Saturday, April 28, 2007

B-Complex Vitamins and Vision (Visual Acuity)

I have been taking B-complex vitamin supplements for over 10 years. My primary objective has been to reduce the frequency and duration of colds. I have finally been successful. As a result, I’ve been experimenting with dramatic reductions in vitamin doses. Recently, I nearly quit taking B-complex vitamin supplements altogether. As expected based on the vitamin literature, nothing bad happened. Then, about two months after I quit, I noticed that I was having a harder and harder time getting by at work without my glasses. Ten years ago, just before I started taking B-complex vitamins, I had started to wear my glasses at work. Shortly after I started B-complex vitamins my vision improved and I stopped wearing glasses. I subsequently reviewed the scientific literature on B-complex vitamins. During the course of reading hundreds of papers, I read only one or two reports by researchers stating that subjects/patients had reported improved visual acuity upon taking B-complex vitamins. As time passed, I convinced myself that I was probably mistaken.

So here I was again experiencing rapidly deteriorating vision. I was alarmed enough to schedule an eye exam, and to try to analyze why this might be happening to me. What was I doing different? It took several days before the idea struck me that I had quit B-complex vitamins. My view was that if B-complex supplements were the problem, my vision should restore itself rapidly upon re-supplementation. I took the time to test my vision by backing away from my computer monitor to find the distance at which the large print on a PowerPoint file became blurred. The next day I took a B-complex supplement, waited about 2 hours, and then retested my vision. My vision was not so different, yet obviously improved. I saw clearly from the same distance using less concentration. My eyes were seeing about the same, but feeling less strained. I noticed later in the day that I wasn’t getting a headache from watching a screen across the conference room. This may not seem like much, but for me it is the difference between needing and not needing glasses.

A large region of the brain is devoted to the highly complex task of image processing. The brain is known to employ parallel processing strategies. Multiple metabolic pathways are involved, a number of which are dependent upon B-complex vitamins. The assertion that the brain could make use of elevated doses of B-complex vitamins to improve visual acuity is plausible.

My improved vision is a small thing, and by itself not a reason to advocate for B-complex vitamin supplements. This observation motivates me to keep taking B-complex supplements because I believe that aging is caused by a multitude of small things, many of them imperceptible. For example I can’t feel the elasticity of my arteries, my liver regulating my blood sugar, or my bone marrow renewing my red blood cells. If B-complex vitamins can improve the performance of my image processing circuitry, perhaps they are improving other aspects of the functioning of my brain, that, when added together may result in a meaningful improvement in my quality of life as I get older.

What motivates me the most is the belief that if B-complex vitamin supplements are required to optimize the performance of my visual processing, then they are required to optimize the task of the growth and development of a child’s brain. I believe that a series of minor improvements in brain functioning during a child’s many years of brain growth and development can lead to substantial improvements in health and intelligence by the time adulthood is reached. I believe every parent should assess the evidence and consider regular use of multivitamins, B-complex vitamins, and vitamin C.

No Sugar + Vitamin C + Multivitamins = Healthy Babies

Infant mortality rates are rising in Mississippi. The most likely single cause is poor maternal health. The number of obese mothers with diabetes has been rising rapidly. A consensus is emerging that the cause of the obesity epidemic is poor nutrition. Most experts believe the causes are complex. The experts are right. But that’s not the whole truth. There are simple steps that can be taken to improve the situation.

Linus Pauling wrote “How to Live Longer and Feel Better” just over 20 years ago. Pauling is the only person to have won two Nobel prizes in different fields. Pauling discovered some basic facts about human nutrition and documented them in this book. Arguing against Pauling’s beliefs was, and remains, a good way to lose an argument. Pauling had this to say in his book:

“As to eating and drinking there is only one don’t; that is sugar. Like the cigarette, the sugar sucrose is a novelty of industrial civilization. Together they have brought the pandemics of cancer and cardiovascular disease to the otherwise fortunate populations of the developed countries. Sugar in breakfast foods is especially harmful to infants and children. Sucrose can not be avoided, but a large decrease in the intake of this sugar is essential.”

When are we going to learn this lesson? How many more generations will be subjected to the failing “low fat” campaign? How can government officials and healthcare professionals still believe fat is the problem when “low fat” living has resulted in increasing obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Does anyone deny that sugar in large quantities is new to civilization? How long will it be until a “no sugar” campaign gets a try?

I’m not optimistic about a “no sugar” campaign. Almost everyone craves sugar. It is quite possible that a life without sugar is a life not worth living. Like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, sugar is a low toxicity wonder drug. Better yet, it does not cause withdrawal symptoms.

Just because a broad-based “no sugar” campaign is naïve doesn’t mean steps can’t be taken to reduce infant mortality and improve child welfare. The steps are simple. Reduce sugar consumption when pregnant. Don’t feed sugar to your children. Remove sugar from schools. Don’t feed other people’s children sugar. When the children stop growing they are at lower risk of harm and can choose for themselves how much sugar they want to eat.

The positive advice in Pauling’s book is just as simple. The advice is to take vitamin C and a multivitamin containing extra B-complex vitamins. I’ve written multiple times on this subject. The highly processed foods dominating the diets of many poor Americans are typically high in calories and low in micronutrients. Despite countless denials from nutritionists and healthcare professionals who want to emphasize the complexities of good health, the simple act of eating daily several 1000 mg vitamin C supplements and one multivitamin tablet improves the health of children. The primary function of vitamins is to catalyze the growth and development of an egg and sperm into an adult. It is a long journey made up of countless individual steps (chemical reactions). Nature is cruel, and the journey is never made flawlessly. Abundant vitamins present every step of the way will always improve the outcome.

It is possible to get back on track towards zero infant mortality. Consider the simple steps of drastically reducing the amount of sugar in the diet of pregnant mothers and children, while simultaneously supplementing with vitamin C and multivitamins.