The “Buzzword” Vitamin

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When I started my nursing career in 1973, I was taught very little about nutrition. Vitamin D was to help calcium into the bones for growth and strength and really, it had very little other use. Also – it was called vitamin D only – not D2 or D3 as you may have heard more recently.

This is yet again, the problem with science – it seems helpful until the next bit of science comes along and changes everything. So at this time we are aware that there are two forms of vitamin D that have some importance for us as humans – D2 and D3. D2 is present in plants and not as bio-available to us as D3, which is obtained from animal sources and the sun. Another recent discovery is that in order for vitamin D3 to be used properly, vitamin K2 needs to be present. And vitamin A. And several minerals..

I named my business “Your Good Health – Naturally” for a very specific reason which I am sure you can guess. If we eat the diet we are programmed for and emulate (impossible to live the exact same life) the lifestyle we evolved with, we get what we need for life, health and reproduction. And this is in spite of the constantly changing “evidence” that science brings us.

I suspect that over the next decade, we will see vitamin D split into other analogues. New science is already showing that vitamin D from the sun is water soluble and can travel easily in the blood, but vitamin D from food is fat-soluble and in fact, needs fat for its absorption if it is contained in non fatty sources (eg. vegetables). I wonder how long it will take before science shows us that it is also used differently in the body!

It wasn’t so long ago in our history that we spent a great deal more time outside. Children played outside in all weathers. When I was young, we had two TV channels and no computers to keep us indoors. We saw the sun at all times of the day and no sun-screen was applied, since it hadn’t been invented. Sun-tan lotion (to attract the sun to make tanning quicker) was around in the 1960s as I remember and we were encouraged to be in the sun as it gave us vitamin D. What on Earth has gone wrong? People of the western world are now vitamin D deficient – to epidemic proportions.  If we are to remain disease-free, things have to change.

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So why do we need vitamin D? Before I address that, I must first emphasise that nutrients work together, not in isolation. The trouble is, when we hear that something is good for us, we then overdo it – “if some is good, more must be better”. We often buy supplements. but please, get professional help with this if you intend to take them. Vitamin D3 on its own can be harmful. Vitamin D3 helps the absorption of calcium but is is vitamin K2 that directs it to bones and teeth – away from arteries where it causes damage.

We now know that vitamin D3 (which is the form our bodies use easily) is needed for countless processes in the body. In fact, the bottom line is that we cannot live without proper levels of vitamin D.

(The UK RDA for vitamin D will protect against bone diseases but we need far more than this for optimum health. If half an hour in the sun can produce 20,000 units of vitamin D in our skin, the UK RDA, at a mere 2-400 units, is woefully inadequate.)

Children and babies have died from this deficiency and adults become ill and die from the diseases that are associated with the deficiency – but their conditions are rarely attributed to it as blood levels of vitamin D are not routinely tested. Due to all the known processes in the body where vitamin D3 takes a part, it is not difficult to imagine what might happen if it is not present in the needed amounts.

Immunity is compromised along with all that this entails: pathogenic infections are not effectively fought; potentially cancerous cells may not be destroyed; asthma and eczema are more prevalent as are other allergies; incidences of gut problems such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are more evident as are the symptoms in established disease.
Interestingly, the incidence of malignant melanomas (which some authorities believe to be due to the sun’s rays) are less common in those with optimum levels. There are about twenty different types of cancer that are known to have a connection with vitamin D deficiency.

Bone density is severely compromised without adequate levels of vitamin D.  Rickets is the name for this condition in children and osteomalacia in adults. Babies have been known to be born with the condition and their bones remain fragile instead of being strengthened by mineral deposits. This condition at its worst is incompatible with life. The condition is evident as the legs become bowed in children and adults. Osteoporosis is also a bone thinning disease where vitamin D deficiency may at least in part, be implicated. Don’t forget the K2 too!

It is now thought that vitamin D3 is involved with cholesterol regulation, the occurrence of mental disturbances such as dementia and depression, heart disease and the onset and progression of multiple sclerosis.

Such terrible consequences from a deficiency that is entirely preventable – for free. In Britain, during the months of April to September the sun rises high enough in the sky for the UVB rays (which are the ones needed to form vitamin D3 in our skin) to reach us here in the Northern Hemisphere. UVB rays are short in comparison to UVA rays – which are available from dawn to dusk. The easiest way to gauge if the sun is right is to look at your shadow. If it is shorter than you are tall, the UVB rays are present and you can strip off! Be sensible here – if your skin is fair, five minutes a side is sufficient. If you have black skin, you must start with about thirty minutes a side. Unfortunately, black-skinned people suffer the most in the Western world as it takes that much longer for the UVB rays to penetrate. It is none-the-less, absolutely vital they sunbathe if they are to stay healthy. The amount of sunshine needed to be effective, also depends where you are. The more northerly the position, the longer it will take and if you are on holiday in the Med, less time will be needed. Your skin should be slightly pink, not red. Do NOT go to sleep in the sun – you are very likely to burn! After this time, it is best to cover up or sit in shade but if you must, use a sunscreen that is as natural as possible. The usual sun-screens have many unpleasant and damaging chemicals in them. Your skin will quite happily absorb these into your body where they have absolutely no place. (Best to use water only for showering after sun exposure, to prevent washing away those precious skin oils.)

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If your ancestors were from the Northern Hemisphere, you are adequately equipped for life here. The fact that our livers can store huge amounts of vitamin D means that even though there is no UVB sunlight during the winter months, we will be fine if we have adequate stores. If we haven’t, maybe a D3 and K2 supplement would be useful for a few months. Please seek advice regarding this.
People whose ancestry is nearer the Equator should take extra care. The storage space for vitamin D may not be the same as people from more northerly climes, due to the intensity, frequency and duration of sunlight in equatorial countries.  Nature doesn’t change what it does very quickly, meaning that we have to.

There are many foods that contain vitamin D. D2 is present in leafy green vegetables but some people have trouble converting it to the D3 that is needed for humans and some other mammals. To maximise the absorption of D3 from plants, serve vegetables with a knob of butter or in a creamy sauce. Animal foods that are rich in D3 – eggs, full-fat dairy, offal, shellfish and other surface swimming fish. Meat (and especially offal) that has the highest levels of D3 will be from animals that are reared outside on pasture where they can eat grass and weeds that contain abundant D2 which they will convert to D3. These are foods that are nutrient-dense all round and should be included in our diet anyway.

In 2012 we had a lousy summer. During the winter of that year, I dropped my “no supplements” rule and took a D3/K2 supplement until April. Maybe there are some occasions when it is a good idea, as the above, but also you might want to do this if you have dark skin or if you have not been able to sunbathe much when the sun was out. To me though, ”naturally” is always the best.

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The Importance of Digestion (From Top to Bottom!)

file3011257997439 In my view, even if you smoke or are obese, the food you put into your mouth is the most important factor to determine your overall health. If you eat well your health improves; if you eat badly, your health deteriorates. Simple.

 

 

Well it should be simple but food and nutrition have become complicated over the last century. When we “process” food it can become difficult or impossible to digest. Add to that these other factors – we now eat foods that are not from our evolutionary diet, foods are often genetically modified, traditional food preparation has been replaced with super-fast methods and in many instances, cookery skills have been lost. Probably the most important is learning to cook from scratch using tried and trusted traditional methods and starting with the best ingredients, preferably organically produced.

We eat because we need nutrients which our bodies convert to compounds which are used in the hundreds of body processes that go on every second of our lives. Even if the food is the best, we still have to absorb and utilize these nutrients – and therein lies the rub!

Nutrition is not just filling our stomachs with any old food or a few vitamin tablets. Nutrition encompasses all of the following – the correct food being chewed, swallowed, digested (see below) absorbed and utilized. When any of these stages are omitted either within our control or without it, proper nutrition is forfeited. Let me explain.

When we anticipate or smell food, already our bodies begin preparation for digestion. We salivate, our stomachs rumble which indicates that the digestive juices are being produced. This enables various digestive enzymes to do their work before the next stage can commence.

Chewing food begins the digestion of carbohydrates and it is made more liquid. giant_panda_eatingThis is necessary if all nutrients are to be extracted. Swallowing begins the muscular wave (peristalsis) throughout the intestines to push food to the next stage of digestion. When food enters the stomach, protein is broken down by the hydrochloric acid contained in the digestive juices. The enzymes present continue the digestion of carbohydrates and begin the break-down of fats and proteins. When this is achieved, the small intestine continues the process using bile from the gall bladder and enzymes from the pancreas. Providing there is no disease in the small intestine, many nutrients and water are absorbed here. As the process continues into the large intestine, more fluid is absorbed and some of the B vitamins are created. The end of the scenario is a trip to the loo! This removes that which cannot be digested and other unneeded substances.

As you can see, there are many stages to digestion – which means that there are many ways for things to go awry. The food you eat makes the enzymes, saliva and gastric juices, so if your diet is poor, the situation moves from bad to worse.

Addressing the stages -
In the mouth:  If teeth are bad, the mouth is sore, dentures are poorly fitting, food may be poorly chewed or even avoided altogether.
In the stomach: Too little acid, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), ulceration of the stomach lining, frequent heartburn or a hiatus hernia and many more conditions can interfere with the initial break down of foods. This is especially true of vitamin B12.
In the small intestine: Food insufficiently digested in the stomach will be problematic, poor microbial mix or insufficient beneficial bacteria, Crohn’s and celiac disease, duodenal ulceration, poor bile and pancreatic enzyme production and other diseases  and insufficiencies will produce incomplete digestion here.
The large intestine: Diseases such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis (IBD), poor muscle tone (from years of the wrong diet), insufficient good bacteria, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) will all disrupt the final stages of digestion.

There are all sorts of ways that we can become mal-nourished, even in our land of plenty. Of course, if there was nothing you could do about it, I wouldn’t be writing this! There is plenty you can do to optimise your nutrition.

  1. Choose the best food you can afford and learn how to cook it. (This book is an excellent start!) I won’t go into the minutiae of as there is lots of advice in my other blogs.
  2. Ensure your teeth are in good condition.
  3. Eat slowly. Chew thoroughly and don’t drink much with food as this dilutes the needed acid in the stomach. People who suffer indigestion and GERD should not drink half an hour before or an hour after meals.
  4. Eat fermented foods sometimes – sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, kefir, yogurt.
  5. Practice relaxation. Stress is very damaging on the digestive system at every stage.
  6. Ensure that meal times are just that. Make time to sit down and enjoy your food. I absolutely believe in chatting over a meal as this slows things down and is conducive to good digestion and not overeating.
  7. When you first feel the urge to go to the loo, please go!  Putting it off is damaging to the muscle tone of the bladder and the rectum.

There has to be at least one thing you can do to improve your digestion. One step at a time..

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B12 – The Finicky Vitamin

Along with the other B vitamins, B12 is responsible for releasing energy from food, healthy nerves, the formation of blood and other cells, mental health and much more. Deficiency at its worst causes pernicious anaemia, (possibly) contributing to Alzheimer’s disease, psychoses and heart disease. The symptoms that often present initially are mood swings, insomnia, lacking energy and tingling in the hands and feet.

1426234_63077721It is very easy to become vitamin B12 deficient today. Life is so very different to how it was one hundred or even fifty years ago when home cooking was all that was available and nothing as wasted. We are a “fast” society now and everything has to be pronto – many don’t cook anymore – preferring microwave meals. We eat on the hoof just to fill our stomachs quickly with scant regard for the food’s nutritional value or whether we will digest it properly. It is incredible to me that people complain about the cost of food whilst buying ready meals and takeaways and it will contribute to becoming B12 deficient in our modern times.

Even if you care about your health, it is possible to become deficient in this vitamin. Those who are vegetarian through choice could be at risk. Likewise those who are vegetarian or vegan for religious or other reasons often miss out on this essential nutrient.

Some illnesses prevent B12 being utilised. The reason I call this the “finicky” vitamin is due to its metabolism. Simply, a protein called “intrinsic factor” found in the stomach juices binds itself to B12 to allow absorption. Most foods are digested and absorbed during the long journey through the small intestine. Not B12 though! There is a small area between the small and large intestines reserved for just this purpose. Because of this rather complicated process, illnesses affecting the gut can disrupt it at all stages.

  • Fast foods; even if any B12 is present, they are consumed quickly with minimal mastication and washed down with a drink of some sort. If foods are not chewed thoroughly, they cannot be digested effectively in the stomach. When food is accompanied by large quantities of fluid, the stomach acid is diluted and therefore, the intrinsic factor will be also. This can lead to the use of…
  • Antacids, reflux and ulcer medicines; these lower the acidity in the stomach making the digestion of B12-containing proteins difficult to digest thereby preventing its release from the food.
  • Ageing; stomach acid naturally reduces as we age leading to a similar situation as above.
  • Gut disorders; people who suffer the diseases that cause ulceration of the gut lining and diarrhoea are at risk. This includes sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease (IBD).
  • Other drugs; diabetes medications, statins, birth control pills and antibiotics. There is a more comprehensive list and lots more information here.

So what can we do to maximise our chances of maintaining optimum levels of B12? It 736236_94991508would be far too easy for me to say that those people suffering from illnesses should seek to become well again (and some of the diseases I have named here are reversible) but nonetheless, action has to be taken one way or another! The best way to supplement B12 is by injection thus bypassing the complicated metabolic process. Or by sub-lingual drops. This is necessary for vegans too, as useful B12 is only present and available in animal foods. For vegetarians – kefir, organic cheeses and eggs are essential. The best sources for the rest of us are organic offal meats, shellfish as well as the above. To improve the uptake of B12 chew food thoroughly, don’t drink too much with meals so as not to dilute stomach acid and eat slowly. To stimulate stomach acid, eat fresh sauerkraut as a part of your meals, or a spoonful just a few minutes before a meal. Apple cider vinegar can be used too.

Above all, if you don’t or can’t cook please do something about it. The health of families starts in kitchens!

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“Why Do Some People Suffer Gut Problems More Than Others?” (IBS Part 2)

This post starts to answer some of the questions I posed last time. Everything hangs on your immunity. It really is the be-all and end-all of wellness or illness. Let me tell you a story, a bit scary in places but it all ends happily ever after.

When you were developing in your mother’s womb, your gut was sterile. When you were born, you were covered with the bacteria and other microbes that were in your mother’s vagina – the same ones that were in her colon. (Told you it was scary!)

Walking BarefootYou were put to the breast where you and your brand new gut microbes were nourished and you all thrived. As you grew you were given a good diet of eggs, meat, healthy fats, vegetables, fruit and quality dairy products. Playing was fun and you crawled around the garden in the sunshine, tasting the worms and making mud pies. (Well I did!)
Childhood illnesses were encountered and fought off and even when antibiotics were necessary, you were quick to recover on your nutrient-dense diet. The status quo is maintained and you continued your healthy lifestyle. As an adult, you are healthy and wellness is easy.

 

Now another even more scary story which does not end so happily.

When you were developing in your mother’s womb, your gut was sterile. When you were born, it had to be by Caesarian section as your mother was in difficulties and you had to go straight into an incubator. You had not picked up your dose of mum’s gut microbes but you got a little of everyone else’s flora from being handled. As your mother was unwell for a while, you were fed formula milk and you and your new – but unbalanced – gut microbes were nourished.

French FriesYour diet was mostly quick and easy foods as your mother went back to work and you play time was mostly indoors at the nursery. You suffered all the childhood illnesses going around at the time, and needed several courses of antibiotics which upset your tummy. As an adolescent you settled on a high carbohydrate diet as the government advised.

You had a holiday abroad, got a stomach bug from which you partially recovered but ever since, your stomach has been a problem. Foods you were able to eat become ones you now can’t tolerate. You suffer gas, diarrhoea, stomach cramps  gurgling and more. As an adult, you don’t really know what wellness is.These symptoms can be due to IBS, but may progress to being celiac disease, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease (IBD). All these diseases are autoimmune conditions.

I have made these stories simple but there are lots of other factors that contribute to how you will fare health-wise. Vaccinations, household cleaning products, exposure to sunlight, accessible good quality food etc. – if/how/when these are done will all impact on your immunity.  The problems encountered in the second story can be overcome as long as the very basics are observed – nurture of the immune system.

Next time I will give you a “close up” of what is happening in a gut suffering “dysbiosis” – microbial life at war!

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Vitamin D and Gut Problems

Over the last ten years, inflammatory bowel disorders (IBD) have steeply increased in both adults and children. They are autoimmune illnesses. This is a very serious situation as both IBD – ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease – are usually controlled with steroid drugs and many will go on to have bowel surgery – more than once in many cases. Celiac disease – a severe gluten sensitivity – is also thought to be an autoimmune disease.

Walking BarefootThese diseases are capable of disrupting normal childhood activities and bringing isolation to sufferers. They are characterised by persistent diarrhoea, sometimes accompanied with blood and mucus; severe stomach cramps; anaemia; tiredness and often, emotional upsets. It is a truly catastrophic illness for all involved.

As usual, I believe that it is a nutritional problem. If all of us were able to feed on the diet we are programmed for and obtain sufficient sunshine to keep our vitamin D levels in an optimum range, I doubt there would be very much in the way of chronic illness – not in adults or their offspring.

But things are constantly changing. We largely live indoors, use the car, eat fast microwaved food and know little or nothing about the art and science that should go on in a kitchen.

With this in mind, how can we and our children expect to stay well? Wholesome diets for human beings encompass all the known nutrients for our health. But what of the nutrients we don’t yet know about? We shouldn’t worry. Nature takes care of that providing we eat the food we are genetically programmed for. (Plenty of information about this in my other blogs.) Anything else just wouldn’t make any sense. After all, wild animals don’t have nutritionists and books to guide them, they just eat what they instinctively know is right.

One of the biggest problems that the western world faces is vitamin D deficiency – yes, here I go again! We have carefully slathered on the high factor sunscreen before venturing out to prevent skin cancer but effectively screened the UVB rays that create vitamin D in our skin – and thus left us wide open to a multitude of other cancers, infections, porous bones and gut problems amongst others. This is devastating and will lead to a very poorly world indeed – and it’s already started.

“Our vitamin D needs to come from the sun”

People with gut disorders often have low vitamin D levels in their blood. There is speculation as to whether this is the cause or effect of gut problems but to me there is no doubt – our vitamin D needs to come from the sun, not in supplement form. This accompanied with a healthy diet could protect us all from from these life-changing illnesses. Evidence is emerging that the diet of a pregnant woman also affects her offspring – for better or for worse.

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