‘Your Vitamins are Obsolete’: Local psychiatrist wants to help with your supplement regimen
“We’re expecting more out of our vitamins than they’re actually giving us,” Dr. Sheldon Zablow says.
He recently wrote a book detailing how many of us falsely think we’re getting enough vitamins and highlighting ways we can optimize our supplements.
Zablow, a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist and a voluntary assistant professor of child psychiatry at the UC San Diego School of Medicine for more than 34 years, wrote the book “Your Vitamins are Obsolete: The Vitamer Revolution” after integrating nutritional psychiatry into his work — that is, psychiatry “with an emphasis on nutrition,” he said.
Getting the right vitamins in the right forms, or vitamers, “can optimize whatever healthy intervention you’ve chosen,” from medications and good nutrition to exercise and proper sleep, he said. “If you don’t have the proper nutrients, anything you try is only going to work so well.”
Zablow said vitamins are nutrients “that our bodies require in very minute amounts. We can’t make them ourselves.”
Some vitamins are fat-soluble, which our bodies store in fat and release little by little, he said. Others are water-soluble, meaning that whatever our cells don’t absorb is eliminated immediately.
Zablow’s book, published in September, focuses on the two vitamins he says are most important: B12 and folate.
“These two are very critical ... they work together. If you just take the B12 and you don’t have enough of the folate, it won’t work,” he said. “All the other vitamins and interventions really won’t work very well unless you have these two basic ones.”
As an example, people at risk of osteoporosis can take large amounts of calcium and vitamin D, “but if they don’t have enough B12 and folate, they’ll still develop osteoporosis,” he said.
B12 and folate are “really critical to all the functions in the body,” Zablow said. But their form matters.
“They have to come in their bioactive forms,” he said, which means “the form your body uses,” as opposed to an artificial or a synthetic form that the body needs to convert for absorption.
Most supplements have the artificial form of B12, he said, and the artificial form of folate, which is folic acid. “A lot of people can’t handle it.”
“The body needs a certain enzyme — it’s called MTHFR — to convert the folic acid into folate,” Zablow said. “At least 15 percent of women don’t have this enzyme.”
Birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy also block the MTHFR enzyme, he said.
The lack or blocking of the enzyme isn’t limited to women, as a type of diabetes medication and proton pump inhibitors, which treat acid reflux, also block MTHFR. And in obese men or women, “that increased weight … pulls out folate from the diet, the fat holds onto extra folate and the body is deficient.”
Without the proper form and amount of B12 and folate, people are “at risk for unhealthy aging, unhealthy response to medications,” he said. The first symptom that shows up is fatigue.
B12 and folate also “cleanse the body of cellular waste products,” and without them, the body is susceptible to blood clots, Zablow said.
They also regulate gene expression; without enough, “bad genes are expressed and good genes are not expressed.”
“Vitamins are poorly made and poorly absorbed,” he said. “If you take 20 different chemicals and put them into one pill, you’re hoping the body can separate them out and use them. It turns out the body can’t do that very well.”
The body can receive B12 naturally from meat and seafood, Zablow said, but those looking for it in a supplement can search the ingredients list for the bioactive form, which is called methylcobalamin (the artificial form is cyanocobalamin).
For folate, the bioactive form is called L-methylfolate and is harder to find, Zablow said. He suggested searching for it at specialty vitamin or natural food stores.
One milligram for each twice a day is best, “on an empty stomach,” Zablow said. “These vitamins are so sensitive, they can be inactivated by other foods.”
Zablow began learning more about vitamins and the importance of the forms of B12 and folate in 2006 when he was treating a patient for depression without much success. “I saw this lady getting worse and worse, and nobody could figure it out,” he said.
The patient had undergone a gastric bypass, and Zablow looked at her supplements. In researching her vitamins, he realized the form of B12 in her supplements was the artificial form and her gastric bypass prevented her stomach from absorbing any of it.
Once he gave her the bioactive forms of B12 and folate, “she came back a month later and her depression went away, her energy came back. It was like a different person,” Zablow said. “I thought there must be something to it.”
He then added the vitamins to other patients’ treatments. “It didn’t cure them, but they started responding better to the other medical treatments,” he said.
Zablow decided to learn more about biochemistry and nutritional psychiatry shortly after, and in 2013 he began writing the book. “The story really needed to be told to help people with their health,” he said.
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