On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

A SPRAY A DAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY?

DEAR DR. BLONZ: Do you have an opinion about spray vitamins and minerals? When you take them this way, will the body absorb them more efficiently? -- G.P., San Ramon, Calif.

DEAR G.P.: I have found no evidence to favor spray vitamins in general, but there may be an exception for vitamin B-12 under certain circumstances. Vitamin B-12 is a large compound, and its absorption is a complex process. Several specialized proteins and an intrinsic (internal) factor are all needed to bind with the B-12 in our food and facilitate its absorption. In some individuals, especially the elderly and those taking certain medications, the absorption of vitamin B-12 is less than efficient.

If a physician determines that someone is B-12 deficient, one treatment option is the periodic injection of vitamin B-12; this gets away from digestive track absorption issues or dependence on the action of the intrinsic factor. It has also been found that small amounts of B-12 can be passively absorbed through the vascular membranes in the mouth and nose -- as with the spray vitamins you refer to. This could be helpful for those who are B-12 deficient, but it's questionable whether the spray version offers advantages for anyone else.

Then there is the issue of all the other vitamins and minerals in spray form. I could find no evidence that spray versions of other vitamins and minerals get absorbed better or offer any advantages -- aside from those reaped by the company that sells them.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: My husband and I have been trying to start a family and I wanted to know your thoughts regarding the connection between nutrition and male fertility. Please tell me which vitamins are best to help with sperm count and motility. -- F.P., St. Louis

DEAR F.P.: Any of a number of factors can affect male fertility, a major element of which is the production and health of the sperm. If there is a potential problem, it's always best to find out what is going on. I advise that you and your husband discuss your concerns with your health professional before you turn to vitamins or herbs for assistance. Assuming all is OK, and a nutrition approach is warranted, there are a few nutrients of interest.

Zinc is particularly important, and a mild zinc deficiency can lead to a decrease in the number of sperm. Diets low in antioxidant nutrients, like vitamin E, vitamind C and selenium, can make the sperm more vulnerable to oxidative damage. This can limit motility -- the sperm's ability to move around and get where it needs to go -- as well the ability to survive long enough to fertilize an egg. Aside from the above-mentioned antioxidants, there are other valuable antioxidant compounds in various fruits and vegetables. There is also some research to indicate that the amino acids arginine and taurine may be of help. A healthful diet with a daily intake of fresh fruits and vegetables is the best place to start. You can opt for a balanced multivitamin/multimineral, but this can never be thought of as a replacement for healthful food.

Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.