Nutrients That Are Best Absorbed With Your Heaviest MealJuly 2015
By Michael Downey
Scientists are increasingly focused on the fact that fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed differently—and at different intestinal locations—than water-soluble vitamins.1,2 For optimal health, both water and fat-soluble vitamins are needed.3
For maximum absorption, fat-soluble nutrients should be taken in conjunction with the daily meal containing the most dietary fat, which is typically the heaviest meal of the day.
Most people get a wide assortment of vitamins from their daily multivitamin tablets. However, to ensure an optimum intake of critical fat-soluble nutrients, it is wise to take most of these at the time of your largest meal.
The heaviest meal of the day is often the one that contains the most DNA mutagens. Fortunately, chlorophyllin and blueberry have been shown to protect DNA and promote its repair. These two nutrients should also be taken with your heaviest meal of the day.
Critical Differences Between Fat-Soluble And Water-Soluble Vitamins
Most water-soluble vitamins travel from the small intestine to the bloodstream with relative ease.1
Fat-soluble vitamins, however, rely on bile for absorption. Bile is produced in the liver and then travels into the small intestine, where it helps break down fats. Fat-soluble nutrients are then absorbed through the intestinal wall and enter the lymph vessels. From there, these fat-soluble nutrients make their way into the bloodstream.2
With the exception of vitamin B12, which can be stored in your liver, most water-soluble vitamins are utilized around the time of absorption and later excreted in the urine.4
Unused fat-soluble nutrients are stored in the liver and in fat tissue. As additional amounts are needed at a later time, they are then released from these storage areas into the bloodstream.5
Many people don’t get enough oil-based vitamins from their diet. Those on low-fat or vegan diets might be at even greater risk of receiving inadequate amounts, which is understandable when you consider that dietary fat must be consumed for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.6
Because dietary fat is generally consumed with the heaviest meal of the day—and because fat-soluble nutrients interact synergistically with each other6—this fattiest, largest meal provides an ideal window of opportunity for taking fat-soluble nutrients.
Let’s now examine the critical body functions served by individual fat-soluble nutrients.
Alpha tocopherol is the best known form of vitamin E and is widely distributed in the body.7,8 It is critical, however, for anyone supplementing with vitamin E to make sure they are also getting adequate gamma tocopherol each day—and both are best absorbed with dietary fat.
Both alpha and gamma tocopherols powerfully fight free radicals, however, studies demonstrate gamma tocopherol’s superior ability to neutralize reactive nitrogen oxides.9,10
Current research supports the importance of gamma tocopherol in preventing numerous components of the degenerative diseases associated with aging.11,12
Gamma tocopherol has far more powerful anti-inflammatory actions than the alpha form.13,14 Furthermore, it is more potent at inhibiting certain inflammatory cytokines in cell culture and in living animals.15-17 And it inhibits production of stress-related “heat shock proteins” that result from inflammatory stimuli.18
Research shows that gamma tocopherol helps prevent migration of inflammatory cells into the airways at the beginning of an attack of asthma or allergic rhinitis and also reduces overgrowth of inflammatory cells in the nose and upper airways.19
Gamma tocopherol also provides anti-inflammatory effects that are important for fighting atherosclerosis.20-23 It is converted in your body to gamma-CEHC, a metabolite that helps shed excess sodium—an important property if mealtime sodium intake has been high.24-27
Another benefit of gamma tocopherol is its ability to improve endothelial function by increasing nitric oxide synthase, the enzyme responsible for producing vessel-relaxing nitric oxide.28 One major way it produces this effect is by sponging up destructive reactive nitrogen species, such as peroxynitrite.29 In fact, gamma tocopherol is able to “trap” a variety of reactive nitrogen species and halt their negative effects on a host of cellular processes.30
Strenuous exercise, while beneficial for people in good physical shape, does tend to increase blood coagulation and platelet aggregation in sedentary individuals—a bad thing in people with pre-existing atherosclerosis. Gamma tocopherol supplementation can mitigate these effects, potentially lowering stroke and heart attack risk.31
Gamma tocopherol inhibits cancer cell growth in culture through a number of different mechanisms.32 By decreasing the levels of proteins responsible for controlling cancer cell reproduction, gamma tocopherol effectively halts the spread of malignancy.33 This anticancer effect appears to be based on a mechanism separate from the vitamin’s well-known ability to fight free radicals.
A nuclear hormone receptor called PPAR-gamma is a promising target for anticancer therapies because it affects genes that control cancer cell growth and death.34-36 Gamma tocopherol is more powerful than alpha tocopherol at stimulating PPAR-gamma activity especially in colon cancer cells.37, 38
In a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease, gamma tocopherol has been shown to be more effective than alpha tocopherol at preventing loss of the essential neurotransmitter dopamine, the chemical defect that produces Parkinson’s symptoms.39
Those wishing to further boost tissue vitamin E levels should take a supplement that also contains sesame lignans—the 1% solid portion of sesame oil. In animal studies, sesame lignans have been shown to increase tissue and blood levels of both alpha and gamma tocopherol.40,41
A 2014 study confirms that ample intake of fat-soluble vitamin K supports longevity. In a group of more than 7,000 people at high risk for cardiovascular disease, those with the highest vitamin K intake were 36% less likely to die from any cause, compared with those with the lowest intake.42
Vitamin K may reduce the risk of many of the leading causes of American deaths—including atherosclerosis,43,44 osteoporosis,45,46 diabetes,47,48 cardiovascular-related deaths,42 and cancer.42,49 Vitamin K is such a versatile protective nutrient because it has the unique ability to activate proteins involved in these conditions. In fact, a large European study showed that cancer death was 28% less likely overall in those with the highest versus lowest consumption of vitamin K2.50
Vitamin K plays a critical role in maintaining healthy bone density by facilitating the transport of calcium from the bloodstream into the bone.51-54 Without adequate vitamin K, calcium in the blood does not adequately bind to bone and instead infiltrates into the arterial wall, resulting in calcification.55,56 Poor vitamin K status is associated with increased bone loss in postmenopausal women.57,58
Humans get most of their vitamin K from green vegetables in the form of vitamin K1.59 The problem is that K1 is tightly bound to plant fiber and only a small fraction absorbs into the bloodstream.59-61
Vitamin K2 (menaquinones) is found in meat, eggs, and dairy products and is also made by bacteria in the human gut, which provide a certain amount of the human vitamin K requirement.62,63 Human studies show that vitamin K2 is up to 10 times more bioavailable than K1. Vitamin K2 remains biologically active in the body far longer than K1. For instance, K1 is rapidly cleared by the liver within eight hours, whereas measurable levels of K2 (MK-7) have been detected 72 hours after ingestion.54
The MK-4 form of vitamin K2 is the most rapidly absorbed and is now routinely used in Japan to maintain healthy bone density.64 MK-4, however, only remains active in the blood for a few hours.65,66
The MK-7 form of K2, on the other hand, remains bioavailable to the human body over a sustained period65 and at higher levels— 7- to 8-fold—during prolonged intake.54 Both MK-4 and MK-7 have demonstrated remarkable health benefits when studied in human populations.
Fat-soluble nutrients include carotenoids that are essential for vision support.
For example, carotenoid nutrients such as lutein and specific forms of zeaxanthin make up your macular pigment—the part of your retina that protects underlying photoreceptor cells from the harmful effects of excess blue and ultraviolet light.67-70 And the density of your macular pigment is essential to healthy vision.71-73
Unfortunately, this density naturally declines with age74 and some of us lose the ability to synthesize meso-zeaxanthin from lutein over time.75 For this reason, it is critical to supplement with lutein, as well as trans-zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin, which are difficult to get from diet alone.
Additionally, phospholipids help drive these eye-healthy nutrients to where they’re needed most. Phospholipids mix well with lutein and are an integral part of the cell membrane. Studies show that they support lutein absorption75-80 and improve the circulation and accumulation of lutein within the retina.80
Delayed regeneration of rhodopsin, a retinal compound that absorbs light, is associated with the loss of night vision humans experience as they age.81 To help maintain night vision in your later years, it is advisable to take cyanidin-3-glucoside—a purple pigment in the anthocyanin family of flavonoid molecules.
Derived from blackberries or black currants, cyanidin-3-glucoside encourages the regeneration of rhodopsin82 and beneficially changes its molecular structure.83 In one study, volunteers who took a berry extract concentrate containing cyanidin-3-glucoside experienced improved ability to see in darkness after just 30 minutes.84 Beyond eye health, this flavonoid also helps to induce apoptosis in a number of human cancer lines, important to cancer prevention85,86—and was discovered to be neuroprotective, helping to prevent the disastrous effects of the Alzheimer’s-related protein amyloid beta on brain cells.87
Lycopene is a fat-soluble carotenoid with a unique structure that drives its intense free-radical-trapping activity. Controlled studies show that increased lycopene levels result in broad cellular benefits—and reduced incidences of cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cardiovascular disease.88
Prostate cancer is the disease that is best known as a target for prevention by lycopene.89,90 But lycopene is also associated with preventive effects against breast,91,92 cervical,93 lung,94,95 and colon cancer.96,97
Research indicates that people with the highest blood lycopene levels also have greater glucose tolerance than do those with lower lycopene levels.98 Diabetics with healthy eyes were found to have higher levels of lycopene than those with the blindness-inducing condition called diabetic retinopathy.99 Similarly, diabetic neuropathy, a painful and debilitating nerve condition that is among the hardest of pain syndromes to treat, is substantially ameliorated in animal studies of lycopene supplementation.100,101 And the cognitive decline associated with diabetes can be decreased with long-term lycopene supplementation.102
Lycopene may help prevent Alzheimer’s by inhibiting formation of oxidant-producing amyloid beta proteins,103 and lycopene studies demonstrate decreased death rates of neurons, especially in the memory-processing hippocampus area of the brain.104
A lycopene-rich tomato powder supplement completely prevented destruction of essential dopamine-producing brain cells in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease,105 and other studies showed that lycopene successfully prevented the neurobehavioral deficits associated with the disease.106 In animal models of Huntington’s disease, lycopene reduced memory impairment while blocking the behavioral and biochemical abnormalities,107 apparently by inhibiting inflammatory peroxynitrite production and inducing protective effects on brain mitochondria.108
Individuals with the highest lycopene blood levels have a 45% lower risk of atherosclerosis.109 In a human study, supplementation with tomato products decreased total cholesterol by 5.9% and LDL cholesterol by 12.9%.110 And in animals, lycopene supplementation reduced both LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol by 50%.111 Lab and human studies demonstrate that lycopene decreases production of multiple proinflammatory mediators and markers of inflammation.112-114
Your heaviest meal of the day often contains the most dietary mutagens. So this is the ideal time to supplement with chlorophyllin—a mutagen-neutralizing substance derived from the plant pigment chlorophyll.
Your body encounters environmental toxins such as cigarette smoke and diesel-emission particles on a regular basis.115-117 But it’s your largest meal that can inflict the most cellular damage as a result of the formation of gene-mutating heterocyclic amines caused by heavily cooked foods.118,119 Even healthy foods can hold small amounts of DNA mutating substances.120
Chlorophyllin is able to bind to mutagenic substances and excrete them from the body before they can do any damage.121
In addition, chlorophyllin has been demonstrated to possess DNA-protective and radical-quenching properties that inhibit the creation of DNA adducts—pieces of DNA bonded to a cancer-causing chemical.118,122-124 Animal and human studies show that these adducts contribute to cancer by causing extensive and irreversible DNA damage.125-128 By inhibiting harmful substances123 and helping to prevent induced DNA mutations,124 chlorophyllin acts as an “interceptor molecule”—isolating carcinogens so that they cannot form dangerous adducts.129,130
Chlorophyllin also quenches a wide variety of reactive oxygen radicals131 and can powerfully induce enzymes that protect cells from other unstable molecules.132 It also has a role in protecting against a naturally occurring mold called aflatoxin, which is a potent carcinogen found in plant foods.121,133,134
Another DNA-guarding nutrient best taken with a heavy meal is blueberry extract.
Recent studies now demonstrate that blueberry extract prevents DNA damage and promotes rapid and accurate DNA repair.135-143 These dual effects of blueberries block environmental (and age-related) impacts that lead to cancer,144,145 cardiovascular disease,146,147 and the loss of metabolic control148,149 that underlies obesity and diabetes.
An animal study found that blueberry compounds increased mean life span by 28%, representing over 22 years in human terms.150 Further research on humans showed that, within just one hour of ingesting ground blueberries, participants experienced an 18% reduction in the amount of oxidation-induced DNA damage compared to control subjects.151
In addition to DNA protection, blueberry has been found in several studies to benefit the cognitive health of older adults. The compounds in blueberries protect against age-related changes in neuronal aging and have been associated with slower rates of cognitive decline.152
In 2014, a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial gave some of the 105 cognitively intact adults, aged 65 to 85, a formulation of blueberry (and other nutrients). After two months of daily supplementation, a battery of cognitive tests showed that the intervention group had improved significantly on two measures of cognitive processing speed, while the control group did not show improvement.153
Aging individuals154-157 and vegetarians are at significant risk of vitamin B12 (or cobalamin) deficiency.158,159
Intrinsic factor, a compound secreted by the cells lining the stomach, is crucially important for the absorption of vitamin B12 from the small intestine.160 However, intrinsic factor production diminishes as your body ages. Worse, it is estimated that up to 30% of individuals over age 50 secrete low amounts of stomach acid,161,162 further decreasing bioavailability of vitamin B12 from food.
Deficiency of vitamin B12 principally affects the peripheral nerves, and in later stages may target the spinal cord.163,164 Impaired mental function is the usual result, often manifesting as slower thinking, confusion, and memory lapses.164
Also, cobalamin deficiency leads to inhibition of methionine synthase, the key enzyme responsible for the conversion of homocysteine to methionine.165,166 The result is a high level of serum homocysteine,167 which may be toxic to the cells that line blood vessels168 and may increase clotting.169
Critical to life, fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed and stored differently than water-soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble nutrients are best absorbed when taken with the meal providing the most dietary fat—usually the heaviest meal of the day.
Even if, like most people, you take daily multivitamin tablets, it is wise to ensure optimum levels of the fat-soluble vitamins (and other fat-soluble nutrients) by taking additional doses of these along with your largest meal.
Also important to take with your largest meal—the meal that usually contains the most dietary mutagens—is DNA-protective chlorophyllin, which binds to mutagens and carries them from your body, and blueberry extract, which protects DNA and promotes its repair.
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