The capturing and killing of Osama Bin Laden marks one of those events that we stop and remember what we were doing when we got the news.  I was Googling “vitamin D deficiency” when I got the news.  My most recent blood work showed that I was vitamin D deficient, a real surprise to me, since I regularly take a multi-vitamin that contains Vitamin D, a fat soluble vitamin which our body can manufacture and store.  Apparently, a multi-vitamin may not be enough to ensure you’re getting enough of this vitamin, important to bone, colon, muscle and immune health.

When I got the news about Osama Bin Laden my first reaction was great relief.  It seems odd to me to be joyous about the death of a human. no matter how evil, so I don’t think I could cheer as I read the crowd did at the Phillies-Mets game when the news became known.  So I’ll just say I felt great relief and a sense that justice was finally done.

And then an odd thought popped up:  I bet Osama was also vitamin D deficient.  Some of the factors that predispose people to vitamin D deficiency include

Lack of Sun: If you’re constantly hiding in bunkers and caves and traveling under the cover of night you might not get the necessary sun exposure your body needs to manufacture enough vitamin D.  Depending on where you live and the time of year, you need 15-30 minutes of sun exposure 2-3 times per week, with no sun block on to manufacture enough Vitamin D.  If you can get enough sunlight year round, vitamin D is FREE!  I think this was one of the reasons my brother moved to Florida….he’s the cheap one of the family.

Vegetarian Diet: If you’re a vegetarian, your body may not be getting enough dietary vitamin D and you may have to rely on fortified foods.  The best sources of vitamin D include animal-based foods, such as fish, eggs, cheese and liver.

Dark Skin: The pigment that makes your skin darker also reduces the skin’s ability to make vitamin D.  This applies to me – I’d guess I am the same shade as Osama.

2 out of 3 of these factors was enough for me to be deficient, even though I was getting some vitamin D in my multis and getting some sun exposure from yard work.  I am now taking 2000 IU of vitamin D under the direction of my doctor.

Vitamin D deficiency is undiagnosed in the US and is now getting a lot of attention, for good reason.  A deficiency in the sunshine vitamin has been connected to osteoporosis, depression, prostate cancer, breast cancer, diabetes and obesity.  Some of the symptoms of deficiency include fatigue, muscle weakness, and muscle aches/pain.  I felt none of these.  A simple blood test will tell you whether you are deficient or not.

The US got Bin Laden!  Make sure you get your vitamin D!

Microwaving in Plastic Containers

Posted: April 28, 2011 in Health

I was reading an article a few years ago (wish I saved the link) that really stuck in my mind and changed some of my habits for life.  It was an article by a prominent doctor about the most important things you can do to stay healthy and live a long life.

As I started the article I wasn’t expecting to glean anything spectacular, as I consider myself well read in the area of health.  The doctor started his list with the obvious advice: eat healthy, low fat meals…..regular exercise….and there may have been other points, but none struck me as news bulletins.  But then the doctor stated something that really caught my attention:  Do NOT microwave your food in plastic containers!

Of course, I had heard this advice before, however the fact that a well known doctor listed it as a health factor that he considered just as important as eating right and exercise really stood out in my mind.  This was not some quack doctor on the fringe.  Since then, I have stopped microwaving food in plastic containers, even those containers that claim to be microwaveable.

Do I feel any different now that I am not microwaving in plastic?  No, I feel the same really.  However, I definitely think I am healthier on the inside.  We don’t know everything there is to know about plastics; compounds that we were once told were 100% safe are now known to be carcinogens.  If you still microwave in plastic, please do some research and know your risks.  Technology should help us, not kill us!

One of the fastest growing segments of the supplement industry is in joint care.  Apparently, aging baby boomers (me included) are an active bunch and are looking for natural alternatives to relieve the aches and pains that seem to come with aging. Leading the pack is glucosamine.

I’ve taken glucosamine on and off since it first came out in the late 90’s after being mentioned in The Arthritis Cure, by Jason Theodasakis, MD.  As a lifetime weight trainer (retired competitive powerlifter) joint pain seems to come with the territory and I am always on the look out for joint supplements.  Glucosamine seemed to have it all….anecdotal evidence, athlete endorsements, and scientific backing. But to be honest, in recent years it has dropped off my list of core supplements.  I know many people rave about glucosamine, but for me I was never sure if it was working or not.  At best, the results seemed mild.

So, I never stopped looking for a better alternative that actually made a noticeable difference.  And I think I’ve found it: Cissus quadrangularis.  Cissus quadrangularis is an herb that’s been used for thousands of years in India in ayurvedic medicine.  Some of the cited benefits of Cissus include: bone healing, weight-loss, antioxidant, and joint pain relief.  Importantly, Cissus is said to not just mask joint pain, but also help nourish your joints so they can grow stronger.

When I first tried Cissus my main interest was in its joint benefits.  Although I heard many rave reviews from fellow weight trainers I was used to being the odd man that turned out to be a “non-responder”.  And placebos never worked for me.  I approached my trial as always….an open minded skeptic.

I ordered my Cissus in bulk powder form.  The taste is horrible….I’d describe it as bitter dirt, though worse.  Still, a small price to pay if it actually worked.  For about 3 weeks I felt no change in my joints.  Then one workout I noticed a big reduction in the pain in my knees.  Then the next workout my shoulders felt better.  I was absolutely stoked….it seems we take so many supplements on blind faith, not really knowing if they are working or not.  With Cissus I actually felt a difference!  In fact, my joints felt so good I started to push my weights up for the first time in years!  Unfortunately, I increased too fast and ended up pulling a muscle in my hip, which set me back, but hey, my joints felt great!  It’s been two years since I first started Cissus and while I am not 100% pain free, Cissus has greatly diminished my joint pain and has allowed me to continue training hard.  It’s definitely earned a spot in my supplement cabinet.

Recent Studies on Coffee

Posted: April 24, 2011 in Health

I started drinking coffee at about 12 and have pretty much been an addict my whole life, starting every morning with a cup of coffee and finishing my day with a cup.  And often several cups in between.  Recently, I decided to cut out the coffee because I suspected it might be having negative effects on my health, mainly my blood pressure.  It’s been a few months and I’ve only been drinking herbal tea, usually with no caffeine.

Now I come across two new studies on coffee:

First this one from Reuters Health:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/21/us-coffee-bloodpressure-idUSTRE73K7K220110421

This article downplays coffee as a risk factor for high blood pressure.  After reading this I am thinking maybe it’s okay to go back to coffee?  But then I read the next article from emaxhealth  and it makes me think I am on the right track:

http://www.emaxhealth.com/1020/coffee-fatty-meal-raises-blood-sugar-diabetes-level

This article essentially says that following a high fat meal with a cup of coffee (who doesn’t like doing that?) raises your blood sugar levels to dangerous levels.  It seems that the caffeine interferes with the normal release of insulin.  This is important if you are predisposed to type II diabetes.

Based on these articles, my recommendation is moderation.  Enjoying a morning coffee after a low-fat breakfast is probably fine for most healthy people.  However, after a heavy meal, it’s probably a good idea to switch to a non-caffeinated beverage, especially if you have concerns about your blood sugar.  For now, I will stay with the herbal tea…..I am actually starting to enjoy the variety!

Stay healthy!

Can this Chinese herbal product actually lower your triglycerides?

For most of my life my triglyceride levels have been borderline high…..usually not high enough to be put on meds, but high enough for a lecture from the doctor.  After one visit, the lecture ended with a warning: if you don’t get your triglycerides down, we will have to try something more proactive.

Coincidentally, later that week I ran into a friend and mentioned the doctor’s warning to me.  He told me he had the same problem and his acupuncturist recommended he try a Chinese herbal preparation called Kong May, made by Meditalent.  A few months after using Kong May, his triglycerides were way down.  I decided to give it a shot and bought 6 bottles from his acupuncturist (it was cheaper by the 6 pack).  Several months later, a follow-up visit and blood work revealed that my triglycerides were the lowest in my five years of seeing this doctor!  My doctor was very surprised!  And so was I.

Could it have been the Kong May?  My diet was the same as were my workouts.  I take a lot of supplements, so my experience wasn’t exactly a controlled experiment.  Honestly, I can’t say for sure, though I am definitely intrigued.

There is not much information on Kong May, except for what the few online ads say.  The ingredients include: Cordyceps sinensis, Bacillus subtilis, Fructus crataegi, Radix salviae, Gynostemma pentaphyllum, and red rice extract.  The indications are for: High cholesterol, obesity,  stress, high blood pressure, diabetes, for those who drink, smoke, eat fried and/or  fatty foods.  Of course, I can’t recommend it and this post is not a Kong May advertisement, but I am interested to see if anyone out there has had experience with this product or any of the ingredients.  I do think there are many Chinese herbal preparations that have high efficacy yet are essentially unknown to the mainstream in the US.  At the same time, we have to be careful since many of these preparations have not undergone the same medical review as products in the US (though many have been in use for thousands of years in China).  Additionally, the manufacturing standards of these preparations is another area of concern.  Keep these points in mind before you experiment!

My supply of Kong May ran out and I was unable to secure more.  The online prices were higher, plus there was shipping.  In its absence, I started taking red rice yeast from Costco.  I suspected that red rice yeast was the important ingredient and was hoping this would help.  Unfortunately, my recent blood work revealed that my triglycerides had risen back to my old levels.  Geez, I wish they sold this stuff at GNC!

Has anyone else noticed a trend over the last few years towards prescription vitamins to treat certain conditions, especially if they are not severe?  My cholesterol and triglycerides have been borderline for years and when they recently started to creep up my doctor prescribed Lovaza (fish oil) and Niaspan (niacin).  Many doctors would have gone right to the statins…my doctor knows I am big on natural alternatives.  Additionally, he must have recognized I am cheap, er I mean frugal, and said it would be fine to buy these over-the-counter.  I won’t advise anyone to do the same without talking with your doctor (I have to say that).  But hypothetically, if you did speak with their doctor and wanted to try these supplements, you shouldn’t go out and just buy the cheapest vitamins you see – read the labels!  Make sure  you go with a fish oil that has Omega-3s, including EPA and DHA.  Each 1 gram cap of Lovaza has approximately 465mg of EPA and 375mg of DHA.  And with niacin be sure to buy a product that has time release (unless you enjoy getting flush and itchy).  The Niaspan sample I was given has 500mg of niacin.  Again, check with your doctor.  I have been taking fish oil for the past year and just added niacin.  I will report back once I get my blood checked again (maybe  in 3 months).  I would love to hear other people experiences with these prescription vitamins.  Oh by the way, did I mention that you should check with your doctor?

Niaspan

Rededication to Health

Posted: April 12, 2011 in Miscellaneous

I recently had my yearly physical and it didn’t go as planned.  My doctor tells me my cholesterol is high and he’d like to start me on something.  That’s in addition to the medication that I am already on for hypertension.   Oh, and by the way, he also suspects I am pre-diabetic.

It sounds like a train wreck.  It might make one wonder if I am now paying for years of abuse to my body.  But in truth, I somewhat of a health-nut.  Health, fitness, and nutrition are in my blood.  And not just because of all the supplements I take.

It started early…I can remember as a 5 year old watching Jack Lalanne (rest in peace) on TV and trying to follow along.  I also remember as a teen listening to Carlton Fredericks on WOR preaching about diet and vitamins.  And through 20 years of competitive powerlifting my workouts were like an addiction.  I never smoked.  And haven’t had a drink since college (I am always the designated driver these days).  My diet hasn’t been perfect but it is better than most.  So how could I now be facing all of these ailments?

I know I am not young any more (baby boomer here), but I refuse to let that be an excuse.   I take this as a challenge to rededicate myself to my health.   Not just for me, but for my family.  As part of this journey, I will spend a lot of time researching and reading, even more than usual.  As I come across nuggets of wisdom having to do with health, fitness, or nutrition I will document it here.  Maybe someone will read it.  And maybe they will find some benefit.  That is my hope.