Archive for February, 2016

Vitamin D controversy

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The vitamin D controversy continues. We last discussed vitamin D in an October blog about how low levels of D are linked to earlier dementia. If I talked about Vitamin D every week I wouldn’t soon run out of things to say. For example, if you search the government’s science database for “vitamin D” it returns over 66,000 papers. It is hard to name a chronic health complaint that is not linked to low vitamin D. With all that scientific study I’d think there would be some consensus about what we need…but I’d be wrong. The gurus tell us to stay out of the sun in order to avoid skin cancer and to avoid supplementing vitamin D.

Unfortunately, they can’t have it both ways. Our bodies make vitamin D in response to sunshine. It seems that we must have D for virtually every function in the body and it was the original plan that we would have ample sun exposure. (The plan also called for us to be protected against sun damage by a diet rich in internal sunscreen from plant foods.) To get sufficient vitamin D means having a lot of skin exposed to mid-day sun for 15 minutes to 2 hours depending on skin color (dark skin needs more). Modern life doesn’t make that easy for most of us, so bring on the supplements.

The vitamin D controversy may stem from orthodoxy’s gut level bias against supplementation and results in many mainstream docs seeming to have an irrational fear of them. Thankfully, many now at least do test for vitamin D. And, I’m happy that the test reports have gradually started listing higher minimum levels. However, most nutrition-oriented physicians are interested in achieving optimum levels of at least 40 ng/mL and probably more like 60-80.

In the recent shamefully inaccurate and one-sided Frontline report that slammed supplements, one of their guests recommended daily doses of vitamin D that are unlikely to get anywhere near those optimum blood levels. Oddly, when tests report low levels, many physicians prescribe periodic whopping doses of 50,000 IU which is not at all the way the body would naturally acquire vitamin D. In light of the benefit and low risk of side effects, most experts with an open mind to the research and a base of clinical experience recommend at least 2,000 IU a day and more often 4,000 to 7,000 IU. But, it is a very personalized matter and blood tests should reveal if a person’s supplement plan is working.

Here are some recent tidbits that I thought were interesting:

  • A study found that higher levels of vitamin D were linked to lower risk of lung cancer. There was even a predictable dose-dependent association—as the blood levels went up, the risk went down. STUDY
  • The People’s Pharmacy newspaper column printed a letter from a reader who said that she had widespread joint and muscle pain (fibromyalgia) and burning hands. Symptoms were vastly improved when she got her vitamin D levels into a good range. (Incidentally, that took 7,000 IU/day.)
  • Having fat in a meal significantly improves the absorption of vitamin D supplements. STUDY
  • On the other hand, body fat can reduce levels of D because our fat cells seem to soak it up.
  • Vitamin D needs help from other nutrients such as the minerals Magnesium (another nutrient I could talk about every week), Zinc and Boron as well as the vitamins K and A.

If your doctor is not a vitamin D enthusiast, perhaps you can direct her or him to the non-profit Vitamin D Council for data about its role in prevention of many cancers, heart disease, diabetes, depression, infections, autoimmune diseases, autism and even premature death.

Fish oil flim-flam. Who is at fault?

fish oil smallWhen we hear a news report saying that fish oil does not have any positive effects, are we supposed to think that we’ve been taken advantage of by the supplement maker? Fish oil flim flam? Who is at fault? I believe it is the media that we should be annoyed with. Omega-3s are one of the most heavily researched nutrients in the world, with over 27,000 published studies—including 8,000 human clinical studies on health issues such as cardiovascular disease and brain function. The results are overwhelmingly positive. So, shame on the journalists for not treating the occasional negative report with the suspicion they deserve. Except for what appears to be a blatant general bias against dietary supplements, they might provide proper context for the “news” and report reasonable explanations for the surprising results. (See my thoughts on that below.) But, these newspapers and TV shows attract attention and make money when they sensationalize a “man bites dog” kind of contrarian story. So, sadly they too often make it seem that what is really an exception to the rule is information to act on. Someone really should hold these media outlets accountable for the harm they do consumers by dissuading them from protecting their health with supplements.

Nordic Naturals, my favorite fish oil company has sponsored 40 well-designed studies on its own products and has 40 more underway. Good for them! But, as noted there are thousands of scientific articles on fish oil supplementation that were not done by manufacturers. Here are three recent ones that caught my eye:

Omega-3 levels affect whether B vitamins can slow brain’s decline. B vitamins have been shown to slow or prevent the decay of the brain and memory decline in people with mild memory problems. The benefit of B’s was most pronounced in persons with above average blood levels of homocysteine, a factor that may be toxic to the brain. Also, those with the highest blood levels of omega-3 fats benefitted most from intervention with the B’s.

Correcting omega-3 deficiency improves psychiatric problems. The research noted: “studies have consistently observed low erythrocyte (red blood cell) EPA and/or DHA levels in patients with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.” Improvements in those conditions were found with supplementation.

Supplementation with omega-3/6 helps ADHD as much as Ritalin and similar drugs. There were fewer side effects and we might expect to see other health benefits as bonuses.

Are there negative studies? Yes and here are some reasons: Studies can use the wrong dose; too short a time period; or even the wrong form of the nutrient. (Sometimes it looks as though they want the experiment to fail.) Recent reports about oxidized (rancid) fish oil products that are being sold might explain some negative studies on fish oil. If the product used in a study was just plain spoiled, it would not only fail to produce good results, it might even show harm.

Those are certainly not issues you will find with my favorite brand, Nordic Naturals. Their quality controls are exhaustive. They meet the highest standards for Good Manufacturing Practices and test their oils up to 82 times from first catch to finished product. To assure freshness and freedom from the oxidation, Nordic maintains an oxygen-free environment throughout the path the oils travel. I don’t advise settling for any other brand.


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