Biofactors – important substances for our body

TOPIC OVERVIEW

What are biofactors?

Biofactors are essential substances for our body needed for its normal functioning. They include vitamins, minerals, and trace elements such as magnesium, zinc or iron, as well as vitamin-like substances (e.g. alpha lipoic acid or coenzyme Q10), amino acids, fatty acids, and secondary plant extracts. The body can produce some of them itself, but many have to be obtained through our diet. The latter are also called essential biofactors. In high concentration, some biofactors can have a therapeutic effect, thereby acquiring pharmaceutical properties.

What effect do biofactors have in the body?

Biofactors play a vital role in the body and contribute to the smooth running of our metabolic processes. Therefore, nutritional associations promote reference values which should facilitate a healthy metabolism. Iron, for example, is essential for producing hemoglobin and thus for our body's oxygen supply. Vitamin C supports the absorption of iron from our diet, plays a role in wound healing and is an antioxidant. Some biofactors support the normal functioning of the immune system in different ways. Vitamin D (which is, by the way, both a vitamin and a hormone) is produced by the body with the support of sunlight, helps the intestine to absorb calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium – just to name a few of its many functions in the body. In this way vitamin D allows these biofactors to complete their important tasks in our bone formation. Infants, in particular, have a relatively higher need for vitamin D because of their growth. The B-vitamins such as vitamin B12, benfotiamine (a lipid-soluble thiamine precursor), vitamin B6, and folic acid have, among other things, a crucial influence on nerve function and regeneration, as well as the maintenance of a healthy metabolic status in energy supply and blood formation.

How does an undersupply of biofactors manifest itself?

Important body processes cannot run well if there is an insufficient supply with biofactors for a longer period of time. Depending on which vitamin or mineral is not available, the frequently non-specific symptoms of an undersupply develop. For example, an iron deficiency (especially common among women) manifests itself as paleness, shivering, and general fatigue. For many affected persons, a magnesium deficiency leads to nightly calf cramps, painful muscle tenseness, nervousness or even arrhythmia and hypertonicity. An undersupply of vitamin D can manifest itself in many different ways owing to its broad influence on the entire body and its hormonal effect.

The first signs or indications of an undersupply of a biofactor are always very non-specific symptoms such as a feeling of weakness, fatigue, lack of concentration, and decreased performance. All these symptoms are often underestimated and can greatly hinder our "mastering" of everyday life.

A deficiency that initially appears harmless can trigger dangerous chain reactions; over time, serious symptoms can set in that can frequently not be reversed. An ignored B-vitamin deficiency not only has a detrimental effect on the blood count but also on the normal function and maintenance of the nervous system. The energy supply of every single body cell cannot function as usual if there is a deficiency of B-vitamins. A zinc deficiency and undersupply can cause many visible and invisible symptoms as well. Brittle nails and dry and flaky skin can indicate a zinc deficiency. If you feel unwell, sick, weak, and less active, the best thing to do is to see your physician that he can examine you thoroughly. After looking at the relevant blood count and especially after ruling out other factors, he can quickly detect a possible deficiency or undersupply of biofactors and you can take appropriate countermeasures.

How to reduce the risk of a biofactors undersupply?

For most people, it is simple: Live healthy!

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In addition to regular exercise, a balanced diet is of course also part of a healthy lifestyle. By eating enough fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grain, as well as low-fat products of animal origin like fish, lean meat and low-fat milk, you can already do something to have a good supply of nutrients. By the way, our body digests valuable vegetable oils better than animal fats. Professional associations also recommend at least five servings of fresh fruit and vegetables per day. Even the so-called "superfoods" like goji, acerola, and many more, everybody is talking about nowadays, can be possible additions to the daily diet and do their part in preventing biofactor deficiency symptoms. For example, cheese and peanuts have a relatively high content of zinc – eating 100 g of Emmental cheese supplies 4.6 g of zinc. The recommended daily consumption lies between 7 g for women and 10 g for men. Chicken and lamb's lettuce contain a lot of folic acid – the latter a full 145 µg of it in 100 g – but it should be eaten shortly after purchase. Folic acid is destroyed very quickly when food is stored for a long time. In addition, chicken contains vitamin B6. And vitamin B12 is almost exclusively found in foods from animal origin. Those who are vegetarians or vegans can get some vitamin B12 from fermented food like sauerkraut or (alcohol-free) beer that contains the vitamin – albeit in very small quantities. Vitamin B1 is found in legumes and whole grain products; depending on storage and preparation, the vitamin content in the food can vary. Thus, eating a delicious muesli or hearty whole grain bread for breakfast could help to prevent a deficiency of this biofactor. This also supports magnesium supply – oats, in particular, contain a relatively high amount of magnesium (134 mg per 100 g), sunflower seeds even 420 mg. The recommended daily intake of magnesium for healthy adults is between 300 and 400 mg, as the German Nutrition Association indicates. A healthy lifestyle is achieved when unhealthy stimulants like alcohol and tobacco are largely eliminated. A supply with all important biofactors by a balanced lifestyle contributes to a better fitness, helps to prevent serious diseases and maintain good health.

How does a biofactor undersupply occur?

If you take care to have a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle, a deficiency of important biofactors can be prevented most of the time. The official limits and consumption indications for vitamins, minerals, and trace elements are based primarily on the average need of healthy people. Individually, however, the need for biofactors can be significantly higher owing to many factors such as age, gender, ethnic origin, sports effort, lifestyle (alcohol and nicotine consumption), taking certain medications, etc. Also, in special living situations, the body partially develops a higher need for a certain period or is unable to absorb the biofactors supplied to it very well. In these cases, a regular diet often reaches its limits and deficiencies can occur that must then be treated with the needed medications. In many cases, the risks are known and preventive measures may have to be considered.

Risk groups for an undersupply of biofactors

The long-term intake of certain medications can suppress the absorption of some biofactors or intensify their excretion that deficiency symptoms may occur over time. The list of medications in question is long – included are oral contraceptives, certain diabetes medications and active ingredients against high blood pressure. All these medications are not only prescribed often, but some of them are taken regularly for years. The consumption of certain diabetes medications causes vitamin B12 deficiency. In the long term, this can lead to paresthesia and anemia. The consumption of certain hormonal contraceptives favors not only vitamin B6 and folic acid deficiency but also magnesium deficiency. This, in turn, can damage blood vessels and increase the risk for thromboses and cardiovascular diseases, as reported by the Professional Association of Gynecologists. Therefore, many gynecologists recommend their patients to stop smoking when taking oral contraceptives because it can worsen these symptoms.

Don't take any risk concerning the supply with biofactors!

If a serious deficiency of certain biofactors is detected in a blood test, it is indispensable to compensate for the missing vitamins and minerals in consultation with your physician. This also applies if you belong to one of the above-mentioned risk groups, in which preventive supplementation of biofactors is recommended in order that deficiencies do not occur.
The appropriate supply of biofactors quickly replenishes the low storage levels and possibly prevents the serious side effects of an undersupply. 
If you receive a prescription for a medication that you have to take for a long time, ask your physician or pharmacist whether you should also pay attention to certain biofactors. An overview of medications known to interfere with a balanced supply of biofactors is included in the next section. However, the list is not complete and does not substitute in any way a consultation with your physician.

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