osteoporosis

  1. More beach vacations for cardiac patients?

    Last week’s deluge of snow, ice and cold weather has got me thinking again about the “sunshine” vitamin (otherwise known as vitamin D)…and how most of us aren’t getting enough of it this winter.

    As frequently noted in the Guide to Good Health, the best source of vitamin D is the sun. You can get up to 10,000 IUs a day just by spending 30 minutes in the sun. But during the winter, many of us just scurry back and forth from the house to the car. Spending time in the sun just doesn’t happen.

    That’s not good, especially when you start looking at all the diseases that vitamin D has been shown to help prevent.

    It’s not just about osteoporosis

    Most of us know vitamin D is good for the bones. But it’s actually much more versatile than that. In fact, some nutritionists and scientists now believe vitamin D can protect you against:

    • cognitive decline
    • depression
    • heart failure
    • back pain
    • cancer
    • insulin resistance
    • pre-eclampsia during pregnancy
    • impaired immunity
    • macular degeneration
    • weight gain

    It’s food for your brain

    In addition to building strong bones, vitamin D seems to help prevent dementia and support brain function for older adults.

    In a study published in December 2008, researchers assessed the cognitive levels of almost 2,000 adults aged 65 and older. Scientists found that patients with the highest levels of serum vitamin D3 (an overall indicator of vitamin D levels in the body) also had the best cognitive functioning. By contrast, those with the lowest levels of D3 were four times as likely to have cognitive impairment.

    But that’s not all the vitamin D can do.

    It’s also one of nature’s best antidepressants

    Vitamin D helps to regulate melatonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain that give you a sense of well-being. Without enough of it, you’re at risk of feeling low.

    For instance, in a study published two years ago in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, vitamin D3 was identified as a factor in regulating mood in older adults. Researchers found that patients with a D3 deficiency experienced depression.

    Some scientists also believe vitamin D is helpful in alleviating “seasonal affective disorder.” Not surprisingly, this condition is common up north where folks spend much of the year under snowy skies. They simply don’t get enough sunlight, their bodies lack vitamin D, and they become susceptible to the winter blues.

    But that’s not all. Recent studies suggest vitamin D also plays a role in heart health.

    Sunshine for your heart

    A few months back, one research team from the University of Michigan showed that vitamin D can protect against heart failure in rats. For 13 weeks, rats in a Michigan lab were divided into four groups:

    1. Rats given high-salt diet (designed to simulate a “fast food” diet)
    2. Rats on a high-salt diet given vitamin D
    3. Rats on a healthy diet
    4. Rats on a healthy diet given vitamin D

    At the end of the study, researchers found that rats on the fast food diet + vitamin D regimen faired much better than their counter parts receiving just the fast food diet.

    After just 13 weeks, the vitamin D treated rats had a lower heart weight. (This was really big news because an enlarged heart—known as “hypertrophy”—is all too common in heart failure patients. When hypertrophy happens in men and women, it makes the heart work harder to pump blood through the body. Your blood pressure rises. Even a simple walk to the mailbox becomes too much.) The treated rats’ hearts also worked less for each beat. They also maintained normal blood pressure.

    According to the study’s lead researcher, University of Michigan pharmacologist Robert U. Simpson, Ph.D., "Heart failure will progress despite the best medications. We think vitamin D retards that progression and protects the heart."

    Simpson has studied vitamin D’s effects on the heart for more than 20 years. At first, his ideas were thought of as far-fetched and improbable. Now—his research is starting to bear fruit. I’m sure there’s more to come on the heart + vitamin D link…

    Even for Oprah and Vogue readers?

    There’s much more to learn about vitamin D, from its role in preventing cancer to stabilizing blood sugar to improving autoimmune disorders. It seems like even some mainstream news junkies are starting to catch on. A colleague told me that Vogue magazine ran a bit on it this month. And evidently, even Oprah’s spoken publically about being vitamin D deficient.

    You too may be deficient in this important vitamin. Many of us don’t spend much time outside (even in good weather). And many of us dutifully follow the marching orders to lather up the sun block before setting foot outdoors. Sun screen blocks the rays that help your body make vitamin D.

    Or perhaps you’re of Latino or African-American descent and your skin contains lots of melanin (Just like sun screen, melanin blocks the rays that help your body make vitamin D.) Some scientists believe that anyone living above New York City’s line of latitude NEVER absorbs enough vitamin D through their skin, even in the summertime.

    Whatever the reason why, I’m convinced most of us need more vitamin D.

    You can get a simple blood test if you think you might have a deficiency. Optimal levels are between 50-70 ng/mL.

    For anyone not getting regular sun exposure, I usually recommend taking 2000 IUs of vitamin D daily. In winter months, I’d go for 4000 IUs daily. (Remember, exposure of your full body to the sun for 30 minutes will give you 10,000 IUs or more of vitamin D. So there’s little risk of reaching an upper limit with this supplement.)

    You can also get vitamin D into your diet by eating more eggs (naturally found in yolks), liver, and fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and sardines).

    Keep up the good work and get some sunshine if you can.

  2. More options for Sally Field!

    This week I’ve got some surprisingly good news for anyone suffering from osteoporosis. Turns out one of my favorite condiments may help prevent bone loss.

    That’s great news for Sally Field, who I warned back in December to think twice about helping to promote Boniva. Drugs like Boniva and Fosamax (they belong to a class of drugs called bisphosphonates) may actually weaken bones and slow their ability to heal.

    There’s no question that osteoporosis is a real problem for lots of men and women. In fact, one in two women (one in eight men) have a lifetime risk of developing a fracture from osteoporosis. In the U.S. alone, osteoporosis causes a fracture every 20 seconds.

    So what’s a girl to do?
    I urge Sally and anyone at risk to go all natural: get more exercise, spend time in the sun, and make sure to supplement with calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, other minerals, possibly digestive enzymes and natural (bioidentical) hormones.

    But now—according to a study out in this month’s American Journal of Clinical Nutrition—there’s another cheap and easy way to help fight bone loss.

    Ketchup for your bones?
    That’s right. New research suggests that lycopene—the powerful antioxidant found in good ole ketchup—may help protect men and women against losses in bone mineral density (BMD). ,

    Lycopene is an antioxidant carotenoid that gives tomatoes, watermelons, and pink grapefruit their red color. Numerous studies over the years (all denied, of course, by the FDA) have suggested that lycopene protects you against prostate cancer, breast cancer, and heart disease. But protect against bone loss? Now—that’s real news.

    Researchers from Tufts University, Boston University, and SeniorLife Hebrew studied data collected from 334 men and 540 women over the age of 75 who suffered from osteoporosis.

    They assessed the participants’ dietary intake of carotenoids, (including alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, and lutein plus zeaxanthin) over a four-year period. They analyzed this data in conjunction with the participants‘ BMD at the hip, spine, and radial shaft.

    The data showed that increased intake of carotenoids, Lycopene in particular, showed “significant” protection against BMD loss at the lumbar spine in women and significant protection at the hip in men.

    New thought on bone loss
    This exciting new research proves that antioxidants may play a vital role in preventing and treating osteoporosis in the future.

    Here’s why…

    Most of us think of bones as static structures. But they’re not. They’re actually in constant flux, getting broken down and then built anew.

    Cells called osteoblasts build bone. Cells called osteoclasts break down old bone. But when free radicals roam unchecked in your body, this process goes haywire. Osteoclasts over-multiply and cause your bones to continually break down.

    The best way to control free radicals is to get plenty of antioxidants in your diet. And the researchers from this study take this logic one step further. They theorize that if you can reduce the free radicals in the body, you reduce the osteoclasts too. As a result, you control the unchecked bone loss.

    Fruits and vegetables contain loads of carotenoids
    This is why some people who eat high amounts of fruits and veggies seem to reduce their risk of bone loss. These foods are naturally high in antioxidants.

    According to lead researcher Katherine Tucker, "These results suggest a possible protective effect of carotenoids, particularly of lycopene, against bone loss in older adults. It is therefore possible that carotenoids explain part of the previously observed protective effects of fruit and vegetable intake on BMD."

    Some tips to get more lycopene in your diet
    Tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, and red bell peppers are all good sources of lycopene. Some research suggests that lycopene becomes more bioavailable after heating. So here’s all the more reason to make your own tomato sauce (with organic tomatoes and whole grain noodles, of course).

    Here are some other simple tips for getting more lycopene in your diet:

    • Use ketchup or salsa as a condiment whenever possible
    • Enjoy caprese salad (mozzarella, tomato & basil) in the summertime
    • Always add tomatoes to sandwiches and side salads
    • Go for a grapefruit in the mornings
    • Add salsa and red pepper to omelets
    • Dip morning eggs in ketchup
    • Add salsa on top of broiled salmon
    • Drink V-8 as an afternoon snack
    • Add salsa to guacamole
    New tools to fight osteoporosis without drugs

    More research into this lycopene theory is definitely warranted (as always, I’ll be sure to keep you updated). But this study is a step in the right direction. Anything that helps you avoid resorting to drugs like Boniva and Fosamax is a winner in my book.

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