Vitamins are Enzyme Cofactors
Vitamins are small molecules that bind to particular cellular enzymes and provide functions that can't be provided by proteins. Enzymes are linear strings, polymers, of about a thousand amino acids. The 23,000 human genes code for the sequence of amino acids in as many enzymes. The amino acid strings fold up systematically into three dimensional balls that bring together chemical groups of the amino acids that can catalyze biochemical reactions. The twenty different amino acids in proteins are limited in the scope of their reactions. Binding of some metabolic products, such as vitamins, expands the types of reactions possible. Vitamins are enzyme cofactors. Bacteria can synthesize all of the vitamins needed for metabolism, but humans can't.
Vitamin D is a Hormone
Vitamin D is not a typical vitamin. It is not an enzyme cofactor, but rather it is a steroid hormone that is produced in the skin from cholesterol through the action of ultraviolet light. The production of antibacterial peptides in the small intestines, for example, is a response of intestinal cells to vitamin D. Exposing arms and legs to sunlight produces about 10,000 IU of vitamin D per minute. (Typical supplements contain only 1,000 IU.) Production of vitamin D is reduced by skin pigmentation, sunscreen and inflammation. People exposed to daily sunlight for hours in San Diego, for example, may still be deficient in vitamin D, if their production of vitamin D has been shut down by chronic inflammation, as indicated by typical inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis, allergies, inflammatory bowel diseases, obesity, dental/oral infections, prostatitis, thyroiditis and other autoimmune diseases.
Vitamins are Produced by Gut Biofilms
People with healthy, diet-adapted gut flora, can subsist on very limited diets without vitamin deficiency diseases, because all of the vitamins can be obtained from bacteria growing in films coating the lining of the gut. These biofilms are complex communities of dozens of different bacteria and fungi. The bacteria synthesize polysaccharides in which these and other bacteria and fungi become embedded. The biofilms release vitamins that are taken up by intestinal cells to provide the needs of the body.
Vitamins are Chemical Signals for Biofilm Assembly
Bacteria, such as E. coli, do not form biofilms, if they are just grown at low concentrations on laboratory nutrients. If the concentrations of bacteria become very high, however, the bacteria respond by activating genes that coordinate biofilm formation. Bacteria detect the presence of other bacteria by releasing and detecting chemical signals in a process called quorum sensing. The chemical signals used in quorum sensing and biofilm maintenance are vitamins. Thus, human intestines are adapted to exploit the presence of biofilms and vitamin secretion. Humans need not synthesize vitamins, because they are always produced by gut biofilms as an essential biofilm function.
Antibiotics and Multivitamin Supplements
Antibiotic use is known to disrupt gut flora and produce vitamin deficiencies. Killing off healthy gut biofilms with casual use of antibiotics should be anticipated. The medical industry is remiss, however, in not repairing gut flora after medically mandated antibiotic use. Probiotics can temporarily supply some of the functions of the hundreds of bacterial species in each healthy individual, but they do not replace complex biofilms.
The vitamin production of some of the bacterial species eliminated from the gut by antibiotics can be replaced by vitamin supplements, but supplements may disrupt the normal vitamin/quorum sensing communication and further disrupt biofilms. Thus, vitamin supplements may be unhealthy, if they disrupt biofilms that are necessary for healthy function of the gut-based immune system, which is needed to avoid, for example, allergies and autoimmune diseases.
Major Points about Vitamins, Biofilms and Health
- Health requires gut biofilms to supply vitamins and control the immune system.
- Biofilms produce and use vitamins for maintenance of biofilms.
- Eating vitamins may disrupt normal biofilm formation.
- Antibiotics disrupt gut biofilms and cause vitamin deficiencies and immune system disfunction.
- Biofilm repair requires ingestion of missing bacterial species (150 total) and may be inhibited by excessive hygiene.