Tags Posts tagged with "Vitamin D"

Vitamin D

Bone health. METRO photo

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

The medical community doesn’t universally agree about the value of milk and dairy consumption for preventing osteoporosis and fractures later in life. The prevalence of osteoporosis in the U.S. is increasing as the population ages. If you are over 50, your risk for osteoporosis should be on your radar. Fifty percent of women and 25 percent of men will break a bone due to osteoporosis in their lifetimes, according to the Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation (1).

Hip fractures are most concerning, because they increase mortality risk dramatically. In addition, more than 50 percent of hip fracture survivors lose the ability to live independently (2).

Does dairy consumption make a difference for osteoporosis risk?

The importance of drinking milk for strong bones has been drilled into us since we were toddlers. Milk has calcium and is fortified with vitamin D, so milk could only be helpful, right? Not necessarily.

The data is mixed, but studies indicate that milk may not be as beneficial as we have been led to believe. Even worse, it may be harmful. The operative word here is “may.”

The results of a large, observational study involving men and women in Sweden showed that milk may actually be harmful (3). When comparing those who consumed three or more cups of milk daily to those who consumed less than one, there was a 93 percent increased risk of mortality in women between the ages of 39 and 74. There was also an indication of increased mortality based on dosage.

For every one glass of milk consumed there was a 15 percent increased risk of death in these women. There was a much smaller, but significant, three percent per glass increased risk of death in men. For both men and women, biomarkers that indicate higher levels of oxidative stress and inflammation were found in the urine.

This 20-year study was eye-opening. We cannot make any decisive conclusions, only associations, since it’s not a randomized controlled trial. It does get you thinking, though. The researchers surmise that milk has high levels of D-galactose, a simple sugar that may increase inflammation and ultimately contribute to this potentially negative effect.

Ironically, the USDA recommends that, from 9 years of age through adulthood, we consume about three cups of dairy per day (4).

Previous studies show milk may not be beneficial for preventing osteoporotic fractures. Specifically, in a meta-analysis that used data from the Nurses’ Health Study for women and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study for men, neither men nor women saw any benefit from milk consumption in preventing hip fractures (5).

In a 2020 meta-analysis of an array of past studies, researchers concluded that increased consumption of milk and other dairy products did not lower osteoporosis and hip fracture risks (6).

Does calcium supplementation reduce risk?

We know calcium is a required element for strong bones, but do supplements really prevent osteoporosis and subsequent fractures? Again, the data are mixed, but supplements may not be the answer for those who are not deficient.

In a meta-analysis involving a group of observational studies, there was no statistically significant improvement in hip fracture risk in those men or women ingesting at least 300 mg of calcium from supplements and/or food daily (7).

The researchers did not differentiate the types of foods containing calcium. In a group of randomized controlled trials analyzed in the same study, those taking 800 to 1,600 mg of calcium supplements per day also saw no increased benefit in reducing nonvertebral fractures. In fact, in four clinical trials the researchers actually saw an increase in hip fractures among those who took calcium supplements. A weakness of this large study is that vitamin D baseline levels, exercise and phosphate levels were not considered in the analysis.

Does supplementing vitamin D reduce risk?

Finally, though the data are not always consistent for vitamin D, when it comes to fracture prevention, it appears it may be valuable. In a meta-analysis involving 11 randomized controlled trials, vitamin D supplementation resulted in a reduction in fractures (8). When patients were given a median dose of 800 IUs (ranging from 792 to 2,000 IUs) of vitamin D daily, there was a significant 14 percent reduction in nonvertebral fractures and an even greater 30 percent reduction in hip fractures in those who were 65 years and over. However, vitamin D in lower levels showed no significant ability to reduce fracture risk.

Where does that leave us?

Our knowledge of dietary approaches is continually evolving. Milk and dairy may be an example of this. No definitive statement can be made about calcium, although even in randomized controlled trials with supplements, there seemed to be no significant benefit. However, the patients in these trials were not necessarily deficient in calcium nor vitamin D.

In order to get benefit from vitamin D supplementation to prevent fracture, older patients may need at least 800 IUs per day, which is the Institute of Medicine’s recommended amount for a population relatively similar to the one in the study.

Remember that studies, though imperfect, are better than tradition alone. Treatment and prevention approaches should be individualized, and deficiencies in vitamin D or calcium should usually be treated, of course. Please, talk to your doctor before adding or changing any supplements.

References:

(1) www.bonehealthandosteoporosis.org. (2) EndocrinePractice. 2020 May;26(supp 1):1-46. (3) BMJ 2014;349:g6015. (4) health.gov. (5) JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(1):54-60. (6) Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2020;60(10):1722-1737. (7) Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Dec;86(6):1780-1790. (8) N Engl J Med. 2012 Aug. 2;367(5):481.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

Vitamin D supplement
Obesity can reduce the benefits of supplementation

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Here in the Northeast, it’s the time of year when colder temperatures mean we’re spending lots of time indoors. When we are outside, we cover most of our skin to protect us from the cold. This means we’re not getting a lot of sun. While this will make your dermatologist happy, it also means you’re probably not converting that sun exposure to vitamin D3.

There is no question that, if you have low levels of vitamin D, replacing it is important. Previous studies have shown that it may be effective in a wide swath of chronic diseases, both in prevention and as part of a treatment regimen. However, many questions remain.

Many of us receive food-sourced vitamin D from fortified packaged foods, where vitamin D has been added. This is because sun exposure — even under the best of circumstances — will not address all of our vitamin D needs. For example, in a study of Hawaiians, a subset of the study population who had more than 20 hours of sun exposure without sunscreen per week, some participants still had low vitamin D3 values (1).

We know vitamin D’s importance for bone health, but we have mixed data for other diseases, such as cardiovascular, autoimmune and skin diseases and cancer.

There is no consensus on the ideal blood level for vitamin D. For adults, the Institute of Medicine recommends between 20 and 50 ng/ml, and The Endocrine Society recommends at least 30 ng/ml.

Are there cardiovascular benefits to vitamin D?

Several observational studies have shown benefits of vitamin D supplements with cardiovascular disease. The Framingham Offspring Study showed that those patients with deficient levels were at increased risk of cardiovascular disease (3).

However, a small randomized controlled trial (RCT) called the cardioprotective effects of vitamin D into question (4). This study of postmenopausal women, using biomarkers such as endothelial function, inflammation or vascular stiffness, showed no difference between vitamin D treatment and placebo. The authors concluded there is no reason to give vitamin D for prevention of cardiovascular disease.

The vitamin D dose given to the treatment group was 2,500 IUs. Some of the weaknesses of the study were a very short duration and small study size.

How does vitamin D affect mortality?

In a meta-analysis of a group of eight studies, vitamin D with calcium reduced the mortality rate in the elderly, whereas vitamin D alone did not (5). The difference between the groups was statistically important, but clinically small: nine percent reduction with vitamin D plus calcium and seven percent with vitamin D alone.

One of the weaknesses of this analysis was that vitamin D in two of the studies was given in large amounts of 300,000 to 500,000 IUs once a year, rather than taken daily. This has different effects.

Does obesity affect vitamin D absorption?

A recently published analysis of data from the VITAL trial, a large-scale vitamin D and Omega-3 trial, found that those with BMIs of less than 25 kg/m2 had significant health benefits from supplementation versus placebo (2). These included 24 percent lower cancer incidence, 42 percent lower cancer mortality, and 22 percent lower incidence of autoimmune disease. Those with higher BMIs showed none of these benefits.

Can vitamin D help you lose weight?

There is good news, but not great news, on the weight front. It appears that vitamin D plays a role in reducing the amount of weight gain in women 65 years and older whose blood levels are more than 30 ng/ml, compared to those below this level, in the Study of Osteoporotic Fractures (6).

This association held true at baseline and after 4.5 years of observation. If the women dropped below 30 ng/ml in this time period, they were more likely to gain more weight, and they gained less if they kept levels above the target. There were 4,659 participants in the study. Unfortunately, vitamin D did not show statistical significance with weight loss.

USPSTF recommendations and fracture risk

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against giving “healthy” postmenopausal women vitamin D, calcium or the combination of vitamin D 400 IUs plus calcium 1,000 mg to prevent fractures, and it found inadequate evidence of fracture prevention at higher levels (7). The supplement combination does not seem to reduce fractures, but does increase the risk of kidney stones. There is also not enough data to recommend for or against vitamin D with or without calcium for cancer prevention.

When should you supplement?

It is important to supplement to optimal levels, especially since most of us living in the Northeast have insufficient to deficient levels. While vitamin D may not be a cure-all, it might play an integral role with many disorders. But it is also important not to raise the levels too high. The range that I tell my patients is between 32 and 50 ng/ml, depending on their health circumstances.

References:

(1) J Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2007 Jun;92(6):2130-2135. (2) JAMA Netw Open. 2023 Published online Jan 2023. (3) Circulation. 2008 Jan 29;117(4):503-511. (4) PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e36617. (5) J Women’s Health (Larchmt). 2012 Jun 25. (6) J Clin Endocrinol Metabol. May 17, 2012 online. (7) JAMA. 2018;319(15):1592-1599.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

Vitamin D. Pixabay photo
Cumulative impact of lifestyle changes can be significant

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Most often associated with tremors and other movement disorders, Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder. Roughly 60,000 are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) annually in the U.S., and approximately one million Americans are living with PD (1).

Patients with PD suffer from a collection of symptoms caused by the breakdown of brain neurons. In medicine, we know the most common symptoms by the mnemonic TRAP: tremors while resting, rigidity, akinesia/bradykinesia (inability/difficulty to move or slow movements) and postural instability or balance issues. It can also result in a masked face, one that has become expressionless, and potentially dementia.

There are several different subtypes of PD; the diffuse/malignant phenotype has the highest propensity for cognitive decline (2).

There’s a lot we still don’t know about the causes of PD; however, risk factors may include head trauma, genetics, exposure to toxins and heavy metals, and lifestyle issues, like lack of exercise.

The part of the brain most affected is the basal ganglia, and the prime culprit is dopamine deficiency that occurs in this brain region (3). Adding back dopamine has been the mainstay of medical treatment, but eventually the neurons themselves break down, and the medication becomes less effective.

Is there hope? Yes, in the form of medications and deep brain stimulatory surgery, but also with lifestyle modifications. Lifestyle factors include iron, vitamin D and CoQ10. The research, unfortunately, is not conclusive, though it is intriguing.

Impact of iron in the brain

This heavy metal is potentially harmful for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, macular degeneration, multiple sclerosis and, yes, Parkinson’s disease. The problem is that this heavy metal can cause oxidative damage.

In a small, yet well-designed, randomized controlled trial (RCT), researchers used a chelator to remove iron from the substantia nigra, a specific part of the brain where iron breakdown may be dysfunctional. An iron chelator is a drug that removes the iron. Here, deferiprone (DFP) was used at a modest dose of 30 mg/kg/d (4). This drug was mostly well-tolerated.

The chelator reduced the risk of disease progression significantly on the Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) during the 12-month study. Participants who were treated sooner had lower levels of iron compared to a group that used the chelator six months later. A specialized MRI was used to measure levels of iron in the brain.

The iron chelator does not affect, nor should it affect, systemic levels of iron, only those in the brain specifically focused on the substantia nigra region. The chelator may work by preventing degradation of the dopamine-containing neurons. It also may be recommended that you consume foods that contain less iron.

Does CoQ10 help?

When we typically think of using CoQ10, a coenzyme found in over-the-counter supplements, it is to compensate for depletion from statin drugs or due to heart failure. Typical doses range from 100 to 300 mg. However, there is evidence that CoQ10 may be beneficial in Parkinson’s at much higher doses.

In an RCT, results showed that those given 1,200 mg of CoQ10 daily reduced the progression of the disease significantly based on UPDRS changes, compared to the placebo group (5). Other doses of 300 and 600 mg showed trends toward benefit, but were not significant. This was a 16-month trial in a small population of 80 patients. Unfortunately, results for other CoQ10 studies have been mixed. In this study, CoQ10 was well-tolerated at even the highest dose. Thus, there may be no downside to trying CoQ10 in those with PD.

Does Vitamin D make a difference?

In a prospective study, results show that vitamin D levels measured in the highest quartile reduced the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by 65 percent, compared to the lowest quartile (6). This is quite impressive, especially since the highest quartile patients had vitamin D levels that were what we would qualify as insufficient, with blood levels of 20 ng/ml, while those in the lowest quartile had deficient blood levels of 10 ng/ml or less. There were over 3,000 patients involved in this study with an age range of 50 to 79.

While many times we are deficient in vitamin D and have a disease, replacing the vitamin does nothing to help the disease. Here, it might. Vitamin D may play dual roles of both reducing the risk of Parkinson’s disease and slowing its progression.

In an RCT, results showed that 1,200 IU of vitamin D taken daily may have reduced the progression of Parkinson’s disease significantly on the UPDRS compared to a placebo over a 12-month duration (7). Also, this amount of vitamin D increased the blood levels by almost two times from 22.5 to 41.7 ng/ml. There were 121 patients involved in this study with a mean age of 72.

In a 2019 study of 182 PD patients and 185 healthy control subjects, researchers found that higher serum vitamin D levels correlated to reduced falls and alleviation of other non-motor PD symptoms (8).

Vitamin D research is ongoing, as this all seems promising.

So, what have we learned? Though medication is the gold standard for Parkinson’s disease treatment, lifestyle modifications can have a significant impact on both prevention and treatment of this disease. Each lifestyle change in isolation may have modest effects, but cumulatively their impact could be significant.

References: 

(1) parkinson.org. (2) JAMA Neurol. 2015;72:863-873. (3) uptodate.com. (4) Antioxid Redox Signal. 2014;10;21(2):195-210. (5) Arch Neurol. 2002;59(10):1541-1550. (6) Arch Neurol. 2010;67(7):808-811. (7) Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;97(5):1004-1013. (8) Neurologica. 2019;140(4):274-280.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com.

Drinking milk and consuming other dairy products may actually be harmful. METRO photo
Revisiting dairy, calcium and vitamin D

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

The prevalence of osteoporosis in the U.S. is increasing as the population ages, especially among women. Why is this important? Osteoporosis may lead to increased risk of fracture due to a decrease in bone strength (1). Hip fractures are most concerning, because they increase mortality risk dramatically. In addition, more than 50 percent of hip fracture survivors lose the ability to live independently (2).

That is what we know. But what about what we think we know?

The importance of drinking milk for strong bones has been drilled into us since we were toddlers. Milk has calcium and is fortified with vitamin D, so milk could only be helpful, right? Not necessarily.

The data is mixed, but studies indicate that milk may not be as beneficial as we have been led to believe. Even worse, it may be harmful. The operative word here is “may.”

We need Vitamin D and calcium for strong bones, but do supplements help prevent osteoporosis and subsequent fractures? Again, the data are mixed, but supplements may not be the answer for those who are not deficient.

Let’s look more closely at what the research tells us.

Milk and dairy

The results of a large, observational study involving men and women in Sweden showed that milk may actually be harmful (3). When comparing those who consumed three or more cups of milk daily to those who consumed less than one, there was a 93 percent increased risk of mortality in women between the ages of 39 and 74. There was also an indication of increased mortality based on dosage.

For every one glass of milk consumed there was a 15 percent increased risk of death in these women. There was a much smaller, but significant, three percent per glass increased risk of death in men. For both men and women, biomarkers that indicate higher levels of oxidative stress and inflammation were found in the urine.

This 20-year study was eye-opening. We cannot make any decisive conclusions, only associations, since it is not a randomized controlled trial. But it does get you thinking. The researchers surmise that milk has high levels of D-galactose, a simple sugar that may increase inflammation and ultimately contribute to this potentially negative effect.

Ironically, the USDA recommends that, from 9 years of age through adulthood, we consume about three cups of dairy per day (4). Prior studies show milk may not be beneficial for preventing osteoporotic fractures. Specifically, in a meta-analysis that used data from the Nurses’ Health Study for women and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study for men, neither men nor women saw any benefit from milk consumption in preventing hip fractures (5).

In a 2020 meta-analysis of an array of past studies, researchers concluded that increased consumption of milk and other dairy products did not lower osteoporosis and hip fracture risks (6).

Reconsidering calcium

Unfortunately, it is not only milk that may not be beneficial. In a meta-analysis involving a group of observational studies, there was no statistically significant improvement in hip fracture risk in those men or women ingesting at least 300 mg of calcium from supplements and/or food on a daily basis (7).

The researchers did not differentiate the types of foods containing calcium. In a group of randomized controlled trials analyzed in the same study, those taking 800 to 1,600 mg of calcium supplements per day also saw no increased benefit in reducing nonvertebral fractures. In fact, in four clinical trials the researchers actually saw an increase in hip fractures among those who took calcium supplements. A weakness of the large multivaried meta-analyses is that vitamin D baseline levels, exercise and phosphate levels were not taken into account.

What about vitamin D?

Finally, though the data is not always consistent for vitamin D, when it comes to fracture prevention, it appears it may be valuable. In a meta-analysis involving 11 randomized controlled trials, vitamin D supplementation resulted in a reduction in fractures (8). When patients were given a median dose of 800 IUs (ranging from 792 to 2,000 IUs) of vitamin D daily, there was a significant 14 percent reduction in nonvertebral fractures and an even greater 30 percent reduction in hip fractures in those 65 years and over. However, vitamin D in lower levels showed no significant ability to reduce fracture risk.

Where does that leave us?

Just because something in medicine is a paradigm does not mean it’s correct. Milk and dairy may be an example of this. No definitive statement can be made about calcium, although even in randomized controlled trials with supplements, there seemed to be no significant benefit. However, the patients in these trials were not necessarily deficient in calcium or vitamin D.

In order to get benefit from vitamin D supplementation to prevent fracture, older patients may need at least 800 IUs per day, which is the Institute of Medicine’s recommended amount for a population relatively similar to the one in the study.

Remember that studies, though imperfect, are better than tradition alone. Prevention and treatment therefore should be individualized, and deficiency in vitamin D or calcium should usually be treated, of course. Please, talk to your doctor before adding or changing any supplements.

References: 

(1) JAMA. 2001;285:785-795. (2) EndocrinePractice. 2020 May;26(supp 1):1-46. (3) BMJ 2014;349:g6015. (4) health.gov. (5) JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(1):54-60. (6) Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2020;60(10):1722-1737. (7) Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Dec;86(6):1780-1790. (8) N Engl J Med. 2012 Aug. 2;367(5):481.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com. 

Stock photo
With vitamin D supplementation, more is not necessarily better.

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Here in the Northeast, we are quickly approaching the point in the year when we have the least daylight hours. This is the point at which many reach for vitamin D, one of the most important supplements, to compensate for a lack of vitamin D from the sun. Let’s explore what we know about vitamin D supplementation.

There is no question that, if you have low levels of vitamin D, replacing it is important. Previous studies have shown that it may be effective in a wide swath of chronic diseases, both in prevention and as part of the treatment paradigm. However, many questions remain. As more data come in, their meaning for vitamin D becomes murkier. For instance, is the sun the best source of vitamin D?

At the 70th annual American Academy of Dermatology meeting in 2012, Dr. Richard Gallo, who was involved with the Institute of Medicine recommendations, spoke about how, in most geographic locations, sun exposure will not correct vitamin D deficiencies. Interestingly, he emphasized getting more vitamin D from nutrition. Dietary sources include cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines and tuna.

We know its importance for bone health, but as of yet, we only have encouraging — but not yet definitive — data for other diseases. These include cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases and cancer.

There is no consensus on the ideal blood level for vitamin D. For adults, the Institute of Medicine recommends between 20 ng/ml and 50 ng/ml, and The Endocrine Society recommends at least 30 ng/ml.

Cardiovascular mixed results

Several observational studies have shown benefits of vitamin D supplements with cardiovascular disease. For example, the Framingham Offspring Study showed that those patients with deficient levels were at increased risk of cardiovascular disease (1).

However, a small randomized controlled trial (RCT), the gold standard of studies, called the cardioprotective effects of vitamin D into question (2). This study of postmenopausal women, using biomarkers such as endothelial function, inflammation or vascular stiffness, showed no difference between vitamin D treatment and placebo. The authors concluded there is no reason to give vitamin D for prevention of cardiovascular disease.

The vitamin D dose given to the treatment group was 2,500 IUs. Thus, one couldn’t argue that this dose was too low. Some of the weaknesses of the study were a very short duration of four months, its size — 114 participants — and the fact that cardiovascular events or deaths were not used as study end points.

Most trials relating to vitamin D are observational, which provides associations, but not links. However, the VITAL study was a large, five-year RCT looking at the effects of vitamin D and omega-3s on cardiovascular disease and cancer (3). Study results were disappointing, finding that daily vitamin D3 supplementation at 2000 IUs did not reduce the incidence of cancers (prostate, breast or colorectal) or of major cardiovascular events.

Mortality decreased

In a meta-analysis of a group of eight studies, vitamin D with calcium reduced the mortality rate in the elderly, whereas vitamin D alone did not (5). The difference between the groups was statistically important, but clinically small: nine percent reduction with vitamin D plus calcium and seven percent with vitamin D alone.

One of the weaknesses of this analysis was that vitamin D in two of the studies was given in large amounts of 300,000 to 500,000 IUs once a year, rather than taken daily. This has different effects.

Weight benefit

There is good news, but not great news, on the weight front. It appears that vitamin D plays a role in reducing the amount of weight gain in women 65 years and older whose blood levels are more than 30 ng/ml, compared to those below this level, in the Study of Osteoporotic Fractures (4).

This association held true at baseline and after 4.5 years of observation. If the women dropped below 30 ng/ml in this time period, they were more likely to gain more weight, and they gained less if they kept levels above the target. There were 4,659 participants in the study. Unfortunately, vitamin D did not show statistical significance with weight loss.

USPSTF recommendations

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against giving “healthy” postmenopausal women vitamin D, calcium or the combination of vitamin D 400 IUs plus calcium 1,000 mg to prevent fractures, and it found inadequate evidence of fracture prevention at higher levels (6). The supplement combination does not seem to reduce fractures, but does increase the risk of kidney stones. There is also not enough data to recommend for or against vitamin D with or without calcium for cancer prevention. But as I mentioned previously, the VITAL study did not show any benefit for cancer prevention.

When to supplement?

It is important to supplement to optimal levels, especially since most of us living in the Northeast have insufficient to deficient levels. While vitamin D may not be a cure-all, it may play an integral role with many disorders. But it is also important not to raise the levels too high. The range that I tell my patients is between 32 and 50 ng/ml, depending on their health circumstances.

References:

(1) Circulation. 2008 Jan 29;117(4):503-511. (2) PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e36617. (3) NEJM. 2018 published online Nov. 10, 2018. (4) J Women’s Health (Larchmt). 2012 Jun 25. (5) J Clin Endocrinol Metabol. online May 17, 2012. (6) JAMA. 2018;319(15):1592-1599.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com.

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Orange juice is fortified with vitamin D. METRO photo

Daylight saving time ends on Nov. 1, making the days shorter and providing fewer hours to access vitamin D from natural sunlight. That’s why Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care is encouraging New Yorkers to ask their doctors to check their vitamin D levels.

This year, with COVID-19 still present in the region, it’s especially important to make sure everyone gets enough vitamin D, as research continues to emerge showing that those with low vitamin D levels may be more susceptible to catching the coronavirus.

“Half of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, with much higher rates seen in African Americans, Hispanics, and individuals living in areas where it is difficult to get enough sun exposure in winter,” said Dr. Neal Shipley, the Medical Director for Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care.

“People who are deficient in vitamin D may be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 than those with sufficient levels, according to the results of a new retrospective study,” he said.

That study, “Association of Vitamin D Status and Other Clinical Characteristics With COVID-19 Test Results,” was published in early September in JAMA Network Open.

“Individuals with untreated vitamin D deficiency were nearly twice as likely to test positive for COVID-19 relative to their peers with adequate vitamin D levels,” Dr. Shipley added. “These findings appear to support a role of vitamin D status in COVID-19 risk.”

There are a host of benefits to gain by having adequate vitamin D levels.

“Vitamin D is important to the function of the immune system and vitamin D supplements have previously been shown to lower the risk of viral respiratory tract infections,” Dr. Shipley said. “This study suggests this may be true for the COVID-19 infection.”

People can find out if they are deficient through a simple blood test by their physician, who may recommend a vitamin D supplement if levels are low. But people should not take a supplement without first speaking with their doctor, warned Christine Santori, Program Manager Center for Weight Management for Northwell Health System at Syosset Hospital.

“There’s no benefit for supplemental vitamin D if a deficiency isn’t there,” she said. “If you’re taking too much and you don’t need it, there could be concerns of toxicity levels.”

Still, those who are deficient in vitamin D may not realize it, including people who spend the majority of their days outside, Ms. Santori said. With no one-size-fits-all, a physician will prescribe the dosage needed.

There are a myriad of ways to absorb vitamin D, besides sunshine. Fatty fish – including salmon, tuna, trout and cod – eggs, yogurt, other dairy and mushrooms are also sources, as are fortified products such as soy and almond milk, juice and cereals.

But sunlight, a primary vitamin D source, offers other benefits, including helping to regulate mood disorders, enhance bone strength and boost immunity. And new findings continue to emerge, helping medical experts gain a better understanding of vitamin D and its impact on COVID-19.

“Since Vitamin D is inexpensive, safe, widely available, and easy to take, it’s evident that we need to do randomized clinical trials to see whether interventions among groups at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency and COVID-19 could reduce COVID-19 cases,” said Dr. Shipley.

Taking Vitamin D may reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. Stock photo
Cumulative lifestyle changes can improve results

By David Dunaief

Dr. David Dunaief

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, roughly 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) each year, and approximately one million Americans are living with PD (1). PD is a neurodegenerative (the breakdown of brain neurons) disease with the resultant effect of a movement disorder.

Most notably, patients with the disease suffer from a collection of symptoms known by the mnemonic TRAP: tremors while resting, rigidity, akinesia/bradykinesia (inability/difficulty to move or slow movements) and postural instability or balance issues. It can also result in a masked face, one that has become expressionless, and potentially dementia, depending on the subtype. There are several different subtypes; the diffuse/malignant phenotype has the highest propensity toward cognitive decline (2).

The part of the brain most affected is the basal ganglia, and the prime culprit is dopamine deficiency that occurs in this brain region (3). Why not add back dopamine? Actually, this is the mainstay of medical treatment, but eventually the neurons themselves break down, and the medication becomes less effective.

There’s a lot we still don’t know about the causes of PD; however, risk factors may include head trauma, reduced vitamin D, milk intake, well water, being overweight, high levels of dietary iron and migraine with aura in middle age.

Is there hope? Yes, in the form of medications and deep brain stimulatory surgery, but also with lifestyle modifications. Lifestyle factors include iron, vitamin D and CoQ10. The research, unfortunately, is not conclusive, though it is intriguing.

Reducing iron in the brain

This heavy metal is potentially harmful for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, macular degeneration, multiple sclerosis and, yes, Parkinson’s disease. The problem is that this heavy metal can cause oxidative damage.

In a small, yet well-designed, randomized controlled trial (RCT), researchers used a chelator to remove iron from the substantia nigra, a specific part of the brain where iron breakdown may be dysfunctional. An iron chelator is a drug that removes the iron. Here, deferiprone (DFP) was used at a modest dose of 30 mg/kg/d (4). This drug was mostly well-tolerated.

The chelator reduced the risk of disease progression significantly on the Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) during the 12-month study. Participants who were treated sooner had lower levels of iron compared to a group that used the chelator six months later. A specialized MRI was used to measure levels of iron in the brain.

The iron chelator does not affect, nor should it affect, systemic levels of iron, only those in the brain specifically focused on the substantia nigra region. The chelator may work by preventing degradation of the dopamine-containing neurons. It also may be recommended to consume foods that contain less iron.

Does CoQ10 slow progression?

When we typically think of using CoQ10, a coenzyme found in over-the-counter supplements, it is to compensate for depletion from statin drugs or due to heart failure. Doses range from 100 to 300 mg. However, there is evidence that CoQ10 may be beneficial in Parkinson’s at much higher doses. In an RCT, results showed that those given 1,200 mg of CoQ10 daily reduced the progression of the disease significantly based on UPDRS changes, compared to the placebo group (5). Other doses of 300 and 600 mg showed trends toward benefit but were not significant. This was a 16-month trial in a small population of 80 patients. Though the results for other CoQ10 studies have been mixed, these results are encouraging. Plus, CoQ10 was well-tolerated at even the highest dose. Thus, there may be no downside to trying CoQ10 in those with PD.

Is Vitamin D part of the puzzle?

In a prospective (forward-looking) study, results show that vitamin D levels measured in the highest quartile reduced the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by 65 percent, compared to the lowest quartile (6). This is quite impressive, especially since the highest quartile patients had vitamin D levels that were what we would qualify as insufficient, with blood levels of 20 ng/ml, while those in the lowest quartile had deficient blood levels of 10 ng/ml or less. There were over 3,000 patients involved in this study with an age range of 50 to 79.

While many times we are deficient in vitamin D and have a disease, replacing the vitamin does nothing to help the disease. Here, it does. Vitamin D may play dual roles of both reducing the risk of Parkinson’s disease and slowing its progression.

In an RCT, results showed that 1,200 IU of vitamin D taken daily, may have reduced the progression of Parkinson’s disease significantly on the UPDRS compared to a placebo over a 12-month duration (7). Also, this amount of vitamin D increased the blood levels by two times from 22.5 to 41.7 ng/ml. There were 121 patients involved in this study with a mean age of 72.

So, what have we learned? Though medication with dopamine agonists is the gold standard for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, lifestyle modifications can have a significant impact on both prevention and treatment of this disease. Each lifestyle change in isolation may have modest effects, but cumulatively their impact could be significant. The most exciting part is that lifestyle modifications have the potential to slow the progression the disease and thus have a protective effect.

References:

(1) parkinsons.org. (2) JAMA Neurol. 2015;72:863-873. (3) uptodate.com. (4) Antioxid Redox Signal. 2014;10;21(2):195-210. (5) Arch Neurol. 2002;59(10):1541-1550. (6) Arch Neurol. 2010;67(7):808-811. (7) Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;97(5):1004-1013.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com.  

Too much milk may be bad for your health. Stock photo
Does dairy really build strong bones?

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

The prevalence of osteoporosis is increasing, especially as the population ages. Why is this important? Osteoporosis may lead to increased risk of fracture due to a decrease in bone strength (1). That is what we do know. But what about what we think we know?

For decades we have been told that if we want strong bones, we need to drink milk. This has been drilled into our brains since we were toddlers. Milk has calcium and is fortified with vitamin D, so milk could only be helpful, right? Not necessarily.

The data is mixed, but studies indicate that milk may not be as beneficial as we have been led to believe. Even worse, it may be harmful. The operative word here is “may.” We will investigate this further. Vitamin D and calcium are good for us. But do supplements help prevent osteoporosis and subsequent fractures? Again the data are mixed, but supplements may not be the answer for those who are not deficient.

Milk it’s not what you think

The results of a large, observational study involving men and women in Sweden showed that milk may be harmful (2). When comparing those who consumed three or more cups of milk daily to those who consumed less than one, there was a 93 percent increased risk of mortality in women between the ages of 39 and 74. There was also an indication of increased mortality based on dosage.

For every one glass of milk consumed there was a 15 percent increased risk of death in these women. There was a much smaller, but significant, 3 percent per glass increased risk of death in men. Women experienced a small, but significant, increased risk of hip fracture, but no increased risk in overall fracture risk. There was no increased risk of fracture in men, but there was no benefit either. There were higher levels of biomarkers that indicate oxidative stress and inflammation found in the urine.

This study was 20 years in duration and is eye-opening. We cannot make any decisive conclusions, only associations, since it is not a randomized controlled trial. But it does get you thinking. The researchers surmise that milk has high levels of D-galactose, a simple sugar that may increase inflammation and ultimately contribute to this potentially negative effect, whereas other foods have many-fold lower levels of this substance.

Ironically, the USDA recommends that, from 9 years of age through adulthood, we consume three cups of dairy per day (3). This is interesting, since the results from the previous study showed the negative effects at this recommended level of milk consumption. The USDA may want to rethink these guidelines.

Prior studies show milk may not be beneficial for preventing osteoporotic fractures. Specifically, in a meta-analysis that used data from the Nurses’ Health Study for women and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study for men, neither men nor women saw any benefit from milk consumption in preventing hip fractures (4).

Calcium disappointments

Unfortunately, it is not only milk that may not be beneficial. In a meta-analysis involving a group of observational studies, there was no statistically significant improvement in hip fracture risk in those men or women ingesting at least 300 mg of calcium from supplements and/or food on a daily basis (5).

The researchers did not differentiate the types of foods containing calcium. In a group of randomized controlled trials analyzed in the same study, those taking 800 to 1,600 mg of calcium supplements per day also saw no increased benefit in reducing nonvertebral fractures. In fact, in four clinical trials the researchers actually saw an increase in hip fractures among those who took calcium supplements. A weakness of the large multivaried meta-analyses is that vitamin D baseline levels, exercise and phosphate levels were not taken into account.

Vitamin D benefit

Finally, though the data is not always consistent for vitamin D, when it comes to fracture prevention, it appears it may be valuable. In a meta-analysis (involving 11 randomized controlled trials), vitamin D supplementation resulted in a reduction in fractures (6). When patients were given a median dose of 800 IUs (ranging from 792 to 2,000 IUs) of vitamin D daily, there was a significant 14 percent reduction in nonvertebral fractures and an even greater 30 percent reduction in hip fractures in those 65 years and over. However, vitamin D in lower levels showed no significant ability to reduce fracture risk.

Just because something in medicine is a paradigm does not mean it’s correct. Milk may be an example of this. No definitive statement can be made about calcium, although even in randomized controlled trials with supplements, there seemed to be no significant benefit. Of course, the patients in these trials were not necessarily deficient in calcium or vitamin D.

In order to get benefit from vitamin D supplementation to prevent fracture, patients may need at least 800 IUs per day, which is the Institute of Medicine’s recommended amount for a relatively similar population as in the study.

Remember that studies, though imperfect, are better than tradition alone. Prevention and treatment therefore should be individualized, and deficiency in vitamin D or calcium should usually be treated, of course. Please, talk to your doctor before adding or changing any supplements.

References:

(1) JAMA. 2001;285:785-795. (2) BMJ 2014;349:g6015. (3) health.gov. (4) JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(1):54-60. (5) Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Dec;86(6):1780-1790. (6) N Engl J Med. 2012 Aug. 2;367(5):481.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.      

While vitamin D may not be a cure-all, it may play an integral role with many disorders. Stock photo
Recent trial results question supplementation benefits

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Vitamin D is one the most widely publicized and important supplements. We get vitamin D from the sun, food and supplements. With our days rapidly shortening here in the Northeast, let’s explore what we know about vitamin D supplementation.

There is no question that, if you have low levels of vitamin D, replacing it is important. Previous studies have shown that it may be effective in a wide swath of chronic diseases, both in prevention and as part of the treatment paradigm. However, many questions remain. As more data come in, their meaning for vitamin D becomes murkier. For instance, is the sun the best source of vitamin D?

At the 70th annual American Academy of Dermatology meeting, Dr. Richard Gallo, who was involved with the Institute of Medicine recommendations, spoke about how, in most geographic locations, sun exposure will not correct vitamin D deficiencies. Interestingly, he emphasized getting more vitamin D from nutrition. Dietary sources include cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines and tuna.

We know its importance for bone health, but as of yet, we only have encouraging — but not yet definitive — data for other diseases. These include cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases and cancer.

There is no consensus on the ideal blood level for vitamin D. For adults, the Institute of Medicine recommends more than 20 ng/dl, and The Endocrine Society recommends at least 30 ng/dl.

Cardiovascular mixed results

Several observational studies have shown benefits of vitamin D supplements with cardiovascular disease. For example, the Framingham Offspring Study showed that those patients with deficient levels were at increased risk of cardiovascular disease (1).

However, a small randomized controlled trial (RCT), the gold standard of studies, called the cardioprotective effects of vitamin D into question (2). This study of postmenopausal women, using biomarkers such as endothelial function, inflammation or vascular stiffness, showed no difference between vitamin D treatment and placebo. The authors concluded there is no reason to give vitamin D for prevention of cardiovascular disease.

The vitamin D dose given to the treatment group was 2,500 IUs. Thus, one couldn’t argue that this dose was too low. Some of the weaknesses of the study were a very short duration of four months, its size — 114 participants — and the fact that cardiovascular events or deaths were not used as study end points.

Long-awaited VITAL study results for cancer and cardiovascular events

Most trials relating to vitamin D are observational, which provides associations, but not links. However, results of the VITAL study, a large, five-year RCT looking at the effects of vitamin D and omega-3s on cardiovascular disease and cancer were just published this week (3). Study results were disappointing, finding that daily vitamin D3 supplementation at 2000 IUs did not reduce the incidence of cancers (prostate, breast or colorectal) or of major cardiovascular events.

Mortality decreased

In a meta-analysis of a group of eight studies, vitamin D with calcium reduced the mortality rate in the elderly, whereas vitamin D alone did not (5). The difference between the groups was statistically important, but clinically small: 9 percent reduction with vitamin D plus calcium and 7 percent with vitamin D alone.

One of the weaknesses of this analysis was that vitamin D in two of the studies was given in large amounts of 300,000 to 500,000 IUs once a year, rather than taken daily. This has different effects.

Weight benefit

There is good news, but not great news, on the weight front. It appears that vitamin D plays a role in reducing the amount of weight gain in women 65 years and older whose blood levels are more than 30 ng/dl, compared to those below this level, in the Study of Osteoporotic Fractures (4).

This association held true at baseline and after 4.5 years of observation. If the women dropped below 30 ng/dl in this time period, they were more likely to gain more weight, and they gained less if they kept levels above the target. There were 4,659 participants in the study. Unfortunately, vitamin D did not show statistical significance with weight loss.

USPSTF recommendations

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against giving “healthy” postmenopausal women vitamin D, calcium or the combination of vitamin D 400 IUs plus calcium 1,000 mg to prevent fractures, and it found inadequate evidence of fracture prevention at higher levels (6). The supplement combination does not seem to reduce fractures, but does increase the risk of kidney stones. There is also not enough data to recommend for or against vitamin D with or without calcium for cancer prevention. But as I mentioned previously, the recent VITAL study did not show any benefit for cancer prevention.

When to supplement?

It is important to supplement to optimal levels, especially since most of us living in the Northeast have insufficient to deficient levels. While vitamin D may not be a cure-all, it may play an integral role with many disorders. But it is also important not to raise the levels too high. The range that I tell my patients is between 30 and 55 ng/dl, depending on their circumstances — those who are healthy and those who have chronic diseases and what type of chronic diseases.

References:

(1) Circulation. 2008 Jan 29;117(4):503-511. (2) PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e36617. (3) NEJM. 2018 published online Nov. 10, 2018. (4) J Women’s Health (Larchmt). 2012 Jun 25. (5) J Clin Endocrinol Metabol. online May 17, 2012. (6) JAMA. 2018;319(15):1592-1599.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

A recent study suggests that drinking diet soda may increase the risk of heart disease. Stock photo
Simple dietary changes can improve outcomes

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Cardiovascular disease is anything but boring; what we know about it is constantly evolving. New information comes along all the time, which on the whole is a good thing. Even though cardiovascular disease has been on the decline, it is still the number one killer of Americans, responsible for almost 30 percent of deaths per year (1). However, not all studies nor all analyses on the topic are created equal. Therefore, I thought it apropos to present a quiz on cardiovascular disease myths and truths.

Without further ado, here is a challenge to your cardiovascular disease IQ. The questions below are either true or false. The answers and evidence are provided after.

1) Saturated fat is good for us, but processed foods and trans fats are unhealthy.

2) Fish oil supplements help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality.

3) Fiber has significant beneficial effects on heart disease prevention.

4) Unlike sugary sodas and drinks, diet soda is most likely not a contributor to this disease.

5) Vitamin D deficiency may contribute to cardiovascular disease.

Now that was not so difficult. Or was it? The answers are as follows: 1-F, 2-F, 3-T, 4-F and 5-T. So, how did you do? Regardless of whether you know the answers, the reasons are even more important to know. Let’s look at the evidence.

Saturated fat

Most of the medical community has been under the impression that saturated fat is not good for us. We need to limit the amount we ingest to no more than 10 percent of our diet. But is this true? The results of a published meta-analysis (a group of 72 randomized clinical trials and observational studies) would upend this paradigm (2).

While saturated fat did not decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, it did not significantly increase the risk either. Also, results showed that trans fats increase risk. Of course, trans fats are a processed fat, so this is something that most of us would agree upon. And in the clinical trials portion of the meta-analysis, omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats did not significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Does this mean that we can go back to eating saturated fats with impunity? Well, there were weaknesses and flaws with this study. The authors only looked at the one dimension of fat. Their comparison was based on the upper-third of intake of one type of fat versus the lower-third of intake of the same type of fat (whether it was saturated fat or a type of unsaturated fat). It did not consider whether saturated fat was substituted with refined grains or unsaturated fatty acids. Also, what was the source of saturated fats, animal or plant, and did these sources also contain unsaturated fats as well, like olive oil or nuts which contain good fats?

Therefore, there are many unanswered questions and potentially several significant flaws with this study.

The meta-analysis also does not differentiate among plant or animal saturated fat sources. But in one that does, the researchers found saturated fats from animal sources increased cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease (3). Also in another study, specifically using unsaturated fats in place of saturated fat reduced the risk of this disease (4, 5).

Fish oil

There is a whole industry built around fish oil and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Yet the data don’t seem to confirm this theory. In the age-related eye disease study 2 (AREDS2), unfortunately, 1 gram of fish oil (long-chain omega-3 fatty acids) daily did not demonstrate any benefit in the prevention of cardiovascular disease nor its resultant mortality (6). This study was done over a five-year period in the elderly with macular degeneration. The cardiovascular primary end point was a tangential portion of the ophthalmic AREDS2. This does not mean that fish, itself, falls into that same category, but for now there does not seem to be a need to take fish oil supplements for heart disease, except potentially for those with very high triglycerides. Fish oil, at best, is controversial; at worst, it has no benefit with cardiovascular disease.

Fiber

We know that fiber tends to be important for a number of diseases, and cardiovascular disease does not appear to be an exception. In a meta-analysis involving 22 observational studies, the results showed a linear relationship between fiber intake and decreased risk for developing cardiovascular disease (7). In other words, for every 7 grams of fiber consumed, there was a 9 percent reduced risk in developing the disease. It did not matter the source of the fiber from plant foods; vegetables, grains and fruit all decreased the risk of cardiovascular disease. This did not involve supplemental fiber, like that found in Fiber One or Metamucil. To give you an idea about how easy it is to get a significant amount of fiber, one cup of lentils has 15.6 grams of fiber, one cup of raspberries or green peas has almost 9 grams, and one medium-size apple has 4.4 grams. Americans are sorely deficient in fiber (8).

Diet soda

A presentation at the American College of Cardiology examined the Women’s Health Initiative: The study suggests that diet soda may increase the risk of heart disease (9). In those drinking two or more cans per day, defined as 12 ounces per can, there was a 30 percent increased risk of a cardiovascular event, such as a stroke or heart attack, but an even greater risk of cardiovascular mortality, 50 percent, over 10 years. These results took into account confounding factors like smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. This study involved over 56,000 postmenopausal women for almost a nine-year duration.

Vitamin D

The results of an observational study in the elderly suggest that vitamin D deficiency may be associated with cardiovascular disease risk. The study showed that those whose vitamin D levels were low had increased inflammation, demonstrated by elevated biomarkers including C-reactive protein (CRP) (10). This biomarker is related to inflammation of the heart, though it is not as specific as one would hope.

Beware in regards to saturated fat. If a study looks like an outlier or too good to be true, then probably it is. I would not run out and get a cheeseburger just yet. However, study after study has shown benefit with fiber. So if you want to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, consume as much whole food fiber as possible. Also, since we live in the Northeast, consider taking at least 1000 IUs of vitamin D daily. This is a simple way to help thwart the risk of the number one killer.

References:

(1) hhs.gov. (2) Ann Intern Med. 2014;160(6):398-406. (3) JAMA 1986;256(20):2623. (4) Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;99(5):1425-1432. (5) Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012:5;CD002137. (6) JAMA Intern Med. Online March 17, 2014. (7) BMJ 2013; 347:f6879. (8) Am J Med. 2013 Dec;126(12):1059-67.e1-4. (9) ACC Scientific Sessions 2014; Abstract 917-905. (10) J Clin Endocrinol Metab online February 24, 2014.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.