Welcome back! Have you ever wondered why (aside from genetic disposition) some find it easier to stretch than others? One of the many factors within our control when it comes to muscle and tendon elasticity is our diet, and although we’ve talked about supplements that improve joint lubrication, we have yet to cover the vitamins that play a primary role in our Yoga body.
Vitamin A is a group of compounds that play an important role in bone growth, reproduction, cell division, eyesight, and cell differentiation. Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system which works to prevent infections by making white blood cells that destroy harmful bacteria and viruses. Vitamin A promotes healthy surface linings of the eyes and the respiratory, urinary, and intestinal tract while helping the skin and mucous membranes function as a barrier to bacteria and viruses. Vitamin A also assists lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) to fight infections more effectively.
Vitamin A essentially comes in two forms: Retinol (vitamin A from animals) and carotenoids (from plant matter). Foods that are high in vitamin A include liver, beef, chicken, eggs, and many fortified products such as milk and cheese. Although Retinol is a more active form of vitamin A, carotenoids from plants are equally valuable and can be obtained from sources including: carrots, spinach, kale, cantaloupe, peas, papaya, oatmeal and apricots.
We all know the phrase; “Too much of a good thing…” There is significant correlation between over-consumption of vitamin A in the form of Retinol (vitamin A from animal sources) and increased bone density loss in post-menopausal women. Women over the age of eighteen need no more than 700mcg or roughly 2300 IU of vitamin A in the form of Retinol on average. When possible, obtaining vitamin A from carotenoids (plant sources) is preferable as there is no evidence to suggest bone density loss due to over-consumption from this source. (Yay plants!)
The B vitamin complex (includes B1, B2, B3, B6, B12) is responsible for assisting the body in myriad ways. Vitamin B12 keeps the nerve and blood cells healthy as well as promoting new DNA. Vitamin B6 is a real workhorse: There are over one hundred enzymes involved in protein metabolization that cannot function without it. The human body needs vitamin B6 to make hemoglobin, and both the nervous and immune system depend upon it to function properly.
Good sources for the B vitamin complex include clams, fish, poultry, milk products, and eggs. Various breakfast cereals and meal replacements offer B12 or B – complex fortified varieties as well, as do some soy products. When it comes to vitamins B1 through B6, the list of good sources is much longer and seems geared for veggie-lovers. Tomatoes, wheat bran, lima beans, sunflower seeds, spinach, avocado, potatoes, bananas, garbanzo beans…they all make the grade when it comes to essential Yoga vitamins – never mind the fiber!
B – complex and flexibility
The B vitamin complex offers benefits for those with limited flexibility (especially when due to arthritic inflammation) as well as those seeking to regain their natural range of motion through such practices as yoga. This vitamin group works together to increase blood flow to muscles, ligaments and tendons by dilating veins and arteries, and reduces swelling in muscle tissue. The B – complex is also thought to help maintain the myelin sheath on nerve endings, properly shielding them from false signals while strengthening signal conductivity.
Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient found in certain foods. In the body, vitamin C’s primary responsibility is that of an antioxidant; scavenging free radicals that can damage the body’s cells. Vitamin C is also responsible for aiding in the production of collagen, a protein required to help heal wounds. In addition, vitamin C improves the absorption of iron from plant-based foods and aids in the proper function of the immune system. Recent studies show that vitamin C slows down the degeneration of the joints, thereby aiding in maintaining their flexibility. Vitamin C is also responsible bone growth and the maintenance of the body’s musculature.
The best sources of vitamin C are fruit and vegetables including: citrus fruits, red or green peppers, kiwis, broccoli, brussel sprouts, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes, and one of my favorites – radishes! The vitamin C content of food may be reduced by long-term storage or cooking, so where possible eat fresh uncooked sources and try to avoid allowing the produce to ‘wrinkle’ in the fridge or on the counter before consumption.
Smoking leeches vitamin C directly from the blood supply. If you are a regular smoker, your vitamin C intake should be approximately one and one half times the RDA. A long-term lack of vitamin C can lead to joint pain, poor wound healing, fatigue and eventually scurvy, which if left untreated is fatal. Incidentally, the leeching of vitamin C from the body due to smoking and poor collagen production in the facial area due to second-hand smoke exposure goes a long way in explaining why a smoker appears to age so rapidly.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is present in very few foods naturally. It is also created endogenously when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D production. Vitamin D is biologically inert and must undergo two processes within the liver and kidneys for activation. Without sufficient quantities of vitamin D, bones can become brittle, thin, and exhibit malformation over time. Vitamin D is very important for calcium absorption as well as controlling cell growth, maintaining neuromuscular and immune function, and reducing swelling.
As far as the few food sources offering vitamin D, salmon, mackerel, and tuna rank as the best. Interestingly, certain varieties of mushroom also provide vitamin D, with ‘enhanced’ varieties offering higher amounts of vitamin D through controlled ultraviolet light exposure. In North America, fortified milk, orange juice, yogurt, and ready-to-eat cereals rank as the number one sources of vitamin D, with a mandatory quantity added to all infant formula as well.
Vitamin E is another important vitamin for joint flexibility. This vitamin, found in sweet potatoes, eggs, wheat germ, liver, green vegetables, nuts, and many other sources – is a powerful antioxidant that prevents the joints from becoming damaged by free radicals. Vitamin E also promotes joint mobility by strengthening the ligaments and tendons.
The final word on vitamins
Vitamin E is a fine example that applies to all vitamins: Nature does it best. The amount of lab produced vitamin E through supplements such as a daily multivitamin should be 1.5 to 2 x the RDA in order to receive a sufficient quantity. Where possible, especially in light of Yoga and achieving higher levels of spiritual growth; eat as many fresh fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables of varying colors in order to insure you are getting a sufficient vitamin supply. When necessary due to diet restrictions or unavailability of some foods, use supplements to make up any shortfall.
Until next week, my friends…Namaste.