Cold Days Bring Lackluster UV Rays…it’s time for Vitamin D!

Fall back, spring forward.  The  best part of daylight savings time was getting an extra hour of sleep this past Sunday and it was equally nice to cycle to work in the morning with some sunlight instead of complete darkness as it was last week.

nightBiking

This time change thing got me thinking about the impending winter, and that got me thinking about Vitamin D.  For a full overview on why you should be taking Vitamin D daily if you live above the 37th parallel, check out this prior post.  If you don’t feel like a long read, I’ll sum it up by saying that if you live anywhere in the grey shaded area below,  1000 IU (international units) of Vitamin D daily does the body good.

37th-parallel

Why?  In the months between September and April, the sun is not at an angle to produce the correct wavelength of UV rays we need to create Vitamin D in our body.  So, even though you might be in the sun during the winter months, the type of rays coming in are not Vitamin D production friendly.

summer vs winter

 

Vit D is 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 slows down our immune response .  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.

9435_CEF

How much do you need?  If you’re an adult anywhere between 1000 – 4000 IU.  Children under 1 need about 600 IU’s.  Kids over a year can get by with 600-800 IU.  It’s time.  Get your Vitamin D on!

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama):

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”  

– John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley:  In Search of America

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Myth Busting: Cholesterol-Hysteria & Eggs

The other day on the phone, my mum was talking about how she is thinking about reducing her daily cottage cheese and berry breakfast in an effort to cut down on diary.  When I suggested eggs for breakfast she sounded frightened and said “but I don’t want to risk getting high cholesterol” to which I replied “don’t worry momma, that’s a big old myth”.

Momma

Not really my momma

So, why do eggs get a bad wrap especially when it comes to cholesterol?

First up, let’s talk about cholesterol – start here for a prior post.  Cholesterol is part of a response to injury and the whole process starts with damage to the inner arterial wall.  Something nicks the artery usually as a result of viscous blood – or thick blood.  The cut to the arterial wall causes an inflammatory response and macrophages come to help repair the damage.  Macrophages attract LDL “bad” cholesterol where it forms a fatty streak or what we could describe as a sticky band-aide.  Smooth muscle then proliferates over the cholesterol and now we have plaque.  Plaque causes narrowing of the arteries, atherosclerosis, but you can see now that elevated cholesterol is actually a symptom & response to damage and not the cause of the damage itself.

What causes blood viscosity – or thickening of the blood?  There are several risk factors to having viscous blood; obesity (especially around the abdominal area), smoking, heavy drinking, diabetes, high blood pressure, family history, chronic kidney issues, being a man over the age of 40, being a woman over the age of 50.  Most of these risk factors are actually caused though by poor diet and a lack of physical activity.

Lack of physical activity

There are many key functions of cholesterol aside from acting as a “sticky band-aide”; it’s the precursor to hormones, bile, required for the production of Vitamin D and is part of what constitutes the outer layer of our cells.

LDL vs HDL Cholesterol

Have you every wondered what the difference is between LDL and HDL cholesterol?  We are looking at the ratio of lipid (fat) to protein.  So LDL cholesterol has less protein and more lipid and HDL has a higher ratio of protein to lipids.  LDL and HDL cholesterol function very differently too which is why it’s important to look at both types of cholesterol when reviewing blood results with your health care professional.

LDL VS HDL1

LDL cholesterol is “bad” because carries cholesterol from the liver to our cells and if there is too much, it’s deposited into the cells.  HDL is good because it carries cholesterol to the liver where it is broken down and excreted by the body.  Interestingly, exercise helps to increase HDL cholesterol and reduce LDL cholesterol.  HORRAY!

Sources of Cholesterol

What is probably a little known fact is that 70-80% of cholesterol is made in the body and the rest comes from food.  Removing high cholesterol foods from the diet will have an impact on total cholesterol levels, sure, but it’s only 20-30% of the larger picture.  The balance of cholesterol is produced internally in response to what is required – if there is a lot of inflammation going at the cellular level then more cholesterol is produced – especially LDL which as you’ll recall takes cholesterol from the liver to the cells to help with repair.

Eggs

The general recommendation regarding cholesterol intake from food is to keep it around 300 mg’s/day (or 200 mg’s if you have elevated cholesterol levels) – and one egg has about 100 – 200 mg which is in all fairness one of the highest dietary sources of cholesterol available.  What is often missing from the “egg story” is that eggs are one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet and contain every vitamin and mineral (minus Vitamin C), are high in good sources of fat, and are an excellent source of choline.  Choline helps to reduce inflammation is involved with methylation which reduces homocysteine levels – high levels of homocysteine are markers for cardiovascular disease risk and osteoporosis.  Choline is also one of the key ingredients mothers-to-be are encouraged to consume during pregnancy since it is known to be beneficial to overall brain health.

eggs2

Here is some other interesting research.  Eggs are a good source of protein (6 grams per egg) and help people feel fuller longer which is known to prevent over eating later in the day and is can contribute to the prevention of long-term weight gain.  A 2007 study published in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (funded by the American Egg Board so take from it what you will) found that when subjects (n=160) were fed either two eggs for breakfast or the caloric equivalent in bagels for 8 weeks, the egg group lost twice as much weight and had an 83% decrease in waist circumference (as compared to the bagel group).  Another large scale study published by Harvard University in 1999 of 115,000 people found no connection between an egg a day and increase risk of cardiovascular disease (a co-factor for elevated cholesterol levels) except for those with pre-existing diabetes.

In summary, eggs are not what is causing high LDL cholesterol.  It’s a lack of physical activity and dietary choices which cause cellular damage such as refined sugars, alcohol, caffeine, and pop.  Inadequate consumption of fiber contributes to the inability to rid the body of excess fats.  Lifestyle choices such as a high degree of stress, lack of sleep, and perhaps most importantly failing to exercise daily are far greater contributors to hypercholesterolemia than the consumption of eggs a few times a week.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“The part can never be well unless the whole is well.”

– Plato

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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

**DISCLAIMER:  PLEASE NOTE THAT ANY ADVERTISEMENTS THAT APPEAR ON THIS PAGE DO NOT REFLECT THE VIEWS AND OPINIONS OF THE HEALTH JUNCTION**

***follow The Health Junction by entering your email here in the “Follow Blog via Email” box***