The nature of nutrient metabolism in the human body

Henrietta Norton BSc, Dip NT, MBANT, AFMCP Co-founder of Wild Nutrition and Nutritional Therapist.

“Human physiology will always be able to distinguish between Vitamin C in synthetic form and that from an orange” 

- Dr Albert Szent-Gyorgyi MD, PhD, Nobel laureate


The indisputable fact is that humans are anticipated to receive their nutrition from food sources. Repeated attempts have been made to advance on this basic principle by isolating what is assumed to be the "most valuable fractions" of food but research demonstrates that these isolated so called "natural Free-State nutrients" contain only a fraction of the beneficial factors that are received from natural food.

Only since the 1920's have we begun to "supplement" our diet with isolated substances that are extracted from various substrates.


The first supplements were discovered in a search to cure nutritional deficiency related diseases. Nobel Laureates Dr. Casmir Funk and Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi were awarded their Nobel Prizes for discovering the fractions of foods that solved the nutritional diseases beriberi and scurvy. However both Szent-Gyorgyi and Funk stated that the concentrated whole foods used in the research were far more effective in preventing and curing scurvy than simply as an isolated nutrient. Szent-Gyorgyi documented the following statement: "When I had crystalline ascorbic acid, we tried it on patients with scurvy, expecting a strong reaction. It did nothing.” In other words the more isolated the nutrient the less effective the result, regardless of any increase in dose. He then concluded: “A vitamin is a substance that makes you ill if you do not eat it in a natural food matrix form”. Both researchers advised the public not to consider these fractions as a substitute for whole food. In their thinking these fractions were drugs, which were to be consumed under extreme conditions only.


This understanding of nature’s intelligence led to the research of chemist and pharmacist, Endre Szalay in 1970. Whilst most of his colleagues were concentrating on developing isolated fractions, Szalay was determined to develop the findings of Szent-Gyorgyi in order to find a process that provided all the fractions found in food but without the bulk. This process was later to be known as the ‘Food-State’ process and produced a form of supplementation providing a complete, nutrient enhanced food. No longer were these nutrients “isolated fractions” but rather inextricably bound with their co-factors - natural proteins, complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, SOD, fibre’s, minerals and vitamins.


In the early 1990’s, we were continuing to try to understand the true mechanisms of human nutrient metabolism and why food and ‘Food-Grown’ supplements were so effective. However the pioneering work of Dr. Blobel and Dr O'Halloran un-raveled the process by which human cells are nourished. Dr Thomas O’Hollaran’s peer-reviewed study on copper metabolism confirmed that intracellular nutrient delivery is a process that required protein chaperones inherent in plant life. This finding indicated that nutrients are not simply floating around in the body looking for a needy cell. Rather, they are being transported by vital carrier protein factors to the exact location for utilization within the cell.


This was later reinforced by Dr Gunter Blobel’s discoveries that “Each protein carries in its structure the information needed to specify its proper location in the cell. These are universal, operating similarly in single cell plant and animal cells. The knowledge of protein chaperons (carriers) will increase our understanding of processes leading to disease and can be used to develop new therapeutic strategies”. Dr Gunter Blobel went on to win a Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1999 for this work.


It seems Drs. Funk, Szent-Gyorgyi and Endre Szalay instinctively understood the importance of carrier food factors that naturally occur in food without these latest scientific discoveries to confirm their knowledge.

The cycle of life


To understand why we require nutrients in a food form, we need simply to look to the law of nature. The root system of a plant draws inorganic substances from the soil, calcium carbonate for example, into the plants cellular matrix. These are then metabolised by the plant, converting the nutrient into a plant-bound form which also contain it’s co-factors and enzymes such as glycoproteins, lipids, bioflavonoids, glutathione, SOD and beta glucans. Crucially, the unwanted material (carbonate, in calcium carbonate for example) is then excreted by the plant as a waste product.


This process has transformed the nutrient structure into a form that the human and animal body is genetically attuned to receiving. As humans we do not have the ability to perform this process of nutrient transformation in the same way, hence our historic necessity to obtain our vitamins and minerals through food.


How nutrients are metabolised and transported in the human body: beyond simple 'availability'

So what happens once a nutrient is ‘ingested’ by the human body?  Well O’Halloran & Blobel’s research demonstrated the essential nature of carrier proteins (CP) for effective utilisation of any nutrient and in almost every biochemistry book, we find reference to the importance of a specific group of these CP’s called Carrier Food Factors (CFF’s). These CFF’s are found in all living plant cells. Once we eat a food, the job of the CFF’s is to chaperone these nutrients, communicating with the body on a cellular level, to instruct how, where and when the nutrients are to be used.


Dr Blobel used the analogy that each CFF is an envelope with a different address, going to a different destination. Each destination in the body has its own address that is displayed in multiple areas of each cell. The CFF’s are then able to recognize this, lock into it and deliver the nutrient to the correct address within the human system.

Presenting a nutrient to the gut cell membrane in this naturally ‘bound’ form determines how well and how much of a nutrient penetrates the membrane as well as how well it is transported intra-cellularly and systemically (an area often over-looked when we talk about ‘bio-availability’). Research has shown that this ‘specific form’ can make the difference between what can be a very poor absorption rate of simple inorganic compounds into a cell and the relatively high absorption rate of the same minerals in a complex food form or as a ‘Food-Grown’ supplement.


Intra-cellular transportation of nutrients


As already illustrated, most minerals are only admitted into the cell in these very specific protein-bound forms. This is equally necessary for appropriate transportation acrossthe cell and will determine how well used and retained the nutrient will be by the cell.


This form will also determine whether the nutrient will block the transmission of other nutrients into and across the cell. An example of this is the fact that calcium is only transmitted across the intestinal mucosa bound to a specific carrier protein. Unless it is in this form it will not only not be transported but it may block absorption of other calcium molecules and even affect the absorption of other metal elements such as iron, zinc and magnesium. Equally it may result in a toxic build-up of the un-useable material, increasing gut acidity and gastro-intestinal toxic load. If this continues, this will speed up cell death, which in them-selves will also turn into acids.


The importance of phosphorylation


The presence of phosphorous and the process of phosphorylation plays a pivotal role in how well a nutrient is used by the body (by regulating cell signaling and utilization of nutrients; rather like an on – off switch). This phosphorylation occurs naturally within Food and ‘Food-Grown’ nutrients but if the nutrient is not associated within a food structure, as in “isolated” synthetic nutrients, then the nutrient is not in a natural state of phosphorylation and therefore bioavailability may always be more limited.


This lack of phosphorylation will increase the likelihood that the un-recognizable nutrient molecule (isolated synthetic nutrient for example) may be treated as alien by the body and excreted at the point of digestion, or that even if it is accepted (and this may be less than 15% likely), that it will be unable to activate the necessary chemical processes to be of proper use when reaching the target cells. Inadequate phosphorylation within the body affects cellular acidity by reducing potassium excretion through the cell membrane. The cell then needs to work harder to regain homeostasis. This creates electrically excitable cells and increases the energy requirement meaning less of the nutrient is available to be used systemically.


Therefore the quantity of nutrient consumed does not directly equate to the quantity of the nutrient utilized. In most cases where high quantities of vitamins and minerals are administered the reverse may actually be true.

In contrast to this, Food and ‘Food-Grown’ nutrients naturally contain the necessary phosphorylated molecules (proteins, lipids, complex carbohydrates, beta-glucan’s, flavonoids intrinsic enzymes etc.), rendering them easily available to be assimilated and processed during digestion. They are then converted into the specific protein, or peptide forms, which the blood supply can transport to the designated organs for use and/or stored in the tissues and intra-cellular fluid.


Low potency Food-Grown - as nature intended


Over 50 independent studies have shown that this improved response rate and tolerance rate resulting from nutrients presented in a food or ‘Food-Grown’ form, enables a considerable reduction in the required dose. Obtaining nutrients in food or from ‘Food-Grown’ nutrients have been shown to produce additional systemic benefits. Vitamin B12 in a Food-Grown form (methylcobalamin & deoxyadenosylcobalamin) for example has been shown to overcome pernicious anaemia in conditions where the synthetic cobalamin form of vitamin B12 is ineffective.


Additionally food and Food-Grown nutrients provide key vitamins in their naturally occurring form. For example, Vitamin D in the more biologically active form of Vitamin D (1, 25 - dihydroxyvitamin D) rather than the non-active 'storage' form (25-hydroxyvitamin D) as well as D1, 2 and 4; Vitamin K as phylloquinone and Vitamin B9 as folate for example.


So how are 'food-grown' nutrients made?


The Food-State process remains the proprietary process of Endre Szalay and to this day is manufactured by only one company in the world (of which Endre Szalay is still Honorary Chairman at age 93).

Food-Grown nutrients are manufactured by feeding a controlled amount of mineral salt (vitamin) embedded in an appropriate glycoprotein matrix, into a live food cell such as citrus, carrot, cabbage, alfalfa, bakers yeast or probiotic. Which cell to use is decided by which food cell is most naturally suited to the nutrient or mineral, Citrus pulp for Vitamin C, Carrot concentrate for Beta Carotene and so on. This introduction of the mineral salt occurs at the natural ‘budding’ process of the food cell.


As in nature, this food cell then metabolizes and re-natures the vitamin or mineral glycoprotein mix, inextricably binding it to its co-factors and it’s natural CFF’s. These ‘team mates’ are so closely bonded that the nutrient can no longer be divided into its separate parts, just as it would be found in a plant cell.


This process is not forced nor heated at any stage, allowing the conversion to occur at the same rate it would naturally and without the addition of any processing chemicals, just purified water. This is not to be confused with the commonly used fermentation process.


At the final stage of the Food-Grown process a specific plant based enzyme is introduced to de-activate the proteins on the food cell wall. This renders the end product hypo-allergenic, meaning it is suitable for those with yeast or lactose concerns in the case of candida overgrowth or lactose intolerant individuals. The temperature is then mildly elevated to no more 32.5 degrees Celsius to de-activate this enzyme. This low temperature guarantees that the rest of the cell (the vitamins, minerals and all it’s co-factors) is kept in tact and therefore are classified as a ‘raw’ food.


The mineral/vitamin food concentrate is then thoroughly washed a number of times with purified water. Then the product, upon enzyme treatment, is dried and packed with a guaranteed potency of the nutrient.


When nutrients are whole, with naturally occurring complete proteins and other phyto-nutrients, they are in a form that is readily used by the human physiology and which require no changes, therefore saving vital energy.


Each batch is tested for any trace of toxic metals, pesticides and herbicides at the beginning and end of the process and screening for any remnants of the ‘isolated’ nutrient is also conducted at the completion stage.

Informed choices in a clinic setting


As a nutritional therapist, this understanding of cellular nutrient delivery throws up questions on how effective and respectful nutrients in a synthetic isolated form are to the natural intelligence of nutrient absorption in the human body.


Therefore, in order to make informed choices over which forms of supplementation and what doses to recommend we must first truly understand the nature of nutrient metabolism in the human body.

“Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different”
– Dr Albert Szent-Gyorgyi MD, PhD, Nobel laureate

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