Originally published April 16 2008
Vitamin D: The Silver Bullet Against Chronic Disease for African Americans
by Paco Tabachinski
(NaturalNews) Research claims about nutritional supplements and associated cures for disease states present themselves on a weekly basis. The collective hopes of all Americans are raised by the lofty claims and dashed just as quickly by adverse side effect profiles. Similarly, rarely discussed medical conditions like restless leg syndrome emerge out of obscurity, driven by the marketing arm of eager drug companies. So, who are consumers to believe and when is it time to take action?
The most recent study results examining the efficacy of mega doses of Vitamin D provide a breath of fresh air in the fog of research claims calling for more study. The current study outcomes provide real hope for all Americans and especially at-risk populations disproportionately affected by diabetes, cancer and chronic kidney disease. The African American and Hispanic communities cannot afford to wait for others to take action in their defense. The time has come to be proactive.
The Effect on Our Youth
One of the research questions that is compelling revolves around whether a prophylactic regimen of Vitamin D, calcium, Omega-3 and other supplements could provide an effective screen against disease when initiated as an adolescent. May additional questions present themselves? If young people living in poverty could have access to these vitamin supplements, would there be fewer behavioral and academic problems associated with poverty and poor nutrition in urban schools?
One of the landmark studies to support the new claims of Vitamin D as a wonder vitamin appears in the research from the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego. Lead researcher, Cedric Garland Ph.D., studied the dose response relationship between Vitamin D and several different types of cancers. The study was unique in its scope because it examined the serum levels of Vitamin D in winter months for people in 15 different countries. Data was compiled that indicated at least 200,000 to 350,000 cases of colon, breast, kidney and ovarian cancer could be prevented with an increase in exposure to sunlight and an increase in Vitamin D intake. This is especially true for countries north of the equator. Vitamin D is available through exposure to sunlight, from diet and supplements.
According to the research, a daily intake of 2000 IU/day units of Vitamin D, which could be accomplished with a combination of diet, supplements and exposure to sunlight would provide the requisite benefit for protection against these diseases.
Diet and Vitamin D
Not many foods are naturally fortified with Vitamin D. Salmon, tuna, eggs and most other fish products, especially the venerable cod liver oil, are excellent sources. Vitamin D fortified milk and yogurt are also reliable sources. Vitamin D tablets found on the shelf of your local pharmacies usually range from 400 IU per tablet to 1000 IU per tablet. Consumers should be aware of the issue of vitamin quality as 100 % bioavailability is not a guarantee. However, the study encourages consumers to indulge in the use of vitamin D supplements at the highest IU level possible but not in excess of 5,000 IU/day.
Climate and Skin Cancer Risk
Dr. Garland and associates identified a pattern of lower blood serum levels of Vitamin D during winter months in northern climates. The study recommended that 2000 IU of Vitamin D be consumed daily in conjunction with a few minutes exposure to the sun with at least 40% of the skin exposed. The researchers were mindful of the skin cancer risk and as a result suggest case by case judgment on the amount of sun that a person would expose themselves to. Of course, a light skinned life guard working on the beach in San Diego would require far less additional exposure to the sun given the daily sunny climate in that part of the country. Conversely, a resident of Bemidji, Minnesota would want to consider the maximum amount of sun or tanning that they could tolerate under the study guidelines.
Skin Color Makes a Difference in Absorption
One of the fascinating hypotheses that arise from this body of research is the impact of skin color on Vitamin D absorption. Fair skinned people synthesize Vitamin D from exposure to the sun more readily than darker complexioned people. Increased melanin in the skin of dark complexioned races, impede the absorption of sunlight and hence the synthesis of Vitamin D. In addition, Vitamin D facilitates the absorption of calcium. The reduced serum levels in dark skinned people residing in northern climates could lead to increased bone related disorders, especially bone fractures, due to reduced calcium absorption and osteoporosis. This condition could be especially problematic for African American and other dark complected baby boomers living in these northern climates.
Vitamin D, Brain Function and Quality of Life Issues
An online review by Dr. Richard Huemer of a 2006 study that appeared in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychology reported higher than normal risk factors for mood disorders and cognitive impairment in seniors with deficient serum levels of vitamin D. Another study appearing in the online health journal Third Age, examined the increase in SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) in senior populations that were deficient in Vitamin D. Another approach to treating SAD is with the use of light and sound or audio visual entrainment (AVE). This simple approach has been shown to relieve the symptoms of SAD in seniors within a few weeks of using the AVE device.
A recent National Public Radio (NPR) radio report by Allison Aubry about the relationship of Vitamin D and exposure to sunshine identifies a Vitamin D driven link to improved brain function. Researcher Dr. Joyce McCann, Children's Hospital of Oakland Research Institute in California suggests that with higher exposure to sunshine and vitamin D, brain health is enhanced. Vitamin D receptors located throughout the brain bind the Vitamin D in its active form, called Calcitriol. By the age of 65 there is a four fold decrease in the brain's ability to bind Vitamin D to the receptors when compared to a 25 year old. It is not clear if the researcher is trying to imply that residents of the left coast are smarter than those of us from the rust belt.
A 2006 study by Deborah Gold, Ph.D appeared as a supplement of the Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy that cited the benefit of Vitamin D and calcium supplements in the diet of senior citizens. The study examined the effect of supplementation and other life style intervention strategies on the number of bone fractures from falls endured by many seniors. Ambulatory seniors or those who were mobile and active appeared to benefit most from the supplements.
What does this mean for African American Seniors?
If we draw some hypothetical conclusions from these studies it would appear as though African American seniors living in northern climates are at particular risk for multiple, vitamin D deficient health disorders. Forms of cancer that are over represented in the aging African American population could be reduced with an intervention strategy that focused on increased consumption of Vitamin D rich foods and a measured exposure to sunlight during winter months. In addition, mood disorders and cognitive impairment become an increased risk with reduced exposure to sunlight for dark complexioned seniors.
Vitamin D supplements, dietary modifications to include more fish, eggs, Omega-3 fatty acids and fortified dairy products, exposure to sunlight, and when artificial sunlight is not practical, perhaps the use of light and sound machines (AVE) to improve response to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), should become part of an intervention strategy to improve the health outcomes of one of the most at risk group of Americans.
Vitamin Supplement Program for African American K-12 Students Needed
We have spent some time talking about the need for appropriate supplements for African American seniors but, their progeny are also in dire need of assistance.
Students in grades ranging from K-12 that are identified with attention deficit behaviors in school and at home can also benefit from Vitamin D and calcium nutritional supplements. All too often in urban settings, these students are African American. In addition, these students are often products of poverty stricken families and as a result, have dietary deficiencies. A diet of red hot chips, orange soda and gum is not for the faint of heart but can lead to the faint of thought. When a closer look is taken at the school lunch at many schools that these young people attend, the old habits of the southern roots are hard to break; not enough dietary fiber, little fresh fruit, little or no whole grain, too many sugar and salt infused prepared foods. A call to action to correct these dietary inequities is in order. This author would propose a vitamin supplement program sponsored by one of the vitamin companies.
The supplements should include 2000 IU of Vitamin D daily, with 600 mg of calcium, good old cod liver oil or a similar source of Omega-3, 6 bottles or glasses of water daily, and a half cup of blueberries or dried blueberries. The latest research shows the value of blueberries in enhancing brain function. Get the kids hooked on berries, whole grains, phonics and water, and the teachers will have a chance to make a difference in their academic lives.
Key Considerations - A Call to Action
Could a Vitamin D enrichment intervention strategy for African American seniors and baby boomers reduce the incidence of potentially fatal cancers? Could we reduce the number of falls in nursing homes, reduce the number of drug prescriptions for anti-suppressants, reduce divorce during the winter months?
Ideally, all of these adverse conditions could be changed. Who would have thought that Vitamin D could also be called the Quality of Life Vitamin?
About the authorOne Person Can or OPC is a teacher, trainer and researcher currently examining the value of a nuero feedback training protocol known as "audio visual entrainment" or AVE in the treatment of ADD and ADHD in adolescents.
OPC is also conducting research focused on informing the at-risk population afflicted by chronic disease about the value of supplementing their diets with high doses of Vitamin D.
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