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|Optimal nutrition means different things to different people. We all know the basics: eat your vegetables, cut down on fats and sweets, drink plenty of water— things we've heard since we were kids. Some of us heed this advice and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, fiber and other wholesome foods, but others may eat broccoli once or twice a week and think that their nutritional bases are covered. Chances are, we could all benefit by doing more to ensure that our nutritional needs are being met. Why is this so important? Because optimal nutrition is essential for the healthy functioning of our body. Without it, subtle functional changes may occur that impede our progress on the road to vibrant health. You may not be aware of any problems, but that doesn't necessarily mean that your body is functioning optimally. An understanding of the many roles that nutrients play in our body is the first step in achieving that goal.
Nutrients For Life
The nutrients required to sustain life are the macronutrients — proteins, carbohydrates, and fats — which supply energy and build tissue; the micronutrients — vitamins and minerals — which are used by the body in much smaller amounts but are important in the regulation of all body processes and also act as structural components; and water, the overall vital nutrient sustaining all our life processes.
If we supply our bodies with adequate amounts of these nutrients, and in the proper ratios, then we help ensure optimal nutrition and a solid foundation for health. But what about you?
Are You Meeting Your Nutrient Needs?
Chances are that you may not be receiving all the nutrients you need from the foods you eat. According to recent health surveys, most of us don't even meet the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) of some essential nutrients, and few of us consume the recommended five daily servings of nutrient rich fruits and vegetables.
So how do you know if you are providing your body with the nutrients it needs? There are many signs that are indicative of optimal health: high energy; ideal weight; good muscle development; smooth and clear skin; glossy hair; clear eyes; normal appetite, digestion and elimination; and alert mental functions. If you are lacking in any of these areas, your foundation for health may be missing some important pieces.
Why is it vital that we supply our bodies with optimal and regular intake of all micronutrients? Because vitamins and minerals are essential for a myriad of processes in our body: energy metabolism; growth and maintenance of skin, bones and other tissues; immune system function; brain functions; hormone production and regulation; detoxification; and many others. Because each micronutrient plays indispensable and diverse roles, a single deficiency can adversely impact these body functions.
Some of the micronutrients have achieved greater fame than others; for instance, everyone knows that calcium is essential for strong bones, vitamin E is good for our skin, and vitamin A is important for eyesight. But do you know why we need zinc, or niacin, or vitamin B6? By looking at the following chart, you can see some of the important and varied roles that each micronutrient plays in your body.
Foundation For Health
Eating a well-balanced diet of wholesome, nutritious foods and taking a scientifically balanced multiple vitamin/mineral supplement helps to ensure that your body receives the optimum levels of each vital nutrient it needs. This is an essential foundation for good health.
Involved in normal eyesight; immune system response; cell differentiation; embryonic development; and healthy epithelial tissue, the tissue that lines the body's external and internal surfaces.4,5
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)
Plays a major role in the conversion of protein, carbohydrate and fat into energy production. Also plays a role in detoxification, heart function and the health of the nervous system.1,2
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Essential for cellular energy production. Also supports hormone production, neurotransmitter function, healthy eyes and skin and the production of red blood cells.1,2
Important in protein synthesis and the manufacture of hormones, red blood cells and enzymes. Plays a role in hormone regulation, brain function, skin health and is crucial for a healthy immune system.1,2,4
Supports the health of the nervous system and the development of red blood cells. Aids in the replication of the genetic code within each cell, and plays a role in the processing of carbohydrate, protein and fat in the body.1,4
An important antioxidant, which help protect cells against damage caused by free radicals. Supports the body's immune system. Essential for the formation and maintenance of collagen, a protein that forms the basis for connective tissue. Plays a role in healthy gums, skin and vision.1,2,4
Functions as a pro-hormone by regulating the absorption and use of calcium and phosphorous. Aids in the formation of normal bones and teeth. Also plays a role in healthy immune function.1,2,4
An important antioxidant. Protects the health and function of the nervous system and supports healthy skin.1,2,5
Essential for normal blood clotting. Also plays a role in bone formation and the regulation of blood calcium levels.1
Beta-Carotene and Mixed Carotenoids*
Used in the body to form vitamin A. Supports antioxidant activity in the body.4
Plays a role as a lipotropic nutrient and a methyl donor. Also plays a role in homocysteine metabolism.
Helps strengthen the integrity of blood vessel walls (capillaries).2,4
Supports energy metabolism and healthy skin, hair and mucous membranes.2,4
Essential for the development and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. Helps maintain cell membranes, connective tissue and normal blood pressure. Also aids in blood clotting.1,4
Plays a role as a lipotropic nutrient by aiding in the production and transportation of fats from the liver. Supports normal nerve and brain function.4
Functions in the uptake of blood sugar (glucose) into the cells and the regulation of blood sugar levels.4
Plays a role in the development and maintenance of the cardiovascular system, the skeletal system and red blood cells. Plays a role in the absorption and release of iron, and is involved in the production of collagen, elastin and melanin. Also aids in the conversion of nutrients into energy.2,4
Regulates cell division and the transfer of inherited traits from one cell to another. Supports the health of gums, red blood cells, skin, the gastrointestinal tract and the immune system.1,4
A component of cell membranes and functions in nerve transmission and the regulation of certain enzymes. Lipotropic nutrient involved in fat metabolism.4
A component of the thyroid hormones which regulate metabolism, growth, reproduction, nerve and muscle function, protein synthesis, the growth of skin and hair and the use of oxygen by cells. 4
Acts as the oxygen-carrying component of the blood and therefore determines how much oxygen reaches body tissues, including the brain, muscles, heart and liver. Also supports the immune system.1,4
Plays an important role in healthy heart function, in the conversion of carbohydrates, protein, and fats to energy, the manufacture of proteins and the synthesis of the genetic material within each cell. Also supports muscle relaxation and contraction and nerve transmission.1,4
Plays a role in the formation of connective tissue and bone. Supports healthy brain function and reproduction. Plays a role in energy production and is necessary for normal glucose metabolism.2,4
Is required for the activity of several enzymes, is important in the mobilization of iron from storage and is necessary for normal growth and development.2,4
Plays an important role in the release of energy from carbohydrates. Aids in the breakdown of protein and fats, in the synthesis of fats and certain hormones and in the formation of red blood cells.
Plays a role in B vitamin metabolism, as an enzyme cofactor.3
Is converted to a substance called coenzyme A, an important catalyst in the breakdown of fats, carbohydrates and protein for energy. Plays a role in the production of fats, cholesterol, bile, vitamin D, red blood cells, adrenal gland hormones and neurotransmitters.4
Essential for healthy bones and teeth. Also a component of all soft tissues and cell membranes. Helps maintain the pH balance in the blood and helps activate the B vitamins.2,4
Plays an important role in muscle contraction and relaxation, nerve conduction, regulation of the heartbeat, production of energy and the synthesis of nucleic acids and proteins.2 4
Plays an important role as a component of the antioxidant enzyme, glutathione peroxidase.2,4
May support healthy blood glucose metabolism.2
Is a component of numerous enzymes and plays a role in protein synthesis, blood sugar balance, wound healing and brain function. Also important in the maintenance of healthy skin, the immune system, nervous, digestive and reproductive systems, the genetic code and normal blood levels of vitamin A.1,4
* Alpha-Carotene, Cryptoxanthin, Zeaxanthin, Lutein, etc.
** Quercetin, etc.
1. Crayhon R. Robert Crayhon's Nutrition Made Simple. New York: M. Evans & Co., 1994.
2. Hendler SS. The Doctors' Vitamin and Mineral Encyclopedia. New York: Fireside, 1990.
3. Linder MC. Nutritional Biochemistry and Metabolism. 2nd ed. Norwalk, CN: Appleton & Lange, 1991.
4. Somer E. The Essential Guide to Vitamins and Minerals. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1995.
5. Ziegler EE, Filer LJ. Present Knowledge in Nutrition. 7th ed. Wash DC: ILSI Press, 1996.
MET048 Rev. 2/97
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