There have been a few studies in recent years that have gotten a lot of press for supposedly showing that certain common supplements are harming people’s health. While it is indeed possible that we can take too much of a good thing and cause a health problem, most of these studies have been flawed or revealed flaws in how we use supplements. For instance, some studies on calcium have shown it to be correlated with increased rates of heart disease. This makes some sense because in some forms arteriosclerosis, hardening of the arteries, calcium is part of the problem. But if we are taking calcium appropriately we shouldn’t be contributing to this issue. I always make sure that people taking calcium have adequate levels of vitamin D and K. Vitamin D is necessary for adequate calcium absorption and utilization. Vitamin K places two important roles with calcium. It works to help get calcium into our bones, while also being an important component of a protein that keep calcium from being deposited in our blood vessels. Another important consideration is the calcium to magnesium ratio. If someone is taking calcium without paying attention to their magnesium intake, they might become magnesium deficient, which could contribute to heart disease. Finally, I always have my patients take their calcium with a meal because calcium taken away from meals might play a role in kidney stone formation. When calcium is taken with meals, it might help prevent a common type of kidney stones.
Nutrients work together to keep our bodies functioning properly. When we use wise combinations and appropriate doses, supplements are unlikely to harm us. Another option is to improve our calcium intake from our diet. World’s Healthiest Foods has a fabulous website that includes charts of the foods highest in certain nutrients like calcium.
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