There are 90 essential nutrients: 60 essential minerals, 16 essential vitamins, 12 essential amino acids and 3 essential fatty acids. By definition an “essential nutrient” is essential (vital, necessary, requisite) to human health and is something our own bodies cannot produce or manufacture. An essential nutrient must be taken in through diet and /or supplementation.
Essential nutrients are not drugs. They do not chemically induce or force a physiological response. Instead, they nurture, they feed and in so doing they support and enable physical function. We are biochemical beings, after all. Whether it is scratching our head or facing down infection or maintaining our body temperature, every physical function our body performs is achieved through a sequence of biochemical events and every biochemical event depends on the presence of essential nutrients.
One can think of the human body as a walking chemistry set with built in genius. But that genius, the body’s own innate intelligence, cannot run our many physical systems (digestion, cognition, respiration, reproduction, etc.), at least not properly, without sufficient essential nutrient intake. After all, essential nutrients serve as the raw material for every molecular manipulation, construction and deconstruction that defines and describes our physical operation.
What happens when we deny ourselves essential nutrient intake? Predictably we experience system failure. Consider vitamin C, just one of the 90 essential nutrients. Most of us are familiar with the relationship between vitamin C deficiency and scurvy. Collagen is the main structural protein of connective tissue in all mammals. The body synthesizes collagen from vitamin C. No vitamin C; no collagen. Starve the body of vitamin C and, inevitably, connective tissue collapses. Gums go spongy. Wounds erupt. Mucous membranes bleed. In short deficiency in one, single essential nutrient degrades and eventually destroys our healthy well-being.
Insufficient vitamin C intake puts us as risk for way more than scurvy. Vitamin C helps extinguish free radicals protecting against vascular degradation, it supports immune response and even plays a role in prevention of blood clots, to name a few. And the same can be said of every other essential nutrient: each plays a crucial role in supporting and protecting physical function. In fact, for every one essential nutrient we deny ourselves we become subject to, on average 10 different possible degenerative diseases. Problems don’t manifest overnight but decades of neglect inevitably lead to the sort of hole many of us find ourselves in when we reach our 50’s or 60’s: musculo skeletal degradation; digestive malfunction; obesity; immune systems that don’t operate well; cardio vascular problems; mental sluggishness; poor libido; compromised blood sugar metabolism and on and on. It is ironic that, as Dr. Wallach points out, we’ve learned how to keep our animals healthy, no rancher denies his stock adequate supplementation, and we give our pets fortified foods, but we grievously neglect our own health. Now our dogs live 17 or 18 years (as long as we don’t feed them from our table—tables scraps!!) while as recently as our own childhoods dogs lived only around 9 or 10 years. Similarly animal husbandry boasts of higher profits and lower veterinarian expenses. But, when it comes to our own health and longevity, we continue to eat nutrient empty foods and forego smart supplementation.
In an ideal world we would obtain all the essential nutrients we need from the food we eat. Sadly, due to a variety of factors (impoverished range and crop soils, reliance on processed, nutrient-empty foods, diets high in starch, gluten and sugar, industrial scale petrochemical farming, etc.) it is impossible to obtain all 90 nutrients we need in sufficient quantity solely from the food we eat. This means that if we wish to live long and healthy lives we simply MUST supplement.