Is food giving you a migraine?

For those of us who have had migraines, we know it’s not just a really bad headache.

migraine-headache

It’s mind numbingly painful and can completely destroy your day or even week depending on how long lasts.  I first started getting migraines in elementary school – my mum often received calls from the office asking her to come pick me up.

migraine infographic

She tells me I described seeing “stars” before the headache set in and was able to piece together the visual problems, headaches, and nausea as a probable migraine.  Having a migraine isn’t really about the pain as much as it is a total disruption of life.  Often, during bouts of frequent migraines, I’m afraid to make plans and fear that one will strike me at work.  I remember worrying on my wedding day that I would get one…thankfully, I didn’t!

Migraine Aura:  partial loss of vision

Migraine Aura: partial loss of vision

The way a migraine starts is pretty interesting.  Something triggers our prostaglandins (a type of hormone) to initiate platelets to cluster together which in turn signals our body in increase the levels of serotonin in the blood stream.  This increase in serotonin then causes our blood vessels to constrict meaning less blood flows to the brain.  The decrease in blood to the brain creates a sort of acidic environment which then results in the vessels dilating which causes pain.  The aura I mentioned previously (vision problems) is caused by the changes in nerve cells and blood flow.  Aside from visual auras, other warnings that a migraine may be on the way include numbness, weakening, dizziness, vertigo, speech and hearing problems, and issues with memory.

mechnismmigraine

Migraines are a very complex neurological disorder with many contributing factors (genetics, environment, etc) but we do know that they are instigated by triggers such as:

  • skipping meals
  • stress
  • hormonal changes
  • caffeine or withdrawal from caffeine
  • over sleeping or not getting enough sleep
  • exercise
  • travel
  • weather changes
  • menstrual cycle
  • certain medications
  • constipation (see this post and this one as well for ways of reducing this problem)
  • food

The thing with migraines is that they can almost be a response to too many things going on at once.  If you’re tired, stressed, and the barometric pressure is low and then you eat food that is aggravating to your system, it can be that last thing to send you over the edge.

migraine

On my lifetime journey to healing myself or at least reducing the frequency of migraines I know that it’s crucial for me to eat regular meals, keep my stress levels under control, get enough sleep, an also to avoid food triggers.  Here are some common dietary contributors:

  • diary (especially cheese) – contains histamine
  • wheat
  • corn
  • soy
  • sugar
  • coffee
  • chocolate – contains histamine
  • citrus fruit
  • nuts
  • strawberries
  • potatoes
  • tomatoes
  • shellfish
  • MSG
  • food colouring – contains histamine
  • Alcohol (red wine and beer especially which contains histamine)

When we eat something that we’re allergic to, our immune system releases histamines which trigger an inflammatory response (migraines!) so if you suffer from migraines it may help to take Vitamin C everyday since it helps breakdown histamine.  Other natural sources that help the body to break down histamine include Vitamin B and Quercetin.

Vit CVit B6Quercetin

Other natural remedies worth trying out include Magnesium (minimum of 300 mg/day) and Feverfew which comes from Feverfew leaves and is helpful as a preventative mechanism (50-100 mg/day).

For more information on migraines and nutrition, contact thehealthjunction@mail.com.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“A migraine is like a tornado.  It attacks fast, usually without warning, and wreaks havoc regardless of what’s going on in your life at that moment.”

–  Stephen Silverstein, M.D., Director of the Jefferson Headache Clinic in Philadelphia

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Get your probiotic on with DIY sauerkraut!

One of my favourite times of the week is visiting the Evergreen Brickworks Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings with my friend Emily S.  It’s so fun, I can’t handle it!  We move from vendor to vendor picking up most of our weekly fresh produce and sampling the goodies on display.  This past week, I walked past the Pyramid Farm & Ferments table and sampled some dill and garlic sauerkraut.

Pyramid

Woah.  It was mind-blowing.  Delicious.

Mind Blowing

The only sauerkraut I had ever had up to this weekend was from a jar of Bicks and the taste doesn’t even come close to Pyramid Farms & Ferments.  Sauerkraut is made when shredded cabbage is massaged so that some of the juices come out of the shreds.  The shredded cabbage bits and the water that is pulled out via massaging is then stored in a container where it’s left to ferment.  The benefit of fermentation is that it makes nutrients more bioavailable.  Cabbage is high in Vitamin K, C, and Folate which become even more available to us once fermented.

Cabbage

Fermentation works when naturally occurring lactobacilli bacteria digest the sugar in cabbage which creates lactic acid.  The presence of the lactic acid makes the environment (ie: shredded cabbage sitting in a mason jar) too acidic so that it’s impossible for “bad” bacteria to overgrow and therefore the food doesn’t rot.  So you end up getting a lot of “good” lactobacilli bacteria without dealing with the pathogens that often result from spoiled food.

sauerkraut fermentation

What makes Pyramid Farms’ sauerkraut different is that not only is it fermented (like all store-bought versions) but it’s also unpasteurized which means that the lactobacilli bacteria, a strain of probiotic, are able to survive.  Having a gut that is populated with a healthy amount of probiotics  supports the health of our intestines and GI tract, improve digestion, and boosts the immune system.  Eating unpasteurized sauerkraut means that you’ll be getting a truckload of Vitamin C, K, Folate as well as a LOT of probiotics (30 x what you would get in a serving of yogurt!), fiber, and next to zero calories.

word_amazing

You can actually make sauerkraut at home, and yesterday, that’s exactly what Emily S and I did.  Check out this site by Fermentation Fanatic Mr. Sandor Katz and become a sauerkraut makin’ yahoo with a strong immune system, vitamin infused body, and enviable digestive system.

Toronto-20131022-00659

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“Fermentation is the exhalation of a substance through the admixture of a ferment which, by virtue of its spirit, penetrates the mass and transforms it into its own nature.”

– Andreas Libavius

The Mailbox: Is Kefir really that different from plain yogurt?

mailbox
Dear Health Junction,
I keep hearing all this hype about how healthy Kefir is, so went out in search of the best one I could find. I went to a health food store and found an organic local Kefir made with 2 simple ingredients: organic skim milk and active bacterial cultures. However, right beside it, from the same company, was an organic local plain yogurt; ingredients: organic skim milk and active bacterial culture. I fail to see the difference, although I find the taste of Kefir much more sour.  So, the question is: Is there really a difference between plain yogurt and kefir? Will they equally stimulate healthy bacteria to flourish in my colon and provide similar regularity?
Sincerely,
Another Stumped Nutrition Junkie
kefir
Dear ASNJ,
Your question is timely considering how Kefir has been popping up in the dairy isle of grocery stores lately.  Here is what I was able to dig up on the difference between Kefir and yogurt.
bacteria
Both Kefir and yogurt contain probiotics which are a “good” type of bacteria.  There are around 400 different types of bacteria that make up our intestinal flora which runs through our gastrointestinal tract.  Probiotics help to prohibit an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria which in turn helps to prevent sickness while simultaneously  boosting the immune system.
Probiotics
The main difference is that Kefir typically has about 40 times as many probiotic cultures as compared to yogurt.  Yogurt contains 1 billion organisms per half cup while Kefir delivers 4o billion.  Additionally, Kefir is made with 10 to 20 different types of bacterial strains whereas yogurt only has a couple.
biotics
As mentioned probiotics help to stimulate the immune system and consumption is tied to a reduction in symptoms for people who suffer from allergies (seasonal, environmental, food), constipation, eczema, bloating, colitis, crohn’s, irritable bowel syndrome, and recurrent yeast infections.  They are killer at helping promote regularity.  Probiotics are also especially helpful for those who are taking antibiotics since this type of medication wipes out all bacteria (both good and bad) from our system.
probiotics2
Your Truly,
The Health Junction

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“Happiness and bacteria have one thing in common; they multiply by dividing!”

–  Rutvik Oza

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When you just don’t feel like it…

There are times where, if you’re like me, you just really don’t feel like it.  What is ‘it’?  ANYTHING!

sorry-i-m-not-in-the-mood

Working, socializing, cleaning, cooking, and all the stuff in between.

For me, it happens when I’m either really stressed out or when I’m not being challenged (mind and body).  These days, it’s more a stress related response as I busily prepare to complete and test for my designation to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist.

study-stress

Stress and anxiety have such a profound impact on the digestive system and in case it hasn’t been emphasised in prior posts, I wanted to touch upon this again.  When we are stressed, our body shuts down systems that are not vital for survival.  The two systems of the body that are commonly impacted by stress and emotional distress are the reproductive and digestive systems.

Stressed

Our digestion becomes compromised and leads to malabsorption of nutrients which cascades into a ripple effect because we need the right nutrients, in the right proportions to thrive.  For example, not absorbing enough Vitamin B12 will have a negative impact on our entire nervous system which is already likely weakened due to feeling stressed in the first place.  Aside from digestion and reproduction, stress and anxiety negatively impact the endocrine, cardiovascular, nervous, immune, and respiratory systems so you can see how your entire balance can be thrown off.

Stress and Body Systems

Once of my teachers likened feeling anxious, stressed, or even depressed to having a blockage that simply needs to be released.  She said that the stagnating energy needs to be moved and actually suggested simply jumping up and down on the bed.  By the way, if you just google “Jumping on Bed” you’ll get a good laugh which should cheer you up!

Jumping on bed

I’m not into jumping up and down on a bed (what would my cats think!?) but it’s helpful to simply move when you feel emotional distress.  Do some yoga (click here for my favourite FREE online yoga resource), go for a walk, move around your kitchen (cook!), or dance (I just found this gem…you can thank me later because I’m busy getting my moves on), cycle, swim…whatever it takes.  While petting cats is the number one stress relieving mechanism (so says The Health Junction) moving is a close second in stress reduction.  So close this post down and get moving!

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“I was a little excited but mostly blorft. “Blorft” is an adjective I just made up that means ‘Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.’ I have been blorft every day for the past seven years.” 
– Tina Fey

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Got the Flu? Feeling Sick? Think twice before you reach for Orange Juice.

It’s pretty common practice to drink Orange Juice when feeling a little under the weather, right?

OJ

Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant, increases iron absorption, and is well-regarded for its role in supporting and protecting the immune system.  There are countless foods that are chalked full of Vitamin C (check here for a comprehensive list) and it’s true that Orange Juice is high up on the chart – so why should OJ actually be avoided when sick?

Sick Young Woman Lying in Bed

Vitamin C is absorbed into the blood stream via a receptor called GLUT-1 which is also a major receptor for glucose (sugar).  Since Orange Juice is quite high in sugar when you drink a glass of OJ, both the sugar and Vitamin C end up competing to be taken into the blood stream via the GLUT-1 receptor and therefore less will be received.  By removing the fiber from fruit, the sugar is quickly absorbed and causes the absorption of Vitamin C to be compromised.

Vitamin C Fruits

With the fiber in tact, the sugar absorption will be slow and steady making room for more Vitamin C to find its way into your blood stream through the GLUT-1 receptor.  If you’re looking to increase your intake of Vitamin C, try going for whole food based choices like bell peppers, kiwis, broccoli, strawberries, papaya, kale, cantaloupe, pineapple, and of course…oranges!

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools.” 

– Spanish Proverb

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Bioflavonoids 101 In 100 Words

I work, live, and study in the world of nutrition and until about one hour ago had no clue what bioflavonoids were or why we should be consuming them regularly.  Here is the dealio on bioflavonoids in 100 words.

Compounds found in Bioflavanoids help support capillary integrity and (P)ermeability (hence why it’s called Vitamin P) by making it easier for nutrients, oxygen, and carbon dioxide to get into capillaries.  Bioflavonoids also act as an antibiotic, reduce inflammation, and make Vitamin C last longer in our body – hooray!

Are you deficient in bioflavonoids?  You might be if you  have issues with bruising, bleeding gums, intestinal ulcers, or a generally weak immune system (like you’re always getting sick).  Supplementing is recommended at 125 – 250 mg @ 3/day but it is probably easier and cheaper to actually get Vitamin P from the source – food!  Here is a list of foods high in Bioflavonoids:

  • Citrus fruit (or juice with the pulp)
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cabbage
  • Onions
  • Strawberries
  • Pinto and Black  Beans
  • Apricots
  • Grapes
  • Cherries
  • Black Currants
  • Plums
  • Blackberries
  • Green Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Buckwheat

 THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama):

“The way to change others’ minds is with affection, and not anger.”

– Dalai Lama XIV

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Monday Morning Roundup: Testicular Cancer Detection Through a Pregnancy TEST?! And more.

Wowza, there are some real gems from the world of health and nutrition news this week.  Enjoy!

What a smart move!  A man who suspected he might have testicular cancer took a home pregnancy test to see if his level of the hormone beta human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) could be detected.  hCG is the hormone that flags pregnancy but is also present in higher levels for men with developing testicular cancer.  His test came up positive prompting him to visit a doctor.  Smart or weird?  I like it…thinking outside the (pregnancy) box may have saved this man’s life!

“It does not protect as promoted. It’s all a sales job: it’s all public relations.”  A pretty bold statement from Michael T. Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy on the effectiveness of flu vaccines – especially for children and the elderly.  Check out this story from the New York Times which offers a refreshing alternative perspective to need for flu vaccines.

Someone help this kid balance his blood sugar!  A 9-year-old in Ukraine stole almost $4000 from his parents for the purchase of candy.  Yikes.

A funny little study presented at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting suggested that there are four tell-tale signs that indicate a predictability for future heart issues; a receding hairline, baldness on the top of your head, creases in the earlobe, and fatty deposits around your eye.

As if you need more reasons to include coconut oil in your diet – here are 13 Evidence-Based Medicinal Properties of Coconut Oil

Infographics had a poignant image depicting the number of choices really available to consumers.  Made me think!

 

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama):

“The goal is not to be better than the other man, but your previous self.”

– Dalai Lama XIV

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Weekly Recipe Bulletin: Chicken Tetrazzini, Cocoa Banana Blueberry Pancakes, and Cold Fighting Tea

This week’s recipes are not only delicious, but they were really easy to make and of course…healthy!  Enjoy.

Last Sunday, it was a very cold sort of gloomy day.  Just the sort of day that called for something hearty, warm, and filling.  The hearty and filling descriptors can be tough do do when attempting a healthier meal – but I believe this recipe will surprise you.  Everyone in the household enjoyed this meal…even the cat(s) who we found illegally eating from the casserole dish on the counter – totally against the rules!  Adapted from Clean Eating Magazine, here Chicken Tetrazzini has everything;  veggies, protein, and healthy carbs.

Ingredients

  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 1 cup dried rice pasta
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 oz cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup finely diced sweet onion
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled, halved length-wise and thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 cups low-fat, low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated (about 1/3 cup), divided
  • 2 tsp finely chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 5 oz roasted chicken breast, torn into bite-size pieces (about 1 cup)
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped raw almonds, optional

Directions (serves 6)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cook pasta until al dente and then rinse under cold water and set aside.  In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat and add mushrooms, onion and carrot and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add salt and continue to cook, stirring, until mushrooms are golden brown and carrot has softened, about 4 minutes. Add broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer gently until carrot is tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer three-quarters of broth and half of vegetable mixture to a blender and purée until smooth.  Add sour cream, parsley, half of Parmigiano-Reggiano, tarragon, lemon zest and juice and pulse blender until mixed. Return puréed mixture to skillet and toss with pasta, chicken and peas. Transfer mixture to prepared casserole dish, and sprinkle remaining half of Parmigiano-Reggiano and almonds, if desired, over top. Bake until sauce is bubbling and top is golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Sweet glory, these were good.  I made them twice this week – once at home and once with the kids at school.  Both times, they were a hit.  Cocoa Banana Blueberry Pancakes were a surprise because they have no added sugar and are packed with nutrient dense, antioxidant rich ingredients.  Adapted from Meghan Telpner’s recipe, this is sure to become a staple.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup arrowroot or tapioca powder (can be found at any health food store)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 2 bananas
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil (now available at most No Frills grocery stores!)
  • 1 cup blueberries or raspberries…or strawberries

Directions

In a large mixing bowl, blend all dry ingredients together including brown rice flour, raw cocoa powder, arrowroot starch, baking powder, and baking soda.  In a blender or with an immersion blender, blend together ground chia seeds, warm water, bananas, honey and coconut oil.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir in berries.  Heat your skillet to medium heat and add coconut oil – add 1/4th cup of batter for each pancake.  Cook till bubbles appear in the middle of the pancake and then flip.  Serve with honey or maple syrup.

It’s that time of year…cold and flu season is a comin’.  I felt a little itchy in the throat and had the chills this past weekend but a few cups of this Ginger Lemon Honey Tea concoction really helped.  Ginger is an anti-inflammatory agent and helps improve circulation while lemon is a source of immune boosting Vitamin C (it’s also an anti-oxidant).  Finally, honey is super soothing on the throat and acts as a natural anti-bacterial – you can see why the three ingredients in this tea really do help fight colds and the flu.

Ingredients (makes 2 cups)

Ginger

1 x lemon

Honey

Water

Directions

Cut off about a thumb sized block of ginger – peel it and throw it into a pot with 2 cups of water.  Bring the water to a boil and then reduce and simmer for 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, squeeze 1/2 a lemon into a large mug and add 1 tbsp of honey.  Remove the block of ginger from the water after 20 minutes and add water to the mug.  Stir.  Sip.  Sleep.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama):

“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” 

– Dalai Lama XIV

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The Health Junction’s 100th Post: A Year in Review

I can hardly believe it’s been a year since the inception of The Health Junction.  I started out with one faithful reader, Sophia P, and now there are over 400 loyal followers – I cannot tell you how thankful I am to have your support.  Not too sure how you ended up reading The Health Junction, but however you ended up here, THANK YOU!  It makes it much more enjoyable to write knowing there are people actually reading the material!

Sophia P (on the left) – my first and most loyal reader!

This time, a year ago I was working as a Marketing Project Manager in the media industry and though the job was a promotion for me, I felt disconnected from the work and uneasy with what I was putting out into the world (see this prior post) through my job.

Marketing Project Manager

It was a very troubling feeling for me to be doing a job that didn’t align with my personal values and it seems like it was fate that one day, while at work, I visited the continuing education site of a local community college to find something that piqued my interest – I randomly came across a course in wellness and nutrition.  I’ve never looked back!  After completing a community college certificate, I’m now pursuing school full-time working towards a designation as a registered nutritionist and it’s been such an amazing experience so far.  I quit my job and am now working as a part-time Nutritionist where I have the privilege of teaching nutrition and cooking to middle school kids – going to work everyday really does make me happy and when I leave…I still feel happy.

Watermelon Smoothie Demo @ The Coady Street Party (thanks Carly D!)

Health, wellness, and nutrition is something that I love because it’s something we have total control over and even a small change can significantly improve the way we feel.  The benefits of working towards a balanced approach to living healthily are quickly compounded; doing something small and realising that we feel better motivates us to keep it up and maybe try for further improvements.  So, in light of this huge milestone for The Health Junction, here are the top 10 things I learned about nutrition, health, and wellness over the past year.

1.)  Drinking Water Is The Bomb.  Drinking 10 glasses of water a day is probably the easiest and fastest thing you can do to immediately improve your health.  It gets things moving, helps us to eliminate toxic waste, and on and on.  Check out this post on water if you need a “refresher”.

2.)  Moving Every Day Is Also The Bomb.  If you want to be healthy, half the picture is moving your booty each and every day.  Even if it’s for a walk up and down stairs or a brisk jaunt around the neighbourhood your body needs to move in order to maintain health.

3.) Chew Your Food.  It improves digestion and makes you feel fuller longer.

4.) Your Mind & Body Are Connected.  It’s not some new age mumbo jumbo and though I would have balked at this notion in the past, I truly believe that the way we think and feel impacts our physical health.  Science has backed me up on this one time and time and time again.  If you want to be physically fit, it’s imperative to find ways of managing and eliminating stress and emotional distress.  Getting enough sleep will help you cope with stress better.

5.) Leafy Greens:  Suck It Up Sally.  Sorry to be a Drill Sergeant here, but you need to eat your leafy greens.  They provide a host of important minerals, vitamins, and fiber.  They help clean out our body and nourish us with the nutrients we need to thrive.  How can you do this?  Start by eating two cups with a side salad at lunch each day.  Believe the hype on this one and if you don’t like the taste, give it some time.  Your taste buds will adjust and before  you know it, you’ll be craving kale.

6.) The Sunshine Vitamin.  If you live in a colder climate you should be taking a Vitamin D supplement between the months of September and April – or all year if you want to simplify things.  Check out this prior post on why Vitamin D if you want more info, but in short, you would be wise to take 1000 IU of Vitamin D every day.

7.) You The Single Most Important influence On Your Kids Dietary/Health Habits.  Check out this study if this subject matter interests you, but here is a poem that best encapsulates why eating healthy helps your kids.

Roses Are Red

Violets Are Blue

Monkey See.  Monkey Do.

8.) Say “So Long” To Energy Suckers.  You can’t like or get along with everyone…well, the Dalai Lama might be able to, but for the rest of us, it’s not realistic.  Life is too short to continually expend efforts and energy on one way relationships or people who leave you feeling upset.  Clean house and concentrate on people who make you laugh, are fun, and are doing good things in the world.

9.) Choose unrefined whole foods.  Whole grain breads over white.  Brown rice over white.  Vegetables and fruit.  Nuts and seeds.  Organic high quality proteins.  Oatmeal instead of store-bought cereals.  Nut butters.  Beans.  You will feel fuller, get more nutrients, and live longer if you choose smarter whole foods more often.

10.) Slow and Steady Wins The Race.  This is a toughy…for me and probably many of you reading.  When I started out as a nutrition student, I wanted to make every change possible to improve my eating habits.  Trying to do too much too quickly resulted in doing none of it well.  I’ve come to realise that making real changes comes from small steps that over time add up and those are the changes that are longterm and sustainable.  If you’re not sure where to start, check out #5 🙂

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama):

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.” 

– Dalai Lama XIV

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Vitamin D and Living Above The 37th Parallel

It’s COLD!

For those of you reading from warmer climates, perhaps this post will make you feel even BETTER about having the sense to set up shop somewhere hot.  For the rest of us living in places that require a winter jacket, at least we have an excuse to drink hot chocolate and sit by a warm fire.  Two days ago, I had to get off my bike and get on the subway because it was so cold.  That was a signal that maybe riding in below 0 degree weather is a dumb move, but also it’s time to get in the habit of taking my Vitamin D supplement.

So, here is how Vitamin D works.  We have a cholesterol like substance called 7-dehydrocholesterol in our skin and once this substance comes into contact with sunlight it is converted into cholecalciferol.  The cholecalciferol moves to the liver and then kidney’s where it goes through two more conversion and eventually ends up as 125-dihydroxycholecalciferol or what we consider to be Vitamin D.

The original substance in our skin can never start the process of becoming Vitamin D without sunlight and if you live above the 37th parallel you’re likely lacking the rays required especially between the months of September to April.  Draw a line from San Fransisco to Philly, and Athens to Beijing –  anything north of this is above the 37th parallel.

You might be wondering, “why do I need Vitamin D in the first place“?  The primary use of Vit D is that it’s used in the gut to help absorb calcium and also works hard at maintaining adequate levels of phosphorus – both are needed for healthy teeth and bones.  It actually functions like a hormone in our body, works in close conjunction with parathyroid hormone and is structurally is very close to both estrogen and cortisone.

There is a strong correlation between colder climates and those with low levels of Vitamin D and the development of Multiple Sclerosis.  Furthermore, there is a belief that low levels of Vitamin D slow down our immune response – is it a coincidence that most colds and flu’s come on in the winter when our exposure to sunlight is at its lowest?  Finally, Vitamin D is involved in muscle and heart support, the prevention of certain types of cancer (ovarian, prostate, colon, bladder, rectal), and mood/cognitive support in the older population.

Food sources of Vitamin D include: salmon, sardines, fortified milk, eggs, and shiitake mushrooms.

Since it’s sometimes (often) hard to get enough Vitamin D from food, Health Canada and most natural health practitioners suggest that Canadians supplement as follows:

Age group Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) per day Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) per day
Infants 0-6 months 400 IU  (10 mcg) * 1000 IU (25 mcg)
Infants 7-12 months 400 IU  (10 mcg) * 1500 IU (38 mcg)
Children 1-3 years 600 IU (15 mcg) 2500 IU (63 mcg)
Children 4-8 years 600 IU (15 mcg) 3000 IU (75 mcg)
Children and Adults                      9-70 years 600 IU (15 mcg) 4000 IU (100 mcg)
Adults > 70 years 800 IU (20 mcg) 4000 IU (100 mcg)
Pregnancy & Lactation 600 IU (15 mcg) 4000 IU (100 mcg)

A note on “Upper Limits” – this means, just don’t take more that the amount indicated in the right hand column without consulting with a healthcare practitioner.

If you are breastfeeding or pregnant, the Canadian Pediatric Society has a comprehensive position statement on Vitamin D supplementation here, but it’s long so to summarize:  if you are pregnant and or nursing, supplementing at 4000 IU is thought to be beneficial for both you and your in utero and/or nursing baby.  Please check with your health care provider if you have any concerns about how much Vitamin D you should be taking.

Other special populations who might need to pay extra attention to Vitamin D supplementation include those who have issues with fat digestion and absorption (those who have had their gallbladder removed, Crohn’s Disease, partial stomach or pancreas removal) since Vitamin D is a fat soluble – it needs fat to be absorbed.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama):

“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.” 

– Dalai Lama XIV

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