Nutrition

Beginner’s Guide Part 4: The Supplements You Shouldn’t be Taking

By Laura Smith

Supplements are a multi-billion-dollar industry, and unless you have been living in a cave for the past twenty years, you probably have numerous supplements that you have bought over the years after being advised to do so by friends or family, or possibly reading some information on the internet.

However, there’s a smarter way to go about this and to get the biggest bang for your buck. How? By skipping certain supplements that are not necessary in the beginning of your fitness journey, or even at any point on your journey!

Calcium
Let me make myself clear – calcium is an important mineral for bone health. Osteoporosis and osteopenia are two debilitating conditions, so taking care of your bones is vital. Sure, there are studies out there that suggest taking calcium increases bone density, however the problem with those studies is that they always include other variables such as exercise and vitamin D. An osteoporotic bone isn’t just lacking adequate calcium, it also lacks magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, and collagen.

So, why is supplementing with calcium usually a waste of money? Calcium is found naturally in dairy products, dark leafy greens and sardines. In addition, supplementing calcium by itself doesn’t actually help bone density significantly, even though that’s why most people take it.

Calcium works best with other nutrients like vitamin D, vitamin K2, and magnesium. The combination of all these forms a stack, which is when supplements work together towards a common goal.

So, in my opinion, the bottom line is, calcium deficiencies are rare, and can be easily fixed by slightly modifying your diet.

Fat Burning Supplements
You may have heard of fat burners – the magic pills that can make fat melt off your body, like ice in the Dubai heat, right? Not exactly.

Fat burners are supplements that are designed with ingredients that MAY give you an extra boost to help burn fat, but they can’t replace a solid diet and exercise plan.

Fat burners work in a variety of ways. They can boost energy, help curb appetite, promote fat to be used for energy, and even increase your metabolism and core temperature so you burn more calories throughout the day. But, if you take a fat burner and then feast on burgers, pizza, and bagels, you won’t be seeing fat loss any time soon.

Even the mildly effective fat burners (e.g. caffeine) don’t make THAT big of a difference. Fat burners are also likely to cause side effects like sleep disruption (since most of them are stimulants). That can backfire, since poor sleep can cause overeating the next day, high cortisol levels and reduced recovery, all of which can result in lack of motivation to head to the gym.

All of the these side effects negate any small benefit that fat burners may have. Bottom line: most fat burners don’t have a great cost to benefit ratio.

Testosterone Boosters
Having low testosterone is not fun – it can cause issues such as mental fog, irritability, lower libido, lack of body composition changes. So taking a testosterone booster may sound like a great idea. But unfortunately they simply do not work.

Supplement companies may tout studies showing their supplements increase testosterone. However, keep in mind – too many people think that libido and testosterone are the same. Some supplements marketed as testosterone boosters can actually help increase your libido, yet make no difference in your actual testosterone levels.

Glutamine
Glutamine is an essential amino acid that has many roles in your body. It’s found in muscle tissue, so meat products naturally have high levels of glutamine. Adding glutamine to muscle cells causes them to grow.

Unfortunately, supplementing glutamine does not work for muscle building, because little of the glutamine ingested makes it over to the muscles. The intestines absorb much of it for themselves, so supplementing glutamine is actually really good for your digestive tract, but it’s not going to drive your muscles to grow more.

It should be noted that whey protein is also high in glutamine, so if you eat meat products and drink whey, then you are good to go and can save your money.

Bottom line: supplementing glutamine for muscle building does not work, however it does work for improving gut health along with probiotics and digestive enzymes.

Whey Protein
The benefits if whey protein are in no way being questioned. Whey protein is a superior protein source that provides many health and body composition benefits. This is a true statement that I am not going to argue with. There’s loads of research supporting the benefits of whey protein and it would be crazy for me to try and deny that it improves insulin sensitivity, suppresses appetite, has a high thermic effect, builds muscle, reduces oxidative stress, etc.

So you may be asking the question, why have I included whey protein on my list of supplements that are not needed? Whey protein is often used as a substitute for whole foods, which can prevent optimal nutrition being achieved. This can result in a lack of macronutrients, micronutrients, inflammation, poor gut health, and decreased physical performance.

One of the most common issues we face is bad digestion. By this I mean for one reason or another your digestive system is not able to make the most of the foods you eat. One of the most common food groups that we are unable to optimally absorb is dairy and whey products.

Too often whey protein is used as a meal replacement, not as a supplement. Additionally, some brands contain cheap fillers, artificial flavors and added sugars, which again can cause absorption issues, poorly functioning gut and inflammation.

So, bottom line regarding whey protein is that despite the countless benefits, it should not be used as a replacement for whole foods. Until gut health is functioning effectively, absorption is a major issue and whey protein can make things worse. My advice is to start with whole foods and progress to protein shakes and drinks.

Good luck!

Nutrition

Top 5 Reasons why we need Vitamin B

This week nutritionist and PT Laura Smith will take us through 5 important reasons to keep an eye out on our vitamin B levels.

Firstly, let’s think about what would be the possible reason for us not to ingest the amount of petty little B’s we would need to function and thrive optimally.

  • B vitamins are present in animal foods, such as meat, eggs, fish, poultry and dairy products. Well, are you a vegetarian? B vitamins are present in animal foods, such as meat, eggs, fish, poultry and dairy products, which means you may not be getting enough.
  • Are you focused on muscle gain, and therefore increased your protein intake as well as drinking BCAAs at every possible opportunity in search for gains? If so, this high intake of BCAAs can result in a depletion of vitamin B.
  • What about your gut function, any issues? If you do, and things are not working like clockwork you will be unable to absorb your Bs, and please don’t get me started on what a million medications do for your little Bs. I would need all day to write a list of the number of medications that deplete B vitamins!

So how will you know if you are low or deficient in vitamin B? Low levels of vitamin B can manifest in a number of symptoms, from feeling tired and lacking motivation, to trouble losing weight and digestion issues. Here are 5 reasons why do we need this mighty B vitamin:

#1. Detoxification

Your body is designed perfectly to detoxify itself, so there is really no need for a yearly cleanse, or crazy juice diet. Your body is exposed to environmental toxins all the time, for example benzene, found in cigarette smoke and car exhaust smoke. The first step at eliminating chemicals such as benzene from your body is through the use of vitamin B. Vitamin B attaches to the toxins and mobilizes them, allowing for powerful antioxidants to continue the neutralization process through the gut. Therefore vitamin B is vital for the initial detox phase within the body.

#2 Brain Protection

Although B vitamins don’t give you the endorphins of chocolate, or the energy buzz that coffee provides, they do play a crucial role in the protection of cognitive function and prevention of your brain from premature aging. Folate and B12 are both significantly associated with depression, low mood, and social isolation. The elderly population is at a much higher risk due to falling plasma levels of folate in the blood and spinal fluid. Studies have shown an improvement in cognitive function after supplementation of vitamin B. Some studies have even shown a more significant improvement than depression medication.

#3. Performance

B vitamins are critical for the nervous system and the ability of neurotransmitters too circulate. So this simply means that you need B vitamins in your body to be able to send all the signals you need form the brain to your muscles to perform. Therefore, the faster the signal the better the performance.

#4. Hormone Balance

Day to day, both men and women are seeing increased levels of estrogen as they exposed to chemical estrogen found in plastic, shampoo, cosmetics and cleaning products to name a few. Vitamin B6, 12 and 9 all promote the removal of excess estrogen. Effective removal can help with body composition as high levels of estrogen have been associated with increased body fat.

#5. Body Composition

Don’t think about fat burners or green tea to improve your body composition – think about optimal nutrients and gut health. Vitamin B1, which is called thiamine, plays a vital role in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. Therefore, even high calorie diets can result in malnutrition, if there is a deficiency of thiamine.

lifestyle

4 (Delicious) Ways to Ease a Cold

Got a cold? Here are the top 4 immune system boosters that can help ease the symptoms of the common cold:

 

Vitamin CDepositphotos_1805583_original.jpg
We have all been told to take vitamin C when we feel under the weather. But have you ever
wondered why? Vitamin C has been shown to have antihistamine properties which could help
dry up a runny nose. What’s more is that although Vitamin C doesn’t prevent colds, it can shorten the duration of your cold by one or two days (hooray!). Pass me the lemons!
Bonus tip:
Hot liquids are often soothing when fighting a cold, so a cup of hot water with lemon (and you can add ginger too!) should be your drink of choice.

 

Zinc

Apart from supporting the immune system to resist infection, zinc can help sooth the throat. Studies have shown that zinc lozenges help to kill viruses and can shorten the duration of cold symptoms, especially those related to the throat. It also prevents too much mucus from building up. In fact, many claim zinc is more effective than vitamin C when it comes to fighting colds.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is another nutrient essential for a healthy immune system and therefore should be taken in the long-term and not just during colds (in fact, it will not help during the illness). Vitamin D prevents colds by helping produce cathelicidin, a protein with virus-killing qualities. Therefore, it is important to keep adequate vitamin D levels throughout the year.

Omega 3s

Who knew that a fatty fish can boost your immune system?

Seafood Collage

“Omega 3s increase the activity of phagocytes—cells that fight flu by eating up bacteria—according to a study by Britain’s Institute of Human Nutrition and School of Medicine. Other research shows that omega-3s increase airflow and protect lungs from colds and respiratory infections.” – http://www.prevention.com

Bonus Tip: If you’re bored of the traditional chicken soup remedy, why not try a salmon-based soup, such as the russian soup “Uha”? This way you can also top up your vitamin D levels.

Nutrition

All You Need to Know About Superfoods

By Adrianna McDonald

Superfoods – what are they?

They are nutrient-rich foods with many benefits. They’ve become very popular and it’s only in recent times that they’ve been identified as superfoods with near super powers. And, since everyone is now into organic food, it’s become easier to find these foods in most places where you wouldn’t have found them even a few years ago.

Why should you eat superfoods?

They are rich in nutrients and work wonders in keeping your mind and body healthy. But this is not all. Once you start consuming superfoods on a regular basis, you will start noticing the difference in not just how you feel, but also how you look.

Eating these foods regularly makes your body healthier, helps you flush out toxins more frequently and leaves you with a healthy glow. They are full of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, essential fatty acids, polysaccharides, enzymes and glyconutrients to name a few.

However, the best part is that these foods are clean, pesticide-free, organic sources of these nutrients, so in effect they act faster and work better.

Here’s a list of the top 5 favourites:

1.Goji Berries

These berries are deep red in colour and are often dried and eaten as raisins.

Benefits:

  • Increases immunity
  • Protects liver
  • Improves eyesight
  • Improves quality of blood
  • Prevents ageing

Goji berries contain a number of nutrients like amino acids, vitamins, polysaccharides, and HGH (human growth hormone).

The Chinese believe that Goji berries can considerably enhance libido and improve sex life. They are also a rich source of antioxidants which are crucial to keep you young but also to improve vision and eyesight.

Goji berries are known to aid the production of choline, which stops the production of free radicals and prevents degeneration of the brain due to diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

These are also known to protect the arteries from narrowing down due to the build up of plaque along the walls, which can cause heart related diseases.

Goji berries can be added to teas or soups to make them healthier or you could just munch on them as you would with raisins. They can also be blended into smoothies or juices or added to other recipes to fortify them.

2. Acai Berries

Benefits:

  • Helps people sleep better
  • Makes the immune system stronger
  • Slows down the aging process
  • Regulates the levels of cholesterol in the body
  • Improves vision
  • Improves circulation and functioning of the heart
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Detoxifies the body

Açaí berries are known to contain significant amounts of essential fatty acids such as Omega 3 and Omega 6 as well as monounsaturated oleic acid. They also have a high concentration of blue pigmented antioxidants and one of the highest ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity) values amongst fruits. As we all know, free radicals are the cause of all harm in our bodies, including the ageing process and açaí berries are excellent in absorbing these free radicals.

These berries also contain plant sterols which are known for their cholesterol absorption qualities and  have as many as nineteen different amino acids. In addition, the dietary fibre in açaí berries helps with digestion.

They are a perfect snack as they’re low in sugar and have plenty of minerals such as calcium and phosphorus and vitamins such as beta-carotene and vitamin E. AçaĂ­ berries are also considered as a cancer fighter. This superfood can be consumed as a supplement or blended into smoothies.

3. Cacao 

These beans are actually much more than a source of chocolate. Cacao beans are superfoods in themselves and have some amazing health benefits, including:

  • Increasing the blood flow to the brain and enhancing brain function
  • Having a high concentration of antioxidants such as polyphenols, catechins and epicatechins. Antioxidants, as we all know, are the holy grail of youth and a disease-free life.
  • The magnesium in cacao is good for the heart, helps prevent constipation and even eases menstrual cramps.
  • Cacao also has iron, which makes it a great weapon to fight against anaemia.
  • Cacao contains chromium, a trace mineral which works wonders to maintain the balance of blood sugar.
  • Manganese, another trace mineral that can be found in cacao is great when it comes to building up of haemoglobin.
  • Zinc, another mineral that cacao contains is known for its essential role in enhancing our immune system.
  • Raw cacao contains vitamin C as well which has many benefits and uses.
  • It contains essential omega 6 fatty acids.
  • Cacao beans contain certain compounds that can trigger weight loss, make you feel good and improve your mood considerably.
  • The fibre in cacao beans works wonderfully to cleanse the digestive system.

An important thing to note is that cooked and processed chocolate contains rancid omega 6 fatty acids or trans fats which are not healthy for you. It’s best to look for raw cacao chocolates or make your own at home.

Cacao can be found as a cacao beans with or without the skin, nibs, cacao butter, powder or paste and ideally it should all be raw and organic. Include them in your usual drinks such as smoothies or coffee. You can also use cacao in desserts.

4. Maca root

Benefits:

  • Increases stamina and libido
  • Helps the endocrine system function properly, thereby eliminating hormonal imbalances
  • Lowers anaemia and alleviates menstrual discomfort and cramps
  • Is also known to be effective in fighting stomach cancer and tuberculosis
  • It’s a rich source of fatty acids and sterols
  • Has a good concentration of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, sulfur, potassium, phosphorus as well as vitamins such as B1, C, B2 and E
  • It is known to help women deal with menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and mood swings
  • Works wonders at reducing the symptoms of altitude sickness

Maca root is usually dried and powdered and can be consumed as part of smoothies, teas, milk or coffee. Maca works best with cacao so you can combine these two superfoods and create your own super-charged powder mix.

A word of caution though. Maca is indeed one of the more potent types of superfoods because it can cause changes in the way you live and react due to the high levels of iodine it contains. It’s always advised to use superfoods cautiously and never in excess because of the potential side effects, such as elevated heart rate.

5. Camu Camu 

If you thought that tanking up on Vitamin C will keep colds away, you’re right. But don’t rely just on citrus fruits for this. Take a look at the Camu Camu berry.

This berry contains the highest amount of Vitamin C in any botanical source and you might be surprised to learn that while a lemon can contain 0.5 percent Vitamin C, the Camu Camu berry contains up to 4 percent.

It also contains calcium, potassium, phosphorus and iron. Amino acids such as leucine, serine and valine are also present in this excellent superfood. Other vitamins that are also found in the Camu Camu are thiamine, riboflavin and niacin.

Here are some of the benefits of the Camu Camu berry:

  • The huge amount of Vitamin C content ensures that your immune system stays in top condition
  • Helps improve your eye sight considerably
  • Great for the skin
  • Keeps away colds and other viral infections
  • Keeps your tendons, collagen and ligaments strong
  • Helps in keeping your lungs healthy
  • Works at reducing inflammation considerably
  • Regular consumption of Camu Camu helps you keep your cool in stressful times
  • Helps in keeping organs like eyes, brain, heart, skin and liver in good working condition

The Camu Camu berry is available as a dried powder which can be used in various ways. You can mix it with water to make an instant health drink or add it to juices and smoothies. The Camu Camu berry powder is tangy and flavourful so it’s a pleasure to consume it. Do note that excessive consumption could lead to diarrhoea, so take this superfood in moderation.

Nutrition

Protein Powders vs Real Protein

By Adrianna McDonald

There is no doubt and never will be about the importance of protein in your diet. It is an essential nutrient that helps the body to build, repair and maintain its organs, cells and tissues.

You can meet your daily protein requirements whether you drink shakes and/or eat whole foods, but nutrition from both is not equal.

Protein-rich whole foods are more nutritionally complex than shakes, so they offer a greater variety of vitamins and minerals. Chewing them takes a longer period of time and they satisfy your hunger, keeping you full for longer.

Protein powders were always present in the bodybuilding world but lately became popular with the general public as people realized the full potential of protein supplements in their everyday life.

“Before I start elaborating I want you to know that there is NO real substitute for real food!”

Protein powder is a supplement to your diet and should not be a replacement.

Protein quality has also been enormously overstated and even distorted for marketing purposes and most brands are full of sweeteners and other additives which your body may struggle with.

The variety is enormous : whey protein, beef, casein, plant, etc.thumb_IMG_6459_1024

The most popular is Whey Isolate and is largely used in the bodybuilding world.

Even though whey has a higher BV (biological value) than beef, chicken, fish, or milk protein, if the total quantity of protein you consume throughout the day is sufficient (best if you know your macros), then there is no need to substitute whey for food proteins as it won’t give you additional muscle gains.

 

thumb_IMG_6457_1024Myself and most of my clients tend to use it as a post-workout drink only. There is no evidence that protein supplements digest more efficiently than whole foods but they definitely digested faster which is most important after training. There is still lots of debate amongst the experts as to post-workout nutrition. There is not much proof if a protein-carb drink will produce better muscular growth than whole foods, as long as complete whole foods are eaten within an hour or so post-workout.

No doubt protein powders are convenient and supplementing with a couple of scoops a day (especially post-workout) is not a bad idea.

If you are a very busy individual and you struggle with your protein intake try adding protein powders to your meals instead of replacing them.

Nutrition

Sports Supplements and Common Deficiencies

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Photography by Comfort

Written by Adrianna McDonald

If you eat a balanced, whole-food diet (be honest with yourself), you’re most likely getting the right amounts of the vitamins and minerals for adequate functioning.

If not (which applies to most), there’s a big chance your body is lacking in important nutrients. Although you may think you eat well, other factors like age and health conditions can impact your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients in your food.

Due to our environment and current farming methods our food is not as nutrient-dense as it was 20-30 years ago.

Nowadays soil quality, storage time, and the way food is being processed or handled has major impact on the quality of nutrients in your food.

Unless you’ve had a blood test done it’s hard to know what your deficiencies may be. Sometimes, even if you are seriously deficient for some time, you may not notice it. Unless you know what to look for. The most common deficiencies that I’ve come across are:

  • Vitamin D
  • Magnesium
  • Omega-3

** For more information regarding blood tests please contact Adrianna at Pinnacle Performance for a direct referral to a functional medicine doctor.

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Vitamin D

The requirements for vitamin D are dependent on the individual, their skin colour, place of residence, and exposure to sun. The best way to reach optimal levels is through safe sun exposure or the only other way is through supplementation in the form of vitamin D3. The dosage can be between 2000IUs to 10000IUs or more a day, depending on the level of deficiency and lifestyle.

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Magnesium

In my opinion this is the most important mineral for optimal health, performing a wide array of biological functions. It is a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems that regulate diverse biochemical reactions in the body, some including: protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, blood pressure regulation and helping digest proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

However, only 1 percent of magnesium in your body is distributed in your blood.

There are different types of magnesium you can buy:

Magnesium glycinate is a chelated form of magnesium that tends to provide the highest levels of absorption and bioavailability and is typically considered ideal for those who are trying to correct a deficiency

**Highly recommend

Magnesium chloride / magnesium lactate contain only 12 percent magnesium, but has better absorption than others, such as magnesium oxide, which contains five times more magnesium

Magnesium carbonate, which has antacid properties, contains 45 percent magnesium

Magnesium citrate is magnesium with citric acid, which has laxative properties but is one of the higher quality magnesium supplements

Magnesium oxide is a non-chelated type of magnesium, bound to an organic acid or a fatty acid. Contains 60 percent magnesium and has stool softening properties

**Never recommend unless medically advised

Magnesium sulfate / magnesium hydroxide (milk of magnesia) are typically used as a laxative. Be aware that it’s easy to overdose on these, so ONLY take as directed

Magnesium taurate contains a combination of magnesium and taurine, an amino acid. Together, they tend to provide a calming effect on your body and mind

**Highly recommend

Magnesium threonate is a newer, emerging type of magnesium supplement that appears promising, primarily due to its superior ability to penetrate the mitochondrial membrane

MAGNESIUM DOSAGES

FEMALES 2,000MG CHELATED DAILY

MALES  4000MG CHELATED DAILY

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Omega-3 

Problem is that majority of diets are high in inflammatory omega-6 fats (think vegetables oils) and too few anti-inflammatory omega-3s. This is believed to be the cause of cardiovascular disease, cancer, depression, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes… (and many more).

The ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats is 1:1. Its common to see a 17:1 ratio of omega 6:3 which is causing more and more issues.

The human brain is one of  hungriest for DHA. DHA is one main type of omega-3 fatty acid, and EPA is another. About 85%  of people in the Western world are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. The recommended daily intake of EPA plus DHA is about 650 mg rising to 1000 mg/day depending on the individual.

Omega-3 fats are found in flaxseed oil, walnut oil, marine plankton and fatty fish although grass-fed beef is higher in omega-3s than fish.

In my opinion,  it’s good to know your blood work. We all are very busy and often our diets are compromised. That in fact is also a “problem” for a competitor. When preparing for a competition, the diet is very simple and in order to get our BF (body fat) down to a significant level we deprive our self from certain foods (i.e. dairy, fruits). And with the demands of training we ought to take supplements.

As a coach there are few protocols I follow but without the blood work or lab test I too would be guessing. 

Nutrition

How These 3 Vitamin Deficiencies Can Wreck Your Life

Hello friends!

Once again I have been quiet for a bit… and this time it’s just because… well I was too tired. You know the kind of tired that even rest can’t help, and everyone tells you it’s just stress.

But is it just stress? You know sometimes you get some vague symptoms that no one can actually attribute to an illness and you end up wondering what to do with yourself (or what you’re doing wrong…. or both!).

Often the reason for such subtle, yet frustratingly annoying symptoms are nutritional deficiencies. Although not life-threatening (at least in the short-term) these can have a big impact on your life and your health.

So as my struggle and research into the matter continues, I stumbled upon a very interesting (and enlightening) medical article based on a neurologist’s experience and patient observations – you would be surprised to see how one vitamin can completely through your health off course. Let’s look at the key points.

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The Sunshine Vitamin Hormone

Ever felt out of breath from the smallest physical exertion? Constantly feel tired and suffer from unexplained body aches (especially muscle or bone pains)? Do you feel more pessimistic and blue than usual? Have you started to experience headaches more often than usual? If yes, you may be running low on vitamin D.

This well known micronutrient is typically made on our skin from sun exposure. It is also available in some fortified foods. You may know that it is necessary for good bone health as it works in sync with calcium but the effects of this “vitamin” are far more wide-reaching.

Firstly, vitamin D is not really a vitamin but a hormone (surprise #1). Dr. Gominak, a US-based neurologist, explains that the word “vitamin” is a miss-nomer which leads us to think that vitamin D is something our bodies can’t produce (which is true for all the other vitamins). Yet, ‘D hormone’ as he calls it, is actually:

“a chemical that we make on our skin from sun exposure. It is a hormone like thyroid, estrogen or testosterone. Using the proper word “hormone” reminds us that it affects multiple parts of the body and that it is not “extra”. It is essential to every cell in the body and it is not in the food. It is supplemented in milk but as a cup of milk has only 100 IU of vitamin D you would have to drink 100 cups of milk a day to keep from being D deficient.” – Dr Gominak

Now you see why it has a much wider effect than just making you feel tired and depressed. In his detailed article, Dr. Gominak lists numerous problems that arise from low levels of D hormone. Here’s a few:

  1. D hormone affects our weight and appetite: our D hormone fluctuates with the seasons; it goes higher in the summer and lower in the winter. So when our D levels are low we sleep longer and store fat for spring. Our metabolic rate also goes down (we hibernate) and as the D level falls the thyroid hormone goes down -we survive the winter by sleeping more hours and using less energy. But there’s more! Surprise #2: the lower D level appears to affect the populations of bacteria in our intestine this not only affects our appetite, but also what we do with the calories we eat.
  2. Low D disrupts our sleep: Vitamin D appears to affect our sleep cycles through D receptors in the lowest part of the brain called the “brainstem”, where we control the timing and paralysis of sleep. Every moving part of the body must get perfectly paralysed to repair at night. If this process does not happen properly, we end up with sleeping disorders which prevent our bodies from resting and healing at night and this can result in day-time symptoms such as headaches, back pain, memory difficulties and so forth. In the long-run poor sleep causes hypertension, heart disease and stroke.
  3. Low D causes balance difficulties and pain: poor sleep and secondary deficiencies (see point 6) can result in muscle pain and inflammation, chronic low back pain and joint pains.
  4. Low D causes infertility, polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis: There are vitamin D receptors in the ovaries, the testicles and the fallopian tubes to help match our reproduction to the amount of food available. Low D suppresses ovulation so that our babies will be born when mum has food. “Polycystic ovary” describes an ovary with many eggs that are all trying to mature at once. Because ovulation is inhibited by the low D, the ovaries are stuck at the stage of many eggs trying to mature and cysts develop, leading to abdominal pain, often accompanied by weight gain and acne.
  5. Low D affects all the blood cells and can cause anaemia, autoimmune disease and cancer: There are D hormone receptors on the red and white blood cells. When the white blood cells don’t have enough D they get confused, they start attacking our body by mistake. All of the autoimmune diseases: multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and ulcerative colitis, are related to low D hormone. This also affects the white blood cells’ abilities for fight cancer.
  6. D hormone deficiency can cause other deficiencies: D hormone affects the entire gastrointestinal tract. There are D receptors in our salivary glands, our teeth, our oesophageal sphincter, and the stomach cells that make acid. And here’s surprise #3:

“The D we make on our skin goes to the liver, then into the bile, it keeps the bile acids dissolved, preventing gall stones from forming. Because there are D receptors in the islet cells of the pancreas that make insulin, not enough D may contribute to the development of diabetes. Low vitamin D levels are related to poor stomach emptying as well as bloating and constipation or “irritable bowel”. The irritable bowel may result from losing our “happy, helpful” bacteria in our lower GI tract. They die off when we don’t supply the vitamin D the bacteria also need to survive. Because those same colonic bacteria supply 7/8 of the B vitamins we need on a daily basis, some of my patients have vitamin D deficiency and secondary B vitamin deficiencies. (At least 2 of the B vitamins, B5 and B12, are needed to sleep normally)” – Dr Gominak

If it’s not the D, then it must be the Bs

So as you can see from the above, if it’s not D hormone that is tiring you out, then the second most likely culprit are the B vitamins. Although some of the symptoms are similar, if you are deficient in one of the B vitamins you may experience:

  • mental fogginess
  • problems with your memory
  • mood swings
  • lack of motivation
  • feelings of apathy
  • fatigue and a lack energy
  • muscle weakness
  • tingling in your extremities
  • insomnia
  • burning feet (B5 vitamin deficiency)
  • skin cracks around the mouth

Of course, this list is not exhaustive and there are other symptoms. The problem with B vitamins is that they are not stored in the body for longer that 2 days. As our small intestines digest food, the friendly bacteria supply our body with the B vitamins we need. Therefore, even with a good diet, if the gastrointestinal flora or microbiome is not in balance we may still not be getting enough vitamins.

In particular, a deficiency in B12 can have serious long term consequences for your health. Such a deficiency can cause irreversible nerve damage – including degeneration of the peripheral nerves (under the skin) and the nerves of the eyes and brain. It can also result in memory decline, depression and dementia.

The Iron Story

Last but not least, iron deficiency is also something you should be on the look out for. Personally, I have suffered from both vitamin D and iron deficiencies and although both are nasty things to have, the iron deficiency is the bigger beast of the two. It was the iron that had me unable to get out of bed.

So if you’ve got iron deficiency you will definitely know it. If you do not have enough iron, your body makes fewer and smaller red blood cells. When your body does not have sufficient iron, many parts of your body are affected. Iron deficiency leads to inadequate supply of oxygen to various parts of the body. This results in symptoms such as: fatigue, difficulty waking up, racing heart, brittle nails, swelling or soreness of the tongue, cracks in the sides of the mouth, an enlarged spleen, and frequent infections.

Although not as serious as D hormone and B12 vitamin deficiencies, iron deficiency can have a very negative effects on your daily life, such as struggling with exercise and difficulties in focusing on the job.  As iron deficiency causes fatigue it can result in poor cognitive skills, poor memory and poor performance. Lower IQs are also linked to iron deficiency.

Interestingly, iron deficiency in infants and children can result in poor life outcomes in adulthood. A study of iron-deficient infants from a working class neighbourhood in Costa Rica found that, even after correcting the deficiency, at an average age of 25, 42% of the participants had not completed secondary school and 68% were not currently attending any school.

So it’s just a deficiency, right? Nothing serious you say… Well the facts don’t lie.

The solution

Be aware of how your body feels and all of the subtle symptoms. If you are not feeling better after rest and symptoms continue to persist for weeks, see a doctor and get tested.

Self-diagnosis is not the best route, but if you are certain that you know which vitamin you are lacking, take supplements and see if there is improvement after 2 weeks. If you do feel better, continue supplementing for 3 months (to build up your body’s reserves) and then take a break and see if symptoms return. If they do, best to see the doc – there may be other underlying causes to your deficiencies.

Phew… that was a long post! I hope you enjoyed and were as surprised as me to discover such interesting facts about vitamin deficiencies.

Nutrition

To Supp or Not to Supp?

A Modern Day Dilemma

Supplements… where do I start? In a paradoxical world where some people are malnourished due to scarce resources and other are malnourished due to poor diet one has to wonder what is the best way to get the nutrients we need.

Enter the supplements – a modern phenomenon of adding man-made nutrients to our diets. From powdered vegetables to vitamins to amino acids, this has become and industry worth billion of dollars (US$104 billion as of 2013 to be precise).

Of course as a rule of thumb we should always try to get our nutrients (mind, not just vitamins, but also minerals, proteins, oils, essential acids and so forth) from natural whole foods. However, there are many factors that could undermine our efforts to hit our daily target of the good stuff.

Image from PeopleCleaner.com 

Nutrient thieves

Naturally we lose nutrients as we go about our daily activities, however certain situations may leave us a little bit drained. For example, when we are stressed our bodies use more nutrients at a faster rate. But it is not just proteins and carbohydrates that we lose.

Dr. Griffin, Dr. Neblett and Kissinger state that “The increased metabolism [due to prolonged stress] can also cause an increase in the use and excretion of many nutrients such as vitamins A, C,D,E,K, and B complex, and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, chromium, selenium, zinc, and potassium.”

“Eating right is just as important as managing stress
because vulnerability to stress increases with poor diet”

Philip Rice, Stress and Health. Moorhead State University

Another issue is the quality of food that we eat nowadays. It is not just junk food that is the culprit here. A lot of our groceries are either heavily processed or chemically treated to extend their shelf life. These processes significantly reduce the nutrients of the foods we buy and eat. In this case, the best solution is to opt for organic or locally grown produce (and check the labels!).

And of course there are certain personal situations which may make matters worse. Suffering from digestive problems may mean that no matter how much nutrients from natural food one gets, the body is not absorbing and/or converting enough of those into fuel. Other illnesses may also require specific supplementation (currently fighting a cold with Vitamin C, zinc, lemon and ginger 🙂 ) Also, intense training requires more nutrients such as protein, amino acids, trace minerals and electrolytes which are lost through sweat.

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To Supp or Not to Supp?

So should we jump with both feet in to this trend? Personally, I like to avoid artificially made things, especially when it comes to what I put in my body. Deciding whether to take supplements is an important health decision filled with mine pits – there is so much information and so many supplements that haven’t been tested which make it very confusing.

My recommendation is to read, read and read some more! Check labels and consult with qualified professionals (not me!). But first and foremost evaluate your needs. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you eating enough natural whole foods?11882472_768857866556298_1315508989_o
  • Do you feel constantly tired or are you energetic?
  • Are you experiencing a lot of stress in your life at the moment?
  • Are you ill, undergoing intense training programme or suffering from specific health issues?

Think carefully about your answers and if you think natural whole foods may not be enough, do consult with an expert and make sure you choose high quality supplements.