Browsing Category

Health Prevention

Health Prevention, Nutrition Bits

How’s your vitamin D level? 9 factors to consider.

May 31, 2015
Picture 4

Within the last decade – researchers have discovered that not only is vitamin D important to your bone health, but as a hormone it regulates of muscle health (including both skeletal and heart muscle), immune response, insulin and blood sugar, and regulation of calcium and phosphorus metabolism. With so much research pointing toward the importance of vitamin D for our overall health, this newsletter article from the Harvard Medical School caught our eye.

According to 2011 National Center for Health Data statistics, almost one in three Americans has vitamin D blood levels below 20 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml), the threshold that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) says is needed for good bone health. Some experts say even higher levels are needed. Figuring out all the factors that can affect a person’s vitamin D levels is complicated. You can get the vitamin from food (mainly because it’s been added; few foods are natural sources of vitamin D) and by taking supplements (many doctors recommend taking 800 IU of vitamin D3 a day).

But vitamin D is also produced by the body in a complex process that starts when rays in the invisible ultraviolet B (UVB) part of the light spectrum are absorbed by the skin. The liver, and then the kidneys, are involved in the steps that eventually result in a bioavailable form of the vitamin that the body can use.

A review paper about the many factors influencing a person’s vitamin D levels appeared in 2011 in Acta Dermato-Venerologica, a Swedish medical journal. Here are nine interesting factors identified in the paper:

1. The latitude where you live. At higher latitudes, the amount of vitamin D–producing UVB light reaching the earth’s surface goes down in the winter because of the low angle of the sun. In Boston, for example, little if any of the vitamin is produced in people’s skin tissue from November through February. Short days and clothing that covers legs and arms also limit UVB exposure.

2. The air pollution where you live. Carbon particulates in the air from the burning of fossil fuels, wood, and other materials scatter and absorb UVB rays. Ozone absorbs UVB radiation, so holes in the ozone layer could be a pollution problem that winds up enhancing vitamin D levels.

3. Your use of sunscreen — in theory. Sunscreen prevents sunburn by blocking UVB light, so theoretically, sunscreen use lowers vitamin D levels. But as a practical matter, very few people put on enough sunscreen to block all UVB light, or they use sunscreen irregularly, so sunscreen’s effects on our vitamin D levels might not be that important. An Australian study that’s often cited showed no difference in vitamin D between adults randomly assigned to use sunscreen one summer and those assigned a placebo cream.

4. The color of your skin. Melanin is the substance in skin that makes it dark. It “competes” for UVB with the substance in the skin that kick-starts the body’s vitamin D production. As a result, dark-skinned people tend to require more UVB exposure than light-skinned people to generate the same amount of vitamin D.

5. The temperature of your skin. Warm skin is a more efficient producer of vitamin D than cool skin. So, on a sunny, hot summer day, you’ll make more vitamin D than on a cool one.

6. Your weight. Fat tissue sops up vitamin D, so it’s been proposed that it might be a vitamin D rainy-day fund: a source of the vitamin when intake is low or production is reduced. But studies have also shown that being obese is correlated with low vitamin D levels and that being overweight may affect the bioavailability of vitamin D.

7. Your age. Compared with younger people, older people have lower levels of the substance in the skin that UVB light converts into the vitamin D precursor, and there’s experimental evidence that older people are less efficient vitamin D producers than younger people. Yet the National Center for Health Statistics data on vitamin D levels fly in the face of the conventional wisdom that vitamin D inadequacy is a big problem among older people. They don’t show a major drop-off in levels between middle-aged people and older folks.

8. The health of your gut. The vitamin D that is consumed in food or as a supplement is absorbed in the part of the small intestine immediately downstream from the stomach. Stomach juices, pancreatic secretions, bile from the liver, the integrity of the wall of the intestine — they all have some influence on how much of the vitamin is absorbed. Therefore, conditions that affect the gut and digestion, like celiac disease, chronic pancreatitis, Crohn’s disease, and cystic fibrosis, can reduce vitamin D absorption.

9. The health of your liver and kidneys. Some types of liver disease can reduce absorption of vitamin D because the ailing liver isn’t producing normal amounts of bile. With other types, steps essential to vitamin D metabolism can’t occur — or occur incompletely. Levels of the bioactive form of vitamin D tend to track with the health of the kidneys, so in someone with kidney disease, bioactive vitamin D levels decrease as the disease gets worse, and in end-stage kidney disease, the level is undetectable.

What are the best natural sources of vitamin D? Besides sunshine, salmon, sardine and shrimp… read on

Body, Brainy, Health News, Health Prevention, Mood Boosters

Brain Matters: Easy Steps for Improving and Retaining Memory

July 16, 2014

We love science! Mimi recently edited an article for Marin Magazine (her day job) on the Science of Aging featuring the ground breaking research being done at the Buck Institute in Novato, California. In this two part series, writer Ann Wycoff breaks down some of the huge concepts into bite-sized pieces. As part of the research, Dr. Dale Bredesen, professor at the Buck has created these simple steps to take to prevent cognitive disease such as Alzheimer’s disease. Bring this to your next doctor’s appointment.

Some things to check for in routine blood tests:

1. Homocysteine. It is now recommended that we keep our homocysteine (one of the 20 amino acids related with eating meat) levels at 6 or below. Higher homocysteine is associated with more rapid loss of brain tissue with aging.

2. Inflammation. Your hs-CRP (high-sensitivity C-reactive protein) should be less than 1.0. Your A/G (albumin to globulin) ratio should be 1.8 or higher, ideally.  Here are some “I know already” steps to take to reduce inflammation.

3. Vitamin D. Check your optimal levels are now believed to be in the 50-80ng/ml range.

4. Hemoglobin A1c, which gives you an indication of your average glucose over the past 1-2 months and is better than a spot check of your glucose. It is helpful to know the hemoglobin A1c, the fasting insulin, and the fasting glucose, since these offer complementary information. Hemoglobin A1c should be less than 5.6%, fasting blood glucose should be less than 90 mg/dl, and fasting insulin should be less than 5 uIU/ml. These are critical for optimal cognitive function.

You could also try: Computational training for 45 minutes to one hour per day, 5 days per week, has been shown to improve mild cognitive impairment.

Body, Health News, Health Prevention

Colon Cancer Risk Tied to Fast Food

December 18, 2012

42711932_63275a104aEat junk food? If you have a genetic susceptibility to colon cancer you may have an even greater risk than previously thought.

In a first of its kind study, researchers were able to find a link between certain foods and a higher colon cancer risk in people that were already more susceptible to getting it.

All of the people in the study had Lynch syndrome, a genetic disorder that predisposes people to cancer at younger ages and that affects up to one in 660 people. In the US, most people who get colorectal cancer have this syndrome.

Researchers studied people who ate various food groups including one that was dominated by fruits, vegetables and whole grains; another that was high in meat and coffee; a third dietary group that resembled a Mediterranean diet – fish, leafy greens, pasta, sauces and wine; and a fourth group that was heavy on fried snacks, fast food and diet soda.

The result? Researchers determined that those in the high junk food group were twice as likely to develop colon tumors.

According to the CDC – Of cancers affecting both men and women, colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon and rectum) is the second leading cancer killer in the United States.


Photo via Flickr: by ebruli

Body, Health Prevention

One Simple Choice to Burn 7,800 Calories

August 3, 2012

Be honest. How often do you find yourself waiting for the office elevator to go down/up three, two or even one stories? What if we told you that making a dedication to taking the stairs could help you lose weight and improve your cardiovascular health?

Each minute you take the stairs at a moderate intensity (no texting and stair walking please) you’ll burn about 5 calories if you’re 120-pounds and about 7 calories if you’re 150-pounds, Dr. Cedric Bryant, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise, told the New York Times.

And small calories add up quick! Think about it — how many times do you leave or enter your office building each day? At six times and one-minute per exit/enter that’s about 30 calories a day (for a 120-pound person) or 150-calories each five day-work week and 7,800 calories a year, just for skipping the elevator! If you really want to earn a gold star, remember that running stairs multiplies the caloric burn and the cardiovascular benefit.

Do note that for those with knee problems going downstairs may be difficult: “The impact on knees and feet is relatively low, with the pressure equivalent to two times one’s body weight walking up stairs (compared with three to four times when running), Dr. Bryant told the New York Times. The pounding on the body going downstairs, however, equals six or seven times one’s body weight.” In that case, we’ll let you take the elevator down and the stairs up!

Photo: StephenCarlile