Friday, December 3, 2010

That Sunshine Drug

HILLARY Swank may claim that her daily intake of 45 vitamin pills is what keeps her going, but those of us who are less famous are probably more moderate! We know that vitamins are essential to our health, but remain confused about which ones are the most important. Also, should we stick to natural sources or throw in a supplement or two? Here we share new research which lends more value to vitamins.


FOR decades Vitamin D has been linked to bone health. Also known as the sunshine drug, it is famous for helping our bones absorb calcium. But recent research shows that D plays a far greater role in keeping us healthy than we imagined: this vitamin is now associated with a range of disparate diseases like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cancer, stroke and schizophrenia.

In fact, scientists have mapped over 200 genes that the vitamin directly influences. Published in the journal Genome Research, this study links the vitamin D receptor to a number of genes that increase our susceptibility to autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, lupus, and cancers such as leukaemia and colorectal cancer.

Vitamin D levels have also been related to diabetes and heart disease. Middle aged and elderly people with high levels of the vitamin can reduce their chances of developing heart disease or diabetes by 43 per cent, according to researchers at the University of Warwick.

They reviewed 28 studies across a variety of ethnic groups including men and women and concluded that there is a significant association between high levels of vitamin D and a decreased risk of developing cardiovascular disease (33 per cent compared to low levels of vitamin D) and type 2 diabetes (55 per cent reduction).

Diabetics with severe D deficiency are also 95 per cent more likely to die of complications, says a research published in the journal Diabetes Care.

"Vitamin D is a growth factor which promotes generative ability of pancreas to produce insulin. Deficiency means the pancreas won't produce as much insulin leading to high blood sugar. General fatigue, pain in calves and shinbone or hair loss can indicate vitamin D deficiency in diabetics which can be confirmed through blood serum test," says Dr Dheeraj Kapoor, consultant endocrinologist, Artemis Health Institute.

Helps during pregnancy

TAKING the "sunshine drug" during pregnancy and the early years is also beneficial for a child's health in later life. Some countries such as France have instituted this as a routine public health measure. Deficiency of the vitamin leads to pelvic contraction resulting in increased risk of fatality of both mother and unborn child.

A study done at Queensland Brain Institute, Australia, found that those born with low vitamin D levels are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia later in life. Low levels of vitamin D are also associated with lower lung function and greater medication use in children with asthma.

They were found to respond to more allergens, could not inhale optimal amount of oxygen and had to take more medicines as compared to patients with adequate amount of the vitamin in their bodies, says the study published in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology. Adequate Vitamin D enhanced the activity of corticosteroids, the most effective controller medication for asthma. Another study conducted at the University of Massachusetts found a relationship between vitamin D and premenstrual syndrome.

The emotional and physical symptoms of PMS including aches, cramps, bloating, nausea, anxiety and irritability are 70 per cent less troublesome for women who have a high dietary intake of vitamin D. This can be a good option instead of birth control pills and antidepressants which are commonly prescribed to women to help treat these symptoms but also have serious side effects.

Counter the deficiency

THOUGH D is produced naturally in the body by exposure to sunlight, its deficiency is very common across the world and Indians, in particular, are at high risk. "We are genetically prone to vitamin D deficiency which is why we need to be out in the sun more often than the westerners who faces the problem only when they age," says Dr K K Aggarwal, general physician and cardiologist, Moolchand Medcity.

According to a study conducted at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, more than 75 per cent of healthy people in northern India have vitamin D deficiency, irrespective of age or socio-economic status. "Our traditional set up was such that we were bound to spend time in sun playing outdoor games, working in the fields or knitting. The famous yoga sequence of surya namaskar is also meant to make you spend time in the sun. That, however, is not the case anymore with people working long hours in office, doing yoga postures in front of TV and children playing indoor video games," says Dr Aggarwal.

Those who are overweight have less Vitamin D circulating in their blood as the vitamin gets stored in the fat instead. Ironically, increasing their D levels can help fat people shed weight. However, just because you are not taking enough sun does not mean you can gulp down vitamin D supplements without any precaution.

"Don't try self medication. If you are living with a disease, ask your doctor if vitamin D supplementation can help. He will prescribe the amount you require. You can also go for annual test to check levels of vitamin D in your body," says Dr Ashutosh Shukla, head of internal medicine, Artemis Health Institute. An adult needs 600-800 IU of vitamin D daily. Try and include the few kinds of food that contain Vitamin D in your diet.

Natural food sources of vitamin D are limited and include oily fish like salmon, tuna, cod liver, herring and eggs. The best source obviously is sunlight and 20 minutes exposure can help you maintain the optimal levels.

When you ingest vitamin D supplements, only about 60 per cent of it is absorbed as compared to 100 per cent absorption when your body makes it through sun exposure. Morning sunshine is the best for synthesis of D in your body because its wavelength is most potent. So those who often wake up at noon are missing the right vitamin delivery.


WHILE all of us know that vitamin E benefits the skin and hair, less is known about its capacity to counter prostate cancer. In a recent study, researchers found that vitamin E can significantly reduce tumor regrowth. A particular constituent of vitamin E, known as tocotrienol (T3), is the main inhibitor against prostate tumors, says a study published in the International Journal of Cancer. The current treatments of chemotherapy and hormonal therapy are insufficient as well as risky as the tumor grows back in most cases. Natural vitamin E obtained from palm oil is rich in T3.

Another form of vitamin E called gamma-tocopherol may be a useful additional treatment for asthma patients because of its antioxidant properties. Researchers at the University of North Carolina, Duke University, and Purdue University investigated the biological activity of a gamma-tocopherol supplement in asthma patients. They found that vitamin E prevented inflammation and decreased oxidative stress without any adverse health effects. Gamma-tocopherol is commonly found in food and is missing in artificial supplements.

Among the natural sources of Vitamin E are green leafy vegetables, soybeans, raw nuts and seeds, olive oil, peanuts, cornmeal and sweet potatoes.


VITAMIN C is known to build immunity and stave off premature aging. It is now being touted as a mood enhancer too. A study published in the journal Nutrition found that treatment with vitamin C rapidly improved the emotional state of acutely hospitalized patients. Those with high vitamin C levels lower their risk of getting a stroke too: Published in the journal Stroke, the study found that the risk of stroke was 70 per cent higher among those with lowest levels of C as compared to those with the highest level. Higher concentrations of C in the blood also proved beneficial to patients with other risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high body mass index.

Those with low levels of Vitamin C are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, which leads to swelling and stiffness in the joints of the knees, wrists and ankles. Studies at Manchester and Cambridge Universities found that people who ate plenty of dietary sources of Vitamin C, such as fruit and vegetables, substantially reduced their risk of developing the disease.

C has also been found to help reduce risk of heart attack and stroke. In fact, an American study found that a daily dose of 0.5mg of vitamin C can reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke by 11 per cent. And if you have problem conceiving, C can be of great help. Studies have found that Vitamin C can also boost sperm count while reducing the number of abnormal sperm.

It is well known that citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, grapefruits, tangerines, limes, and others contain vitamin C. Other good sources are tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, peppers, broccoli and asparagus.


A TWO-YEAR clinical trial in England has shown that B vitamins, including B-6, B-12 and folic acid, slow down mild cognitive impairment, a condition which is a major risk factor for Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

Patients who already exhibit signs of dementia and test positive for high levels of homo cysteine responded better than others to the large doses of B vitamins.

Another study says that people who have higher levels of vitamin B6 and certain essential proteins in their blood seem to be at a lower risk of getting lung cancer. Done by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the study found that high levels of Vitamin B6 and the amino acid methionine cut the risk of getting the disease by half. These essential nutrients can be obtained from nuts, fish, oats, barley, wheat bran, avocado and meat.


mbarnes said...

a good site for information on vitamin D is

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