Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How Much Vitamin D is Safe?

By Dr. Iva Lloyd, ND

There has been a lot in the media over the last couple of years encouraging people to take high doses of vitamin D. The potential benefits of supplementation include:
  • fewer falls and fractures
  • increased bone density
  • prevention of influenza virus
  • prevention or reduction in asthma attacks
  • increased insulin sensitivity
  • decreased blood pressure
  • and the prevention of some cancers and autoimmune disease
Not that long ago the recommended dosage for vitamin D supplementation was 400 iu / day.  Currently it is not unusual for individuals to be dosing at 10 to 20 times that amount. Lately it has been questioned whether or not the benefits of vitamin supplementation are still achieved at high dosages. The concerns include:

  • Serum 25 hydroxyvitamin D (the standard blood test for vitamin D status) may not be a reliable indicator as it's half-life is 3 weeks. Also, 25 hydroxyvitamin D is only one of more than 50 vitamin D metabolites in blood and it is questionable as to the validity of using it as the primary indicator.
  • The safety and efficacy of vitamin D supplementation cannot be inferred from data regarding the safety and efficacy of sunlight exposure. Many of the promoted benefits of vitamin D supplementation are actually from studies looking at sunlight exposure itself.
  • Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient and hence it can accumulate within the body and cause other concerns. For more information: http://www.ndhealthfacts.org/wiki/Vitamin_D
  • Most of the studies on vitamin D supplementation are less than 20 weeks long hence the long-term safety of dosages greater than 2,000 IU/day is questionable.
  • Vitamin D levels decline in response to inflammation. Therefore low levels of vitamin D may be more indicative of inflammation level versus vitamin D status.
  • There are some studies that indicate that vitamin D supplementation may exacerbate atherosclerosis.
  • Studies suggest that moderate dosages of vitamin D may be protective against cancer; whereas high doses were not and may actually increase the risk.
  • Bone density measurements were better with low-to-moderate dosages of vitamin D.
There are some conditions, such as celiac disease, Crohn's, multiple sclerosis and some cancers where dosing high with vitamin D may be advantageous.  The new research indicates that 800 to 1200 IUs / day is generally effective for most people. Ideally, the best way to ensure adequate vitamin D status is to enjoy 5-15 minutes of sunlight exposure 2 to 3 times a week between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

If you have any questions about the optimal amount of vitamin D supplementation for yourself, talk to your naturopathic doctor.

Gaby, Alan 2011 Controveries in Nutrition. Presented at the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors annual Conference.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Iron-Rich Foods at 6 months?...New guidelines miss the point

A recent update to Health Canada's Infant Feeding Guidelines has sent ripples of interest through parenting communities.  The guidelines, intended to inform health care professionals on appropriate first foods to recommend to parents, reinforced the 2004-05 guideline message that iron-rich foods are important to include as some of babies first foods.  The guideline provided for the first time examples of such foods, including beef, poultry, fish, eggs and soy.

Iron is an important mineral we require throughout our lives.  It helps build blood, transport oxygen, provides energy, helps build hormones and protects the immune system. 

Why all the fuss?  Well, to begin with, most parents are familiar with giving infants "iron-fortified" cereals, and not as familiar with pureed steak and mashed fish.  If we look at traditional diets from around the world we see that most cultures introduce iron-rich foods well before starchy foods like grains and legumes.  Nature does a great job of providing us with balanced foods.  In our boxed and packaged world we seem to think adding iron to carbs is just as effective as eating foods naturally high in iron.  This is not the case.  Eating whole foods, grown in and on a healthy land, is the most effective way to achieve a truly balanced diet.

What people are missing:

So, yes, consuming foods high in iron will be the most effective way of increasing iron stores in the body.  But why are our kids low in iron in the first place?  One little line ignored for the most part in the Health Canada Infant-Feeding Guideline gives us the answer: "Most healthy term infants are born with sufficient iron stores to meet their iron needs until they are about six months".  What happens at 6 months?  Two things actually change at this point: infant requirements for iron almost double, and breast milk continues to decline in iron content.  The iron status in breast milk cannot be altered by maternal iron supplementation after birth.  So in healthy children where does the extra iron for baby come from?  Here's the "Ah Ha moment" most people seem to be missing.  At 6 months of age infants begin aggressively drawing on their own iron body reserves, reserves that are the result of 9 months in mom.  When mom's iron stores are low prior to pregnancy and/or iron intake during pregnancy is low, baby is born with reduced iron stores and will certainly need to be supplemented earlier on with iron-rich foods.Children who are born to mothers with appropriate (not just low-normal) iron stores are perfectly set up for at least 12 months of healthy iron status after birth.

No surprise, the real solution to iron-deficiency in infants is proper pre-natal and peri-natal support.  Health promotion over disease management.

Iron status is only one of the variables Naturopathic Doctors evaluate in pregnancy planning visits.  If you are currently pregnant or planning on getting pregnant, come in soon and speak to one of our NDs.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Are your maple trees making you sick?

The tar spots on maple trees are quite bad this year.  In researching these spots I was struck by the general omission to the potential health impact that they pose.  Most of the articles focus on the impact to the tree itself, not to people.

The tar spots are due to the fungus ''Rhytisma acerinum" which survives the winter on fallen leaves. In the spring the spores of the fungus, blown by the wind, infect newly developed leaves.  The fungus affects trees, especially maple trees, and appears to be sensitive to and impacted by the level of air pollution.  The level of fungal infection is reflected in the number and size of tar spots on the leaves. Tar spots rarely threaten the overall health of the tree.

The concern from a human perspective is that fungal infections, especially those where the spores are carried in the air, can impact a person's health if they have a compromised immune system or if they are susceptible to respiratory conditions. Common systems associated with fungal infections include:

  • increased inflammation
  • cough
  • chest congestion
  • sinusitis
  • rhinitis
  • increased risk of chronic infections, especially chronic respiratory infections.
  • muscle pain and weakness
Guidelines for cleaning up leaves with tar spots:
  • The best time to clean up your leaves is after a rain. When the leaves are wet the spores are less likely to be air borne.
  • If the leaves are dry, it is best to water them down before cleaning them up.
  • If you are susceptible to respiratory infections, wear a mask when cleaning up the leaves and shower after you're done.
  • Vacuuming the leaves into an enclosed bag may decrease your exposure.
  • If you have a known respiratory infection it is best to have someone help clean up your leaves.
  • Wear garden gloves when cleaning up the leaves. After you are done either discard the gloves or wash them in hot water.
Avoid the following as they increase the mobilization of fungal spores:
  • Blowing the leaves
  • Mulching leaves
  • Raking dry leaves
  • Cleaning up your leaves on a dry, windy day
Prevention is a key strategy of naturopathic medicine. There is no direct research, that I have found, that looks at the link between tar spots and the health of individuals. There are some that show a link between horses that have grazed on leaves with tar spots and muscle weakness.  As I receive additional information on the health impact of these tar spots I will update this blog, but in the meantime, it is better to be safe than sorry.

To learn more about fungal infections:

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Organic Foods are HEALTHIER

A recent study published by  Annals of Internal Medicine reviewed research comparing organic vs non-organic foods.  What has been largely reported in mainstream media is the finding that organic foods are not significantly different from non-organic foods when it comes to vitamin and mineral content.  What has been omitted from these reports is the other side of this research, which found that conventional foods contain 30% more pesticides and 30% more multi-antibiotic resistant bacteria.  This is a significant finding that sadly has received almost no press.  The problem is the confusion of the concept of 'nutrition' with that of 'health'. 

What the research says:
1- Some organic foods exhibit higher nutrient value than conventional foods: organic produce contains higher antioxidant levels and organic poulty and dairy contain higher omega-3 levels.  These examples are simply not significant enough for the researcher to make general conclusions regarding nutrients and organic foods.

2- Consumption of vitamins and mineral are just one of the factors affecting health.  For example, a 2010 paper in Pediatrics found higher levels of pesticide metabolites in the urine of children with ADHD.  Pesticides may not be the cause of ADHD, but they are certainly implicated by association.

3- Antibiotic-resistance in humans is a topic of great concern.  According to the Food Safety Director at the US Center for Science in the Public Interest, 24 infectious outbreaks between 2000 and 2010 were linked to multidrug-resistant germs in food. Conventionally raised animals are fed antibiotics both to treat infections that are rampant in factory-farm settings, and to help fatten them up for sale.  The result of over-medicating these animals is one of the contributing factors in the growing prevalence of hard to treat bugs like MRSA. 

4- In this recent systematic review of 226 studies, only three studies looked at clinical outcomes, all of which were short-term outcomes such as allergies and symptomatic infection.  There is no information provided from this research about the long-term health effects of pesticide consumption, for example.

The bottom line:
Some organic foods are more nutritious than conventionally grown foods, but in general the research shows little evidence of this benefit.  Where organic beats conventional hands down is with respect to overall health value.  Organic foods are significantly less contaminated with pesticides, have far less antibiotic-resistant bacteria living on and in them, and may in fact have more beneficial qualities that have yet to be uncovered by modern science. Eating organic whole foods may not always be the more nutritious choice, but it is certainly the healthier choice.

On a related note:
For this week only, watch a new documentary that reveals the serious health impacts of genetically engineered foods in our diets and shows how you can protect your family. Available online for free from September 15-22 at www.GeneticRouletteMovie.com

Friday, March 23, 2012

Prepare For A Challenging Allergy Season

The mild winter and early spring will mostly result in a challenging allergy season. Those that suffer with runny noses, sneezing, itchy eyes, coughing and nasal congestion would do well to take some extra precautions early this year.

Seasonal allergies result when the immune system overreacts to pollen, grasses and trees. The irritation of the eyes, throat and nose is actually the body's attempt to get rid of toxins, preventing them from going deeper in the body. There are many ways that you can decrease your symptoms and modulate (control) the body's response to allergens including:
  • Allergy Testing. If you have allergy symptoms but you have never been officially diagnosed with allergies, it is helpful to have a blood test to clarify exactly what allergens you have and the degree you need to avoid them. 
  • Avoidance. Knowing what toxins to avoid and paying attention to air quality reports will let you know when it is best to plan your outside activities.
  • Sinus Rinse. Nasal lavage involves filling a neti pot or sinus rinse bottle with warm, slightly salty water and squirting or pouring the water into the nostril. The water easily runs out bringing any mucous with it. It is a simple technique that can be done daily to decrease nasal congestion and to reduce sinus pressure.
  •  Water. Drinking adequate water (typically 1/2 your body weight in ounces) helps to thin the mucous and decrease the feeling of congestion.
  • Avoid these foods. Foods such as dairy, bananas, yeast and processed foods can increase the amount of mucous in the body. Avoiding these foods and any known food intolerances can dramatically decrease seasonal allergy symptoms.
  • Increase these foods. Berries, dark green vegetables, nuts, whole grains, spirulina, flax seeds, chia seeds and fish, such as salmon and sardines can assist in decreasing the overreaction of the immune system.
  • Exercise. Movement increases circulation which helps to expel toxins, supports the immune system and decreases the stress response of the body.
  • Sleep. When you are well rested your immune system is less reactive. Typically, the more stressed a person is and the more exhausted, the worse their symptoms.
  • Spring Cleaning. Increasing the dusting and vacuuming in your home and changing the air filters regularly can help remove indoor allergens. It is also a good idea to leave your outside shoes at the front door and change your clothes as soon as you get home as pollens can stick to fabric. If your allergy symptoms are severe it is best to keep windows and doors closed and to shower before bed.

Everybody's symptoms are different. For some the primary symptom is sneezing, for others it is the watery eyes or the constant congestion. Hence, what works for one person doesn't always work for another. There are a number of natural remedies that effectively treat allergies. To figure out what works best for you visit your naturopathic doctor.

For the month of March and April you can book a naturopathic visit to review your allergy symptoms and to determine your best treatment options for $45.00.  Call the clinic at 905-940-2727 to arrange a convenient time.