Category Archives: vitamin D

Movember: The Male Menopause

MG866-Made-in-Movember-Campaign-Photos-2014-Media-Images-Portrait-3-LowRes-RGB
The Movember movement was established to inspire men to be more aware of their health needs, and to seek medical help if needed. Men are less likely to visit a doctor than women. They tend to put off making GP appointments which can mean that symptoms are more advanced and harder to treat. On the internet, television and in popular magazines, there seems to be less information about men’s health than women’s health.

A good example of this is the menopause. While there is a good awareness of the female menopause and its impact on women’s health, there is a lack of awareness of the male menopause, medically known as the andropause. The very notion of ‘male menopause’ is contentious and three quarters of British men have not even heard of it. Despite this, the symptoms of low testosterone are very real.

Andropause is marked by a decrease in testosterone levels that can affect men in middle age, causing symptoms such as low energy levels, decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, depression, irritability, increased body fat and loss of muscle mass. On average, from the age of 39, testosterone levels in men decrease by over 1% each year, while competing hormones such as oestradiol and prolactin begin to rise (1).

While andropause is often attributed to the inevitable ageing process, new studies suggest that dietary and lifestyle choices have a much bigger impact (2). Obesity and smoking have significant negative effects on testosterone levels. Stress levels, alcohol consumption, lack of sleep and exercise, nutritional deficiencies and environmental estrogens from plastics are all likely to affect men’s hormonal balance.

There are three key nutrients have been found to increase testosterone levels in clinical studies. The first of these is Vitamin D. Supplementing with this particular vitamin has been found to raise testosterone levels (3). The male reproductive tract is known to have Vitamin D receptors, suggesting that this is a key nutrient in male sexual health.

Magnesium supplementation has also been found to increase testosterone levels in both active and sedentary men after four weeks of supplementation (4). Magnesium is a co-factor in more than 300 biological processes in the body, and so ensuring sufficient intake is critical for anybody interested in achieving optimal health. Magnesium is needed for healthy metabolic pathways, which include hormone production. It also stops testosterone from binding to ‘sex hormone binding globulin’, meaning that it is more active in the body.

Finally, the mineral zinc has profound effects on hormonal health. Even marginal zinc deficiency is known to cause a drop in testosterone levels (4). Zinc is required for the production of testosterone from androstenedione. A deficiency in zinc leads to the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. It also increases the number estrogen receptors and decreases testosterone receptors. The best dietary sources are shellfish, beef and other unprocessed red meats.

Any man experiencing andropause symptoms should visit their GP for a routine check up. Hormone testing can confirm levels of circulating testosterone. The ‘free androgen index’, a measure of active testosterone levels, is a particularly important measure. As a general guideline, the normal range is between 0.7 and 1.0.

References

  1. Feldman HA, Longcope C, Derby CA, et al. Age trends in the level of serum testosterone and other hormones in middle-aged men: longitudinal results from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2002;87:589-598.
  2. Endocrine Society. “Declining testosterone levels in men not part of normal aging.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120623144944.htm (accessed November 10, 2014).
  3. Pilz S et al (2011) Effect of vitamin D supplementation on testosterone levels in men. Horm Metab Res Mar;43(3):223-5.
  4. Cinar V et al (2011) Effects of magnesium supplementation on testosterone levels of athletes and sedentary subjects at rest and after exhaustion. Biol Trace Elem Res. Apr;140(1):18-23.
  5. Prasad AS et al (1996) Zinc status and serum testosterone levels of healthy adults. Nutrition 12(5):344-8.
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Your Child’s Health Checklist

It can be difficult getting your kid’s into a back to school mind-set after the summer holidays, so why not prepare them in advance by boosting the mental and physical performance of your little one with a diet packed with vitamins and nutrients and regular exercise over the next 6 weeks.

Follow our checklist to help you give your child a head start of their next school year:

  • Its summer so make sure your little one gets a small dose of vitamin D courtesy of the sun (all fair-skinned people need is a few minutes of sun on their hands, arms and face every day). However, if the sun isn’t shining, then be sure to include it in their diet through fatty fish, like salmon and tuna, and egg yolks.
  • Children need calcium to make strong bones, but they can only deposit this calcium until their early 20s. Make sure yours get their three servings a day – a serve is a 250ml glass of milk, a 200g tub of yoghurt or two slice of cheese (40g).
  • Poor concentration, failing memory, hyperactivity and mood swings can also be an indication of omega 3 (EPA and DHA) deficiency. Our brains need these long-chain omega-3 fatty acids for brain structure and function. Try supplementing your child’s diet with a kid friendly omega 3 supplement.
  • Iodine deficiency is the world’s most prevalent, yet preventable cause of brain damage and lower IQs according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Make sure your child gets between 90mcg and 120mcg a day. Yoghurt, cow’s milk, eggs, mozzarella cheese and strawberries are excellent sources of iodine.
  • Magnesium de¬ficiency has been linked with learning difficulties, hyperactivity and insomnia and it’s believed three quarters of children don’t consume enough of this mineral. A half-cup of cooked frozen spinach provides 75mg. You should aim to include 130mg a day.

More Top Tips

  • Exercise, chill time, and regular, nourishing meals and snacks enhance concentration by banishing energy wobbles.
  • Friendly foods include fresh fish, vegetables, pulses, whole grain carbohydrates, nuts, and seeds. Water helps too!
  • Cerebral zappers include sugar, caffeine, soft drinks, junk food, processed foods, excess salt, meat and dairy, and refined or hydrogenated fats and oils (be sure to read the labels!).
  • We all need sleep to function properly, but while adults need eight hours, children need a minimum of 10 hours shut-eye every night. Encourage regular exercise during the day, and participation in age appropriate extracurricular activities after school which will both result in adequate sleep at night.
  • Make sure your child is protected against colds with a drink of Manuka Honey and fresh lemon juice in hot water. Echinacea will also support the immune system, prevent infections, and minimise the risk of bronchitis and sinusitis.
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Battling the Winter Blues

If the short, cold, dark winter days leave you feeling lethargic and energy-depleted, then you may be suffering from the winter blues, or its more severe form, seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Other symptoms include carbohydrate cravings, irritability, weight gain and the desire to avoid social situations.

The winter blues are triggered by a lack of sunlight – as the number of daylight hours decreases, levels of ‘feel-good’ hormones in our body begin to drop. The symptoms can appear in late autumn and don’t normally lift until the brighter days in early spring. Fortunately there are simple measures that can help to alleviate these troublesome symptoms.

There is certainly a link between low Vitamin D levels and seasonal affective disorder, although it is unclear whether there is a causal connection. A recent review of existing studies concluded that treating Vitamin D deficiency offers a simple way to improve mental health (1). It would seem sensible for those feeling the effects of the winter blues to test their Vitamin D levels, and to address any deficiency. Sunlight and supplementation are likely the fastest way to address deficiencies, although fatty fish, fortified milk and egg yolks will also help to boost levels.

Other studies have shown that omega-3s appear to help maintain healthy levels of the ‘feel-good’ brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin. Healthy cells membranes, which require good levels of omega-3 fats, are required for the brain to respond to serotonin and dopamine. A recent large double-blind trial of more than 400 adults supports its use in treating depression (2). Based on these results, ensuring adequate omega-3 intake is certainly a sensible approach for those affected by seasonal changes.

Studies investigating the effectiveness of supplements such as St John’s Wort and 5-HTP have had mixed results, though some studies have found that supplementation improves symptoms such as fatigue, sleep problems, anxiety and lethargy in those with SAD (3,4).

Dietary changes may also help to relieve symptoms. According to Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet, a well-timed snack can help to relieve symptoms. Dr Wurtman led a study looking at the SAD-carb connection, concluding that a low-protein snack providing about 30 grams of carbohydrate was enough to provide a serotonin boost. A warm bowl of leek and potato soup in the evening might well provide that much-needed serotonin-boosting carbohydrate.

Light therapy is a non-invasive, natural, effective and well-researched treatment approach for those with SAD
Light therapy is a non-invasive, natural, effective and well-researched treatment approach for those with SAD

The most effective natural intervention, however, is probably light therapy. Light therapy is a non-invasive, natural, effective and well-researched treatment approach for those with SAD. Specially designed light therapy devices mimic the effects of sunlight to regulate levels of melatonin and serotonin. A recent meta-analysis concluded that light therapy works as an effective treatment for SAD no matter what time of day it is used, so long as it is used at least once daily (5). Dawn simulation is especially useful, and studies have found that this approach is more effective in alleviating SAD symptoms that standard bright light therapy or placebo, alongside additional benefits such as less morning drowsiness (6).

Those looking for a natural way to address the winter blues may benefit from the following approach:

1. Ensure that you are getting sufficient amounts of omega-3 and Vitamin D. You can have your levels checked by a nutritional therapist.

2. Exercise regularly. Try a 30-minute run or brisk walk in the daylight.

3. Start the day with a protein-rich breakfast, but try a carbohydrate-rich meal or snack in the evening. Good options are sweet potato, brown rice, lentils, rye bread and butternut squash.

4. Try a light therapy lamp or a dawn simulation device, making time to use the device at least once each day for the best results.

References

1. Anglin RES et al (2013) Samaan Z, Walter SD and McDonald SD. Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: systematic review and meta-analysis. Br-J-Psych 2013, 202:100-107.

2. Lespérance F, Frasure-Smith N, St-André E, et al. (2011) The efficacy of Omega-3 supplementation for major depression: A randomized controlled trial. J Clin Psychiatry. 72:1054-1062.

3. Ghadirian AM et al (1998) Efficacy of light versus tryptophan therapy in seasonal affective disorder. J Affect Disord 50:23-7.

4. Wheatley D. (1999) Hypericum in seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Curr Med Red Opin 15:33-7.

5. Golden RN et al (2005) The Efficacy of Light Therapy in the Treatment of Mood Disorders: A Review and Meta-analysis of the Evidence. Am J Psychiatry 162(4):656-62.

6. Avery DH et al (2001) Dawn Simulation and Bright Light in the Treatment of SAD: A Controlled Study. Biol Psychiatry. 50:205-216.

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Vitamin D May Prevent Uterine Fibroids

Women with adequate Vitamin D levels are 32% less likely to develop uterine fibroids, according to a new study published in Epidemiology journal this month (1).

Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths attached to the uterus, and they normally affect women of childbearing age. Many women with fibroids experience no symptoms at all. In others, fibroids can cause symptoms such as heavy periods, pelvic pain, frequent urination, difficulty emptying the bladder and backache. As a result of these debilitating symptoms, fibroids are one the most common reasons for women to undergo hysterectomy.

Fibroids occur in around 20% of women, but those of African descent have been shown to have a higher incidence of fibroid formation (50-80%). They are a significant concern for women because of the difficult symptoms linked to their growth. In addition, fibroids are a particular concern to women of childbearing age as they can have a negative effect on fertility. They can block the fallopian tubes, affect blood flow to the uterine cavity, change the shape of the uterus and prevent sperm from travelling through the cervix.

In the recent study, led by Donna Baird of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), researchers measured levels of Vitamin D

The Sun
Exposure to the sun for more than one hour can decrease risk of fibroids

in 1,036 women between the ages of 35-49. Circulating levels of Vitamin D, also known as 25-hydroxy D, were measured using blood samples. Women with more than 20 nanograms per millilitre were classed as having sufficient levels of the vitamin, although many specialists believe that the minimum level for sufficiency should be higher still.

Study participants also completed a questionnaire on sun exposure. Those who spent more than one hour outside per day had a decreased risk of fibroids, with an estimated reduction of 40 percent. It is interesting to note that fibroids are more common in black women, and that black women also tend to have lower levels of Vitamin D as skin pigmentation reduces the formation of Vitamin D in the skin (2).

Scientists are often quick to point out that “correlation does not imply causation”, meaning that a correlation between two factors does not mean that one causes the other. However in this case the researchers provide evidence of a causal relationship. The researchers noted that treatment of cultures of human uterine fibroid tissue with a form of Vitamin D resulted in decreased cell proliferation accompanied by inhibition of molecular pathways for fibrosis. In other words, Vitamin D was found to play active role in slowing the growth of fibroid tissue.

The study authors conclude that the link between Vitamin D and uterine fibroids warrants further investigation, and it is hoped that these findings will encourage further research in this area. In the meantime, it would be wise for those affected by fibroids to take measures to ensure their Vitamin D levels are sufficient.

References

1. Baird D et al (2013) Vitamin D and the Risk of Uterine Fibroids. Epidemiology. May 2013. 24:3, 447-453.

2. Harris S (2006) Vitamin D and African Americans. Am Soc Nutr. April 2006. 136:4, 1126-1129.

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Choosing the Best Supplements: Part One

Choosing the right kind of supplement is extremely important, and yet the choice available can create lots of confusion. I am frequently asked about how to select the most suitable type of supplement. Will the supplement be absorbed properly, and is a ‘natural’ form always better than a synthetic form? Are capsules better than tablets? Which brand is best? Some simple pointers can help you to choose the right supplement for you.

Is Natural better than Synthetic?

Many people prefer to take vitamins in their natural form as they believe that nutrients derived from plants and other natural materials are more effective. Although this is not always the case, there are certainly instances where this belief holds up. Vitamin E, for example, is almost 40% more potent in its natural form that in its synthetic form. The natural form of Vitamin E is called d-alpha-tocopherol and this natural form, usually derived from wheat germ or soya oil, is undoubtedly superior.

Likewise, the natural form of Vitamin D, cholecalciferol or D3, has a more sustained effect on Vitamin D levels in the body than its synthetic counterpart Vitamin D2.

Generally, however, the natural and synthetic forms of most vitamins and minerals tend to behave in similar ways. Synthetic forms of some nutrients, such as Vitamin C, can in fact work out cheaper and can be more concentrated.

Perhaps the most important consideration is that vitamin supplements derived from natural sources may well contain as yet unknown nutrients that help increase their effectiveness. Vitamin C, for example, is more effective when taken alongside bioflavonoids, and these nutrients are almost always found together in nature. Supplement manufacturers can utilise this natural Vitamin C ‘boost’ by combining a potent synthetic Vitamin C supplement with additional bioflavonoids. By replicating this natural combination manufacturers can improve the supplement’s potency.

Improving supplement absorption

Getting the best out of your supplements also means making sure that you are taking them correctly. There are a number of lifestyle and dietary factors that can affect supplement absorption. Supplements should always be taken separately from alcohol, especially if the supplements contain magnesium or B vitamins. Alcohol lowers levels of digestive enzymes from the pancreas, meaning that supplements may not be broken down and digested (1). Alcohol also damages the cells lining the stomach and intestines, impairing absorption (2).

Cal-mag
Calcium and magnesium are better absorbed alongside proteins

As smoking influences the absorption of minerals such as calcium, it is not recommended to smoke during meal times, especially if you are taking your supplements with a meal.

Stress is another lifestyle factor that can hinder supplement absorption. As stress can effectively shut down digestion, it would be wise to try to take your supplements after a leisurely meal rather than on the run during a busy day.

To ensure maximum absorption, most vitamin and mineral supplements are best taken immediately after a meal. Calcium and magnesium are better absorbed alongside proteins. Vitamins A, E and D are all fat-soluble, and so are best taken alongside a meal containing fats or oils.

Other important factors when choosing a nutritional supplement include bioavailability, the form of delivery (tablet or capsule) and the manufacturing standards of the supplement company.

References

(1) Korsten, M.A. Alcoholism and pancreatitis: Does nutrition play a role? Alcohol Health & Research World 13(3):232-237, 1989. 

(2) Feinman, L. Absorption and utilization of nutrients in alcoholism. Alcohol Health & Research World 13(3):207-210, 1989. 

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Sun Chlorella Smoothie Recipes

Healthy eating is one of the most important parts of healthy living. We all try to eat the best quality and the freshest food that we can, but even with our best efforts, sometimes we need to adjust our diets to include supplements.

Introducing Sun Chlorella – once a secret of The Far East, chlorella is now becoming revered in The West as a natural wholefood supplement – good for maintaining optimum health. Simply, Sun Chlorella  supplies your body with some of the important nutrition that your body may be lacking.

Chlorella is rich in a variety of nutrients including:

  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin A
  • Iron

Amongst many benefits, they can help to:

  • Fight fatigue/combat tiredness
  • Maintain a healthy immune system
  • Chlorella is also known to help maintain a normal colonic function

Mix up your smoothies and try blending Sun Chlorella into your favourite smoothie. Add fruits such as a kiwi or fresh mango to give sweetness or even tomato for a more savoury flavour. Just remember – all ingredients should be fresh and raw for maximum nutrients! Here are two fantastic smoothie recipes to get you started:

Savoury Smoothie Recipe No 1:

Sun Chlorella Green Smoothie
Sun Chlorella Green Savoury Smoothie

Ingredients:

300ml water, 80g cucumber, 80g spinach, 40g rocket, 15 Sun Chlorella tablets, 20–40g avocado (optional), a pinch of salt (optional), half a clove of garlic (optional), 1–2 teaspoons of lemon juice (optional).

Can also add other greens such as fennel bulb, parsley, pak choi, basil, kale, etc.

Directions:

1. Place water in blender (liquidiser)
2. Chop all ingredients
3. Add all ingredients and blend until smooth
4. Divide smoothie in to two portions (each portion is about 300mls)
5. Consume half before breakfast and second portion refrigerated or placed in a cold thermos flask to be consumed before lunch

 

Sun Chlorella Sweet Smoothie
Sun Chlorella Sweet Smoothie

Sweet Smoothie Recipe No 2:

Ingredients:

300ml water,80g cucumber, 40g spinach, 80g banana, 40–80g strawberries, 20–40g raspberries, 20–40g blueberries, 15 Sun Chlorella tablets.

Directions:

1. Place water in blender (liquidiser)
2. Chop all ingredients
3. Add all ingredients and blend until smooth
4. Consume as part of breakfast and a portion can be refrigerated or placed in a cold thermos flask to be consumed at lunch

 

References

Content, recipes & images courtesy of the team at Sun Chlorella.

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Potassium boosts bone health

A randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled trial has suggested that potassium citrate may have significant benefits for bone health (1).

The research involved 201 healthy elderly men and women who received supplements each day for 24 months. All of the adults received a calcium and vitamin D supplement each day. In addition, the adults were given either a daily potassium citrate supplement or a placebo pill.

After 24 months, bone mineral density was measured by x-ray. A special tool was also used to calculate the risk of fracture for each participant.

Potassium Citrate is strongly linked with bone health
Potassium Citrate is strongly linked with bone health

The researchers suggested that the benefits of the potassium citrate are a result of its alkalinity which helps to prevent calcium loss from bones. The food that we eat determines the pH balance in our bodies. If our diet is acid-forming, then the alkaline mineral calcium is leeched from our bones to restore pH balance. This calcium loss decreases bone mineral density, making bones very vulnerable. Potassium citrate gives the body the resource it needs to keep pH levels balanced without placing stress of the bones. It ensures that the bones are provided with sufficient back-up alkaline which can be stored by the bone ready to be used when alkaline compounds in the blood run short.

The modern diet is believed to have an increasingly acidic load owing to poor food choices. Potassium-rich fruits and vegetables are often overlooked in favour of acid-forming processed red meats, cheddar cheese, sodium, white flour and sugar. Over time, eating an imbalanced diet of excess animal protein, refined grains, sugar, alcohol and salt can cause your body to slip into a state of mild acidosis.

By making small adjustments to your diet, your body can use its mineral stores for building bone, rather than for fighting acidosis. You can shift to a more alkaline diet by making a few simple dietary changes:

  • Eat more than 5 servings of fruit and vegetables each day
  • Reduce intake of processed animal products
  • Replace grains such as wheat and white rice with more alkaline quinoa, millet and buckwheat
  • Drink water with a little freshly squeezed lemon or lime
  • Use potatoes, squash and other root vegetables as your energy-giving carbohydrate sources
  • Eat plenty of spices such as ginger, cinnamon and mustard
  • Try alkaline-forming supplements such as a good quality multivitamin and mineral formula, or a greens powder each day

Reference

1.Jehle S, Hulter HN, Krapf R (2012) Effect of Potassium Citrate on Bone Density, Microarchitecture, and Fracture Risk in Healthy Older Adults without Osteoporosis: A Randomised Controlled Trial. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Nov 15 (Epub ahead of print)

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Vitamin D may help prevent tooth decay

A recent systematic review provides new evidence that Vitamin D is a ‘promising caries-preventive agent’ and that Vitamin D may reduce the incidence of tooth decay (1).

Tooth decay is a growing concern, particularly among children. A recent study conducted in the UK by toothpaste manufacturer Aquafresh found that almost half of children under the age of 12 have tooth decay. Tooth decay is a preventable disease yet the number of children being admitted for elective extractions of teeth due to caries is increasing yearly.

While the role of Vitamin D in bone health is well known, the evidence base linking Vitamin D and dental health has been less robust until now.

Teeth are made up of similar tissues to that of bone. It makes sense that a vitamin that is so important in bone health will also play a crucial role in the health of teeth. Calcium is constantly moving around the body. Teeth, like bones, are mineralised, (i.e. calcium is deposited in teeth), when calcium levels are sufficient. This mineralisation is essential for strong, healthy teeth. When calcium is in short supply it can be leeched from teeth to make up the shortfall, resulting in weaker teeth prone to cavities and decay. Vitamin D is crucial for the proper absorption and utilisation of calcium, and so any deficiency in Vitamin D is likely to affect calcium levels in teeth.

Docters Best Vitamin D3 is an ideal supplement for people lacking in Vitamin D
Doctor’s Best Vitamin D3 is an ideal supplement for people lacking in Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency has known links to delayed tooth eruption in children, as well as weakened tooth enamel (2). It makes sense that Vitamin D is linked to dental health, and yet until now there has been no comprehensive review of the evidence. “My main goal was to summarize the clinical trial database so that we could take a fresh look at this vitamin D question,” said study leader Dr. Philippe Hujoel of the University of Washington.

Dr. Hujoel’s review was published in this month’s issue of Nutrition Reviews. It examined 24 controlled clinical trials, spanning the 1920s to the 1980s. In total, the data covered around 3,000 children and young adults in several countries including the UK.

Each of the trials used Vitamin D supplemented either through the use of UV light or through dietary supplementation using products such as cod liver oil.

The review indicated that vitamin D was associated with an approximately 50 percent reduction in the incidence of tooth decay. The study authors noted however that many of the trials had weaknesses that could have affected the results.

There is currently a huge amount of interest in Vitamin D levels in the general population. Vitamin D levels appear to be falling in many populations, while levels of tooth decay in children are on the increase. “Whether this is more than just a coincidence is open to debate,” Hujoel said. “In the meantime, pregnant women or young mothers can do little harm by realizing that vitamin D is essential to their offspring’s health. Vitamin D does lead to teeth and bones that are better mineralized.”

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC.

References

1. Vitamin D and dental caries in controlled clinical trials: systematic review and meta-analysis. (Nutr Rev. Nov 2012) in  Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 29 Nov. 2012. Web. 29 Nov. 2012 (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/253298.php).

2. Misra M et al (2008) Vitamin D Deficiency in Children and Its Management: Review of Current Knowledge and Recommendations. Pediatrics Vol. 122 No. 2 August 1, 2008 pp. 398 -417.

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UK Falls Short on Vitamin Intake

It is 100 years since the discovery of vitamins by Polish scientist Casimir Funk. A century later, are we managing to meet our recommended intake of these vital nutrients? A study published last month in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests that we are not (1).

The study, a review of national dietary surveys, has highlighted shortfalls in the Western diet, with adults in the UK likely to be deficient in critical nutrients such as Vitamins D and E.

The researchers reviewed the diets of adults in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and the USA, and compared them with national recommendations. Data was taken from the more recent national dietary intake surveys from each country as a basis for the analysis.

Of the countries studies, the Netherlands appeared healthiest, with fewer significant vitamin shortfalls compared with the rest of Europe and the US. Data from the UK and the USA showed similar patterns and levels of deficiencies, perhaps reflecting similar dietary habits and lifestyles.

Data from the UK included dietary information for both men and women between the ages of 19 and 49 years old. The results showed that more than 75% of men and women in the UK are deficient in Vitamins D and E, Furthermore, between 50-75% of UK adults are deficient in Vitamin A. Up to 50% of UK women were also found to fall short of the recommended dietary intake of certain B Vitamins such as folic acid and riboflavin.

Fruit Bowl
Fruit can help to maintain your vitamin levels.

The researchers concede that “a gap exists between vitamin intakes and requirements for a significant proportion of the population, even though diverse foods are available.” Increases in the consumption of fast food with low nutritional value probably accounts for this ‘gap’. A diet based on nutrient-dense, organic, whole foods is the best way to meet your nutritional requirements. A healthy diet should also be free from added sugar, refined grains and alcohol which ‘rob’ the body of nutrients.

Dr Manfred Eggersdorfer, DSM Senior Vice-President for Nutrition and Science Advocacy, and one of the study’s authors, concludes that action is needed to ensure that we are getting the vitamins we need for optimal health.  “This research highlights that 100 years after the discovery [of vitamins], there are still major gaps that urgently need closing – to improve people’s long term health and to drive down healthcare costs.”

Failing to meet the recommended levels of vitamins can leave individuals vulnerable to a host of chronic, diet-related diseases. In the UK in particular,  the recent study shows that many are failing to obtain adequate levels of Vitamins A, C and E in our diets. As these vitamins are major antioxidant nutrients, then, this could mean that a large number of the UK population are vulnerable to oxidative damage which is linked to the progression of a huge range of conditions from accelerated ageing and inflammation to cataracts, hypertension and diabetes.

Changing lifestyles mean that, even with the best of intentions, we do not always have the time or opportunity to ensure that we are getting all the nutrients we need from our diet. Processed convenience foods are all too readily available. Furthermore, unavoidable factors such as stress and pollution increase our nutrient needs. Small dietary changes can help to redress the balance. Regular consumption of oily fish, eggs and brightly coloured vegetables will help deliver a balanced of Vitamin A and its precursor beta-carotene, while regular snacks of fresh fruit and raw nuts and seeds will provide Vitamins C and E. For those in need of additional support, a good quality multi-vitamin or antioxidant supplement will help close the gap between vitamin intakes and recommendations.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

References

1. Troesch et al (2012) Dietary surveys indicate vitamin intakes below recommendations are common in representative Western countries. Brit J Nutr 108:4, pp. 692-698.

2. Image courtesy of  lynnc

 

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Maternal Vitamin D levels linked to baby’s brain development

Earlier this year I wrote about a study that links vitamin D in pregnancy with children’s body fat levels. Evidence on the importance of vitamin D in pregnancy continues to grow. More recently, a new population-based study has linked expectant mothers’ vitamin D levels with their children’s brain development (1).

The study, to be published this month in Pediatrics, suggests that pregnant women who are deficient in vitamin D are more likely to give birth to children with slower brain development and decreased motor skills.

The Spanish study, a population-based cohort study recruiting 1,820 pregnant women, was conducted between 2003 and 2008. The women had their vitamin D levels measured during their second trimester of pregnancy. Later, their children’s mental development was assessed by trained psychologists.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D supplements can help raise vitamin D levels in the body to an adequate level during pregnancy

The data showed that 20% of the women were deficient in vitamin D, and a further 32% had ‘insufficient levels’ of the vitamin. The babies of mothers who were deficient in vitamin D scored lower on mental and psychomotor tests at the age of 14 months when compared to children of women with adequate vitamin D levels.

To ensure that the study was fair, the authors used statistical techniques to account for other variables that could have influenced the children’s development. These included factors such as birth weight, maternal age, social class and mother’s education level, and whether or not the mother drank alcohol or smoked during pregnancy.

The differences in scores were significant, with the children of vitamin D deficient mothers scoring 2.6 points lower on mental tests and 2.3 points lower on psychomotor tests. Study leader Dr Eva Morales notes that a difference of just 4-5 points in these such tests could result in halving the number of children with above-average IQ scores. As a result, Morales believes that these differences in scores ‘might have an important impact at the population level’.

This is not the first study to look at the effect of maternal vitamin D on children’s development. A study published by the same journal in March this year indicated links between maternal vitamin D deficiency and children’s neurodevelopment (2). This study found that low vitamin D levels in the second trimester of pregnancy were linked with language impairment in children at the ages of 5 and 10 years old.

While these studies show a link between vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy and children’s brain development, they do not prove the existence of a cause-and-effect relationship. Possible reasons for a link include the known role that vitamin D plays in brain function. For example, vitamin D receptors are present throughout the brain, and the vitamin is essential for the formation of neurotrophins, proteins in the brain that help nerve cells to survive and develop.

According to the UK’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey, up to a quarter of people in the UK have low levels of vitamin D in their blood. In its recent statement on vitamin D requirements, the UK Department of Health considers pregnant and breastfeeding women to be an ‘at risk group’. The current recommendation for vitamin D in pregnancy is 10 mcg, or 400 IU, and the UK Department of Health advises that all pregnant women should supplement this amount. As new evidence comes to light regarding the essential role of this vitamin in children’s development, this advice seems more pertinent than ever.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

References

1. Morales et al (2012) Circulating 25-Hydroxyvitamin D3 in Pregnancy and Infant Neuropsychological Development. Pediatrics. Published online ahead of publication in Sept 2012.

2.Whitehouse A et al (2012) Maternal Serum Vitamin D Levels During Pregnancy and Offspring Neurocognitive Development. Pediatrics Vol. 129 No. 3 pp. 485 -493.

 

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