Calcium Does a Body Good

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body and you might think that’s because of the essential role it plays in building strong bones; calcium’s importance, however, goes beyond preventing fractures and osteoporosis. It also supports healthy functioning of the cardiovascular, endocrine, and nervous systems. Numerous studies have established a relationship between calcium intake, absorption and assimilation and a person’s risk for heart disease, colorectal cancer, kidney stones, PMS, insomnia, and difficulty maintaining a healthy weight.

Eating a wide variety of whole foods is the best way to get the calcium your body needs for growth, maintenance, and repair. Even though dairy products contain and are fortified with calcium, foods derived from cow’s milk may not be the best choice for many people because of allergies, intolerance and other digestive concerns. Other valuable sources of calcium include almonds, dark leafy greens, legumes, and and nuts such as almonds. Be aware that just because you’re consuming the recommended amount of calcium daily does not mean your body is absorbing and utilizing it properly.

Recommendations for a calcium supplement vary by age, gender, and development (e.g., puberty, pre or post-menopause), and are influenced by health issues, lifestyle habits and taking certain prescription medicines. Different forms of calcium (e.g., carbonate, citrate) are absorbed differently by the body. Check with your San Diego Naturopathic Doctor to determine if you need a calcium supplement, and which form and amount is best for you.

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Think IRON for SuperPower

Wouldn’t we all like a little (or a lot) of superhero power now and then to help us scale life’s various mountains? If you’re nodding “yes” right about now, think Iron, a mineral critical to the circulatory system and life-sustaining functions. Iron is a component of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen through the blood and is essential to powering the energy levels required for all physiological processes in the body.

Most people acquire sufficient iron from their diet, but a supplement may be needed by those who have strenuous physical regimens or who experience frequent blood loss (e.g. from heavy periods or inflammatory bowel disease). Foods containing the highest sources of iron are liver, organ meats, red meat, dark turkey meat, and shellfish. Legumes, certain seeds, and dark leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, do provide iron but you’d have to eat quite a bit, nearly every day, to obtain sufficient amounts.

If you’re experiencing extreme fatigue, weakness, cold hands and feet, headache, rapid heart rate, or unusual non-food cravings, you may be anemic and require an iron supplement. It’s important to have your iron levels tested by your Naturopathic Doctor before starting a supplement because iron can build up in the body (a condition called hemochromatosis). This can lead to life-threatening health problems involving the liver, heart or pancreas. A simple nutrient analysis done by blood test indicates if you are deficient; other tests can determine if you have difficulty absorbing iron provided by a healthy diet.

Because there are many ways to increase iron levels, consult with your La Mesa Naturopathic Doctor who can recommend the right method, and if a supplement is needed, the correct form and dose for your needs.

 

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Surprise Your Taste Buds with Sunchokes

On your next foray down the produce aisle, don’t overlook the wonderful sunchoke, aka Jerusalem Artichoke. These tubers look nothing like an artichoke and are easily mistaken for a strange potato! A native North American plant, sunchokes are a member of the sunflower family.

Low in calories and nutrient dense, sunchokes provide iron, potassium, thiamin (one of the B vitamins) and a good amount of fiber in a one-cup serving. The carbohydrate contained in sunchokes is inulin, which doesn’t cause spikes in blood sugar, so it’s a great option for anyone concerned about diabetes or weight management. Sunchokes also contain vitamins, A, C, and E. The most unique nutrient found in sunchokes is known as prebiotics, a type of non-digestible carbohydrate found in many root vegetables. Food-based prebiotics enhance nutrient absorption and help maintain a healthy intestinal tract by promoting growth of “good” gut bacteria, which supports immunity.

Sunchokes have a nutty, mildly sweet flavor and are delightful to eat raw – shredded or sliced into a salad or sliced and served with raw carrots and other veggies. They can be cooked in a variety of ways and added to stir-fry dishes in lieu of water chestnuts. Their flavor is enhanced when lightly seasoned for sauteing or roasting. You can also puree sunchokes for soups.

Available year-round in the U.S., prime harvest time is October through early spring. Buy tubers that are firm, free of sprouts or bruises, with a smooth, clean surface making them easier to prepare.

 

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Got Sprouts? Health Benefits of Alfalfa

What makes a sprout so good for you?

Sprouting is the moment of greatest vitality in a plant’s life cycle, the phase in which the seed activates and makes its way through the topsoil and sprouts into the fresh air above. At this high point of metabolic and enzymatic changes, the sprout contains high levels of nutrients. And that’s what makes sprouts good for you, particularly Alfalfa.

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a legume that is also considered to be an herb. The leaves and seeds can be used fresh, or dried for supplements, and the sprouts are enjoyed with meals. It’s high in Vitamins A, C, and K and contains several B vitamins. A good source of dietary fiber, copper, magnesium, and iron, Alfalfa contains active plant compounds currently being evaluated for benefits in women’s health, managing high cholesterol, and effects on the nervous and cardiovascular systems.

When selecting sprouts, look for those that have been kept chilled in the produce section and choose organic when possible. The International Sprout Growers Association (ISGA) seal on a product indicates the sprouts have been carefully grown and handled. Look for clean roots with a creamy white color. Buds should be attached to the stem. Sprouts should be odorless. Keep sprouts refrigerated and use within 2 days of the sell-by date on the package. Enjoy sprouts atop salads, sandwiches, or as a garnish for prepared entrees.

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Why is Nutrient Assessment Important?

How are your cells doing today? Don’t know? Then a Nutrient Assessment might be in order.

Here’s the truth of it: If your body is missing – or even short on – key vitamins and minerals, your cells will not perform at optimal level. This can affect your daily energy, quality of sleep, mental and physical performance at work, school, or sports and can lead to complex health problems.

Nutrient deficiency can occur for reasons other than the presence of an active illness, including:

  • Inadequate intake in the diet
  • Poor absorption in your digestive tract
  • Problems at the cellular level, preventing proper use of the nutrient
  • Loss of nutrients through intense exercise or long-term stress
  • Insufficient cofactors or enzymes needed to properly utilize the nutrient

And that’s why a Nutrient Assessment is important. In naturopathic medicine, specialized tests are available to assess nutrient status. These tests are also known as Functional Nutrient Assessment, Nutrient Status Testing, or Micronutrient Testing. Using samples of blood, stool, urine, or hair, these tests evaluate how well your body absorbs and utilizes each nutrient assessed, along with the amount and functional availability of vitamins, mineral, and antioxidants in your cells. They help identify the nutritional supplements needed to achieve and maintain good health and lower your risk for serious illness.

Even if you feel your best, a baseline nutrient analysis is good to for two important reasons:

  • A healthy baseline provides a point of comparison for times when you become ill and need to assess what’s going on with your body and what it needs to recover.
  • Some nutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies don’t manifest in disease for a long time, even years. Having a baseline and periodic testing can help detect problems early.

Ask your La Mesa Naturopathic Doctor about the type of nutrient testing that is most appropriate for you.

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Zinc: Essential for Every Body

 Zinc is second to iron as the most common mineral in the human body and it’s found in every cell, making it vital to the health and well being of children and adults. Zinc plays an indispensable role in hundreds of biochemical reactions including those that support the development and the health of the blood, skin, muscles, and hormones. Zinc also   supports optimal function of the nervous system, immune system, and endocrine   system.

Zinc is present in a great variety of foods, such as eggs, seeds, nuts, dry beans, red meat, miso, dark turkey meat, dark leafy greens, and scallops. However, because there is evidence of mineral depletion in soils around the world, your naturopathic doctor may recommend a trace mineral supplement. A zinc supplement might also be recommended for people with a medical condition that affects absorption. Medical researchers are looking at how the body utilizes zinc and whether or not taking zinc can improve treatment for Celiac Disease, diabetes, thyroid function, heart disease, and other health concerns. In other research, a connection exists between taking certain forms of zinc and a reduction in the number of colds in a year, the number of missed school days, and the amount of antibiotics required in otherwise healthy children.

A person’s need for supplemental zinc varies based on age, gender, and other health factors. There are several forms of zinc, but not all are appropriate for every person. For some people, zinc supplements can cause upset stomach or interfere with the actions of other medications. Also, taking too much zinc can have a toxic effect. Consult with your La Mesa naturopathic doctor before starting a zinc supplement.

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Are we more concerned with getting sunburned than with our Vitamin D status?

In this article, I want to take another look at Vitamin D and our epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble steroid that is used throughout the body for many processes. Some symptoms of deficiency are commonly known while others may be new concepts. We take Vitamin D to help balance calcium that is taken from and stored in the bones. Immune function relies on Vitamin D to keep infection at bay. The vitamin also plays an important role in mood, autoimmune disease, obesity, and likely, most chronic disease. It is also vital to brain development.

Vitamin D synthesis starts in the skin and concludes in the kidney with an endocrine transfer that distributes the vitamin to tissues throughout the body. With this mind, we can consider why so many people have Vitamin D deficiency. Sometimes, Vitamin D deficiency simply results from inadequate intake; other times, deficiency can be due to the body’s inability to utilize the Vitamin D it has absorbed. About half of the patients with the MTHFR mutation or methylation defect also have a defect in their Vitamin D receptors, which causes suppression of Vitamin D production in the body. Cytochrome P (CYP) in the liver can also activate receptors and deactivate the Vitamin D molecule. Even from the simplified biochemical explanation here, you can see that the body’s system of utilizing Vitamin D is rife with complexities and details.

Adding to Vitamin D deficiency issues is the trend of doctors instructing parents to keep their kids out of the sun. We smother our kids with sunscreen so they get very little sun absorption. This is not to suggest that we allow our kids to get sunburned during a long outing in the sun! Rather, we must reach a balance to ensure that little bodies adapt to tolerate the sun in regular doses from an early age – this way, our children are less likely to burn as they get older. In fact, we can reach our daily levels of recommended Vitamin D intake before we are even close to the sunburn level. It is estimated that it takes roughly half the time to reach satisfactory intake levels as it does to burn, which ranges from about 15 minutes for fair skin to two hours for dark skin. So save the strongest versions of sunscreen for the hours of 11 am to 3 pm, or the middle of the day, when children are in direct sunlight, and allow modest exposure otherwise. Even individuals with a history of skin cancer can increase the anti-oxidant levels in their skin, without increasing their risk for skin cancer reccurrence, through moderate sun exposure. For those times that do call for sunscreen, beware that some chemicals in poorly-formulated sunscreens can actually increase risk factors of skin cancer, as can sunscreens that only block UVB waves (and expose you to dangerous UVA radiation). Be sure to look for natural ingredients and make sure the product you buy protects against both UVA and UVB.

The founder of the Vitamin D Council has observed that three epidemics have started since our society has been taught to shelter kids from the sun: asthma, autism and autoimmune conditions. Parents put many resources into their children’s treatments for these serious conditions. As a naturopathic physician, I have been able to reverse the complications of these ailments in many of my patients. For instance, kids with asthma respond very quickly to natural treatment and often go off inhalers and steroids within the first month after visiting me. Autism, interestingly, is more common in households of higher socioeconomic status as parents with higher education tend to follow more strictly medical persuasion to keep kids out of the sun. Avoiding the sun altogether really is a new idea for the human race, as is sunscreen.

In countries with normal exposure to the sun, mean natural Vitamin D levels are 46 ng/mL of blood. The ideal concentration of Vitamin D in the blood depends on factors such as individual risk and illness, and can vary widely. In general, 46 ng/mL is a good number for which the already healthy should strive. Some studies show that Vitamin D can be washed off the skin within 12 hours of exposure simply by bathing. While sunbathing is the preferred method of getting Vitamin D, you can also get it from supplements and some limited food sources like reindeer meat, seagull eggs, lard, cold water fish, sun dried mushrooms, grass-fed meat, eggs and milk.

Finally, I’d like to address briefly the issue of medications and sun exposure. If you are in the sun while taking certain medications, you may experience a phototoxic reaction caused by interaction between the sunlight and the free radicals in the medication. This interaction may cause sunburn, rash or hives. There are several medications that can cause sun sensitivity. The most common are antibiotics such as tetracyclines and fluoroquinolones; anti-depressants acting as SSRIs or tricyclics; NSAIDs such as Advil, Aleve, Celebrex and Motrin; and diuretics. Your doctor will warn you to stay out of the sun for 48 hours after taking these medications. It is wise to avoid the sun when you have no choice but to take these particular pharmaceuticals.

Schedule a visit with your La Mesa naturopathic doctor for more information or if you are concerned about your vitamin D levels. For more articles on natural health, please subscribe to our newsletter here.