My grandfather had multiple sclerosis, which is an illness that is more prevalent in northern latitudes like South Dakota where he lived. Some researchers are investigating whether lower vitamin D levels might contribute to this trend. Data like this has increased our awareness of the need for vitamin D over the last few years. There seems to be an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency in this country especially since Americans are spending more time inside and doing a good job of using sun screen when outside. As I noted in a previous blog, exposure to toxic chemicals like pesticides might also be interfering with our ability to make vitamin D from sunlight. There is strong evidence showing that appropriate levels of vitamin D reduce falls and fractures and improve bone density. Vitamin D is also useful for helping prevent influenza and maybe even asthma attacks. Additionally, vitamin D might also help prevent some cancers and autoimmune diseases. Finally, I always make sure my patients that are taking calcium have adequate vitamin D levels. Without adequate vitamin D in the body, calcium supplements might increase heart disease, but when given together they reduced mortality by 9% in a recent study.
However, more isn’t always better. With all of the hype about vitamin D, I have seen people taking high doses for long periods of time. All medicines and supplements have optimal dose ranges: too little isn’t enough to help, but too much can cause problems. A common dose of vitamin D used to be 400 IU, but now the thinking is that this is probably too little. Likewise, regular dosing over 2000 IU might offer no additional benefit and in some cases may even diminish the desired outcome. For instance, in a study on influenza, Japanese children given vitamin D had a 64% reduction in the rate of influenza compared to placebo. But when children already taking vitamin D had more vitamin D added, their rate of the flu increased by 11%. This number wasn’t high enough to be sure it wasn’t just random fluctuations, but at the very least, it showed that more vitamin D didn’t lead to greater benefits. For Caucasian women with osteoporosis, higher doses didn’t necessarily have any negative consequences, but the increases in bone density were the same between two groups with one taking 800 IU and the other taking 6500 IU. While I sometimes recommend vitamin D testing, it is important to know that there are different optimal levels for different ethnicities. For instance, Caucasian women whose vitamin D levels less than 20 ng/ml had a significant increase in fracture risk, but African-American women whose levels were above 20 ng/ml had 45% increase in fracture risk. So while vitamin D can offer us several benefits, it is important to figure out your right dose.
Posted in Health
Tagged cancer prevention, cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular health, colds, health, heart health, immune booster, immune support, influenza, mood support, nutrition, osteopenia, osteoporosis, upper respiratory infections, vitamin d deficiency
Many people consider willow bark to be an herbal aspirin substitute. This is true for many of its actions, but there are some differences that are important to know about. The main commonality is that willow bark has analgesic and inflammation modulating effects that make it useful for pain. Willow bark is used for headaches and body pain. Studies have even shown it to be helpful for low back pain and osteoarthritis. Willow bark also can be a good choice when dealing with influenza. Willow bark shares aspirin’s ability to help reduce fevers. It can also reduce the body pain and headache associated with the flu.
Aspirin was not originally created from willow bark, but it could have been. Aspirin was derived from meadowsweet, a plant that contains salicylates just like willow bark does. Aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid, and the addition of this acetyl group gives aspirin its blood thinning capacity. Unlike aspirin, willow bark does not reduce the stickiness of platelets or thin the blood. Otherwise, they are very similar in their actions, but willow bark is less likely to irritate the stomach compared to aspirin. The liver activates the compounds in willow bark after they have been absorbed into the blood stream, so they are not present in the gastrointestinal tract to cause irritation. Because of this activation step, willow bark doesn’t work as quickly as aspirin. But once converted to the active form, it can be effective for several hours.
P.S. There is a connection between the last 15 herbs I have blogged about recently (except the posting on Medicinal Kitchen Spices). Extra credit to anyone who can tell me what it is.
It seems like nearly everyone I know is either sick right now or just getting over a cold. This is typical for this time of year when the seasons change. One of the first herbs people think of for this season is Echinacea, and probably rightly so. Echinacea is a very well studied and is widely regarded as an immune stimulating herb. A study where participants use 1 gram of Echinacea three times a day did show increased immune function. Also, Echinacea appears to have some antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties. For instance, one study showed that taking Echinacea for ten weeks helped prevent the recurrence of yeast infections in women.
Echinacea is probably most effective when used before you get sick or as soon as you start having symptoms. Not all of the studies have found Echinacea to be valuable for fighting colds, but nearly all of the studies that showed no benefit from Echinacea used low doses of this herb. There is also debate on how long Echinacea should be used. Many people say don’t use if for more than a few weeks, but this might be a misinterpretation of a study that showed that the immune response started dropping when Echinacea was discontinued. Still, Echinacea is generally not used for more than 2 months at a time.