Just as with many things found in nature, nutrients do not act alone, in a vacuum. Some important nutrients are more effective in the other presence of another; others cancel each other out, while still others need to be paired in certain ratios.
In a recent article, researchers from Harvard Medical School have stressed the importance of consuming certain nutrients together, and suggest that consumption guidelines for individual nutrients form only part of the puzzle of good nutrition.
"Nutrition guidelines and labels sometimes seem to have been written one nutrient at a time. But good nutrition – and the way in which our bodies absorb and process nutrients – is a much bigger puzzle than a nutrient-by-nutrient tally sheet suggests," states the article.
Here are examples of five pairs of nutrients that interact:
Vitamin D – Calcium
Vitamin D is very important for the absorption of calcium by the body. If large quantities are present, calcium is more easily absorbed in the small intestine, but in smaller amounts the mineral gets absorbed with active assistance from vitamin D. The vitamin, which also aids in the absorption of other minerals such as phosphorus, has been linked to benefits including protection against heart disease and some forms of cancer.
Current recommendations suggest that adults should have an intake of 1,000mg of calcium and 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily. This figure increases with age: Adults over 50 should receive 1,200 mg of calcium, and adults over 70 should receive 600 IU of vitamin D.
Vitamin B12 – Folate
These two B vitamins work together to support cell division and replication, and metabolize homocysteine. Folate depends on B12 to be absorbed, stored and metabolized. Folate, which is one of the eight B vitamins, depends on vitamin B12 to be absorbed, stored and metabolized. Folate deficiency has been linked to anemia and neural tube birth defects
Zinc – Copper
Copper and zinc compete for absorption sites in the small intestine. If too much zinc is present copper absorption is diminished and a deficiency may occur. Having both in the systems helps reduce the chance of overdose of either mineral.
Niacin – Tryptophan
Niacin, a B vitamin, is best known for its positive effects on cholesterol levels. Tryptophan is one of nine amino acids required by the human body for their function as protein building blocks. One of tryptophan's important roles is as a supplier of niacin.
Sodium – Potassium
Although sodium is an essential nutrient, most Americans consume far more of it each day than they need, raising their blood pressure and increasing their chances of having a stroke or heart attack.
Potassium counters the harmful cardiovascular effects of a sodium surplus by encouraging the kidneys to excrete sodium. Many studies show a connection between high potassium intake and lower blood pressure and suggest the potassium-to-sodium ratio may be more important than potassium - or sodium - alone.
Current guidelines recommend 4,700mg potassium per day, and 1,200 to 1,500mg sodium. The average American intake is around 2,500mg potassium and 2,500 to 7,500mg sodium per day, a ratio that is very out of balance.
With these and countless other pairings to consider, it is important to take a daily supplement complex – something far beyond a basic multi-vitamin/mineral – that provides a full spectrum of nutrients, extracts, and other compounds together in the correct combinations, ratios and potencies. And instead of taking additional mega doses of individual vitamins or minerals, complement your program with an integrated supplement that addresses your health concerns in a comprehensive way.