they work?

Organic vegetables

Our changing dietary needs

Plate of mixed berries
Plate of mixed berries

We need a good, balanced diet, full of different fruits, vegetables and sources of protein. Some of us find it hard to get enough variety or good quality food. The older fruit is, the more vitamin content it has lost. Apples may be grown in one hemisphere and shipped to the other, or warehoused for six months in cold storage. Unless your apple has been grown locally and recently, it’s just a ball of sugar.

Processed foods generally contain more filler (such as palm fat and dextrose) and less food, while processing methods can reduce nutrients. For instance extra-virgin olive oil, made from the first light pressings of the fruit, has more nutrients than the last drops of oil squeezed from the crushed olives, which can contain carcinogens produced by heat from friction with the olive stones. More information here.

People on medications may find uptake of nutrients from diet is blocked, while health conditions such as thyroid function loss, drain the body of nutrients and stop absorption. Anyone with a physically demanding job or sport will need more nutrients suited to their body’s running repairs. Expectant mothers have a double need for nutrients. Children and young adults are growing and laying down solid bone, while older people will begin to have brittle bones. We also need these nutrients to have a healthy, functioning immune system. More information here.

Supplements and multivitamins

Supplements and multivitamin and mineral tablets are a good answer for many people. If your diet seems to be healthy and balanced, you might not need any right now. But discoveries are being made in dietary health all the time, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for news. A deficiency in one nutrient may be enough to start health problems.

My advice is to buy supplements from a recognised brand, which assures good quality, from sustainable sources. Own-brand supplements can also be found in supermarkets, chemists and health food shops. Try to match the same type of ingredient (glucosamine sulphate instead of other kinds) and same amount (50mg instead of 15mg) as the bigger brands to see if you are really saving money.

Europe’s supplements are tightly regulated for content and advertising. This is not always the case in other countries as this recent post from America shows.

 

Vegans

Organic vegetables
Organic vegetables

Vegetarians and vegans generally eat a wide range of plant foods and try to buy organic when possible. Vitamin B12 is not included in plant matter so this is especially required for vegans. Vitamin A comes in two forms, beta-carotene from plants and retinol from animals, and we need both for optimum health. More information here.

Folic acid

Expectant mothers are now urged to take folic acid, as this B vitamin is vital for healthy nerve development in the growing baby. The supplement prevents neural tube defects. Recent studies suggest the deficiency of folic acid may be linked to cleft palate. The medical profession advises women to take this supplement while trying to become pregnant. Folic acid is found in normal diets, but doctors want to be sure the mother has enough.  More information here.

Cranberry juice

Cranberry juice makes the urine more acidic, so inhospitable to bacteria which cause bladder infections. The downside is that taking cranberry juice after the urinary tract infection (UTI) sets in is too late, as it just makes the condition more painful. The juice needs to be imbibed regularly as prevention rather than cure. A woman is more likely to contract a UTI, especially if she has a lowered immune system. Cranberry extract supplements can be taken if drinking the juice isn’t convenient. The latest research finds that polyphenols and antioxidants in cranberries can promote heart health; while warning that cranberries may interact with medications such as warfarin, amoxillin and others. More information here. 

Vitamin D

Snack bowl of mixed nuts with books and laptop
Snack bowl of mixed nuts with books and laptop

Here in Ireland we don’t get enough sunshine, especially during winter. We tend to work indoors more than our ancestors, and those of us with fair skin tend to apply sunscreen on sunny days. Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin, because our skin makes this vitamin on contact with sunlight. But our skin makes D1. This travels in the bloodstream to the kidneys, which convert it to D2. This is worked on by a parathyroid hormone, produced in the thyroid gland, and converted to D3. Only now is the vitamin able to help us absorb calcium from our diet. Calcium is found in traditional dairy products and fish, also in leafy greens. Vegetarians and anyone on a low fat diet may not get enough Vitamin D and calcium, because vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble. For this reason, a good Vitamin D supplement should come in an oil-based capsule, ideally cold-pressed olive oil or cod liver oil. Calcium and magnesium are what bones are composed of, and one supplement is made from oyster shell. Vitamin D also helps maintain a healthy immune system.

My husband Allan suffered early osteoporosis which caused fracturing of his hips without a fall. He ate dairy and fish but he worked indoors and did not get enough sun. His thyroid was also underactive. Once the cause of his severe hip pains was revealed by MRI scan, he was hospitalised and his blood was tested. He was found to have five percent of the Vitamin D level required. Accordingly Allan was placed on high-strength vitamin D capsules in cold-pressed olive oil, and calcium tablets, to strengthen his bones enough to be suitable for hip replacements. He is now recovering well from bilateral hip replacements and still taking calcium and vitamin D. Further information here.

Cod liver oil

Cod liver oil has been proven to repair the telomeres, which are protective caps on the ends of our chromosomes. As we go through life our chromosomes get damaged and shortened, so we age. Keeping the telomeres in good condition means we don’t age as quickly. More information here.   And here.

Cod liver oil also carries fat-soluble Vitamins A and D into the bloodstream.  Vitamin A helps to support our sight. These vitamins can also be gained by eating oily fish like sardines and salmon. The oil is good at helping joints. I have been taking cod liver oil capsules since I was a teenager.

Lutein

Snack plate of fruit with books and laptop
Snack plate of fruit with books and laptop

I first saw lutein advertised for eye health on multivitamin tablets while I was in Arizona in 2002. Walgreens health store included it in their own brand tablets. The continuous strong sunlight made this a good choice. When I came home I asked my optometrist about lutein for eyes and he had never heard of it. I had to do my own research. These days we are looking at bright screens a lot of the time, and the retinas need protection from these as well.

Lutein is a xanthophyll found in yellow and orange fruit and vegetables like peppers, sweetcorn and oranges, and purple berries like blueberries. Lutein is used by the body to make the retinal surfaces more reflective, so excess light entering the eye is bounced back out and the retina does not get damaged. Blueberries also have a high content of anthocyanidins, which help to generate antioxidants. These protect the body against free radicals – damaging, volatile molecules with unpaired electrons, which may be familiar to you as the causes of cancers. They occur in the eye through sunlight radiation; as well as age-related macular degeneration they can cause cataracts in the lens. Ideally, enjoy blueberries on porridge or dessert. I do, and I regularly take a lutein supplement for my eyes. Further information here.

Glucosamine and chondroitin

Vegetables on a chopping board
Vegetables on a chopping board

Glucosamine, usually made from shellfish, helps to repair soft tissue and joint oil. As the joints are used the tissue gets worn away, especially in knees and hips which bear weight. Then the hard bone edges scrape off each other, which causes painful arthritis. When glucosamine is combined with chondroitin, which repairs cartilage, the connective tissues are much improved and the pain goes. Studies vary because they do not all test the same form of glucosamine. The most effective form is glucosamine sulphate. This was proven to work in sport horses. Horses ridden as showjumpers and eventers do severe impact work regularly and their knees often suffer, causing them to be reluctant to jump on hard ground. Many riders will only train on soft training surfaces for this reason, and they keep the horse on a low dose of butazoladin in the feed, allowed in eventing as a painkiller and inflammation reducer.  Horses are unable to be swayed by placebos or faith healers. Either their knees are sore or they are not. More information here.

Glucosamine was recommended to me by my doctor for very sore knees. I had worked outdoors all my life, cycled everywhere, rode horses daily, climbed trees. I had got to the stage where going up or down stairs hurt, bending my knees lying in bed hurt, and as I walked along the footpath I would automatically go for the dish in the kerb when I crossed a road. I started to feel a difference within a month and started combining the tablet with chondroitin, which I could feel sped up the repair work. I can safely say that if I did not take glucosamine regularly, with occasional additions of chondroitin, my joints would be in a much worse state and I would be on heavy painkillers. I would require knee replacements because the bones would have been damaged. I recently tried collagen tablets in place of my usual joint care, and this worked very well.

Biotin

Snack bowl of nuts with books
Snack bowl of nuts with books

Biotin is another supplement that was tested on animals, and in horses it promotes healthy hoof growth and mane and tail growth. This is also called Vitamin B7 and it helps the body make energy as well as metabolising amino acids, the building blocks of protein. A protein called keratin makes up our hair and nails – and horses’ hooves, and rhino horn. While biotin is found in small quantities in foods like eggs, it’s water soluble and it’s easy not to get enough unless you eat eggs every day. More information here.

Don’t overdo it!

Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble, so taking too much can cause them to be stored in the liver. For this reason we are told not to overdo Vitamin A in particular; pets which are fed liver regularly can absorb too much A, which is toxic at high doses. More details here.

Vitamins B, C and other nutrients, like magnesium, are water soluble so if you don’t need it, it will wash though the body and be excreted. This is why it’s pointless to take expensive tablets if you don’t need them. Those working physically, or athletes, will need more supplementation, but should primarily take a good rounded diet, prepared by healthy cooking methods and not heavily processed.

Is there money in supplements?

Broccoli and asparagus
Broccoli and asparagus

Why are our diets lacking in nutrients which our bodies expect to use, and why is more not being done by the medical system to counter this? Do firms just want to make money selling supplements?

Organic farming uses natural compost and rich soil, but the minerals and compounds are leached out of the soil by growing plants and the movement of water through the soil. Cover crops such as clover are ploughed in to fix nitrogen and make compost, or animal manure and rejected vegetables are used to replace the nutrients naturally. Trees draw nutrients from deep soil and scatter them in leaves. Crop rotation means that different nutrients are taken up by different plants in succeeding years.

Modern agricultural methods use pellet fertiliser instead, made from synthetics, usually nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in differing proportions. Much of this is made from oil. More information here.  And here.  The field is not rested for a year, and trees are felled to make wider fields. We are essentially eating oil, and not just in terms of tractors, trucks and plastic packaging. If the nutrients are not in the soil they can’t be in the crop.  

Processing, storage and transport all reduce the nutrients once the crop is harvested.

Book cover: Orangutan by Rita Goldner
Book cover: Orangutan by Rita Goldner

Another issue is that palm fats are found in 50% of supermarket goods today. This is a cheap, bulky fat without the nutrients we would expect from other oils. For instance many nuts contain selenium and vitamin E, grass-fed dairy butter contains vitamins A, D and K, avocado oil contains vitamin E. But palm oil in almost all cases contains nothing but fat. Vast swathes of tropical rainforest are being destroyed to grow oil palm trees, eliminating wildlife habitat and killing half of all orangutans during the past thirty years. The consumer does not realise that their food, such as so-called dairy spreads, has fewer nutrients than in previous years. Learn more here. Palm oil gained popularity because it can be solid at room temperature and does not have to be hydrogenated, a process which made liquid fats solid but not digestible and linked them (trans fats, partly hydrogenated or hydrogenated fats)  to clogged arteries, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart conditions. More information here.

The medical / pharmaceutical industry spends a great deal of money on generating and trialling medications. What is most required is medications that can be patented. These make a great deal of money for the firm, which lasts until the patent expires, after which other firms can start to make that medication too. Some medications are for long term use, like asthma inhalers or arthritis pain relievers. The pharmaceutical industry can’t patent vitamins or minerals, and it doesn’t have an interest in curing asthma or arthritis. If few people got cancer, anti-cancer drugs would not be sold.

Health supplements do make money for firms, but not as much as prescribed medicine would, and taking supplements is voluntary, by informed people. Governments, Non Governmental Organisations like cancer charities, and healthfood companies have to do the advertising and education, aided by news media on the lookout for stories.

All photos (C) Clare O’Beara 2018.

Upcoming Projects – Podcast

I will be adding a podcast, photography project and a written project.

Podcast

Radiolab presenters and logo
Radiolab presenters and logo

We listened in class to a RadioLab podcast about Falling. Our task was to analyse the number of stories and the sound effects and other contents of the narrative.

I made it 70 minutes long with eight stories / items.

1 min Two men are talking at first and introduce themselves and the topic. I found they had American voices and rushed their own names so I did not catch them. They sound casual – they know who they are. I later Googled the show’s hosts and got Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. By contrast the interviews were easy listening and clear.

Falling in love; skydiving. A tape of tandem jump with air rushing, then repeat the few seconds of canopy opening.

Music, light and jingly, with RadioLab intro and naming presenters.

1 David, a neuroscientist, is introduced; he tells a childhood story of falling off a roof. For him time seemed to slow down – sound effects made by presenter, plus music behind the speaker. He wonders if in a life or death situation, time really does slow down, and devised an experiment. Sound of a carnival and screams. Story of a SCAD or Suspended Catch Air Device and a young woman called April trying it, like a bungee jump with no cord, just a net.

5 mins. Mechanical noises – interview, anticipation, countdown. 8 mins. When April falls will she see a fast watch slowing down? The story keeps going back and forth – studio  April – interview – screams – music. Conclusion: our memory is normally full of holes but in life or death situations it all gets saved.

2 11 mins. Quote from Alice in Wonderland. A song – I don’t wanna fall in love by Chris Isaak. Just a few lines. This introduces a lady interviewing a lady, clearly different from studio male voices. A college story of falling in love, and to the interviewee it did feel like falling out of control. But the other student Simon turned out to be a man with prosopagnosia which means he can’t recognise faces. He is introduced at 14 mins. Discusses neuroscience aspect and what it means to see someone as a continual stranger.

17 mins music, mystical, mention of Buddhism. 18 mins relationship is over but they still live in same neighbourhood.

Lineup of Radiolab team
Lineup of Radiolab team

3 21 mins. Song. Cats! The two men in the studio discuss the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association; in Manhattan many cats fell from high places, 132 in 5 months. A crowd noise in background. A female vet asks why would cats fall? Suggested that owner comes home after long hot day and opens balcony door, cat runs out after bird and falls over edge. 21 out of 22 cats survived falling from 8 storeys or higher. 25 mins men give definition of defenestration. Past cruel treatment of cats, but clarified cats now are our friend and we treat them well. Vet explains cats that fall under 5 story or over 9 storeys are not much harmed. 5 – 9 storeys are more usually injured. Physics explained.

26 mins. A cat squawk noise falling noise, wind. Equilibrium found between gravity and wind resistance. Music as cat is relaxed.

27 min. Cat hit ground from 42 floors and walked away.

4 28 min Music. A Colombia professor of physics tells us about Newton’s law of gravity and how Einstein explains it further. Sound of an elevator plunge down – dramatic. Sound of falling. If a man stands on a weighing scales in the elevator the scales drops away from under his feet so he does not weigh. Pull the elevator up and it hits his feet and the resistance means he weighs. Translate gravity into motion. Sound effect, rubber mat stretches across space time and is deformed by a massive body.

5 32 mins  Falling fortunes. A male voice discusses Niagara Falls and a banjo plays in the background. In the 1850s wire walkers like Blondin walked on a thick wire across the Falls, performing stunts. Sound of sizzling as one man cooked an egg on the stove he carried.

Book cover: Queen of the Mist by Joan Murray
Book cover: Queen of the Mist by Joan Murray

35 mins. PT Barnum mentioned, a lady’s voice comes in telling us about Queen of The Mist, a book she has written about Annie Taylor. I didn’t catch her name so later found it was Joan Murray. In 1901 – suspense music – the impecunious Annie had a strong barrel made to go over the falls.

38 mins Narration of Annie’s point of view, male voice over telling us she must have been hysterically scared. Loud waterfall noise, splashing. Buoyant barrel floats and she survives. Wet, soggy, scared, but aged 63 so not an ideal image.

42 mins A man repeated the stunt 10 years later, toured the world with his fame, slipped and fell and died of gangrene.

43 min Music, cymbals, Free Falling by Van Halen.

Two female Radiolab presenters in studio
Two female Radiolab presenters in studio

6 Asian voice tells 6th story. Professor at Colorado discusses the science of sleeping and dreaming of falling. Calm music plays with a sharp jerk noise. 44 mins. A sleep lab studies how we slept in trees as primitive humans. Lucy, our ancestor, was bipedal. Sounds of lions roaring. Sleep was dangerous, so those primates which had a jerk reflex to wake them survived.

60 mins A woman sings about sleeping.

7 62 mins Fall as we walk. Elderly people fall down more often. Balance is affected with age. The head on top controls the limbs. Sounds of beeps.

64 mins A toddler is calibrating the body, nerves, movements. Multiple sclerosis, as with ageing, deteriorates the nerve sheaths.

Radiolab presenters in studio
Radiolab presenters in studio

8 67 mins Neil deGrasse Tyson, physicist, is interviewed. A black hole has great gravity so we imagine falling into one. A person would stretch as feet go in first. Tidal forces exceed inter-molecular forces that bind our flesh snap. The torso is alive for a little while. Then it becomes a stream of atoms. The fabric of space and time funnels down – squeezes as well.

69 mins music.

Radio Lab credits, interview and presenter credits. Background music. 70 mins.

My impression was that the show presented personal stories mixed with science well. I thought it came across clearly and included a variety of voices and sounds. This would be good for a person of reduced vision. The background was absolutely silent with sound effects played as required, so I felt the show had no setting atmosphere.

The Lost Moment – review

Civil Rights protesters

Photography Exhibition

This exhibition is located in Temple Bar, in Dublin’s Gallery Of Photography. A collection of black and white photos and news items has been collated by Tony McGrath. The function is to document Civil Rights movements of the 1960s. He seeks to show how global movements mirrored and inspired one another. The culmination of the exhibition is coverage of Northern Ireland. He calls the collection The Lost Moment.

Whereas in America we see the initial offerings covering black civil rights, and the rest of the gallery shows white faces, otherwise I found many similarities.  In all cases one group of people felt impelled to protest in public, and the authorities of the day  responded by sending police and sometimes soldiers to control their movements.

Civil Rights protesters
Civil Rights protesters

Initially we see Alabama in 1965, taken by Steve Schapiro. A striking image is a young white nun beside an older black workman. Other images show Martin Luther King, as the Reverend addresses crowds, including many women. We can see a camera recording the moment. The black people had no wealth or power and while we do not see any evidence of discrimination we are expected to know about black people sitting at the back of the bus, using separate restrooms, working in menial tasks for low pay, getting separate education. The police are all male. The impression I got was of stoicism and bitterness.

Celebrity protesters in London
Celebrity protesters in London

On the adjacent wall we see London in 1968 as people protest against US military involvement in Vietnam. A few well known faces are in one central photo by David Hurn; Vanessa Redgrave, actress, Tariq Ali, socialist (a model for Citizen Smith of the BBC comedy show) and walking behind them, Stephen Hawking, scientist.

Police horses charge protesters in London
Police horses charge protesters in London

I noticed that here the police are again all male and police horses are employed, with no protection for the horses’ eyes. Double bridles were used, so the riders are controlling two reins per hand. A photo scene seemed almost composed with a central shot of two sides clashing, a leafless tree (a London Plane, Platanus × acerifolia) in the middle and elegant buildings in the background. This looked like a Renaissance painting. Other photos chose to zoom in on faces. These scenes looked to be showing loud, dramatic protest, not peaceful marches.

Soldier chases youth in Prague
Soldier chases youth in Prague

Prague in 1968 had been invaded by Russian forces. All foreign media were expelled but Ian Berry was the only Western photographer to remain. He showed us popular protest against the invasion in Prague streets. One shot really captures a split second as a youth runs from an armed soldier. The young man’s feet are off the cobblestones and the scene is one of drama and motion. Here I noticed an atmosphere of quiet desperation.

From here we move to a gallery room featuring Northern Ireland. As someone who grew up with Troubles on the news every night I have a different reaction to these images than a modern teen or a tourist. The context is different for me. Tony McGrath has documented the Civil Rights movement in Derry. Again we see an all male police force, in dark uniforms but no modern riot protective gear. Crowds are mainly male but some women are present, often noticed by a short skirt or bright coat. A very strong image is a woman at home in a basic tenement house putting her children to bed; this reminded me of the iconic image Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange.

Moving on we see a march between towns in 1969 photographed by David Newell Smith, out in the countryside. Unkempt hedgerows and hillsides are the setting for a large march, the male police all wearing hats, protesters largely bareheaded, some with flat caps. A few women attend.

A copy of The Black Dwarf magazine on the wall, edited by Tariq Ali, shows a quote from Malcolm X about revolutions changing corrupt society, and a Guinness bottle made into a Molotov. This was from August 1969.

 

Montage of images; police, protesters and children

The views change to show escalation of drama, attack and counterattack, so we clearly follow the narrative as the Troubles proper begin. Media crew are photographed by Barney McGonagle; Clive Limpkin focuses on riots in Derry, 12 – 24 August 1969. Barbed wire and military presence of B-Specials have replaced earlier genial police. A poster says “Meme les enfants participant a la boutaile.” This shows French media covering a photo of women and children stuffing oily rags into the mouths of petrol-filled bottles in a determined group. This made me think of similarities to the French Revolution, also called The Terror. We then realise that authority figures are terrified of popular revolution, even if heads would not literally roll this time. But no politicians or famous figures appear, apart from Rev. Paisley; only those who would become famous, Bernadette Devlin for instance. Nowadays we call such people activists, but that word was not in circulation.

I thought the display worked well to show the progress of people’s movements against injustices of the day, building upon one another and sadly turning to violence by the end of the 1960s. The popular environmentalist movement in America (as distinct from the wealthy preserving their leisure space) similarly began with Greenpeace, then a group of mainly Quakers, bearing silent witness to nuclear testing, and escalated to dramatic protests and banners designed to catch the media’s attention, followed by eco-activists spiking trees ahead of logging operations. More information here.

A great many vivid images were displayed in a compact space, the black and white making the emotions more vivid, the juxtapositions more striking. Once the news of the day has moved on, people could easily forget these photos, which may be considered works of art in themselves. The curator has also imposed his own view of the topic by choosing not to include pontificating politicians. I noticed that no women photographers were included; maybe there were not many at the time, or maybe they were not sent to cover conflict.

Roland Barthes said: “The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author.” (1967) While he was discussing books, I believe the same can be applied to photographs. The photographer cannot come around explaining what he/she wanted to capture in a shot, what time of day it was or why they picked one shot out of the many rolls of film. Each viewer must form their own individual view of a photo or the collection of photos, and the life experiences or political leanings of the viewer may flavour their appreciation of the collection The Lost Moment.

 

First Photoshop exercise

Millpond at Skerries Windmills

Photoshop outdoor photo

I took a photo at Skerries Windmills, Co. Dublin during the drought of the Irish summer 2018. The mill pond had maintained an oasis of green in a desert-like area of parched parkland.

For this exercise I turned that summertime photo into one of autumnal foliage.

Clare O’Beara’s multimedia journalism project

Akhal Teke

Hi, and welcome to my blog. Over the next few weeks I hope to put together a journalism project with interesting topics, photos and comments.

I already blog about disability access, horse books, environment books, on my own website.

I also blog about my writer’s life on Goodreads,    where I co-moderate the Green Group.

The Green Group is about living in a sustainable manner – how human activity affects the environment and how a changing climate/environment affects how humans live their lives. Are we making good decisions on a personal level? business level? policy level? Discuss! We read fiction and non-fiction that explore these concerns.

Like this beautiful Akhal Teke horse, I am headed on a journey. Travel along with me as I learn.