The human-animal is a remarkable testament to adaptability in the face of adversity. Through millennia of environmental, social, and cultural challenges, humanity has adapted, survived, and thrived.
What determines survivability under such changeable circumstances? While innate intelligence should not be overlooked as a significant influence, the fact remains that a genius would likely succumb to the same dose of poison as a fool. What determines survivability may then be described as a matter of degree – the degree to which our physiology adapts successfully to changing conditions.
One aspect of this adaptability lies in the synergistic function of macronutrients. It is essential that our body can harness macronutrients’ potential to operate in extreme conditions while maintaining core functionality. Our bodies strive endlessly to achieve and maintain a state of equilibrium. Many biomarkers must remain within specific parameters. Should those numbers deviate, even modestly, for more than the briefest of intervals, a cascade of countermeasures is set in motion to return the system to baseline.
To achieve this delicate balance, we need varying amounts of vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids. This need, of course, means that our diet has a significant impact on our wellbeing. Far from merely “feeding the fire” of our metabolism, our dietary choices can determine the success or failure of the complex chemical phenomenon we know as “life.”
While it would be convenient (and much tastier) to obtain adequate nutrition from food alone, it is often difficult to achieve optimal health without some level of supplementation. For example, as many as 50% of Americans are considered Vitamin D deficient, and 95% have inadequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
With those numbers in mind, let us examine a few of the many essential nutrients along with their balancing counterparts.
Vitamin D and Vitamin K
Vitamin D3 is technically not a vitamin, but a “pro-hormone” which has regulatory effects and is a catalyst for the production of other chemistries. Many people are familiar with vitamin D due to its role in calcium absorption. What is less well-appreciated is that vitamin K (in the form of K2) is needed to properly transport and store all calcium that is absorbed.
Calcium and Magnesium
Calcium makes up most of the volume in bone but has other duties to perform as well. It is necessary for proper muscle contraction and serves as an excitatory ion in the nervous system. Magnesium is also present in the bone matrix and is needed for muscle relaxation. It also balances calcium’s effect on the nervous system.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Long-chain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are considered essential, as they cannot be produced by the body in adequate volume and must be obtained from the diet. While both are necessary, they have opposite physiological effects. A ratio of 4:1 omega-6 to omega-3 is reasonable, as omega-3s are preferentially absorbed when both are present. Omega-6 fats are obtained mostly from nuts and seeds (or their oils) while, long-chain omega-3 fats are present in the tissues of animals, and most highly concentrated in cold-water fatty fish such as sardines, salmon and tuna. Although there are other food sources of omega-3 such as flax or chia seeds, fish is the superior source as it contains the fats EPA and DHA, which can be converted directly and efficiently to important regulatory chemistries.
Both omega-3 and omega-6 are important as structural components of cells, but balancing them is essential. Omega-6 fats are precursors to inflammatory hormones, which are necessary in cases of an immune response or physical trauma. However, without the influence of anti-inflammatory chemistry built from omega-3 fats, inflammation can persist, causing tissue degradation and, ultimately, loss of function up to and including disability or death.
While there is always more to learn when it comes to health and nutrition, we now have enough insight into our needs to assist our bodies with the task of proper metabolic maintenance for a healthier future.