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.  That means you have to treat 53 people to keep one person URI-free.  (The rest either would have been URI free without the supplement, or would have still gotten respiratory infections in spite of the supplement.)

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%.  Your number needed to treat dropped from 53 to 7!

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%.  (NNT=3.5)  That is a huge impact!  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.  (NNT=8)  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 to make sure you’re taking enough of a supplement, because some people need more than others.

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 wondering how to get enough vitamin D, please check out Shaklee’s 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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Preventing Falls And Fractures

With the Snowpocalypse on its way this weekend I’ve been thinking about the rash of injuries that result from snow and ice every winter. Wrist fractures, back injuries, and the dreaded hip fracture happen when older adults slip and fall on snow and ice. What are some ways we have of preventing falls?

It’s obvious that preventing falls is much better than treating injuries when they happen. About 20% of hip fracture patients won’t leave the nursing home afterwards. Prevention strategies can be broadly divided into two categories: environmental measures and personal factors.

Environmental Measures

What can we do to make the environment safer and prevent falls? Snow removal and preventing the formation of ice (where possible) are obvious steps to take. Less obvious are installing railings on stairs, improving lighting, and placing awnings to prevent accumulation of snow and ice on landings and access points.

Personal Factors

Let’s face it, we live in northern Ohio. Snow and ice happen for about half the year. We can’t avoid it altogether and we can’t remove it all. So improving each person’s ability to avoid falls and avoid injury if they DO fall is critically important.

If you’re faced with ice and more snow than you’re comfortable with, stay home if possible. If you must go out, keeping one hand on something stable like a railing is smart when navigating stairs or other risky places. Using a cane if you have one can help.

Exercise, particularly Tai Chi, has been shown to reduce the risk of falls in senior adults. Better body awareness, better muscle strength and tone, and better balance are some of the benefits offered by regular exercise and Tai Chi in particular.

For the more adventurous, martial arts like jiu jitsu teach the student how to fall safely and reduce the risk of injuries in a fall. I myself have avoided serious injury in a fall not long ago, due to my training.

If you’re a woman over 60, make sure you’ve had a bone density (DEXA) test. This is a simple Xray that measures the strength of your bones. Using your bone density and other risk factors like age, gender and medical history, your doctor can estimate your fracture risk. If your fracture risk is high, you should discuss with your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

One important thing to do to keep your bones strong is to take vitamin D and a bone health supplement daily. Here in northern Ohio adults need 2000-3000 units of vitamin D every day, all year around. A lot of doctors tell patients to take calcium but bones need calcium, magnesium and vitamin D to be healthy. I recommend Shaklee’s OsteoMatrix which provides SMALL coated caplets proven to be well absorbed to support bone health.

Avoiding falls and avoiding injury from falls is very important. First, you have to stay on your feet. If a fall does happen, being able to fall safely and having strong bones to prevent fractures is critical.

QUESTION: Are you afraid of falls? What do you do to avoid them and stay safe?

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Dietary Fiber Decreases Health Risks

Do you eat plant-based? Vegetarian? Paleo? Keto? The Standard American Diet (appropriately abbreviated as SAD)? If you are interested in avoiding heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes, new research suggests you need to take a good look at your dietary fiber intake.

A huge meta-analysis of over 200 studies examining almost 135 million person-years of data was done. That’s an enormous amount of data! Both observational studies and clinical trials showed that eating higher amounts of dietary fiber resulted in lower body weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. Also, eating more fiber was associated with lower risk of heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and colon cancer.

How much lower was the risk? 15-30% decreased risk, which is huge! Statistical analysis suggests that the risk reduction really is from the fiber intake. First of all, there is a dose response curve, meaning that small increases in fiber result in smaller benefit, and larger intakes of fiber result in larger benefit.

How much fiber do you need to eat to get the benefits? This research suggests the most benefit is seen at intakes of 25-29 grams per day. The average American eats less than 15 grams of fiber per day. There is evidence that even more daily dietary fiber may give even more benefits!

What is the best way to figure out how much fiber you’re getting? I always recommend folks use MyFitnessPal, a free nutrition tracking program. Track for a week and see what your average fiber intake is. The best way to gradually add fiber is with FOOD, not supplements (although fiber supplements like Metamucil are better than nothing).

Fresh and dried fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains are your best sources of dietary fiber. WebMD has a nice article listing some high fiber foods to choose.

The higher fiber content of plant foods is likely the main reason plant-based diets are so healthy and result in such positive health benefits. Not able to give up meat, eggs and dairy altogether? Take positive steps for your health and start adding more plant foods (and therefore more fiber) to your diet today!

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Online Patient Portal Use

Does your doctor offer an online patient portal for you to communicate with her? Have you decided not to take advantage of this important opportunity? You might be making a mistake.

More and more patients have the opportunity to access a growing portion of their electronic medical record directly through a patient portal. They can request medication refills and appointments, send emails to their care team, and even read the office visit notes generated by their doctors.

My employer does offer a patient portal but a number of my patients won’t take advantage of it. Sometimes they say that they don’t want to provide their email address. Elderly patients sometimes don’t have a computer at all. Sometimes they won’t say why they don’t want to enroll.

I do know that I like when that little box on my EMR dashboard is green, showing my patient uses the portal. I can email her directly about her test results and make sure all her questions are answered. She can see what medications and supplements WE think she’s taking and let us know if our records aren’t correct.

There was a report published recently that looked at online patient portal use. They found that over 60% of respondents said they did NOT use a patient portal. Most of those people also said they had never been offered one.

What I found interesting in this study was WHY people said they didn’t want to use an online patient portal. Patients wanted to talk to someone in person. Well, yeah! If I have something concerning or confusing going on I want to talk to a real person. But if all my labs are normal, shoot me an email. Oh, and also let me SEE my results (and download and print them too). That’s the bonus!

Clear and easy two-way communication between patients and their care team is very important. An online patient portal is one of many tools patients and physicians can use to facilitate communication. If you have the opportunity to sign up for an online patient portal please consider doing so!

QUESTION: Do you use an online patient portal? What has been your experience? If not, why not?

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