Ask Dr. Scott — Questions on health and nutrition

Q:  My doctor told me I was calcium deficient. He suggested taking calcium, and said all calcium tables were the same. Is this true?  

A:  Different people who require calcium supplementation may need different types of calcium tablets. In general, more acidic calcium, such as calcium lactate, is ideal, and calcium carbonate seems to work less effectively than most forms. However, it’s best to find out what works most effectively for your particular problem. 

Q:  Numerous questions have been asked lately about vitamins and minerals: is a vitamin or a mineral good for this or that problem? Often the question is simply “should everyone take this vitamin or that mineral?”

A:  Probably no aspect of life has such a dramatic influence on health generally, and on specific conditions in particular, as what we eat. Every one of us has our own specific dietary needs in relationship to our lifestyle, our fitness, our genetics and environment. We are all unique and this has been shown to result in individuals having idiosyncratic requirements for particular nutrients. (Williams, 1998)

Of course just taking a nutrient does not guarantee the body will use it either. The nutrient first must be digested and absorbed. In many ill people, the intestines do not work well and this might make it difficult to digest and absorb any nutrient or food. Finally, the best source of nutrients is from a good diet.

Q:  My doctor said my blood tests show low iron. But the blood test I saw last month showed iron was normal. Can iron levels change that quickly? 

A:  There are numerous indicators in the blood which reflect iron status. One may not indicate an iron need while another does. There are several blood tests which demonstrate the need for supplemental iron, including the presence iron itself. (Hemoglobin, ferritin, total iron-binding capacity and transferrin saturation are some others.) Your doctor is probably responding to the type of blood test(s) performed. Unless you’ve lost a lot of blood, iron levels generally don’t change quickly. And remember, blood tests show only what’s in the blood and nothing more. (It’s also possible to need iron in one part of the body, such as the muscles, despite normal blood levels.) Finally, many other factors are needed for iron to work properly in the body. So even a low-iron indicator may not mean you need iron – you may require some other nutrient to keep your iron normal.

Q:  My daughter is always chewing on ice cubes. Can this be dangerous?  

A:  People with iron deficiency anemia are typically fond of chewing on ice. This may be something to rule out.

Q:  Are there different kinds of dietary fiber?  

A:  There are two main types of dietary fibers: 

Soluble fiber, like pectin, is found in fruits, vegetables, legumes and oats. In the intestines, it absorbs water and forms a gel. Soluble fiber helps regulate the passage of food through the intestine by slowing it down. Soluble fiber sometimes helps diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome.

Insoluble fiber, mostly cellulose, is found in wheat bran. This fiber stimulates and speeds up the intestine. As a result it is used as a laxative. Insoluble fiber sometimes helps constipation.

Also, more water is needed when you consume more fiber.

Q:  Can dietary fiber protect you against food additives?  

A:  Both types of dietary fiber seem to counteract the toxic effects of certain drugs, chemicals and food additives in the diet. A high fiber intake does aid in binding and eliminating endotoxins from the bowel. The mechanism for this protection is not known, but it may simply be a matter of keeping the harmful substances from being absorbed into the body. As I have described in previous articles, what is especially exciting about nutritional therapy is not just the possibility of prevention, but the reversal of chronic illness and disease! (Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, 2013)

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