Herbs & Supplements

The variety of vitamins and natural supplements available today can be confusing and overwhelming. The NorthStar blog on herbs and supplements provides the latest updates on what's out there, what works, what doesn't and why.

  1. Does winter increase your risk of heart attack?

    Researchers from Belgium have given us one more reason to wish the winter away. And this one is a whole lot more serious that the typical winter blahs. It turns out that Old Man Winter may be trying to kill us by raising our risk of heart attack.

    According to the new study—presented last month at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in the Netherlands—when the temperature goes down, our heart attack risk goes up.

    When temps drop, risk of heart attack rises

    The large study compiled the data from 10 population based studies across seven countries. In the end, heart-related data on 107,090 patients between the ages of 35 to 80 had been crunched. And what they found could have you packing your bags and turning into a snowbird.

    For every 10-degree Celsius drop in temperature (that’s an 18-degree Fahrenheit drop), the risk of heart attack shot up by seven percent.

    Now I know that on the surface seven percent may not seem like a huge number. But if you’re IN that heart attack group all of a sudden seven percent seems very significant.

    Besides, when I did a little number crunching of my own I found that if you take the number of people involved in this study alone, seven percent works out to 7,496 heart attacks, which I think by anyone’s standards is a lot. And remember, that seven percent rise was tied to a 10 degree drop in temperature. A drop of 20 degrees Celsius (or centigrade) could mean a 14 percent bump in heart attacks.

    And although it looks like an acute heart attack is by far the worst thing Old Man Winter is hiding up his chilly sleeves, it’s not the only thing. Other cardiovascular risks rise during winter too, according to the Belgian researchers.

    Systolic blood pressure levels were, on average, 3.5 mm HG lower in the summer months than the winter ones. And not surprisingly, since so many of us end up hiding indoors in the cold weather, waistlines were on average around 1 cm smaller during the warmer months. Even total cholesterol levels took a dip during those sunny summer days, down on average about 0.24 mmol/L.

    The research team isn’t sure exactly what’s causing the increased risk of heart attack, but they have a theory that cold receptors located in our skin may get triggered by the dropping temperatures. This in turn may cause our sympathetic nervous system to dump extra hormones known as catecholamines into our system.

    Typically catecholamines such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine are released into our blood stream during times of physical or emotional stress. And as anyone who lives in a part of the country that gets particularly cold, stepping out into bitterly cold temperatures can sure feel stressful alright.

    And, of course the cold simply makes our blood thicker meaning that blood clots are more likely to form.

    Work on “winter proofing” your heart

    This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a connection made between dropping temps and heart attacks. A couple of years ago a British study, published in the journal BMJ, found that for every one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) drop in temperature in the UK, there were around 200 additional heart attacks.And, just as worrisome, the jump in the risk of heart attack hung around for 28 days after the exposure.

    So, besides hopping a plane to the nearest warm locale, you may be wondering what you can do. Hibernating is out of the question and hiding inside all winter isn’t the answer either. In fact, this would likely make things worse because inactivity will surely cause your other risk factors to go up.

    Instead it’s time to “winter proof” your heart!

    Keeping up with your regular exercise program and making some changes to how you’re eating can help. I know it’s tempting to reach for the comfort foods during winter but, as I explained before on the NorthStar blog, opting for the healthy (and still ridiculously delicious) Mediterranean diet can dramatically lower your risk of heart attack.

    Next, add in some heart-healthy supplements like vitamin D, CoQ10, magnesium  and omega-3 fatty acids to name a few. (Despite what the mainstream media smear campaign last year would have you believe, fish oil is still tops for your ticker, as I explained here on the NorthStar blog.)

    A doctor skilled in natural medicine can help you decide which supplements are right for you. Oh, and don’t forgot to snack on some berries… shown to slash heart risks… for good measure.

    And the next time someone complains “This cold weather is killing me!” feel free to tell them it very well could be true.

  2. Stress raises the risk of falling in older men

    Gentlemen, if life has been handing you lemons lately and your stress level has gone into overdrive, grab onto something quickly and hang on tight. A new study published in journal Age and Ageing, has found that your risk of falling may have just skyrocketed.

    According to researchers, if you’re an older guy who has been dealing with a stressful life event… like the death of a loved one or serious financial troubles, for example… your risk of falling within the year following the event could shoot up by as much as 41 percent!

    Even worse, the study involving 5,994 men over the age of 65 found that there was a two-fold increase in the risk of multiple falls during that same year. Ouch!

    It’s likely that a combination of strong emotions clouding your attention, the release of stress hormones, and inflammation all play a role in the sudden rise in risk of falling. When stress hits following your regular routines, including saying no to comfort foods and sticking to your healthy diet, can help keep you on track.

    Be sure to keep your vitamin D levels topped off (visit the NorthStar blog to learn why vitamin D is so critical for maintaining your health) and add in some natural-stress busting vitamin C while you’re at it. And don’t forget, exercise is one of the best stress reducers there is. Perhaps try some low-impact tai-chi which has been shown to be good for both your body and mind and can help you avoid those falls by building muscles and improving your balance.

  3. Supplements secret slashes hospital stays by days

    If it looks like there’s a hospital stay in your future, don’t forget to pack your supplements along with your slippers.

    This one little step could have you back home sleeping in your own bed days earlier. That’s the conclusion of a recent study presented at the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism’s annual meeting in Leipzig, Germany, and published in the American Journal of Managed Care.

    Home from the hospital 21 percent earlier!

    According to researchers, patients who were given nutritional supplements during their stay spent significantly less time in the hospital. And of course since less time spent holed up in the hospital means less money spent, costs naturally plummeted too.

    After analyzing more than 1 million adult inpatient cases the scientists concluded that supplements were able to reduce the average hospital stay by an astounding 21 percent or 2.3 days.

    Hospitalization costs for supplement takers also fell 21.6 percent, that’s $4,734 per patient or, as I like to call it, a handful of mortgage payments and a really nice dinner out.

    The good news didn’t even stop there. The supplement takers were also less likely to make a boomerang trip back to the hospital. Thirty-day readmissions dropped a healthy 6.7 percent.

    Of course this doesn’t come as much of a surprise to people like you and me. We’re well aware of the value of supplements in a society where nutritional deficiencies aren’t at all uncommon, but ARE often unrecognized. It's estimated that nearly 50 percent of the population could be at risk for vitamin shortfalls.

    And to make matters worse, the older you get the higher your risk climbs.

    (You’ll never guess what’s responsible for depleting so many seniors of these vital vitamins. Visit the NorthStar blog to find out the stunning answer.)

    GET healthy and STAY healthy with supplements

    So we now have confirmation that correcting nutritional deficiencies can shorten your hospital stay, but did you know that It's those same deficiencies that could be responsible for landing you there in the first place? In fact, having a deficiency in just one important vitamin in particular could be devastating.

    Maintaining your vitamin D level, could be the key to keeping you from getting sick or even worse. Low D levels have already been linked to breast cancer, colon cancer, heart disease, stroke, and even diabetes. And some experts have estimated that an astounding 80 percent of Americans (or more! Get the rest of the devastating D-deficiency details on the NorthStar blog) may be walking around with low levels of this "King of Vitamins."

    And if you’re running too low on certain B vitamins, brain problems could be in your future. Topping off your vitamin B6 levels may help you slash your risk for Parkinson’s disease by 54 percent. And, as I explained in this earlier post on the NorthStar blog, low B12 has been linked to cognition troubles and frighteningly-accelerated brain shrinkage.

    And of course, any doctor or nurse will tell you that hospitals are by far the filthiest places on Earth, so you should never step foot into one without your probiotics along for the ride. Replenishing the good bugs in your belly with a quality probiotic can help boost your immunities, keeping you safe from the kinds of infections that can spread like wildfire in hospitals such as the superbugs MRSA, antibiotic resistant C-diff, and CRE.

    For more about superbugs, including what other supplements could help you shore up your system against them, check out the NorthStar blog.

    Taking your supplements before and during a hospital stay could be the secret ingredient for getting you healthy, sending you back home days earlier, and keeping you there. Just be sure to tell your doctor exactly what you’re taking since some vitamins and supplements may interfere with certain treatments.

  4. Natural antidepressant spice extract beats big name drug

    One of the things I like best about nutrition-based medicine is there are no one-trick ponies. Unlike drugs, vitamins, herbs, supplements, spices and healthy foods are almost always multi-taskers. For example, if you're taking garlic for heart health you're also protecting yourself against food poisoning. If you've been chowing down on blueberries to help ward off the toxins linked with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease you've also been kicking diabetes to the curb at the same time. And that B12 you're taking to keep your energy levels up is serving as a natural antidepressant to boot. Then there's multi-talented curcumin, which comes from the popular (and delicious) spice turmeric. We've featured this good-for-you natural anti-inflammatory many times over the years.

    Natural inflammation fighter

    Golden yellow turmeric has been used to flavor the cuisines of India and China for thousands of years. And, as I've explained before, the polyphenol-rich spice appears to have also been helping to ward off cancer one tasty -- and inflammation-fighting -- bite at a time. In a 2011 study, the genes that help protect you against cancer were "reawakened" in several colon cancer cells lines when they were treated with curcumin. And a later study out of China found that curcumin may be able to trigger cell death (known as apoptosis) in triple-negative breast cancer cells. But fighting cancer isn't the only trick that curcumin has up its golden sleeve -- not by a long shot. You know the inflammation-fighting ability I just mentioned? It turns out it could also come in handy when it comes to soothing swollen and painful joints and tendons. And it's likely this very same property that makes it so promising as a brain-friendly Alzheimer's disease fighter. A study last year linked the spice extract to better blood vessel function making it an excellent choice for boosting heart health. And the role it can play in supporting your body's natural insulin production is practically legendary.

    Curcumin matched Prozac for fighting depression

    To say that curcumin has an extraordinary resume would be an understatement. But just when I thought the compound might have finally reached an impressive end to its healing abilities, a groundbreaking study -- published in the journal Phytotherapy Research -- has found that the extract is a safe and effective natural antidepressant for treating serious cases of depression, also known as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). The study was designed to compare the effectiveness of a popular depression drug against the natural antidepressantspice extract. Sixty volunteers who were pre-diagnosed with MDD were randomly assigned to take either fluoxetine (20 mg), curcumin (1000 mg) or a combination of both, for six weeks. The volunteers were observed for those six weeks and evaluated using the standard Hamilton Depression Rating Scale. Not only was curcumin found to fight depression, it was every bit as effective (with just a tiny non-statistical difference of 2.2% between the two) as the Big Pharma favorite fluoxetine, which you may know as Prozac. That's right, a natural antidepressant spice extract worked just as well as the heavy duty drug!

    All of the power, none of the side effects

    Even better, the curcumin takers got all of those benefits with none of the prescription antidepressant side effects. According to the researchers, curcumin was well tolerated by all of the volunteers. Not really surprising since we already know that the spice extract is safe, and an earlier study had found that mega doses up to 8 grams a day were well tolerated. On the other hand, the Prozac users likely didn't fare as well. The ugly list of potential side effects for Prozac include an increase in suicidal thoughts in young people, nausea, headaches, anxiety, tremors, libido issues, sleepiness and diarrhea to name just a few. So in other words, in a head-to-head comparison, multi-talented natural antidepressant curcumin kicked Prozac's butt, coming out the clear winner when it comes to fighting depression effectively, safely, and of course naturally. With so many benefits, it's clear you can't go wrong adding this healing spice extract to your daily routine. If you're currently suffering with depression, talk with your doctor about how you can put turmeric to work for you. And for a little extra help SAMe and St. John's Wort are both proven blues beaters. Before you know it you could be tossing the prescription antidepressants...along with their terrible side-effects...for good.
  5. Low vitamin D levels could lead to disability

    Could this vitamin keep you out of a nursing home? It happens to everyone, right? As the number of candles on your birthday cake grows, you start to move a little slower. As the years pass you begin to have a bit more trouble getting around. And those routine tasks like cooking, cleaning, and yard work, well, let's just say they don't seem all that "routine" anymore. They say there's nothing that you can do about it. They say it's just a part of getting older that you need to learn to live with. But are they right? Is it really? It turns out maybe not. If you're having trouble getting up out of your favorite chair... or if a walk to the mailbox and back leaves you puffing and exhausted... you shouldn't just write it off to aging. If the everyday tasks that you used to tackle without hesitation suddenly become too hard, DON'T just give up and resign yourself to "getting old." It turns out you could just be running low on one critical vitamin, according to a hard-hitting six-year long study out of the Netherlands that followed 1,300 people aged 55 to 88. You're NOT old, you're D deficient Study participants had their vitamin D levels checked and were questioned about their abilities to do a variety of routine tasks like sitting down or getting up from a chair, dressing and taking a five minute stroll without resting. In the 65 to 88 group, participants with the lowest D levels were 1.7 times as likely to have at least one physical limitation when compared to those seniors with the highest levels. In fact, a staggering 70 percent of those with the lowest D levels in the older group had at least one mobility issue. But if you're a youngster in the 55 to 65 age range don't make the mistake of thinking you dodged a bullet. Your outlook may, in fact, be worse. Those with the lowest D levels in the 55 to 65 group were twice as likely to have at least one limitation. And the news doesn't get any better as you get older. If you're a senior who is D deficient your physical functioning is likely to get worse over time. Older study participants who were found to be low in D rapidly declined, developing additional problems within three years. And participants who were in the younger group saw the same sort of declines over a six year period. Say "No!" to the nursing home Now I'm sure it comes as no surprise to you that seniors tend to be vitamin D deficient... you read the Guide to Good Health after all. In fact, we're in the midst of a silent epidemic with D levels declining across all age groups, and hitting seniors particularly hard. Some estimates say that up to 90 percent of older folks are walking around... or perhaps I should say limping around... with dangerously-low D levels. I've stressed the importance of raising your D levels for years now, regardless of your age. The vitamin is a critical part of staying healthy and it plays a role in countless body functions including muscle and bone health. And this new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, really drives home just how devastating low D levels can be. Your vitamin D level could determine whether you continue to live a life of independence or live out your days confined to a nursing home... or worse. We already know that vitamin D can help prevent falls. One review of 9 clinical trials found that vitamin D supplements reduced the risk for falling by about 17 percent. And another study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine last year, found that high-dose vitamin D reduces the risk of hip fractures in seniors by an incredible 30 percent, and other breaks by a still-significant 14 percent. (For more details on the critical role D plays in your health check my archives here.) You can naturally increase your D level by spending more time out in the sun with your arms and legs exposed. Supplements are also a great option and might be needed to help you overcome a critical D deficiency. I typically recommend taking between 2,000 to 4,000 IU's of vitamin D3 daily. Talk with your doctor about what's best for your specific situation. And don't forget to take your D with a healthy fat, such as olive or fish oil to help your body absorb the vitamin better.
  6. Vitamin C may help you breathe easier after exercise

    Breathing easier with C

    Heart failure isn't the only health issue that can cause you to huff and puff. If exercise tends to make you cough, wheeze, or feel short of breath you may be suffering from what we used to call exercise-induced asthma ... now known as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.

    But no matter what you call it, the symptoms are the same, ranging from mildly annoying to downright frightening.

    And if you find that you fall somewhere on that symptom scale, a new review might have you stocking up on oranges.

    Researchers took a look at the data from three previous studies, and concluded that not only might vitamin C help ward off wheezing and shortness of breath, it could very well chop your bronchoconstriction nearly in half. In fact, the combined numbers showed that there was an astounding 48 percent drop in the breathing decline brought on by exercise.

  7. Obesity Leads to Vitamin D Deficiency, Study Suggests

    Is D deficiency making you fat?

    It's always been a bit of a "What came first, the chicken or the egg?" puzzle.

    We know that when you're overweight you're also likely to be deficient in vitamin D. But does being low on D contribute to obesity or does obesity lead to D levels dropping?

    There have been passionate debates on both sides, but the truth is no one could really say for sure. That is until now; because a study out of Britain may have finally helped put the debate to bed.

    More on that study in a moment, but first let's talk D deficiency.

    Over 40 percent of us are D deficient

    As a Guide to Good Health reader, I probably don't need to tell you that D deficiency is a hidden health problem that has reached nearly epidemic proportions.

    Yet, somehow, the problem still manages to fly below the radar for most folks. Just not a sexy enough story for the mainstream media to cover, I suppose... not when there's so much Kardashian drama to report on.

    But we do have the science to back it up... like the study conducted just last year that found that up to 70 percent of Europeans are low on this important vitamin, or the study from a couple of years back that found that nearly 42 percent of Americans are D deficient.

    And that's not only a shame -- it could be downright dangerous... or even deadly. You see, vitamin D is vital for good health. In fact it can help protect you from a long list of health problems ranging from cancer to heart disease.

    (I wrote about D's role in guarding against a whole slew of diseases a couple of months ago. If you missed that important issue you can click here to catch up.) Nearly a third of U.S. adults are obese

    While D deficiency remains a largely hidden problem, the obesity epidemic is of course anything but hidden. Over the last 20 years obesity has skyrocketed both here in the U.S. and abroad. It's estimated that nearly a third of U.S. adults are obese, and our kids are not fairing much better.

    And, of course we haven't even talked about the merely overweight yet. You might want to sit down for this one. According to the researchers at Johns Hopkins, an astounding 66 percent of U.S. adults are overweight or obese.

    As I already mentioned, we've known for quite some time that vitamin D and obesity are linked. One study on children even showed a stair-step-like link between rising D deficiency and rising weight.

    According to the study published earlier this year in the journal Pediatrics, healthy weight children were 21 percent D deficient, overweight kids were 29-percent deficient, obese kids logged in at 34-percent deficiency, and the severely-obese children clocked in at a shocking 49-percent deficiency.

    This brings us back to the cause and effect discussion, and that British study I mentioned earlier. Researchers analyzed the data from 21 studies and 42,000 people, and found that (drum roll, please) it's the chicken... obesity... that comes first. In fact, for every 10 percent rise in body mass index (BMI) there is a four percent drop in available D in the body.

    And after all the debate and uncertainty they say the most likely reason why this is true is actually quite simple. When you're overweight you have more body fat and since D is stored in fatty tissue more of it gets stored leading to less of it circulating in your bloodstream, according to the study published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

    So where does this leave us?

    Well, if you're carrying around extra weight it goes without saying that you should work on dropping those pounds. But in the meantime you should get your D levels checked and then work with a holistic doctor to bring them up to normal.

    You can increase your vitamin D levels by spending more time out in the sun or by taking supplements. Since so many of us are D deficient... whether we're obese or not... I typically recommend 2,000 to 4,000 IUs of vitamin D3 daily. Be sure to take your D with a healthy fat, such as olive or fish oil to help your body absorb the vitamin better.

  8. Vitamin E and vitamin D could fight NASH disease

    Your belly could be silently destroying your liver

    With the rise in obesity, we've seen a jump in related health problems like joint pain, diabetes, and the disease that's known as "the silent killer," high blood pressure. But now there's a new "silent killer" on the block that could give high blood pressure a run for the title. The disease name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue--Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis--so we'll just call it NASH disease for short. You may not have heard of NASH disease before, but you've probably heard of its kissing cousin, alcohol-related fatty liver disease. Like its cousin, NASH disease is a type of liver fibrosis. Victims have inflammation and an excess accumulation of fat and tough fibrous scar tissue on their livers. The condition often leads to cirrhosis, liver failure, and possibly even cancer.

    Spare-tire killer cases rose 600 percent

    In the past, NASH disease was exceedingly rare. Most cases of liver disease were linked to chronic hepatitis infections or excess drinking. But with the increase in belly sizes we've also seen a dramatic rise in NASH disease cases, skyrocketing from roughly 1 percent from 1997 to 2003 to more than 7 percent in 2010. In other words, a staggering 600 percent increase. The thing about NASH disease is you can easily have the disease without having a clue that anything's wrong until it's too late and you need a liver transplant...or worse. And since there are no current treatments for NASH disease, even knowing you have it likely wouldn't help much. One rosy report I read, enthusiastically proclaimed that the one year survival rate for NASH patients who had a transplant is "excellent" at 88 percent. Of course that's if you're lucky enough to (a) get a donor liver and (b) not be a part of that other 12 percent. Besides, I don't know about you, but to me "excellent" would only apply to having avoided a potentially-deadly liver transplant in the first place. And, it turns out that two simple vitamins could be the key to doing just that.

    NASH disease symptoms fade with vitamin E

    We found out about the first vitamin's amazing ability to fight NASH purely by happy accident. A group of researchers were studying the effects of vitamin E on the central nervous system using mice. They were surprised to find that their test subjects were suffering from NASH disease. And that's when inspiration struck. Knowing that vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, had shown some early promise in relieving NASH symptoms, they decided to take their research in a different direction. They gave the NASH mice vitamin E supplements, and before long they were watching most of their symptoms fade away almost like magic. The researchers had proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there's a relationship between vitamin E deficiency and NASH! (Have you heard that vitamin E causes prostate cancer? It's pure nonsense. To learn the truth behind the statistical voodoo that led to those bogus headlines click here.) You can naturally raise your vitamin E levels with seeds, nuts, and leafy greens.

    Vitamin D acts like a NASH off-switch

    But vitamin E isn't the only vitamin proving itself in the fight against NASH disease. Our old friend vitamin D could turn out to be a formidable adversary for this silent disease, too. In fact, scientists from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies say vitamin D may act as a "brake," turning off the switch that leads to liver fibrosis, according to a study published in the journalCell. The researchers are already planning clinical trials, but unfortunately they're using a synthetic, patented form of vitamin D called calcipotriol in their research. Since natural vitamin D has a shorter "shelf life" in the body than the fake stuff (you know, kind of like homemade wheat bread versus Twinkies) the researchers say they prefer the artificial version. They also pointed out that the concentration of D in the blood can get too high and that may contribute to a rise in calcium levels, a condition called hypercalcemia. Of course, you and I both know that most people are walking around with a vitamin-D deficiency. Not to mention the chance of someone who is being monitored by a doctor suddenly reaching dangerously high levels of calcium is remote at best. [Vitamin D isn't just good for your liver. As I explained in a recent Guide to Good Health, this vital vitamin helps protect you against a long list of ailments. If you missed that critical issue,click here to catch up.] More research needs to be done, but if you...or someone you care about...is carrying around a few too many pounds there's no time to waste. Talk with a doctor skilled in natural medicine about your NASH risks. He can measure your current vitamin levels and help you decide if vitamin E supplementation or vitamin D therapy is right for you.
  9. How omega-3’s could save your life

    Seafood secret could literally add years to your life

    If I offered you a chance to lower your risk of dying prematurely by 27 percent you'd take it, right? Yeah, I know, it's a silly question. Of course you would! But, it turns out if you haven't been taking my advice on increasing the omega-3s in your diet you may have unknowingly been turning this offer down. According to a recent study, health benefits of fish oil may be able to literally add years to your life. As a GTGH reader you already know that omega-3s are good for you. This powerful antioxidant is a natural anti-inflammatory, fights depression, boosts memory, and has been shown to be good for your brainprostategums, and heart. (I'll have more about that heart connection in just a moment.) And just last year I told you about an exciting study, conducted at Ohio State University, which hinted at omega-3s ability to extend life. Ohio State researchers put a group of volunteers on an omega-3 supplement for four months. At the end of the four months the volunteers who got the supplement had a 15 percent drop in disease-linked oxidative stress. The drop in oxidative stress was already a pretty impressive result for just four months of supplementing, but it was the second finding that truly stunned everyone. It turns out that the volunteers taking the supplements had longer telomeres than the placebo group at the end of the study. So, in other words, it appeared that the omega-3s may have slowed down the aging process.

    27 percent lower risk of dying from all causes

    Now, according to a new study from Harvard and the University of Washington those same omega-3s—found in fatty fish and supplements—could extend your life by over two years! The large study, that tracked 2,700 older Americans for up to 16 years, found that people with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids had a 27 percent lower risk of dying from all causes. That works out to about 2.2 extra years of living the good life. But the  health benefits of fish oil didn't stop there. Not by a long shot. The data also showed that you may be able to lower your risk of dying from heart disease by a whopping 35 percent. And your risk of dying from arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) could be slashed by a staggering 45 percent!

    D Reduced heart disease risk by 40 percent

    Plus, when you dig into the data there's even more good news to be found. The omega-3 fatty acid DHA reduced the risk of coronary heart disease by 40 percent and death due to abnormal heart rhythm by 45 percent, according to the study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. And the other fatty acids, EPA and DPA, were linked with lowering your risk of dying from a stroke or having a heart attack. Honestly, if you have any of the risk factors for heart problems you owe it to yourself to increase the amount of omega-3s in your diet. Adding more fatty fish to your menus...about two servings per week...should do the trick. If you're not that much of a fish fan...or if you're concerned about mercury...you can always opt for an omega-3 packed fish-oil supplement instead. Just be sure to check your labels, your supplement could list the omega-3s separately as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA). I think you'll agree, sidestepping death and being able to spend a few extra years with your loved ones makes omega-3s a no-brainer. PS: Did you know that omega-3s may even help with insulin resistance? Get the inside scoop on the early research here.
  10. Vitamin D supplements lower risk of upper respiratory infection

    Superstar vitamin drives down respiratory infections

    One billion... it's one of those numbers that's so big it's hard to wrap your head around it. That's how many upper respiratory infections and colds occur every single year in the United States alone. Since the U.S. population is hovering around 315 million right now that means every single one of us could suffer through three colds a year and still not have reached the total number of these annual infections. That adds up to a whole lot of sniffles, sneezes, and coughs. Not to mention a slew of missed school and work days. And if you're not in the best health, are very young, or happen to be a senior these infections are...well, if you'll pardon the pun, nothing to sneeze at. Serious upper respiratory infections account for a staggering 100 million emergency room visits every year. Yet, despite all those visits to the E.R., mainstream medicine still can do very little to prevent these infections, and has nothing to offer when it comes to the common cold. That is until some scientists got the bright idea to borrow a page from the naturopath's handbook. They finally decided to take a good look at vitamin D.

    Visiting the Department of "D"uh

    The recent study published in the British Medical Journal confirmed what many of us have said for years (and years, and years), vitamin D can slash your risk of upper respiratory infections. But the researchers from the Karolinska Institute and Karolinska University Hospital wanted to find out more than just if vitamin D could help prevent and relieve respiratory infections. They wondered what kind of effect the vitamin would have on people who were prone to these kinds of infections. After all, those of us who slog through the most colds and infections naturally need the most help, right? So they conducted a double-blind randomized controlled trial (that's the really good kind) with 140 volunteers who had been suffering with respiratory tract symptoms for at least six weeks in the year prior to the study. The divided them up randomly into two groups.

    "High" dose of D is actually low

    The one group received 4000 IUs of vitamin D3 daily for a year. Now 4000 IU is what the researchers refer to as a "high" dose, but I call a little on the low side. Keep in mind that your own body produces about 10,000 IUs of this stuff in just 30 minutes of sun exposure. I usually recommend starting at 5,000 IUs. And for some...like the elderly or those who live far from the equator...that still may be too low. The second (unlucky) group got a daily placebo instead. The results were striking. Especially when you consider that the mainstream typically says there's nothing much you can do for these kinds of infections beyond throwing antibiotics at them (which, of course, won't do a darn thing in the case of viral infections anyway).

    D slashes infections by 25%

    The volunteers who lucked out and got the daily D3 had their respiratory symptoms plummet by 25 percent! Even more exciting, they slashed their antibiotic use by almost half. In the end, the vitamin group spent 16 days during the study period taking antibiotics for their upper respiratory infections. But the placebo takers spent a full 33 days downing the tummy-troubling drugs. And, overall, the D3 group was 63.5 percent less likely to need antibiotics. Talk about powerful results! Oh, and if you're thinking that this "D for respiratory infections" experiment sounds a tad familiar, you're right. A group of New Zealand researchers recently announced the results of a study in which they claimed that D failed the test and didn't reduce the severity or number of infections. Don't let those results confuse you. Their study was full of holes.

    A flawed study gives flawed results

    First of all the D was given to volunteers who were already perfectly healthy and who had normal D levels to begin with. Let's face it, you're certainly not going to see dramatic results when you give supplements to already healthy people. And while the New Zealand scientists had the right idea when it came to amounts...they used much higher doses of D....they totally blew it when it came to execution. They skipped over the whole daily dose thing giving the D much less often. Since research has found that taking vitamins every day is most effective I'm honestly not surprised that they didn't see any significant results. To bump up your vitamin D levels I recommend spending more time out in the sun. However, realistically many of us can't get all the D we need from sunshine alone. And of course in the winter months it becomes even more of a challenge to keep those levels up, so a vitamin D supplement is often a good idea. But don't just start downing bottles of D on your own. It's best to work with a doctor skilled in natural medicine to determine the right dose of D for you. After all, everyone's needs are going to be a bit different. P.S. -- Keep reading below for more on vitamin D levels and their link to headaches.
  11. Three vitamins for flawless skin

    Good skin begins on the inside. And there are three important vitamins, in addition to a good multi, that will keep your skin glowing.
    1. Zinc: Take this in addition to whatever amount comes in your multivitamin. Go for 50 mg per day in the chelated form or as zinc picolinate. But don't go higher than 50 mg extra per day. Though it's very rare, too much zinc can cause copper deficiencies.
    2. Vitamin A: To keep your skin looking fresh, try adding 10,000 to 25,000 IU of natural fish oil vitamin A. Skip the synthetic forms of vitamin A or vitamin A's precursor, beta-carotene. There are all sorts of tales about vitamin A toxicity. But remember this, each year aspirin causes nearly 1,000 deaths...while vitamin A has reportedly caused zero deaths for the last 50 years. However, always work with a qualified naturopath.
    3. Vitamin C: This powerful antioxidant plays a major role in collagen production. Collagen is a protein that repairs skin cells. It also helps protect against all sorts of toxicities. Try to get 1,000 mg of vitamin C at least two times per day.
    Lastly, keep this in mind, when you begin a new regimen... It may take up to three months to see any changes in your skin. That's because the changes begin in the deepest layer of your skin first (the germinal layer). Then, the changes occur in each progressively higher layer as the outmost layers of skin slough off.
  12. Mysterious cattle death linked to hybrid Tifton 85 grass

    Hybrid Tifton 85 grass linked to cattle death

    Sure, I've been telling you for years now to "go organic," but it turns out I probably should have been telling the same thing to the cows out there. According to a CBS-news story a federal investigation is under way in central Texas to find out why a bunch of cattle keeled over dead after eating a form of hybrid Bermuda grass known as Tifton 85 grass. Now, if you're in the know you may realize that Tifton 85 grass is not a GMO product. So at this point you might be wondering why I even mentioned going organic earlier. I'll get to that in a moment... but back to our story. The Tifton 85 grass isn't a new thing on Jerry Abel's ranch outside of Austin. In fact, he's been letting his cattle chow down on the stuff for fifteen years now. But three weeks ago when he let a small herd dine on a fresh field of the stuff something went horribly and shockingly wrong. Shortly after being left to graze a terrible bellowing came from the field and when rancher Abel rushed to find out what the problem was he was greeted by the terrifying sight of most of his cows writhing on the ground bellowing and convulsing. Some of them were already dead. And within just a few short hours fifteen of his eighteen cows were dead. Shockingly, early testing has suggested the cows were literally poisoned by the Tifton 85 grass when it suddenly starting emitting cyanide. And no, no one yet knows exactly why. But there's an interesting theory that brings me back to that call for cattle going organic too. It's a common practice for ranchers to douse their grass fields in chemical fertilizers a couple times a year. And of course many of those fertilizers contain massive levels of synthetic nitrogens that can convert into cyanide. This, combined with the drought conditions last season, might have produced the perfect storm that led to those cattle deaths. While I don't know yet if this is the case (and, honestly, we may never know) I can tell you one thing, organic crops are never doused in synthetic nitrogen based fertilizers. And regardless of what the investigation of this incident turns up, as far as I'm concerned this fact alone is a very strong reason to say, "Yes!" to organic for both us AND our cattle.
  13. Boost your brainpower by taking multivitamins

    I have to admit, it still surprises me every single time someone asks me if they really need to be taking multivitamins. "But Dr. Spreen I eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits, veggies, and good-for-you unprocessed meats. I should be getting everything I need from my food, right?" Well, yes, in a perfect world that would be true. You would be able to get everything you need from your diet. But this world isn't perfect and I'll bet your dimes to donuts that you are NOT getting all the nutrients you need without supplementing your diet. We've changed the way we grow fruits and vegetables. The natural minerals are now gone from the soil. Instead, it's chock full of artificial fertilizers and chemicals. Then, because Big Farming is now BIG business the food is trucked a long way. Fruits and vegetables are plucked unripe from their vines to survive the long journey. And the crops grow bigger and faster now because of careful breeding and artificial fertilizers. Sure, our fruit now looks bigger, shinier, and prettier than it ever looked in the past. But that beauty has come at the cost of nutrition. According to some reports, you'd have to eat a handful of peaches today to equal the nutrition found in just one peach from the 1950s. In fact, a study published in 2004 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition compared USDA data on 43 fruits and vegetables from the 1950s to those in 1999. The researchers found that the produce from 1999 was lower in vitamins, minerals, and protein. For example, broccoli from 1950 had 130 mg of calcium, but that number had plummeted to 48 mg by 1999. So, even if you're eating fruits and veggies with every meal, unless you're eating a boatload you're likely not getting all the vitamins and minerals you need. (Of course eating organic can help... more on that later.)

    Daily living robs you of health

    But diet isn't the only nutrition-robbing culprit out there. Everything from the environment we live in to the meds we take can have an impact. Stress, surgeries, and bad habits like smoking can wear away at your health. The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the processed foods we eat all play a part as well. So, do you need to be taking multivitamins? Well, let's put it this way: unless you're living the life of a monk on top of a remote mountain in the Himalayas, then, heck, yeah you do. (And since you are reading this right now I'm guessing that's not you.) Despite the mainstream's goal to convince us otherwise, there are plenty of studies to back up the benefits of taking multivitamins. And there's growing evidence that taking a daily multivitamin is good for you. In fact, according to a report on NutraIngredients.com, several studies over the past four years have shown that taking one can help keep the lights on upstairs.

    Kids and adults benefit from supplements

    In 2008 research published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that supplementing healthy children's diets with multivitamins improves their brain function. In the randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study researchers gave eighty-one healthy kids, aged 8 to 14, a series of tests to measure their cognition and mood. The kids were split into two groups. The first group got a multivitamin for 12 weeks and the other group got a placebo. Tests showed that the kids taking multivitamins did better than the kids who took a placebo on two different tests. Then in 2010 research published in the journal Psychopharmacology had similar--but even better--results when testing 215 men aged 30 to 55. Volunteers who received a multivitamin did better on stress, mental health, and cognition tests. And in case you are starting to worry that the ladies were left out in all this testing, don't. Because in 2010 research published in the journal Human Psychopharmacology showed that women's brains benefit from multivitamins also. Researchers at Northumbria University conducted another randomized, double blind, placebo controlled study to find out if a multivitamin / multimineral supplements could help women with brain function or fatigue. The women who got the supplement had improved moods and they felt less tired. They also did better on cognitive tests than the women who got placebos. Add that to the fact that multivitamin users live longer, and that women who take multivitamins have fewer heart attacks, and one thing is clear. Supplements work. With everything from stress to diet working against us it just makes sense to add one to your routine. And remember, eating locally grown organic fruits and vegetables can help too. Organic tomatoes, for example, can contain up to 30 percent more phytochemicals than those cardboard-flavored conventional ones at your local supermarket. Look for your local farmers market to get the best deals on produce grown close to home.
  14. Prescription drug side effects and vitamin D

    Taking a prescription drug may seem like a quick fix when you're in pain. But before you resort to popping pills, consider the long-term prescription drug side effects on your body. For example, a new report found that a class of prescription meds -- commonly used to quickly deal with pain and inflammation -- might cause a dramatic drop in vitamin D levels. This is especially worrisome because doctors often prescribe these "quick fix" drugs to older adults already prone to low vitamin D. Doctors also prescribe them to patients with serious chronic conditions, such as asthma, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, Crohn's disease, and MS. But here's what is even more disturbing... You can only take these drugs for a short stint without causing serious prescription drug side effects such as, mood disorders, osteoporosis, and vascular disease. But even if you take them safely -- for less than 30 days -- you still run the risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency.

    Researchers uncover disturbing connection

    For this study of prescription drug side effects, U.S. researchers analyzed data from a national health survey completed between 2001 and 2006. The survey asked 22,650 men and women living in the U.S. about their medication usage. The participants also gave blood samples. The researchers used these samples to analyze the participants' vitamin D levels. About one percent of the participants in the survey reported using an oral steroid medication in the past 30 days. This clearly placed them at high risk for a vitamin D deficiency. It turns out that men and women who took oral steroids ran twice the risk of developing a "severe" vitamin D deficiency compared to non-users. Plus, children who took the oral steroids had even greater risks... In fact, the researchers found that kids on these meds were 14 times more likely to develop a D deficiency when compared to other children. And that's a crying shame. Doctors often prescribe oral steroids, such as prednisolone, to remove fluid from the Eustachian tubes in otherwise healthy children. But nine times out of ten, the fluid in the ear will drain on its own, given time. Pediatricians also prescribe oral steroids for croup. Here again, croup will often clear up quite nicely on its own after a hot steam shower. Steroids are rarely necessary. The case against steroids for adults is more complex, for sure. I know when you're in pain, you want instant relief. Steroids provide that. But steroids affect your whole body chemistry...they don't just target the pain in your sinuses or in your back. They don't just reduce inflammation and improve your wheezing.

    How do steroids work?

    Oral corticosteroids mimic the function of cortisol, a hormone produced by your adrenal glands. In times of stress, your body produces extra cortisol to keep you from getting sick. So when you introduce a synthetic form of this hormone, your body becomes confused. It will back off producing natural hormones. But many times, even after you go off the steroids, your body's hormone production stays low. This is why doctors must "wean" you slowly off oral steroids. It gives your body a chance to recover. Plus, according to the latest research of prescription drug side effects, even taking them for a short stint could cause serious nutritional deficiencies. So, the next time your doctor offers you a steroid to deal with lower back pain or arthritis pain, consider the consequences carefully before accepting it. And if you do take a steroid, make sure to get some extra vitamin D.
  15. How to tell if cyanocobalamin – a form of vitamin B12 -- is safe

    A friend recently asked me, "Are B12 supplements really safe? I read on the internet that most B12 contains cyanide. Is that really true!?" Yes, I told her. But don't believe all the hype, cyanocobalamin, a form of B12, is safe. Known as the energy vitamin, B12 is part of the vitamin B family. You can only get it naturally from animal sources such as beef, chicken, eggs, milk and fish. (That's one reason why I never recommend following a totally vegan diet.) But you can also take vitamin B12 as a man-made vitamin. The most common form is called cyanocobalamin. And, yes, this form pairs cyanide with cobalamin. But your cells convert the cyanide into B12 in the body. In fact, cyanocobalamin is so safe, doctors actually use it to TREAT cyanide poisoning! So, worry not, my friend. You can safely take cyanocobalamin. Today, I mainly use methylcobalamin, another form of B12, when it's available. Your body absorbs this form more readily. It is more expensive, however.
  16. It's this easy to boost your immunity by 50 percent!

    Imagine how great it would be to get ½ the sinus infections, upper respiratory infections, and viruses you normally do! Well, researchers from the UK think it's possible to boost your immunity. They have evenfound a way to help men and women boost their immunity by a whopping 50 percent...in just six weeks! For their study, researchers recruited 211 healthy adults. Then, the researchers randomly divided the volunteers into three groups. One group took a probiotic contain the L. casei strain of bacteria. One group took the Bifidobacterium strain and another group took a placebo. (Note: Each probiotic contained at least one billion colony forming units of either L. casei or Bifidobacterium.) At week two, the researchers injected all the volunteers with a seasonal flu vaccine. According to the lead researcher, this is one of the best ways to test immune system strength. At week six, the researchers measured the volunteers' antibody levels. The volunteers in the L. casei group raised the levels of their IgG3 antibody by 46 percent. And the Bifidobacterium group raised their IgG3 antibodies by 66 percent. The placebo group didn't experience any improvement in their immunity. According to the report, these boosts in immunity will very likely hold up in clinical practice and help reduce infection rates! So in the next month or two, when your primary care doctor starts pushing the flu vaccine, think again. You have safe, proven options on how to boost your immunity! Take your probiotics instead.
  17. Taking multivitamins may help you live longer

    Multivitamins don't get much respect in the mainstream press. You'll often hear the 5 p.m. newscasters say taking multivitamins doesn't increase life expectancy...but what the heck...take one anyway. That's simply not true. And there are plenty of good studies out there to prove it. Take this recent German study... For this study, researchers followed more than 23,000 healthy men and women for 11 years. They found that men and women who began taking multivitamins before the start of the trial and continued to take it for the next 11 years made an excellent choice. They "significantly" reduced their risk of dying from cancer. In fact, they significantly reduced their risk of dying from anything during that period compared to non-vitamin takers. So -- no matter what Toothy Tonya says on the nightly news -- take a multivitamin. But trash the once-a-day tablets. They skimp on the good stuff. Here's good rule of thumb to follow: Look at the B's. Make sure your multi contains 25 mg of B1, B2, and B6. If it doesn't, put it back.
  18. Guess why these 70-year-olds suffered from vitamin deficiency

    (Hint: it's NOT because they're not taking enough vitamins!) You work hard on your health. But one thing (actually three little things) could secretly sabotage all your hard work. These three offenders could even ROB you of essential nutrients you try to get each day through eating right and supplementing, and lead to a vitamin deficiency. Plus... Nearly 50 percent of the population may be at risk of vitamin deficiency and not even know it. And the older you are, the greater your risk. The problem is...your doctors, ads on TV, and everywhere you look says you NEED these offenders. You can't live without them. But on the contrary... the new study suggests that these three offenders may weaken you from the inside out.

    What robs seniors of key nutrients?

    Researchers from Vienna recently recruited 100 independent adults between the ages 70 and 90 to take part in an observational study. The researchers took blood samples from the seniors. Overall, they turned up some dangerous vitamin deficiencies. Many of the seniors lacked essential B vitamins. In fact, about 20 to 30 percent of them were deficient in B1, B6, B12, and folate. And a whopping 60 percent had a vitamin deficiency in B2. The B family of vitamins helps keep your energy up throughout the day. It supports your metabolism, skin and muscle tone, immune and nervous system, and cell growth and division. Having a vitamin B deficiency is a big problem, especially for an older adult. Plus... Forty-two percent of the seniors in the study had a vitamin K deficiency. This is a fat-soluble vitamin found in foods in green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach. Plus, it's very important as we get older. It promotes healthy blood clotting and prevents calcification of your arteries. It also helps to protect your bones against fracture. Plus, some studies suggest it even protects against liver and prostate cancer. And worst of all... Researchers found that 88 percent of the seniors were deficient in vitamin D! This is a shocking statistic. But remember, the IOM says that the majority of us do get enough vitamin D. Clearly, that's a bogus statistic. In this study, nearly all the seniors had a vitamin D3 deficiency. Even the CDC estimates that almost 80 percent of Americans are deficient in this key vitamin. And that's a real problem. Vitamin D is so important, especially as you get older. If you read my Guide to Good Health regularly, you know that it protects more than just your bones. It plays a pivot role in the prevention of depression, type-2 diabetes, and even cancer. Now, I know you're dying to know. What are the big saboteurs to your health? What causes this kind of vitamin deficiency in seniors? Researchers found a clear connection between the prescription meds the seniors took and vitamin deficiencies. In fact, the more drugs they took, the greater their risk. Overall, the researchers found that seniors who took three or more drugs each day "significantly" impacted the status of vitamins D, K, B6, and folate in the seniors' blood. In other words, the more drugs the seniors took, the more vitamin deficiencies the seniors had. Clearly, we need more research needs in this area. I'm sure some of the drugs are worse than other ones. But here's the take-home message: If you take prescription drugs and you're over 60, make sure your doctor carefully monitors your blood levels for any vitamin deficiency. Especially vitamin D.
  19. This may be one of the best vitamins for diabetes yet

    Don‘t talk to me about diabetes drugs. You don‘t need them. You don‘t want them. They‘re linked to cancer. And they don‘t work they way one super vitamin does. In fact, this may be one of the best – if not the best – vitamins for diabetes yet. This super vitamin for diabetes naturally keeps your blood sugar right where it belongs. It goes straight to work on special cells in your pancreas called beta cells. In diabetics, these cells stop working. But with plenty of this key nutrient, your beta cells stay strong and healthy. They help make you virtually immune to sugar. In fact, a new breakthrough study found that men and women with the highest amount of this vitamin in their blood slash their risk of ever developing diabetes. Vitamin corrects "main defect" in diabetics Dr. Anastassios Pittas, MD, an endocrinologist at Tufts University Medical Centers, says worn-out beta cells are "the main defect in type-2 diabetes." But the "super vitamin" D3 may improve, even correct this main defect, which means it could be one of the best vitamins for diabetes you could take. Dr. Pittas and her Tufts team recruited 92 pre-diabetic men and women to take part in their study. The volunteers were all overweight with above-normal blood sugar levels. The researchers then divided the volunteers into four groups. One group took 2000 IU of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) one a day for four months. The second group took 400 mg twice daily of calcium carbonate for four months. The third group took both. And the fourth group took a placebo. After four months, the vitamin D3 group significantly improved their beta cell function. In fact, an expert estimated that beta cell function improved by 15 to 30 percent! Plus, the D3 group saw slight improvements in hemoglobin A1C, an indicator of blood-sugar levels over time. On the other hand... The other three groups saw no such improvements. Plus... The more you get, the stronger your protection In another phase of their studies with vitamin D, the Tufts researchers looked at 2,000 pre-diabetics. This time, they followed the pre-diabetics for three years, annually checking for vitamin D. (They checked vitamin D by measuring nanograms per milliliter or ng/mL in the blood.) They found that for every five ng/mL increase of vitamin D, diabetes risk dropped by eight percent! Plus, patients with the highest vitamin D numbers were 38 percent less likely to develop diabetes compared to those with the lowest numbers. When it comes to vitamins for diabetes, those are some impressive numbers. Men and women in the bottom third averaged just 13 ng/mL. But men and women in the top third averaged 30 ng/mL of vitamin D. Experts consider this to be the optimal vitamin D level even for healthy adults. Plus, these results held up even after the researchers accounted for other risk factors, such as body weight and physical activity. Dr. Pittas hasn‘t published these results yet. He just completed the research and presented it at a meeting of endocrinologists in San Diego. Once he publishes these results, hopefully you‘ll see more about vitamins for diabetes, and vitamin D in particular, in the mainstream press. Or maybe we‘ll just keep hearing about the deadly diabetes drugs. Either way, keep up with the D3, especially if you‘re prone to blood sugar issues. Consider up to 5,000 IU per day.
  20. Get the “new” B12 breath test

    The new B12 breath test is so easy. Just breathe into a tube. Instantly, you’ll know whether you have enough B12. If you’re low, you can get a B12 shot right there and then. No trips to the blood lab. Researchers from the University of Florida developed this new tool. Hopefully this new B12 breath test will become more available as time goes on. Anything that makes it easier to test for B12 is a good thing. This vitamin plays a major role in your body, especially in your brain cells. If you don’t have enough B12, you can feel tired and depressed. You can even suffer from memory loss. Some studies even link low B12 to Alzheimer’s disease. Far too many of us don’t have enough. In fact, B12 deficiencies are very common. Researchers from Tufts recently took blood samples from 3,000 volunteers. They found that 39 percent of the volunteers didn’t have enough B12. You tend to see it among the elderly, vegetarians, and vegans. You also see it among men and women with digestive problems. So next time you’re at the doctors, ask about the new B12 breath test.

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