Waist Circumference Predicts Heart Risk

When you step on the scale, do you see a normal weight?  When you check that BMI chart by the scale at the doctor’s office, are you reassured to see your score is under 25?  That means you’re good, right?

Not so fast.  There’s another measurement to take.  Your waist circumference also says a lot about your heart risk.

Carrying body fat around your middle, called abdominal adiposity, is a marker of higher heart risk.  For women, a waist circumference over 35 inches is a risk factor for heart disease.  (That’s assuming she’s not pregnant, of course!)  For men, the threshold is a waist circumference over 40 inches.

A study published recently in the European Heart Journal shared some interesting insights.  The authors analyzed data from almost 300,000 people to see what waist circumference and other measures of “fatness” tell us about heart risk.

They found that there was a linear increase in heart risk with increasing waist circumference.  Also, body fat percentage, waist-to-hip ratio and waist-to-height ratio also gave almost a linear increase in heart risk with increasing values.

BMI did NOT give a good correlation to heart risk.  I’ve always hated the BMI.  It’s stupid and doesn’t account for body composition.  Someone with a lot of muscle, like LeBron James, is NOT obese but you can’t tell that from the BMI.

So when you go to the doctor and he or she measures your weight and height, don’t stop there.  Ask to have them measure your waist circumference too.  Better yet, see if they have a body fat analyzer.  I have a handheld unit in my office that isn’t perfect, but it does give a much better estimate of whether someone is overweight or obese than BMI does.

When I am working on weight loss with patients, I target 30% body fat in women and 25% in men.  That’s just a starting point, people may need a different individualized target.

A third of Americans die of cardiovascular disease, and two thirds of Americans are obese or overweight.  Waist circumference can help determine whether you are at higher risk for a cardiovascular event.

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Social Media Makes Teen Girls Unhappy

There is a lot of controversy now about children’s access to electronic devices and, particularly, social media.  Many parents are understandably concerned about the effect social media may have on their kids.

Those of us adults who use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media know that people often choose to show only the happy, pretty, upbeat side of our lives.  Who wants to post about the fight you just had with your spouse, about the fact that you don’t like your daughter’s boyfriend, or the fear of losing your job that’s keeping you up at night?

Those whose only real exposure to others is through electronic media may not realize how inaccurate and misleading others’ social media profiles may be.

I know as a mom I worry that my teen is confining so much of his communication with peers to texting that he is not practicing valuable communication skills.  Gone are the days of teen girls spending hours holed up in their room chatting with friends on the phone.  Now they trade texts which are completely devoid of the tiny clues of tone of voice, facial expression, and uncomfortable pauses that can help interpret and layer meaning on spoken words.

Not to mention that it’s hard to create deep, long-lasting emotional relationships when all you can see is what another person purposely chooses to show.  It’s when things AREN’T pretty that you learn what someone is really like.  And tough times and real struggles build deep connections with others.

There was a study from the UK published recently that brought new focus to these pitfalls.  Researchers conducted a huge survey (almost 10,000 teens) which examined how much time the teens spent chatting on social media.  They also asked questions designed to evaluate the teens’ emotional and behavioral status and created a “happiness score.”

The researchers found that girls used social media more often than boys, although both genders’ use rose with age.  Also, use of social media in girls, particularly at a younger age, was associated with lower “happiness scores.  In boys it didn’t seem to have much if any effect.

Those of us who are parents of teens need to be careful to monitor our children’s use of social media.  Their happiness and well-being can be seriously impacted by spending too much time online, especially our daughters.

QUESTION: Do you have teens who use social media?  Do you notice it affecting their mood and well-being?

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What Parents Need To Know About E-Cigarettes

You see them everywhere.  Adults walking in no-smoking zones exhaling huge clouds of white with ball-point-pen-shaped devices in their hands.  My patients often tell me they’re switching to e-cigarettes when I remind them that they need to quit smoking.

Are e-cigarettes safer than regular cigarettes?  Do they help smokers quit?  What impact are they having on our teenagers?

As parents, we need to understand the appeal of e-cigarettes to our teenagers and what the health risks are.

E-cigarettes are electronic devices that provide a vapor that contains carrier chemicals, nicotine and flavorings.  They don’t contain tobacco and therefore don’t expose the user to the carcinogens and other harmful additives in traditional cigarettes.  They are seen as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes.

But are they really safer?

According to the American Lung Association, the chemicals in e-cigarettes are largely untested.  Because they are usually marketed without drug claims, companies don’t have to disclose or test their ingredients for safety.  One chemical, called diacetyl, is associated with a lung condition called popcorn lung.

Nicotine itself is NOT safe.  It doesn’t matter whether a user gets nicotine from patches, gums, lozenges, e-cigs or traditional cigarettes, it is harmful to the brain and to the circulatory system.  Nicotine is harmful to developing fetuses and therefore pregnant women should NOT smoke or use e-cigarettes.

Newer research shows that the brains of young people continue developing far longer than was previously thought.  (This is not a surprise to those of us raising teens, right?)   Use of nicotine is associated with problems of working memory and attention in adolescents.

Do e-cigarettes help smokers quit?

Credit ComplianceSigns.com

No, they don’t.  Evidence is pretty clear that using e-cigs actually REDUCES the likelihood of quitting smoking.

There was a survey done in North Carolina of middle- and high-school students about the use of cigarettes and e-cigarettes.  It found that use of e-cigs increased 4-fold between 2011 and 2013.  Those who used both cigarettes and e-cigarettes were actually LESS likely to quit (and less likely to try to quit) than those who smoked cigarettes alone.  Teens who use e-cigs are more likely to start smoking traditional cigarettes as well.

An study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine last month reported that those who use e-cigs are about half as likely to quit smoking cigarettes as those who don’t.  Using e-cigs keeps people from quitting smoking!

There has never been any evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers quit.  They cannot be marketed as a smoking cessation aid, but that doesn’t stop people from believing they will help.

As parents raising teenagers it is important we talk to our kids about e-cigs.  They will hear that e-cigs are safe, that they are just a fun, tasty way to get a little nicotine buzz.  E-cigs are heavily marketed to the adolescent age group.

The truth is that they are addictive, dangerous drugs that should be considered a gateway to traditional cigarettes.  They hurt teenagers’ ability to learn and process new information.  They are harmful to the lungs and circulatory system just as traditional cigarettes are.

When we’re talking to our kids about smoking, alcohol, drugs and sex, we can’t forget to cover the dangers of e-cigarettes because marketing messages and their friends certainly won’t give them the whole story.

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Tips For Getting Kids To Eat Veggies

If you’re a parent, this is all too familiar.  The eye rolls.  The gagging sounds.  The battles of wills where your child is still sitting at the table at bedtime glaring at the miniscule dab of sweet potato on their plate.

I know it.  The struggle is real.  (If your kid cheerfully eats salad and green beans and beets, keep it to yourself right now.)  Today I’m really motivated to write about kids and diet.  I found an interesting article with tips for getting kids to eat veggies.

Conventional mom wisdom suggests that kids like bland foods, right?  Chicken nuggets, corn, naked hamburgers, macaroni and cheese?  These are old stand-bys at the kids’ table and on children’s menus at restaurants.

What if this mom wisdom is actually wrong?  What if kids, like adults, are more likely to enjoy food that actually has some taste?

There was a small research paper published that got 100 teenagers in rural Pennsylvania to taste-test plain vegetables compared to vegetables seasoned with different spices.  The teenagers reported that they preferred the seasoned veggies over the plain ones.

This study has some limitations.  For instance the kids chose whether to participate, so more adventurous kids might have been more likely to do the tasting.  Also, it was funded in part by McCormick (the spice company).

But the beauty of this study is that it makes you think.  As a parent, do we change how we cook when we have kids?  (The resounding answer is YES.)  I hear it all the time – parents who want and desperately need to lose weight are resistant to doing what it takes to improve their diet.  They have to cook for their whole family, so they feel limited in their ability to add variety and be adventurous in different ways of cooking their foods.

What if this is based on a flawed premise that kids are little dictators and won’t EVER be willing to try new foods or established foods cooked in a different way?  What if, especially if it’s started early, kids actually will enjoy the foods that YOU enjoy?

There is an interesting book that sheds some light on getting kids to eat veggies.  It’s called “French Kids Eat Everything” by Karen Le Billon, and suggests that part of the blame for the childhood and adult obesity epidemic is due to bad parenting on our part.

French kids eat what their parents eat.  No children’s menus, no separate meals, no catering to childhood food jags.  They don’t snack between meals, in general.  I highly recommend this book for anyone dealing with a picky eater.

After all, getting kids to eat veggies is only a small part of the overall parenting job of helping our kids develop a healthy and adventurous relationship with food.  Food nourishes our bodies and keeps them healthy.  But food is also a pleasure, a feast of sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures.

If you’re looking for a shortcut with cramming veggies into your diet, Shaklee JUST introduced Organic Greens Booster.  This new product provides one serving of green vegetables per scoop.  I had my first green smoothie this morning in honor of St. Patrick’s Day and it was tasty made with vanilla Life Shake mix 🙂

Organic Greens Booster from Shaklee

Organic Greens Booster can be added to smoothies, soups, muffins and other foods to get extra nutrition support.  Click this link to see more information!

Getting kids to eat veggies is tough, but these three things can help.  Vary the tastes and don’t be afraid to add spices and seasonings.  Start young by offering your kids the foods that you like, and be aware that cooking separate “kid meals” for them can backfire.  Add ninja veggies to fruit smoothies, soups and other kid-friendly foods with products like Shaklee’s new Organic Greens Booster.

QUESTION: Do your kids like veggies?  How do you get your kids to eat them?

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Food Addiction

Do you struggle with your weight?  Are you obese?  Have you tried again and again to lose weight, and had short-term success but then slip back into old patterns?  Have you lost weight only to find yourself gaining the weight back with interest?

As a physician who enjoys helping people lose weight, I am almost as frustrated as my patients when things aren’t going well.  One thing that makes weight loss particularly difficult is food addiction.

Food addiction is just starting to be recognized as a major underlying factor in overweight and obesity.  Just like alcoholism and drug addiction, there are changes in the brain in some overweight and obese people that make it difficult or impossible for them to lose weight without help.

Researchers at Yale developed a questionnaire, published in 2009, to assess food addiction.  This questionnaire, the Yale Food Addiction Scale, is a 25-question tool that helps dig into symptoms and behaviors of food addiction.

What is addiction?  Psychiatrists and psychologists recognize addiction as a persistent pattern of abnormal behavior that results in significant distress in the patient.  Abnormalities include

  • Tolerance (needing more of the substance in question to get the same effect)
  • Cravings and withdrawal symptoms when not using
  • Consuming larger amounts than intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut down in spite of wanting to cut down or abstain
  • A lot of time spent using or recovering from use
  • Continued use or overuse in spite of known consequences
  • Giving up important activities in order to use

You may already recognize some of these markers in yourself.  I certainly do.  For instance, I have a really bad sweet tooth.  I sometimes find myself eating more sugar than I know is good for me.  If I stop eating sugar, I will have sugar cravings, headaches and body aches.  Sugar is addictive and I know I have withdrawal symptoms if I overuse it for awhile then stop.

The same group that developed the Yale Food Addiction Scale published an article looking at almost 200,000 people, and found that about 25% of people who were overweight or obese met the criteria for food addiction.  Food addiction was more common in women, those over 35 years of age and those with clinically disordered eating, like binge eating, anorexia and bulimia.

Addiction is a complicated topic and I could write for days about it.  A VERY over-simplified explanation of addiction is that the reward centers of the brain have low levels of dopamine, the pleasure hormone.  Using the drug of choice (opiates, food, sex, sugar, etc) raises dopamine levels in these areas.  Also, these substances interact with the endogenous opioid (endorphin) systems, giving a morphine-like “high.”

Taken together, the presence of the “high” with use and low dopamine levels without use make it very difficult to resist the urge to overeat and very difficult to stop overeating once started.

Do some foods trigger food addiction more than others?  Well sure, nobody really binges on green beans and broccoli, right?  So called “highly palatable” foods are much more likely to trigger overeating.  The food industry knows this, and adds saturated fat, salt and sugar to processed foods to create this super-tasty addiction trigger.  Chips, cookies, candy, soda, cheeseburgers, French fries, white bread and ice cream are examples of foods likely to trigger an addiction response and binge eating behavior.

My personal belief is that weight loss is much harder than dealing with alcoholism, smoking, even heroin addiction.  You can’t just not eat, right?  However, when you understand what foods and situations trigger addiction, you can avoid them like an alcoholic avoids beer and stays out of bars.

What about people who are motivated to kick their food addiction for good?  What is available to help them?  There are twelve-step programs for food addicts, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous.  One such program is Food Addicts In Recovery Anonymous.  (I have no experience with this program, I just know it exists.)  And like alcoholism and opiate addiction, medications can help.

There is a medication called Contrave which has been shown to promote weight loss.  When you understand food addiction, it’s easy to see how Contrave would be helpful.  Contrave is a combination of bupropion, which raises dopamine levels, and naltrexone, which blocks the endorphin response.

Bupropion, an antidepressant, is well known to help people quit smoking and is the only antidepressant that promotes weight loss.  Raising dopamine levels decreases the need to eat, or smoke, or do other things to raise these levels in the brain.  Naltrexone blocks the “high” from drinking alcohol, using opiates like heroin, or binge eating.

While Contrave is very expensive and only rarely covered by insurance, both bupropion and naltrexone are available in generics and are inexpensive to purchase if not covered.  GoodRx.com can give you an idea what prices would be like near you.

If you believe you may be a food addict, please print and fill out the Yale Food Addiction Scale and take it to your doctor.  You can also print out the scoring instructions, it’s a little tricky to score.  This will help your doctor help you.

Like many similar problems, a combination of medication and counseling is going to be the most effective way to deal with food addiction.  If you are overweight or obese and feel out of control with respect to your eating, don’t give up!  See your doctor and ask for help.  If he or she isn’t comfortable diagnosing and treating food addiction ask for a referral to a bariatric center near you.

Like alcoholism and opiate addiction, food addiction can impact every part of your life.  It can alienate you from friends and family, and can even take your life.  Proper treatment starts with recognizing the problem and asking for help.

QUESTION: Do you or someone you love have a food addiction?  Will you do something differently based on the information in this post?

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Managing Urge Incontinence

Have you seen that cute commercial with the little red “bladder” character who pesters the woman until she takes it to the bathroom?  Imagine that little guy just grew horns and a bad attitude.  It doesn’t pester.  It gives one warning and then unless she finds a bathroom RIGHT NOW it makes an embarrassing mess all over.

That’s urge incontinence.

Frequent urination.  Strong urges which quickly morph to an irresistible urge to void. Accidents.  Getting up at night frequently to pee.

Can you imagine if this was you?  Wouldn’t you be hesitant to leave the house?  I would.  It would be hard to go to the grocery store or do any other shopping, go to church, or function at work, let alone travel anywhere.

It’s hard to turn on the TV anymore without seeing ads for adult briefs and constipation products.  The large number of such ads would make it easy to assume this is a “normal” part of aging.  But it’s not.  Urge incontinence is NOT normal.  And it is definitely treatable.

My friend and colleague Dr. Holly Wyneski is a urologist in practice in Richfield, Ohio.  She specializes in female pelvic and bladder problems.  I reached out to her to get a little information about management of urge incontinence.   Please check out her website at www.hollykaywyneskimd.com 🙂

When dealing with urge incontinence, Dr. Wyneski’s advice is to start with behavioral change.  First, take a close look at diet (including fluid intake) and avoid foods and beverages that irritate the bladder.  Dr. Wyneski’s website has a list you can download here.  Examples include alcohol, caffeine, carbonated beverages and spicy and acidic foods.  Next, do your best to get enough sleep, and be aware of your stress level.  In addition to helping with stress and sleep, a number of my patients have found that magnesium supplementation helps calm the bladder.

In addition, your weight also influences how well your bladder works.  (Go figure, right?  Your weight affects everything ELSE in your body so why not your bladder!)  If you are overweight or obese, losing as little as 5-10% of your body weight can go a long way towards getting your bladder working better.

If the above measures don’t correct your bladder problem, bladder training is a very important behavioral treatment.  This starts with listening to your body.  Dr. Wyneski advises that you should empty your bladder every 2-3 hours.  It is also not considered abnormal to get up one time at night for every decade over age 70.  If you’re drinking enough fluids you will need to go at least that frequently.

Are you holding your bladder for 5-6 hours?  (HELLO all my nurses and teachers out there!)  If so, you are setting yourself up for problems down the road.  If the bladder gets stretched out it will get weak and not empty as well as normal.  This can lead to incomplete emptying (where there is still urine left in the bladder after voiding) and can cause infections and kidney damage.

The other side of the coin is the overactive bladder, where every time the bladder gets a little urine in it you feel like you need to go.  People with overactive bladder may need to go every hour, or even more often.  If you know every gas station with a clean bathroom on the east side of the city, this may be you!

Some people are very sensitive to the “stretch” sensation and may feel they need to go even if it’s not needed.  You may also have a bladder that tends to spasm and contract when it’s not time to go.  Men may have problems with their prostate that make it feel as if they need to go more frequently than normal.

Bladder training for the overactive bladder consists of waiting a few minutes after it feels like you need to go.  This will gently “stretch” the bladder and de-sensitize the urgency sensation.  Even starting with just a two-minute timer will make a difference.  You can gradually lengthen the time you wait.  It takes patience, but it is so important!

If these behavioral changes don’t help, please see your doctor.  Also, if you develop sudden bladder symptoms you should see the doctor, this may be an infection that needs treated right away.

If you’re like the woman in the commercial and you feel like you’re a prisoner of your bladder, there are things you can do to improve your symptoms yourself.  Your doctor can help too, and if all else fails, urologists like Dr. Wyneski have got lots of tools in the toolbox!

QUESTION: Do you have problems with your bladder?  What has helped you?

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Rising Rates Of Babies Suffocating In Bed

As a mom (twice!) I understand all too well the lure of cuddling your new baby while they are sleeping.  There is nothing sweeter than holding that sleeping newborn and enjoying ever breath, every twitch, every murmur.

But I also remember the sleep deprivation, the effort it took just to shower and put on clean clothes, the middle-of-the-night feedings where I nearly fell asleep in the glider while nursing.  Shopping, laundry, cooking, relatively simple tasks were two or three times harder than they should be just because I was SO. BLOODY. TIRED!

I know I’m not alone.  All new moms and dads go through this.  That fatigue and sleep deprivation is one of the main reasons why doctors discourage the practice of parents bed-sharing with their newborn.  And when parents cosleep with newborns, we see rising rates of babies suffocating in bed.

A research paper published in JAMA Pediatrics this week reports that rates of babies suffocating in bed have more than doubled in the last 16 years.  Unfortunately the rate of rise is even higher among African-American babies and in babies living in rural areas.  Hispanic babies are less at risk.  The overall rate was about 28 per 100,000 people in 2015.  This means that in 2015 about 1100 babies died from being suffocated in bed.

SIDS deaths have fallen from about 70 per 100,000 to about 40 per 100,000 over the same period.  The reasons for SIDS deaths are not fully understood, but the reason why a baby would suffocate in bed is pretty clear.  A parent rolls on them, or a pillow falls on them, or they get stuck between the mattress and the wall.

Cases of babies suffocating in bed are entirely preventable.  The simple measure of NOT having a baby in bed with their parent(s) goes a long way towards prevention.  Pediatricians and family doctors have advised new parents for years to put their baby to sleep on their back in a crib or bassinet.  A separate bed is the safest place for a new baby to sleep.

Parents cosleep for many reasons.  More well-to-do parents may cosleep because they believe it will improve bonding and make breastfeeding easier to establish and more successful.  Lower-income parents may cosleep because there simply isn’t money to buy a separate crib or bed for the new baby.

Finland started a program in the 1930s for all mothers-to-be to receive a box of supplies for their new babies.  The cardboard “baby box” also contained a firm foam mattress with a tight-fitting sheet, making the box itself a bassinet for the new baby.

In 2017 Ohio became the second state to offer a similar program to expectant parents in our state.  By going to Baby Box Company’s website and watching a 10-15 minute video and taking a short quiz, Ohio expectant moms and dads will be able to receive their own baby box.

The video and quiz help to educate expectant parents on safe sleep practices.  The box gives the new baby a safe and portable place to sleep for the first few weeks of life.

If you or someone you know are expecting a baby, please educate yourself about safe sleep practices.  Grandparents and babysitters need to know the safest way to put a baby to sleep.  Even a short nap can be deadly.

  • Go to Baby Box University and complete the short educational program to qualify for your free Baby Box.
  • Always put your baby down alone, on their back, on a firm sleep surface.  Babies should sleep without blankets, pillows, comforters or stuffed animals.
  • Do not cosleep.  Do not nap on a couch or recliner with your baby.  If you’re breastfeeding and up frequently at night, do not breastfeed a newborn while lying down.  Sit up in a chair to breastfeed then put your baby back in his or her bassinet, crib or Pack-n-Play (or bed box!) before lying down again.

After all, one baby suffocated in bed with their parents is too many.  1100 babies suffocating in bed per year is a horrible tragedy that can be prevented with proper sleep practices.

QUESTION: Did you cosleep with your baby?  Why or why not?

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Meditation For Stress Relief

I’m happy (I think) to report that a major milestone has been reached in my family.  My older son is 15 1/2 years old and yesterday got his temporary driver’s permit.  So it begins!  I may never draw a stress-and-anxiety-free breath again!  He hasn’t had his first lesson and already I’m worried…

In the stress and anxiety department I know I’m not alone.  Would it be fair to say that all of my readers are under some stress?  Yep, pretty much.  Stress is a way of life nowadays.

For those of us who are parents, stress makes our tempers short and tolerance low.  It makes us snap at our kids and keeps us from enjoying our time with them.  It also can lead us to overeat and indulge in other activities that aren’t good for us OR our families.

There are many ways to reduce stress.  Learning time and task management skills, decreasing commitments, and practicing gratitude are some ways.  Some people choose  to take medication.

There is also very good evidence that meditation for stress relief is effective.  Why would meditation be helpful when under stress?

First I want to review a little physiology.  Bear with me, it will help you understand why meditation is helpful.  There is a component of your nervous system that is called the autonomic nervous system.  Its job is to control all of the things that happen in your body without you thinking about them, like breathing, heart rate, circulation, digestion, sweating, bowel and bladder function and sexual activity (once triggered by conscious thought).

The autonomic nervous system also is divided into two components: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.  The sympathetic nervous system is activated with stress, and brings out the “fight or flight” response.  Blood pressure, respiratory rate and heart rate go up, pupils dilate, circulation is directed away from the digestive tract and towards the brain and muscles (preparing to fight or flee from a threat).  The adrenal glands dump adrenaline into the blood stream.  If stress lasts awhile the adrenals also make cortisol to increase blood sugar production by the liver.

Can you see why chronic sympthetic activation is a bad thing?  Having the blood pressure and heart rate high is really hard on the circulatory system.  Adrenaline itself seems over time to be poisonous to the heart.  Chronic stress is hard on the digestive tract, leading to irritable bowel syndrome.  High cortisol levels can lead to weight gain and diabetes.

So how do you calm down the sympathetic nervous system?

One way is to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.  If sympathetic is “fight or flight,” parasympathetic is “rest and digest.”  One of the most effective ways to purposely activate the parasympathetic nervous system is to meditate.

Meditation has been shown to produce improvement in mood disorders, epilepsy, autoimmune symptoms, menopause symptoms and PMS symptoms.

There are many ways to meditate.  Some well-known techniques include Transcendental Meditation, mindfulness-based stress reduction, various types of Buddhist meditation, and Metta meditation.  All forms of meditation seek to calm the mind, go beyond the mind and enhance concentration.  The physical health benefits are very well documented.

Like many other areas of life, to get the most out of meditation you need a good teacher.  I’d like to recommend to you that, if you’re in the Cleveland area, you should consider MY teacher.  We have a beginning meditation class starting soon.

Dr. Vincent Gentiluomo is a skilled martial artist and spiritual teacher.  You can learn more about him and his background at this link.  He offers both group classes and individual teaching.  If you would like more information, you can contact him via email at docvg1@gmail.com or by phone at 440–773–4004.  He can help you choose the program that’s right for you.

If you’re finding yourself struggling with stress and its effects on your body, meditation is one effective way to reduce your stress and bring your body back into balance.

For more information about the biology of stress, check this link.

QUESTION:  Do you meditate?  How has it helped you?

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Reduce Colds And Flu With Vitamin D

How many colds and bouts of bronchitis do you have in any given winter?  Two?  Three?  Or are you one of those people who gets over one cold just to come down with the next?

Are you envious of those who don’t ever seem to get sick?  What if I told you the difference could be in your blood?  AND that it’s something EASY to change?

Turns out taking a vitamin D supplement reduces the risk of acute respiratory infections!  I’ve written about vitamin D before.  This nutrient has a lot of health benefits that we’re just starting to understand.  It helps keep bones strong.  It has mental health benefits.  Vitamin D levels are linked to the risk for multiple sclerosis.  We really don’t understand everything about how vitamin D works.

Credit: https://www.humnutrition.com/

Researchers in the UK wanted to know if there was a link between vitamin D levels and risk of colds and flu.  Specifically, they wanted to know if vitamin D supplements helped prevent respiratory infections.

Last year their study was published in the British Medical Journal.  They analyzed 25 other papers involving over 11,000 people to see if there was evidence that vitamin D supplements protect against respiratory infection.

They found that people who took vitamin D supplements did have a lower risk of acute respiratory infection, but the effect was pretty modest.  Overall, those who took vitamin D supplements had a 40.3% risk of acute respiratory infection, while those who didn’t had a 42.2% risk.

Not a big effect, right?  Well let’s look deeper, OK?  The authors looked at those who were deficient to begin with, having a blood level less than 25 nmol/L, and found that with supplementation the risk dropped from 55% to 40.5%

The authors also wanted to know if it mattered how you took your vitamin D.  In Europe apparently it’s common to give a huge dose (>30,000 IU) every once in awhile, called bolus dosing.  In the US we usually dose daily or weekly instead.

The study found that bolus dosing was NOT effective, and if you just looked at the studies that gave the vitamin D supplements on a daily or weekly schedule the effect was quite dramatic.

Those who started with low vitamin D levels saw their risk of upper respiratory infections drop from 59.8% to 31.5%.  That is a huge drop!  The fact that correcting deficiency had such a big effect is good evidence that this is real and not just statistical fancy footwork or a coincidence.

They also found a big drop (46.2% to 33.6%) in children aged 1-16 years who were supplemented with vitamin D.  Since kids in school are exposed to germs all the time, this reduction is very important.

How can we use this information?  If you live in northern Ohio (or anywhere north of 40 degrees north latitude) you ARE vitamin D deficient unless you are taking a supplement.  So everyone in Cleveland needs to take a supplement all year ’round.  You also should have your levels checked periodically by your doctor or health practitioner.

I prefer to have my patients take their vitamin D every day rather than once per week.  It is easier to remember to take something every day, just make it part of your morning routine.  The best dose I’ve found is 2000-3000 units daily.  What is in your multivitamin is NOT enough.

While taking a vitamin D supplement is helpful, there’s more to staying healthy and warding off colds and flu than taking vitamins.  Make sure you’re washing your hands regularly.  Drink plenty of fresh clean water, get enough sleep, and watch your stress levels.  Stress depresses the immune system so if you’re feeling overwhelmed make sure to beef up your self-care routine!

If you’re a Shaklee customer of mine, please check out Vita D3.  It’s an inexpensive way to add insurance for heart, bone AND immune health!  If you’re not already a Shaklee family member, why not click this link to get your personalized health assessment?  There’s no cost and no commitment, just individual recommendations for diet and lifestyle changes (and smart supplementation of course) to meet your health goals.

I have so many friends and patients suffering cold after cold this winter.  Now you have one more tool in the toolbox to keep you well!

QUESTION: Do you take vitamin D every day?

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Mediterranean Diet Better For Older People

Falls and fractures.  Getting weaker.  Memory loss.  Inability to take care of oneself.  Nursing homes.  This is the grim future that many people see as they get older.  The truth is that poor lifestyle choices, heart attacks, diabetes and other health problems DO increase the risk of this future.

Is there anything we can do to prevent it?  Is there any way to prevent this grim future from becoming a reality?

In January an article was published by a group who wanted to look at diet as a risk factor for frailty as people age.  They analyzed 4 studies and found that there is a link between the Mediterranean diet and decreased risk of frailty.

What is frailty?  I think everybody can look at one older person and classify them as “frail” and another older person and classify them as “robust.”  Frailty is difficult to define!  However, it is generally described as a syndrome that gets more common with older age.  It is the accumulation of physical deficits and low physiologic reserves that make it hard to recover from and increase the risk of injury and illness.

There are a number of ways doctors measure frailty but one of the more commonly used scales uses 5 criteria:

  • unintentional weight loss
  • self-reported exhaustion
  • weakness
  • slow walking speed
  • low physical activity

People who are more frail are more likely to fall, more likely to have a fracture, more likely to be hospitalized and more likely to wind up in a nursing home and to die prematurely.  So whatever we can do to prevent frailty, we need to do it!

We know that nutrition is very important in preventing frailty.  Lots of research has been done on using nutrition to prevent frailty, and most of the research shows that it’s the overall quality of the diet, not individual nutrients, that is most important.  Preventing nutrient deficiencies and getting enough protein seem to be particularly critical.

Dr. Kojima and his colleagues found that people were less likely to become frail if they followed a Mediterranean diet.  They analyzed research articles published from China, France, Spain and Italy that compared risk of frailty with dietary patterns.  People who ate a more Mediterranean-style diet were less likely to become frail over the study period (an average of about 4 years).

What is the Mediterranean diet?  The Mediterranean diet consists of mostly plant foods (like vegetables, fruits, beans, cereals, root vegetables, nuts and seeds), olive oil as the main source of added fat, and small amounts of dairy, eggs, fish and poultry.  Alcohol (particularly red wine) is consumed in low to moderate amounts.

This study showed that the more the participants ate a Mediterranean diet, the less likely they were to become frail over the follow-up period.  The authors believe that the effect may be tied to inflammation.  More frail individuals generally have higher inflammatory markers, and the Mediterranean diet is known to produce less inflammation in the body.

What are the limitations of the study?  Well this study was an analysis of four other studies, all of which were observational.  That means they asked people what they ate, then watched to see what happened over a certain period of time.  They didn’t assign people to eat a Mediterranean diet.  It’s possible that there are other characteristics of people who choose to eat a Mediterranean-style diet that also contribute to lower risk of frailty.  This is called confounding, and is difficult to assess in studies like this.

Still, there’s a principle of behavior change that if you want what someone else has, you find out how they got it and do that same thing.  If the goal is to avoid becoming frail as you age, then eating the Mediterranean diet is one good way to begin.

Not sure how to start?  Here is a link to Amazon’s list of top-rated Mediterranean diet guides for beginners.  The food is tasty, the recipes are simple and the health benefits are amazing.  Please consider giving the Mediterranean diet a try!

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