How to Live a Healthy Lifestyle Longer

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Healthy Lifestyle, Live Longer

Wish I Knew At 20

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

how to live a healthy lifestyleI wish I knew how to live a healthy lifestyle when I was 20.  But, I was a typical 20-year-old American. I ate lots of junk food. I thought an occasional tennis game was all the exercise I needed. I never really thought about what I was doing. I just did what all my friends did. If I hadn’t changed what I was doing, I might have had a short, unhealthy life.

Of course, I did change, and those changes made all the difference. Now I’m in my 70s, and I’m in perfect health. I have no diseases. Even the allergies I had when I was younger have gone away as I improved my diet and lifestyle. I am on no medications. I have the blood pressure of a 16-year-old.

I call this article “How to Live a Healthy Lifestyle:  Wish I Knew At 20”, but this article isn’t about me. I wrote this article for all the other 20-year-olds who know as little about nutrition and health as I did at 20. I also wrote this article for all those people who haven’t changed – those people with the same diet and lifestyle they had at 20. It’s never too late to change and begin to live a healthy lifestyle.

 

How to Live a Healthy Lifestyle:  What I Wish I Knew At 20

 

Here are 15 tips I would pass along to all the 20-year-olds, even those 20-year-olds in older bodies:

#1: You Are In Charge: You have a brain. You have free will. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. It is time to start thinking about what your health and your life will be like if you don’t change. More importantly, it is time to start thinking about what your health and your life could be like if you do make positive changes.

#2: It Matters: I can’t emphasize strongly enough how important it is to make positive changes in your diet, your exercise, and your overall lifestyle. We know all the major killer diseases (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, etc) are affected by diet and lifestyle. However, it is much more than avoiding disease. As you age, your quality of life is dramatically affected by how much you have moved and what you have put in your mouth over your lifetime.

If you have any question about how important healthy eating can be, take time to view documentary movies like “Forks Over Knives” or “Eating You Alive.” I’m not necessarily advocating that extreme a diet, but these films will get you thinking.

fad diets#3: Avoid the Fads: Once you have decided to adopt a healthier lifestyle, the hardest part is deciding which changes you should make. You will need to practice a lot of due diligence. There is a lot of hype and misinformation out there. There is a new fad every week. First, it’s low fat. Then it’s low carb. Then it’s no bananas before noon on Thursdays (I’m joking here, but you get the point. Some of the diets are just plain weird).

Most of those diet recommendations sound plausible. They all have their advocates who are only too happy to offer their testimonials. My advice: If it sounds too good to be true, avoid it. If they tell you the medical profession is trying to keep their diet a secret, avoid it. The consensus advice of the medical and nutrition communities may seem boring, but it is generally based on dozens of clinical studies. It is much more likely to be true than advice from your friends, your trainer, or that blogger who values controversy more than accuracy.

#4: We Are All Different: Health recommendations are usually based on dozens of clinical studies. But, here is the secret that only scientists know. Clinical studies report averages, but none of us are average. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you wanted to do a clinical study to evaluate whether a low-carb diet helps people lose weight. You might enroll several hundred people in your study. If you put them all on an identical low-carb diet for 8 weeks, some of them would lose weight. Others would gain weight. At the end of the 8 weeks, you would average all weight changes together and report the average weight loss.

For the sake of argument, let’s say the average weight loss was 6.4 pounds. That’s fine except that not a single person in the study lost exactly 6.4 pounds, and some may have even gained weight. The bottom line is that your results may be different from conventional wisdom. Your results may be different from your friend’s. You will need to find out what works best for you.

#5: You Don’t Have To Change All At Once: Some people have an iron will and can make drastic changes overnight. Most of us aren’t like that. If we try to change too many things at once, we become overwhelmed. We become discouraged. Sometimes we quit. Think of this as a marathon, not a sprint. Make “Change One” your slogan. Change one thing each week until you are where you want to be. One week it may be replacing sugary desserts with fruits. Another week it may be adding a green vegetable to your dinner plate. Over time, all those small changes will result in a totally different lifestyle.

processed foods#6: Your Tastes Will Change: The first time you choose a low sodium food, it will taste bland. Over time you will come to enjoy the subtle flavors of the food and will come to dislike added salt. The first time you switch from whole milk to low fat milk it will taste like water. Over time you will learn to appreciate low fat milk, and whole milk will taste greasy. I could give lots more examples, but you get the point.

#7: Processed Foods, Sweets, and Sodas Will Kill You: I’m being dramatic here, but they are bad for your health. They have no place as part of a healthy diet. Replace the processed foods and sweets with whole foods. Replace the sodas with water or herbal teas.

#8: It’s What You Do Every Day That Matters: Refined grains, pastries and sweets should be only an occasional indulgence. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains should be the mainstay of your everyday diet. Eat a plant-based diet as much as possible.

#9: Protein Is Important, Especially As We Get Older: Low fat or vegetarian protein sources should be your first choice. Chicken (with the skin removed) and fish are the healthiest meats. Nuts, beans & seeds are excellent vegetarian protein sources, especially in combination. Think of red meats as no more than an occasional indulgence.

#10: Avoid The Center Of The Supermarket: This is my only shopping advice. In general, supermarkets are arranged with real foods around the edges and the processed foods in the middle.

organic foods#11: Choose Organic: Our planet has become so polluted that is has become impossible to completely avoid toxic chemicals in our environment. They are in our air, our water, our soil, and our homes. Our only defense is to be informed consumers and avoid them whenever possible. If the cost of organic produce is an issue for you, be selective. There is a Dirty Dozen  list of fruits and vegetables that are the ones most likely to be contaminated with pesticides and herbicides.

#12: Get Lots Of Exercise: Most experts recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5 times per week. More is even better. For best results choose a combination of aerobic and weight bearing exercise.

#13: Control Your Weight: We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic. The problem is that 80% of us are genetically predisposed to become obese if we eat a typical American diet and follow a typical American lifestyle. The solution isn’t the fad diet du jour. The solution is to change our diet and our lifestyle. For most of us, the changes I have outlined above will allow you to gradually attain & maintain your ideal weight.

#14: Supplementation Plays A Role: Supplementation is not a magic bullet, but it is an important component of a holistic wellness program. Some of us need supplementation to fill in nutritional gaps in our diet. Some of us need supplementation because of increased needs, either because of disease or genetics. Some of us choose supplementation to achieve optimal health.

#15: Enjoy The Journey: If you think of a healthy lifestyle as depriving you of the things you enjoy, you will avoid it. Instead, think of it as an adventure. Have fun exploring new fruits and vegetables. Try cooking with herbs and spices. Seek out restaurants and recipes that turn healthy foods into a gourmet experience. Find exercises that you actually enjoy.  Now you know how to live a healthy lifestyle and for longer.

What Does This Mean For You?

This was not meant to be a diet book. Because each of us is different, I have shared 15 tips rather than a rigid diet plan that everyone should follow. However, I suspect many of you are scratching your heads and saying: “Where do I go from here?”. For those of you who would like more specific recommendations for your new, healthier lifestyle, I recommend my recent article “What Is The Best Diet For You?”.

 

The Bottom Line

 

In this article, I have shared 15 tips for a longer, healthier life. They are:

  • You are in charge.
  • It matters.
  • Avoid the fads.
  • We are all different.
  • You don’t have to change all at once.
  • Your tastes will change.
  • Processed foods, sweets and sodas will kill you.
  • It’s what you do every day that matters.
  • Protein is important, especially as we age,
  • Avoid the center of the supermarket.
  • Choose Organic.
  • Get lots of exercise.
  • Control your weight.
  • Supplementation plays a role.
  • Enjoy the journey.

For more details, read the article above and find out how to live a healthy lifestyle longer.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Should We Take Calcium Supplements?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Calcium Supplements, Exercise, Food and Health, Healthy Lifestyle

Clearing Up The Calcium Confusion

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

should we take calcium supplementsShould we take calcium supplements?  You have every right to be confused about calcium supplementation. There have been a lot of conflicting headlines in recent months.

It has seemed like a no-brainer for years that calcium supplementation could help post-menopausal women and men over 50 avoid the debilitating effects of osteoporosis.

After all:

  • >99% of adults fail to get the USDA recommended 2.5-3 servings/day of dairy products.
  • 67% of women ages 19-50 and 90% of women over 50 fail to meet the RDA recommendations for calcium intake from diet alone.
  • Men do a little better (but only because we consume more food). 40% of men ages 19-50 and 80% of men over 50 fail to meet the RDA recommendations for calcium intake from diet alone.
  • Inadequate calcium intake over a lifetime is considered a major risk factor for osteoporosis.
  • Osteoporosis is serious business. It doesn’t just cause bone fractures. It can result in chronic pain, disability, long term nursing home care, and even death.

It’s no wonder that some experts have predicted that supplementation with calcium and vitamin D could save over $1 billion per year in health care cost savings. It is also why health professionals have recommended calcium supplementation for years, especially for postmenopausal women and men over 50.

However, recent headlines have claimed that calcium supplementation doesn’t really increase bone density or prevent osteoporosis (more about that later). Other headlines have suggested that calcium supplementation is actually bad for you. It may increase your risk of heart disease.

That’s why the general public, and even many doctors, are confused.  Should we take calcium supplements?  Everyone wants to know the answer to two questions:

  • Do calcium supplements work?
  • Are calcium supplements safe?

I will start with the second question first.

Are Calcium Supplements Safe?

are calcium supplements safeI have discussed the issue of calcium supplements and heart disease risk in a previous issue of Health Tips From the Professor. Briefly, the initial studies suggesting that calcium supplementation might increase the risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease were good studies, but they were small, short-term studies.

The initial studies raised an important question, so the scientific community stepped up to the plate and conducted larger, longer term studies to test the hypothesis. Both of those studies concluded that calcium supplementation posed no heart health risks.

Now a third major study on the subject has just been published (Raffield et al, Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Disease, doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2016.07.007). The study followed 6236 men and women ages 45-84 for an average of 10.3 years. The subjects were from four different race/ethnicity groups and came from 6 different locations in the United States. More importantly, there were 208 heart attacks and 641 diagnoses of cardiovascular disease during the study, so the sample size was large enough to accurately determine the relationship between calcium supplementation and heart disease.

The results were pretty straight forward:

  • The authors concluded: “[This study] does not support a substantial association of calcium supplement use with negative cardiovascular outcomes.” If you would like the plain-speak version of their conclusion, they were saying that they saw no increase in either heart attacks or overall cardiovascular disease in people taking calcium supplements.
  • If anything, they saw a slight decrease in heart attack risk in those taking calcium supplements, but this was not statistically significant.

In summary, the weight of evidence is pretty clear. Three major studies have now come to the same conclusion: Calcium supplementation does not increase the risk of either heart attacks or cardiovascular disease.

Of course, once information has been placed on the internet, it tends to stay there for a very long time – even if subsequent studies have proven it to be wrong. So the myth that calcium supplementation increases heart attack risk will probably be with us for a while.

So, should we take calcium supplements?  Let’s first investigate a little further.

 

Do Calcium Supplements Work?

do calcium supplements workAs I mention above, recent headlines have also suggested that calcium supplementation does not increase bone density, so it is unlikely to protect against osteoporosis. I analyzed the study behind those headlines in great detail in two previous issues of Health Tips From the Professor.

In Part 1 Calcium Supplements Prevent Bone Fractures  I pointed out the multiple weaknesses in the study that make it impossible to draw a meaningful conclusion from the data.

 

In Part 2 Preventing Osteoporosis  I discussed the conclusion that the study should have come to, namely: Adequate calcium intake is absolutely essential for strong bones, but calcium intake is only one component of a bone healthy lifestyle.

The bottom line is that calcium supplementation will be of little use if:

  • You aren’t getting adequate amounts of vitamin D and all of the other nutrients needed for bone formation from diet and supplementation.
  • You aren’t getting enough exercise to stimulate bone formation.
  • You are consuming bone dissolving foods or taking bone dissolving drugs.

Conversely, none of the other aspects of a bone healthy lifestyle matter if you aren’t getting enough calcium from diet and supplementation.

The bottom line is that you need to get adequate calcium and have a bone healthy lifestyle to build strong bones and prevent osteoporosis, and calcium supplementation is often essential to make sure you are getting adequate calcium.

 

Should We Take Calcium Supplements?

should we take calcium supplements nowShould we take calcium supplements?  If you are one of the millions of Americans who aren’t meeting the RDA guidelines for calcium from diet alone, the answer is an unqualified yes.  Calcium supplementation is safe, and it is cheap.  Osteoporosis is preventable, and it is not a disease to be trifled with.

However, you also need to be aware that calcium supplementation alone is unlikely to be effective unless you follow a bone healthy lifestyle of diet, exercise and appropriate supplementation to make sure you are getting all of the nutrients needed for bone formation.

Of course, it is always possible to get too much of a good thing. The RDA for calcium is 1,000 – 1,200 mg/day. The suggested upper limit (UL) for calcium is 2,000 – 3,000 mg/day.  I would aim closer to the RDA than the UL unless higher intakes are recommended by your health care professional.

 

The Bottom Line

 

  • 80% of men and 90% percent of women over 50 do not get enough calcium from their diet.
  • Consequently, doctors have consistently recommended calcium supplementation to prevent osteoporosis, and 50% of men and 60% of women over 60 currently consume calcium supplements on a regular basis.
  • Some small, short term studies suggested that calcium supplementation might increase the risk of heart disease, and warnings about calcium supplementation have been widely circulated on the internet. This hypothesis has been evaluated by three larger, longer term studies that have all concluded that calcium supplementation does not increase heart disease risk.
  • A recent study claimed that calcium supplementation was ineffective at increasing bone density, and that report has also been widely circulated. However, there are multiple weaknesses in the study that make it impossible to draw a meaningful conclusion from the data.
  • If you are one of the millions of Americans who aren’t meeting the RDA guidelines for calcium from diet alone, you should consider calcium supplementation.  It is safe.  It is effective when combined with a bone healthy lifestyle of diet, exercise, and appropriate supplementation.  Finally, it is cheap. Osteoporosis is preventable, and it is not a disease to be trifled with.
  • Of course, it is always possible to get too much of a good thing. The RDA for calcium is 1,000 – 1,200 mg/day. The suggested upper limit (UL) for calcium is 2,000 – 3,000 mg/day. I would aim closer to the RDA than the UL unless higher intakes are recommended by your health care professional.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Deceptive Food Labels

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Deceptive Food Labels, Healthy Lifestyle, Supplements and Health

What The Food And Supplement Industries Don’t Want You To Know

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

deceptive food labelsHealthy Eating Is In. We are told we need more fiber, whole grains, fruits & vegetables, nuts and omega-3s in our diet. We are being told that we should be eating “super foods” we’ve never heard of because of their amazing health benefits. As a consequence, more and more Americans are reading labels to be sure that the foods and supplements they are buying are healthy.  We trust the FDA and others not to allow us to be had by deceptive food labels.

But what if those food labels were deceptive? What if the food labels were more about marketing than about real health benefits? Is it possible that BIG FOOD Inc. and the supplement industry could actually be lying to us? Could it be that the manufacturers care more about their profits than about our health?

Deceptive Food Labels? 

Vegetable & Fruit Follies In The Supermarket

Everyone knows that fruits and vegetables are good for us. They are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients as well as fiber. But who wants to spend the time peeling an orange or washing the pesticides off that broccoli? It’s much more fun to get our fruits and vegetables from chips, pasta, and breakfast cereals.

companies that use deceptive food labelsFood manufacturers are only too happy to oblige. The chemical companies make a variety of fruit and vegetable powders that food manufacturers can add to their products. For example, Powder Pure tells food manufacturers “Whether you want to add nutrition to your label, infuse full color, or formulate a specific flavor profile for your discerning consumers, Powder Pure has the right powder to enhance your presence in the marketplace.”  You will notice they are talking about adding nutrition to the label, not to the food. They are talking about “enhancing your presence in the marketplace,” not making your food healthier.

The problem is that sprinkling a little fruit and vegetable powder into a processed food will never provide the full range of nutrients that those fruits and vegetables would have provided.

Most manufacturers can’t (or won’t) specify the amounts of nutrients and phytonutrients you get from the fruit & vegetable powders they add to their processed foods, but that doesn’t stop them from making label claims like “We pop a flavorful blend of nine veggies…[in our chips]” or there is “half serving of vegetables in a 2 oz serving…[of our pasta].”  Is this using deceptive food labels?

The Fruits & Vegetables in a Capsule Con

One of my pet peeves is the food supplement manufacturers who try to tell you that they have concentrated a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables in a capsule. For example, one company claims that their capsules contain apple, barley, broccoli, beet, cabbage, carrot, cranberry, date, garlic, kale, oats, orange, parsley, peach, pineapple, prunes, spinach, plant enzymes, fiber, and acidophilus.  All this in one capsule!  Does that sound like the use of deceptive food labels?

While this list sounds impressive, you need to ask whether they are providing meaningful amounts of those fruits and vegetables.  For example, the product claims to have oats.  A serving of oats is equal to 1/3 cup dry oats and weighs about 28 grams.  A capsule typically weighs about 0. 5 grams. Therefore, to get the equivalent of one serving of oats from a capsule, you would have to consume 56 capsules!  And that’s assuming that the entire capsule was filled with oats.

Broccoli is another claimed ingredient.  A serving of fresh broccoli weighs 88 grams, but roughly 80 grams of that is water.  So if you dehydrated the broccoli you would be left with about 8 grams of material. Therefore, to get a single serving of dehydrated broccoli you would have to consume 16 capsules. Again, that’s assuming that the capsules were completely filled with just broccoli.

You can do this kind of calculation with each ingredient they claim is in their capsules.  But when you add up the number of capsules needed to get a reasonable amount of each of these ingredients, the capsule total is staggering.

deceptive food labels marketingAs for essential nutrients, when you read the labels on some of these products you discover that their capsules only contain small amounts of a few essential nutrients. They simply do not provide significant amounts of the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients you would have been getting if you ate the real foods.

On the other hand, if the label does list significant amounts of the essential nutrients, that’s usually because purified vitamins and minerals have been added to the final product. Those products are no different from any other multivitamin supplement except that they contain insignificant quantities of fruit and vegetable powders that provide no additional health benefits. Once again, it’s all about using deceptive food labels marketing, not your good health.

Faux Protein Supplements

The same deceptive marketing practices have also entered the lucrative protein supplement marketplace. You are being told about protein products that are full of fruits & vegetables, super foods and herbs. It all sounds wonderful, but once again it is all smoke and mirrors. These companies are just mixing a little fruit and vegetable powders in with their protein powder.

You are being told that these products contain dozens of fruits and vegetables that provide vitamins and antioxidants in their natural form. However, when you read the label it is obvious that many of the vitamins and minerals in that product never saw a fruit or vegetable. They were synthesized in a chemical laboratory and added to the final product along with the fruit and vegetable powders.

You are being told that these products contain super foods that provide important phytonutrients, but none of those phytonutrients is present in sufficient quantities to be featured on the nutrition label. You are told that these products contain herbal ingredients with amazing healing powers, but none of the active ingredients of the claimed herbs are present in high enough quantities to be included on the nutrition label.

fruits and vegetablesOnce again, it is all about marketing. Manufacturers are adding fruit and vegetable powders and a pinch of herbal ingredients to their protein powders so that they can make marketing claims, but those fruit and vegetable powders and herbal ingredients aren’t present in large enough quantities to make any significant impact on your health.

Allowed Label Claims

Many of you have asked me about companies that claim their supplement has the amount of vitamin C found in 7 oranges or the amount of folic acid found in 4 cups of cooked green peas.  Those are allowed claims and are generally accurate. Just don’t assume that the vitamin C actually came from 7 oranges (it didn’t) or that their supplement has all the nutrients found in 7 oranges (it doesn’t).  Again, these companies find ways to use deceptive food labels to make sales.

 

The Bottom Line

  • We are being told that we should read labels to make sure that the foods and supplements we buy are good for us. We are also being told that we should be eating more fruits and vegetables. Food manufacturers know an emerging trend when they see one, so many of them are adding fruit and vegetable powders to the foods and supplements they manufacture. This increases the marketing appeal of their products, but does nothing to make their products healthier. It is label deception, pure and simple.

If you want to avoid being deceived by deceptive food labels, you should:

  • Ignore the label claims of fruits and vegetables added to the processed foods you see in the market. The fruit and vegetable powders added to those foods provide no proven benefit. The best place to get your fruits and vegetables is to [surprise] eat your fruits and vegetables.
  • Leave those supplements claiming to have concentrated lots of fruits and vegetables into a single capsule on the shelf. Those claims are grossly deceptive because the capsules do not contain significant amounts of the fruits and vegetables listed on the label. They do not provide the nutrients you would have gotten if you had eaten the real foods. Once again, the best way to get the fruits and vegetables you need in your diet is to actually eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Forget those protein supplements that make amazing claims based on all the fruits, vegetables, super foods, and herbal ingredients they have. Once again, the fruit and vegetable powders and herbal ingredients in these products are not present in sufficient quantities to provide any significant health benefits. It is the marketing that is amazing, not the health benefits.
  • Finally, many of you have asked me about companies that claim their supplement has the amount of vitamin C found in 7 oranges or the amount of folic acid found in 4 cups of cooked green peas. Those are allowed claims and are generally accurate. Just don’t assume that the vitamin C actually came from 7 oranges (it didn’t) or that their supplement has all the nutrients found in 7 oranges (it doesn’t).

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Does Obesity Cause Cancer?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Diets, Exercise, Healthy Lifestyle, Lose Weight, Obesity, Obesity and Cancer

Is The Obesity Epidemic Killing Us?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Does obesity cause cancer?

does obesity cause cancerYou probably already know that we are in the midst of a world-wide obesity epidemic. If not, here are some of the alarming statistics that characterize that epidemic:

  • The global prevalence of obesity has increased by 27.5% between 1980 and 2013.
  • 35% of the adult population worldwide is now overweight (BMI ≥ 25), including 12% who are classified as obese (BMI ≥30).
  • According to the NIH the situation is even worse in developed countries like the US where 75.1% of adults are now overweight, including 35.7% who are obese, and 6.3% who are very obese (BMI ≥40).

Unfortunately, overweight and obesity are not benign. You probably already knew that those excess pounds increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure and much more. You probably also knew that those excess pounds increase your risks of certain types of cancer such as colon, rectal, kidney, pancreatic, postmenopausal breast, ovarian and uterine cancer.

It’s been a little more difficult to determine just how much obesity increases cancer risk. However, a recent study suggests that the increased risk could be quite significant. In fact, if this study is correct, obesity may only be second to smoking as a preventable cause of cancer. The truth might just scare you skinny!

Does Obesity Cause Cancer?

cancer epidemicThe International Agency For Research On Cancer did a worldwide study, (Arnold et al, The Lancet Oncology 16: 36-45, 2015),  in which they looked at the effect of BMI on cancer incidence in adults aged 20 years or older. The BMI data was collected in 2002 and was segregated by sex and age groups. Recognizing that cancer takes decades to develop, they then collected data on newly diagnosed cancers in adults 30 and older in the same countries in 2012.  They were determined to get closer to answering the question, does obesity cause cancer?

By comparing BMIs in 2002 with the incidence of newly diagnosed cancers 10 years later they were able to calculate the effect of excess body weight (BMI ≥25) on cancer incidence. The results were startling:

  • They estimated that 481,000 new cases of cancer in 2012 in adults over 30 were attributable to excess weight.
  • That represents 3.6% of all new cancer cases, which makes overweight second only to smoking as a preventable cause of cancer.
  • Uterine cancer, postmenopausal breast cancer, and colon cancer accounted for 63.6% of all cancers caused by overweight. Other cancers affected by excess weight were rectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, gallbladder cancer, and ovarian cancer.
  • The effect of excess weight on cancer risk was almost 3-fold greater for women (5.4% of new cancer cases) than for men (1.9% of new cancer cases).
  • In North America 111,000 new cases of cancer in 2012 for adults over 30 were attributable to excess weight. That represents 3.5% of all new cancers in men and 9.4% of all new cancers in women.
  • A quarter (about 118,000) of the worldwide cancer cases related to high BMI in 2012 could be attributed to the increase in BMI that has occurred since 1982.

The authors concluded “These findings emphasize the need for a global effort to abate the increasing numbers of people with high BMI. Assuming that the association between the high BMI and cancer is causal, the continuation of current patterns of population weight gain will lead to continuing increases in the future burden of cancer.”

What Does This Study Mean For You?

We have to stop kidding ourselves. That excess flab isn’t harmless. It is killing us, and cancer is a particularly gruesome way to go. It’s time to get serious about weight loss. Here are my top 5 tips for lasting weight loss.

  • fad dietsEat healthy low calorie meals and snacks with plenty of protein so that you maintain muscle mass while you are losing fat.
  • Avoid the fad diets. You don’t need to restrict carbohydrates or fats. You just need to focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy proteins and modest amounts of healthy fats and healthy carbohydrates.
  • Find an exercise program you like and stick with it every day.
  • Focus on true lifestyle change rather than short term diets. A good strategy is to make one healthy change at a time rather than trying to do everything at once.
  • Change how you think about food, think about exercise, and think about your ability to make the kinds of changes that will lead to permanent weight loss. Don’t think of yourself as a fat person who is trying to lose weight. Think of yourself as a skinny person who happens to have a few extra pounds that are on their way out.

Of course, getting to a healthier weight isn’t the only change you want to make if you are trying to reduce your risk of cancer. Here are my top 7 lifestyle change suggestions (besides weight loss) for reducing cancer risk.

  • healthy eatingIf you smoke, stop. No ifs, ands, or buts. Smoking is still the #1 cause of cancer.
  • Eat a healthy diet (including supplements to fill the gaps).
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those that are good sources of cancer-fighting antioxidants, carotenoids, flavonoids, and polyphenols.
  • Eat fish and fish oil supplements to make sure that you get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Minimize saturated fats and avoid trans fats. Substitute olive oil for vegetable oils whenever possible.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink it in moderation.
  • Avoid sun exposure as much as possible, and use sunscreen when outdoors.
  • Eat healthy proteins.
  • Minimize consumption of red meats and processed meats.
  • Use chicken, fish and vegetable proteins whenever possible.
  • Soy protein is particularly helpful for reducing the risk of breast cancer. (Yes, those scary blogs about soy and breast cancer are wrong. For accurate information, just go to https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com and type soy in the search box).
  • Get plenty of exercise.
  • Get regular check-ups.

So, does obesity cause cancer?  I think you now know the answer.

 

The Bottom Line

 

  • A recent study has shown:
  • 481,000 new cases of cancer worldwide each year are attributable to excess weight.
  • That represents 3.6% of all new cancer cases, which makes overweight second only to smoking as a preventable cause of cancer.
  • Uterine cancer, postmenopausal breast cancer, and colon cancer accounted for 63.6% of all cancers caused by overweight.
  • The effect of excess weight on cancer risk was almost 3-fold greater for women (5.4% of new cancer cases) than for men (1.9% of new cancer cases).
  • In North America 111,000 new cases of cancer for adults over 30 are attributable to excess weight. That represents 3.5% of all new cancers in men and 9.4% of all new cancers in women.
  • That excess flab isn’t harmless. It is killing us, and cancer is a particularly gruesome way to go. For my top 5 tips for lasting weight loss and my top 7 tips for reducing your risk of cancer, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Do Multivitamins Reduce Heart Disease Risk?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Healthy Lifestyle, Vitamins and Health, Vitamins and Heart Disease

Will A Multivitamin A Day Keep The Doctor Away?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Junk foods and convenience foods have become the American way. We are perhaps the most overfed and undernourished country on the planet. Even worse, we are exporting our unhealthy lifestyle to the rest of the world.

Because of the foods we eat experts estimate that only somewhere between 3% and 10% of us get the nutrients we need on a daily basis. For the vast majority of Americans who are undernourished, multivitamin use helps us fill the nutritional gaps in our diet.

But could multivitamin use do more than just fill nutritional gaps? Could it also help us protect our health?  Could multivitamins reduce heart disease risk?  Here things get a bit murky. We are confused by conflicting headlines. One day the headlines blare that multivitamins are placebos. They are useless. They are a waste of money. The next day the headlines claim that multivitamins are panaceas that can help protect us from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and whatever else ails us.

In this week’s Health Tips From the Professor, I will review the latest study claiming that multivitamin use reduces heart disease risk and help you put that study into perspective.

Do Multivitamins Reduce Heart Disease Risk?

 

reduce heart disease riskThe current study (Rautianinen et al, Journal of Nutrition, doi: 10.3945/jn.115.227884, 2016)  was a re-analysis of data collected in the first Physician’s Health Study between 1982 and 1995. That study was originally designed to test the effect of aspirin and/or beta-carotene on heart disease and cancer. It enrolled a total of 22,071 male physicians over the age of 40 and followed them for an average of 12.2 years. The conclusions of the initial study were that aspirin use decreased cardiovascular risk while beta-carotene had little effect on either heart disease or cancer.

However, the study also collected data on a wide range of lifestyle factors (including diet and supplement use) and clinical outcomes, so it has provided a valuable database for many subsequent studies, including this one.

This study analyzed a subset of the population (18,530 male physicians) that did not have any sign of heart disease or cancer at the beginning of the study and looked at the effect of multivitamin usage on several cardiovascular disease outcomes including:

  • Non-fatal heart attacks
  • Non-fatal strokes
  • Death due to cardiovascular disease
  • Total cardiovascular events (the sum total of the previous three events)

Here were the results of the study:

  • When the authors simply asked whether the participants were using multivitamins or not at the beginning of the study, multivitamin use had no effect on any of the cardiovascular disease outcomes listed above. These results are similar to several similar studies.
  • However, when the authors compared those who had been using multivitamins for 20 years or more at the beginning of the study to non-users, long term multivitamin use was associated with a statistically significant 44% decrease in total cardiovascular events.
  • When the authors looked at each of the individual cardiovascular disease outcomes (heart attack, stroke, and death due to cardiovascular disease) there was a similar percentage decrease when comparing 20+ year multivitamin users with non-users, but there were not enough people in each of these individual categories for the differences to be statistically significant.

The authors concluded that their study suggests that “multivitamin use over a long duration may be associated with a lower risk of major cardiovascular events” but that further studies are needed because of the low number of long-term multivitamin users in the study.

Putting This Study Into Perspective

There are several clinical studies looking at the effect of multivitamin use on cardiovascular outcomes that have come up empty handed. However, there are an equal number of clinical studies that have shown a positive effect of multivitamin use on cardiovascular outcomes, at least under certain conditions and with certain population groups. For example:

  • For those physicians who had a prior history of heart disease, multivitamin use was associated with a 44% reduction in the risk of heart attack.  So, in this case multivitamins were shown to reduce heart disease risk.
  • There was a significant effect of age, with physicians who were 70 or older showing a stronger effect of multivitamin use on the reduction of overall cardiovascular disease.
  • This study did not ask how long the participants had been using multivitamins prior to the study so it could not assess the effects of long term multivitamin use.
  • Other studies suggest that long-term multivitamin use could also reduce heart disease risk in women. For example:

In short, the available data suggest that the benefits of multivitamin use are most likely to be apparent with those who are at highest risk of having a heart attack because of age or pre-existing disease as well as those who have been using multivitamins for decades, not just a few years.

Multivitamins And Heart Disease Risk:  Placebo Or Panacea?

placeboIf you just read the headlines you have every right to be confused. Some headlines claim that multivitamins are just placebos. They are a waste of money. Other headlines seem to suggest that multivitamins are panaceas that will prevent everything from heart disease to cancer and diabetes.  As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Let’s start with the obvious. If you are in great health, have a heart healthy diet and lifestyle, and do not have a genetic predisposition to heart disease, your chances of having a heart attack, stroke or other forms cardiovascular disease are very low. A multivitamin might benefit you in other ways, but it is unlikely to significantly reduce your already low risk of heart disease. Many of the subjects in previous studies fall into this category, which is why many of those studies come up empty handed.

The people who are most likely to benefit from multivitamin use are those who have a poor diet, or are at increased risk of heart disease because of genetic predisposition, pre-existing disease or age. None of the studies to date have looked at groups with poor diets or genetic predisposition to see whether multivitamin use did reduce heart disease risk. The one study that did look at groups who were older or had pre-existing disease found a beneficial effect of multivitamin use in those groups.

The recent study, along with several other studies, also suggests that it may require decades of multivitamin use to significantly impact heart disease risk. That makes sense. Heart disease doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes decades to develop, so it is only logical that it might also require many years of multivitamin use to significantly impact heart disease risk.

If so, this highlights a very serious flaw in those studies reporting no effect of multivitamin use on heart disease risk. Most of the negative studies only inquired about multivitamin use at the beginning of the study. They did not ask how long those people had been using multivitamins. If you ignore the long term multivitamin users, you are very likely to get a negative result.

The study featured in this article (Rautianinen et al, Journal of Nutrition, doi: 10.3945/jn.115.227884, 2016)  is a perfect example. The group who had been using multivitamins for 20+ years had a 44% decrease in heart disease risk. However, this group represented only 5% of the multivitamins users. The size of this group was not large enough to influence the overall results. Consequently, when the authors of the study looked at multivitamin users as a whole, there was no significant effect of multivitamin use on heart disease risk.

 

The Bottom Line

The question of whether multivitamin use could reduce heart disease risk has been contentious in recent years, with some studies claiming that multivitamin use has no effect, and other studies suggesting that multivitamin use significantly reduces heart disease risk. A recent study helps provide a better understanding of why previous studies have reported such conflicting results.

  • This study found that when you just asked whether people were using multivitamins or not at the beginning of the study, there was no significant effect of multivitamin use on heart disease risk – in agreement with all of the previous negative studies.  That is because those studies did not take into account the length of multivitamin use.
  • However, when the authors of the study looked at the subgroup who had used multivitamins for 20 years or more, they had a 44% decreased risk of heart disease compared to non-users. It turns out that most of the previous studies reporting a beneficial effect of multivitamin use on heart disease risk also focused on long term multivitamin users.
  • Previous studies have also suggested that multivitamin use may significantly decrease heart disease risk for people at increased risk of heart attack, either due to age or pre-existing heart disease.
  • Taken together these studies suggest that long term multivitamin use may reduce your risk of heart disease. Even short term multivitamin use may be beneficial if you are at increased risk of heart disease.
  • Of course, multivitamin use is just one piece of the heart health puzzle. For the NIH’s recommendation for a heart healthy lifestyle, click a heart healthy lifestyle.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Exercise and Weight Loss

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in current health articles, Exercise, Healthy Lifestyle, Lose Weight

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

exercise and weight lossAre you confused yet?  Just as you were starting to wrap your mind around the current consensus recommendations that we engage in 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5 days/week, news stories are starting to appear saying that might not be enough exercise if you want to lose weight!

So how much exercise DO you need, and why is there so much confusion with exercise and weight loss?

Let me start by reviewing a couple of studies that appeared a few years ago on weight loss in middle aged, overweight women.

 

Exercise and Fat Loss

The first study looked at the effect of exercise intensity on abdominal fat loss over a 16-week period(Irving et al, Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise,40: 1863-1872, 2008).

The women in this study were divided into three groups:the control group that just continued their normal exercise pattern (little or none), a group that engaged in supervised moderate intensity exercise 5 days per week, and a group that engaged in supervised, high intensity exercise 3 days per week and moderate intensity exercise the other two days.

The diet was identical for all three groups and the calories expended by exercise were also identical (the high intensity exercise was performed for shorter periods of time so that the calories expended were the same).

The results were striking. Weight loss was similar in the two exercise groups (calories do count). However, the women in the high intensity exercise group lost a significant amount of abdominal fat while the other two groups did not! As you may know, abdominal fat appears to be much more damaging metabolically than fat stores in other parts of our bodies.

 

Exercise and Weight Loss

woman runningThe second study looked at the effect of exercise duration on weight loss over a 24-month period (Jackcicet al, Archives of Internal Medicine, 168: 1550-1559,2008).

In this case the diet and the intensity of the exercise(moderate intensity) were the same. The difference was in the duration of the exercise. In this case the calories expended by exercise was not kept the same. The group that exercised for longer burned significantly more calories than those who exercise for a shorter time.

Again the results were striking. Only those study participants who exercised for at least 275 minutes/week (an average of almost 60 minutes a day for 5 days) were able to lose 10% or more of their weight and keep the weight off over a 24-month period.

 

How Much Exercise is Enough?

So what does all of this mean to you?

how much exercise is enoughWhen most Americans decide to shed a few pounds, one of the first things they think of is getting more exercise. After all, it’s much easier to walk around the block during lunch hour than to actually change what you are eating.

The question then becomes how much exercise is enough? Is the recommended 30 minutes a day of moderate intensity exercise 5 days per week enough?

If you actually work through the math, it is pretty easy to guess that it might not be enough. For example, a recent study looked at how much moderate intensity exercise would be required for a 155-pound woman to burn off the calories in same popular fast foods. For example, to burn off the calories:

  • In a MacDonald’s Big Mac, she would need to cycle at a moderate pace for 1 hour.
  • In an Arby’s Reuben, she would need to walk at a moderate pace for 3 hours.
  • In a Super Sonic Double Cheeseburger with Mayo, she would need to do low impact aerobics for 3 hours.

Of course, if she had fries and a soda with any of those meals she would need to do even more exercise.

weight loss and dietThese estimates are not just hypothetical. The studies described above clearly show that if you are relying on exercise alone to shed your excess pounds and/or excess fat, you are going to need higher intensity exercise and/or longer duration moderate intensity exercise than the current consensus recommendations suggest.

In other words, the current recommendations of 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5 days per week probably won’t make much of a dent in your weight unless the exercise is coupled with a very good weight loss program.

But, if you have ever relied on exercise alone for weight loss, you have probably guessed that already!

Of course, the consensus recommendations are still valid for what they were designed to accomplish. 30 minutes a day of moderate intensity exercise 5 days per week is sufficient to improve fitness and reduce cardiovascular risk factors.  And fitness reduces your risk of disease even if you are still overweight.

Furthermore, since many Americans probably don’t get even 30 minutes of exercise in a week, 30 minutes 5 days per week is a great starting goal.

 

The Bottom Line 

Recent studies show that the current recommendations of 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5 days per week probably won’t make much of a dent in your weight unless the exercise is coupled with a very good weight loss program.

Don’t freak out about all of the conflicting exercise recommendations. Here’s what I suggest:

1) Consult with your physician before you start any exercise program.

2) Get active. Start slowly and start by choosing activities that are fun and accessible to you.

3) Set your goal of 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5 days per week. If you want to lose weight, couple that with a well-designed weight loss program.

4) If your combination of exercise and diet isn’t putting a dent in your weight and weight loss is important to you, pick up the pace or increase the duration of exercise.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Antioxidants and Aging

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in current health articles, Healthy Lifestyle, Healthy Living, Supplements and Health

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

antioxidant agingModern medicine has helped mankind greatly extend our lifespan, but what about our “healthspan”? Aging is often associated with major degenerative diseases and loss of physical and mental functioning. As the saying goes: “Aging isn’t for sissies”. But, what if you could live healthy into your 80s and 90s? What if you had the health to truly enjoy the wisdom that comes with your years of experience?  In this article we will explore antioxidants and aging.

While healthy aging is a very personal issue for all of us in our golden years, it is a very important societal issue as well. The United Nations estimates that by 2050 more than 1/3 of the population of developed countries will be over 60. Unless we can find a way to preserve the health of these older adults, health care costs will bankrupt even the richest of countries.

That’s why the recently published study on the effect of antioxidant supplements on healthy aging in French adults (Assmann et al, American Journal of Epidemiology, 182: 694-704, 2015) is so interesting.

How Was The Study Designed?

studyThis study was a follow-up to the “Supplementation With Antioxidant Vitamins and Minerals” study that was conducted in France during 1994-2002. That was a double blind, placebo controlled study in which participants were given either a placebo or a supplement containing 120 mg of vitamin C, 6 mg of beta-carotene, 30 mg of vitamin E, 100 ug of selenium, and 20 mg of zinc every day for an eight-year period. These nutrient levels were designed to be equivalent to the quantities provided by a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

The follow-up study was conducted approximately 5 years later with 3,996 of the original participants. The investigators specifically selected participants who were disease free when they entered the original study. These study participants were equally divided between men and women and had an average age of 65.3 years.

The participants were put through a battery of screens and assigned a “healthy aging score” based on:

  • Absence of cancer, heart disease and diabetes
  • Good physical and cognitive function
  • No limitations in activities associated with daily living
  • No depressive symptoms
  • No health-related limitations in social life
  • Good overall perceived health
  • No function-limiting pain

In short those participants with a high healthy aging score had good health and good quality of life.

Are Antioxidants the Secret to Healthy Aging?

antioxidant nutrientsWhen the investigators looked at the group as a whole, the results were pretty discouraging:

  • Antioxidant supplementation provided no significant benefit to the population as a whole.
  • Antioxidant supplementation also provided no significant benefit to the women in the group.

However, when they looked at subgroups, the results were much more encouraging:

  • Antioxidant supplementation increased the probability of healthy aging by 18% for the men in the study.
  • For those participants with low serum vitamin C levels at the beginning of the study antioxidant supplementation increased the probability of healthy aging by 28%
  • For those participants with low serum zinc levels at the beginning of the study antioxidant supplementation increased the probability of healthy aging by 26%
  • For those participants consuming very few fruits and vegetables at the beginning of the study, antioxidant supplementation increased the probability of healthy aging by 17%

The conflicting results for men and women were puzzling, but the investigators pointed out that very few women had low serum vitamin C status at the beginning of the study, while 25% of the men had low serum vitamin C levels at the beginning of the study. The investigators speculated that supplementation may have been less effective in women simply because they had better diets than the men in the study. That certainly wouldn’t surprise me.

What Are The Strengths And Weaknesses Of This Study?

Let’s start with the strengths. This is the very first double-blind, placebo-controlled study to look at the role of antioxidant nutrients in healthy aging. A number of previous studies looking at the effect of antioxidant nutrients on individual components of aging have given conflicting results. The investigators pointed out that this study may have shown more beneficial effects of antioxidants than previous studies because:

  • Most previous studies have been relatively short in duration. This was an 8-year study with a 5-year follow-up period (total study length = 13 years).
  • Most previous studies did not measure baseline intake of the nutrients. This study shows that individuals with low baseline intake or low serum levels at the beginning of the study are significantly more likely to benefit from supplementation.
  • Most previous studies have measured the effects of single antioxidant nutrients, or at most combinations of 2 or 3 antioxidant nutrients. This study used a combination of 5 different antioxidant nutrients. The synergy between these nutrients may have increased the magnitude of the observed benefits.

The weaknesses of the study are also pretty apparent.

  • Since it is the first study of its kind, it does need to be validated by additional studies.
  • There is no universally accepted index for healthy aging (This is a problem for aging research as a whole, not just this study).
  • The participants in the study were not evaluated for healthy aging criteria at the beginning of the study so we have no idea how their healthy aging score changed over time.
  • The beneficial effect of antioxidant nutrients, while significant, were relatively small. You are obviously not going to live healthy to 100 by consuming antioxidant supplements alone.

Antioxidants and Aging:  Will Antioxidant Nutrients Help You?

aging gracefullyThis study does suggest that antioxidant supplements may help you achieve healthy aging. This study also makes three other very important points:

  • A holistic approach to supplementation – one involving multiple antioxidant nutrients – is much more likely to be beneficial than individual antioxidant supplements.
  • Supplementation is most likely to be beneficial for those individuals who are consuming a poor diet.
  • Supplementation is also most likely to be beneficial for those individuals who have low serum level of essential nutrients. This can be due to poor diet, but low serum levels of individual nutrients can also be caused by individual differences in metabolism or genetic make-up.

However, as noted above:

  • The study has some weaknesses and needs to be repeated.
  • The beneficial effects of antioxidant nutrients were relatively small.

That means that holistic approaches to healthy aging are more likely to be beneficial than individual supplements. Based on what we currently know a holistic approach to healthy aging includes:

  • Consuming a combination of a balanced diet and supplementation that provides sufficient levels of all the essential nutrients, not just the antioxidant nutrients. This would include things like omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols.
  • Avoiding saturated and trans fats, excess sugar, red and processed meats, which may have bad effects on your health.
  • Controlling your weight.
  • Staying mentally and physically active.
  • Maintaining strong social networks.
  • Maintaining a positive outlook on life.

 

The Bottom Line

  • A recent study suggests that antioxidant supplements may help you achieve healthy aging. This study also makes two other very important points:
  • A holistic approach to supplementation – one involving multiple antioxidant nutrients – is much more likely to be beneficial than individual antioxidant supplements.
  • Supplementation is most likely to be beneficial for those individuals who are consuming a poor diet and/or have low serum levels of essential nutrients.
  • Since the beneficial effect of antioxidant nutrients on healthy aging was relatively small, this suggests the antioxidant nutrients are just one part of a holistic approach to healthy aging that includes.
  • Consuming a combination of a balanced diet and supplementation that provides sufficient levels of all the essential nutrients, not just the antioxidant nutrients. This would include things like omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols.
  • Avoiding saturated and trans fats, excess sugar, red and processed meats, which may have bad effects on your health.
  • Controlling your weight.
  • Staying mentally and physically active.
  • Maintaining strong social networks.
  • Maintaining a positive outlook on life.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Do B Vitamins Reduce Heart Disease Risk?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in current health articles, Drugs and Health, Health Current Events, Healthy Lifestyle, Supplements and Health, Vitamins and Health

What Role Do B Vitamins Play in a Heart Healthy Lifestyle?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

b vitamins reduce heart attack riskTwo weeks ago I shared some studies that challenge the claim that vitamin E doesn’t reduce heart attack risk. To close out “Heart Health” month, I want to share some information that may change how you think about B vitamins and heart disease risk. Once again, you’ve seen the headlines: “B Vitamins Do Not Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease”. In fact, these headlines have been repeated so many times that virtually every expert thinks that it has to be true. Once again, I’m going to share some information with you that I learned from a seminar by Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg who disagrees with this commonly held belief.

Dr. Blumberg is a Professor in the Friedman School ofNutrition Science and Policy at Tufts. Dr. Blumberg has over 200 publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals. He is considered one of the world’s top experts on supplementation, and his specialty is conducting and analyzing clinical studies. He believes that the media has seriously misinterpreted the studies on B vitamins and heart disease risk. You might call this “The Rest of the Story” because you (and your doctor) definitely did not hear this part of the story in the news.

Do B Vitamins Reduce Heart Disease Risk?

heart disease in menThe study in question is called the “Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation-2“. In that study a group of middle aged men and women received 2.5 mg of folate, 50 mg of vitamin B6 and 1 mg of vitamin B12 versus a placebo and were followed for an average of 5 years.

The headlines that you may have seen said “B vitamins do not reduce the risk of major cardiovascular events in patients with vascular disease”. But, the headlines did not tell the whole story.

In the first place, that was only true for heart attacks and cardiovascular death. Strokes were reduced by 25%. I don’t know about you, but I consider strokes to be fairly major.

However, even when we focus on heart attacks and cardiovascular deaths the headlines didn’t tell the whole story. You see, even the best intentioned studies sometimes contain fatal flaws that aren’t obvious until after the study has been completed.

The Flaws In The Study

flawsThere were two major flaws in this study.

Flaw #1 was that 70% of the study subjects were eating foods fortified with folate and had adequate levels of that nutrient in their bloodstream before the study started.

For those people who were already getting enough folate in their diet, B vitamin supplementation didn’t make much of a difference. However, for those people not getting adequate levels of folate in their diet, B vitamin supplementation decreased their risk of heart disease by ~15%.

Flaw #2 was that ~90% of the people in the study had a history of coronary artery disease and most of them were already on cholesterol lowering medications.

To understand why this is a problem you have to understand both the proposed mechanism by which B vitamin supplementation has been proposed to lower the risk of heart disease AND how the cholesterol lowering drugs work.

Deficiencies of folate, B6 and B12 are thought to increase the risk of heart disease because the B vitamin deficiency causes an increase in homocysteinelevels in the blood, and high homocysteine levels are thought to increase inflammation – which is a risk factor for heart disease.  So supplementation with folate, B6 and B12 has been proposed to decrease heart disease risk by decreasing inflammation.

The problem is that the most commonly used cholesterol lowering medications also decrease inflammation.So you might not be surprised to learn that those people who had a history of coronary artery disease(and were taking cholesterol lowering medication that reduces inflammation) did not receive much additional benefit from B vitamin supplementation.

For those people in the study who were not taking cholesterol lowering medication, B vitamin supplementation also reduced their risk of heart attacks by ~15% – but there were too few people in that group for the results to be statistically significant.

So the headlines from this study really should have said “B vitamins do not reduce the risk of heart attacks or cardiovascular deaths in people who are already getting adequate folate from their diet or in people who are taking drugs that reduce the bad effects of B vitamin deficiency”. But that kind of headline just wouldn’t sell any newspapers.

What Does This Study Mean For You?

There are two very important take-home lessons from this study.

Lesson #1:  Once again this study makes the point that supplementation makes the biggest difference when people have an increased need. The studies discussed in Vitamin E and Heart Disease  two weeks ago illustrated increased need because of age, pre-existing disease, and genetic predisposition. This study illustrated increased need because of inadequate diet.

Lesson #2:  This study also illustrates a problem that is becoming increasingly common in studies of supplementation. It is considered unethical to not provide participants in both groups with what is considered the standard of care for medical practice. In today’s world the standard of care includes multiple drugs with multiple side effects, and some of those drugs may have the same mechanism of action as the supplement.

I have discussed this problem in the context of omega-3 fatty acids and heart disease in a previous “Health Tips From the Professor,”  Is Fish Oil Really Snake Oil?   In many cases it is no longer possible to ask whether supplement X reduces the risk of a particular disease. It is now only possible to ask whether supplement X provides any additional benefit for patients who are taking multiple drugs, with multiple side effects. That’s not the question that many of my readers are interested in.

 

The Bottom Line

  • Headlines have proclaimed for years the “B Vitamins Do Not Reduce Heart Disease Risk”. Dr. Jeffrey Bloomberg of Tufts University has reviewed one of the major studies behind this claim and found the headlines to be misleading.
  • For example, the study showed that B vitamin supplementation reduced strokes by 25%, which is a pretty significant finding in itself.
  • When he analyzed the portion of the study looking at heart attacks, he found two major flaws:

#1:  70% of the people in the study were already getting adequate amounts of B vitamins from their diet and would not be expected to benefit from supplementation. For the 30% who weren’t getting adequate amounts of B vitamins from their diet, supplementation reduced their risk of heart attack by 15%.

#2:  90% of the people in the study were taking a drug that masks the beneficial effects of B vitamin supplementation. For the 10% who weren’t taking the drug, supplementation with B vitamins also reduced their risk of heart attack by 15%, but there were too few people in that group for the results to be statistically significant.

Obviously, there were only a handful of people in the study who weren’t getting enough B vitamins from their diet AND weren’t on medication, so we have no idea what the effect of B vitamin supplementation was in that group.

  • Once again this study makes the point that supplementation makes the biggest difference when people have an increased need. The studies discussed in “Health Tips From the Professor” two weeks ago illustrated increased need because of age, pre-existing disease, and genetic predisposition. This study illustrated increased need because of inadequate diet.
  • This study also illustrates a problem that is becoming increasingly common in studies of supplementation. It is considered unethical to not provide participants in both groups with what is considered the standard of care for medical practice. In today’s world the standard of care includes multiple drugs, some of which may have the same mechanism of action as the supplement.

In many cases it is no longer possible to ask whether supplement X reduces the risk of a particular disease. It is now only possible to ask whether supplement X provides any additional benefit for patients who are taking multiple drugs, with multiple side effects. That’s not the question that many of my readers are interested in.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Do Calcium Supplements Prevent Bone Fractures? – Part2: Preventing Osteoporosis

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in current health articles, Drugs and Health, Exercise, Food and Health, Health Current Events, Healthy Lifestyle, Supplements and Health

Creating A “Bone Healthy” Lifestyle

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

prevent bone fracturesA recent study (Tai et al, British Medical Journal, BMJ/2015; 351:h4183 doi: 10.1136/bmj.h4183)reported that calcium supplementation for women over 50 resulted in only a very small increase in bone density, which translated into a very small (5-10%) decrease in the risk of bone fractures. They concluded that the standard RDA recommendation of 1,000 – 1,200 mg/day of calcium for adults over 50 is unlikely to help in  preventing osteoporosis or reducing the risk of bone fractures.

In last week’s issue of “Health Tips From the Professor,” I discussed the many flaws of the study. In brief:

  • The study was a meta-analysis of 51 published clinical studies. Normally, meta-analyses are very strong, but they have an “Achilles Heel” – something called the Garbage-In, Garbage-Out Simply put, this means that the meta-analysis is only as strong as the individual studies that went into it. The authors included 40 years of clinical studies in their meta-analysis, and most of those studies had an inadequate design by today’s standards.
  • The study also made a number of what I would call apples to oranges comparisons that were of questionable validity.

In this week’s issue of “Health Tips From The Professor”, I would like to explore the other side of the coin. I would like to consider the possibility that the study might be correct and discuss what that might mean for you.

What Is A “Bone Healthy” Lifestyle?

Despite the concerns I just mentioned, let’s assume for a minute that the study might just be correct in spite of its many flaws. Let’s assume that the “one size fits all” RDA recommendation of 1,000 – 1,200 mg/day of calcium if you are over 50 may actually be flawed advice. If so, perhaps it’s time to say good riddance! It may finally be time to put away the “magic bullet”, “one size fits all” thinking and start seriously considering holistic approaches.

Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about what you can do to prevent osteoporosis – and the role that supplementation should play. Let’s talk about a “bone healthy” lifestyle.

#1: Let’s start with supplementation:  Bone is not built with calcium alone. Bone contains significant amounts of magnesium along with the trace minerals zinc, copper and manganese – and all of these are often present at inadequate levels in the diet. Most of us know by now that vitamin D is essential for bone formation, but recent research has shown that vitamin K is also essential (Kanellakis et al, Calcified Tissue International, 90: 251-262, 2012). An ideal calcium supplement should contain all of those nutrients.

vegetable#2: Next comes diet:  Many of you probably already know that some foods are acid-forming and other are alkaline-forming in our bodies – and that it is best to keep our bodies on the alkaline side. What most of you probably don’t know is that calcium is alkaline and that our bones serve as a giant buffer system to help keep our bodies alkaline. Every time we eat acid-forming foods a little bit of bone is dissolved so that calcium can be released into the bloodstream to neutralize the acid. (My apologies to any chemists reading this for my gross simplification of a complex biological system).

Consequently, if we want strong bones, we should eat less acid-forming foods and more of alkaline-forming foods. Among acid-forming foods, sodas are the biggest offenders, but meat, eggs, dairy, and grains are all big offenders as well. Alkaline-forming foods include most fruits & vegetables, peas, beans, lentils, seeds and nuts. In simple terms, the typical American diet is designed to dissolve our bones. Calcium from diet or supplementation may be of little use if our diet is destroying our bones as fast as the calcium tries to rebuild them.

#3: Test your blood 25-hydroxyvitamin D level:  25-hydroxy vitamin D is the active form of vitamin D in our bloodstream. We need a sufficient (20-50 ng/mL) blood level of 25-hydroxy vitamin D to be able to use calcium efficiently for bone formation. We now know that some people who seem to be getting adequate vitamin D in their diet still have low 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels. In fact, various studies have shown that somewhere between 20-35% of Americans have insufficient blood levels of 25-hydroxy vitamin D. You should get your blood level tested. If it is low, consult with your health professional on how much vitamin D you need to bring your 25-hydroxy vitamin D into the sufficient range.

#4: Beware of drugs:The list of common medications that dissolve bones is a long one. Some of the worst offenders are anti-inflammatory steroids such as cortisone & prednisone, drugs to treat depression, drugs to treat acid reflux, and excess thyroid hormone.

I’m not suggesting that you avoid prescribed medications that are needed to treat a health condition. I would suggest that you ask your doctor or pharmacist (or research online) whether the drugs you are taking adversely affect bone density. If they do, you may want to ask your doctor about alternative approaches, and you should pay a lot more attention to the other aspects of a “bone healthy” lifestyle.

#5: Exercise is perhaps the most important aspect of a bone healthy lifestyle:Whenever our muscles pull on a bone it stimulates the bone to get stronger. I’ll put the benefits of exercise in perspective in the next section.

Exercise Is A Critical Part of  Preventing Osteoporosis

Instead of just quoting more boring studies, I’m going to share a couple of stories that help put the importance of exercise into perspective.

The first is my wife’s story. She ate a very healthy diet with minimal meat and lots of fruits and vegetables for years. She took calcium supplements on a daily basis. She walked 5 miles per day and took yoga classes several days each week. Yet when her doctor recommended a bone density scan in her early sixties she discovered she had low bone density. She was in danger of becoming osteoporotic!

weight lifting exerciseHer doctor prescribed Fosamax. My wife tried it for one day and decided the side effects were worse than the disease. So she started asking holistic health practitioners what she should do. They recommended she find a personal trainer and start pumping iron. That was not an easy solution, but it was the right one. When she went in for her second bone scan 3 months later, her doctor excitedly announced that her bone density had increased by 7%. Her doctor said “We never get results that good with Fosamax”. When my wife told her she wasn’t taking Fosamax, her doctor became even more excited. (Most doctors actually do prefer holistic approaches. They just don’t recommend them.)

The moral of this story is that you can be doing everything else right, but if you’re not doing weight bearing exercises – if you’re not pumping iron, everything else you are doing may be for naught. Weight bearing exercise is an absolutely essential part of a “bone healthy” lifestyle!

But, can exercise do it alone? Some people seem to think so. That brings up my second story. About 30 years ago one of my  UNC colleagues, who was an expert on calcium metabolism, was doing a bone density study on female athletes at UNC. One of the tennis players was nicknamed “Tab.”   Tab was a popular soft drink at that time, and Tab was all she drank – no milk, no water, only Tab. When my colleague measured the bone density of her playing arm, it was normal for a woman of her age. When he measured the bone density of her non-playing arm, it was that of a 65 year old woman. The reason is simple. When we exercise a particular bone, our body will add calcium to that bone to make it stronger. If we are not getting enough calcium from our diet, our body simply dissolves the bones elsewhere in our body to get the calcium that it needs.

The moral of this story is that exercise alone is not enough. In terms of bone health, we absolutely need exercise to take advantage of the calcium in our diet, and we absolutely need sufficient calcium in our diet to take advantage of the exercise.

This is the most glaring deficiency of the meta-analysis I described last week. None of those studies included exercise. No wonder the increase in bone density was minimal!

Putting It All Together –  A “Bone Healthy” Lifestyle

bone healthy lifestyleIf you seriously want to minimize your risk of osteoporosis, there are a few simple steps you can take (simple, but not easy).

  • Consume a “bone healthy” diet that emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, minimizes meats, and eliminates sodas and other acidic beverages. For more details on whether your favorite foods are acid-forming or alkaline-forming, you can find plenty of charts on the internet.
  • Minimize the use of medications that adversely affect bone density. You’ll need to work with your doctor on this one.
  • Get plenty of weight bearing exercise. This is an absolutely essential part of a bone healthy lifestyle. Your local Y can probably give you guidance if you can’t afford a personal trainer. Of course, if you have physical limitations or have a disease, you should consult with your health professional before beginning any exercise program.
  • Get your blood 25-hydroxy vitamin D level tested. If it is low, take enough supplemental vitamin D to get your 25-hydroxy vitamin D level into the sufficient range – optimal is even better. Sufficient blood levels of 25-hydroxy vitamin D are also absolutely essential for you to be able to utilize calcium efficiently.
  • Consider a calcium supplement. Even when you are doing everything else correctly, you still need adequate calcium in your diet to form strong bones. “I’m not necessarily recommending a “one-size fits all” 1,000 to 1,200 mg/day. Supplementation is always most effective when you actually need it. For example:
  • If you are not including dairy products in your diet (either because they are acid-forming or for other health reasons), it will be difficult for you to get adequate amounts of calcium in your diet. You can get calcium from other food sources such as green leafy vegetables. However, unless you plan your diet very carefully you will probably not get enough.
  • If you are taking medications that decrease bone density, that may increase your need for supplemental calcium. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have guidelines on how much is needed.
  • If you do use a calcium supplement, make sure it is complete. Don’t just settle for calcium and vitamin D. At the very least you will want your supplement to contain magnesium and vitamin K. I personally recommend that it also contain zinc, copper, and manganese.
  • Unfortunately, we don’t really have good guidelines for how much calcium you need. Studies like the one described above are challenging the old RDAs, but we don’t yet have enough studies to know how much calcium we need to build strong bones when we are following a “bone healthy” lifestyle that includes proper diet, sufficient 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood levels and plenty of exercise.

What About Medications For Preventing Bone Loss?

The danger is that, as the conclusions of this meta-analysis get widely publicized and doctors stop prescribing calcium supplements, they probably aren’t going to recommend a holistic approach. They probably won’t recommend a “bone healthy” lifestyle. Instead, they will most preventing osteoporosislikely recommend drugs to prevent bone loss. In fact, the authors of the study described last week specifically praised the use of bisphosphonate drugs (Fosamax and Zometa), and a related drug (Xgeva) that works by a similar mechanism because they increased bone density by 5-9% over 3 years.

However, these drugs have a dark side, and it’s not just the acid reflux, esophageal damage and esophageal cancer that you hear about in the TV ads. These drugs all act by blocking bone resorption, the ability of the body to break down bone. In the short term, this prevents the bone loss associated with aging and reduces the risk of bone fractures.

However, you might remember from last week’s article that bone resorption is also an essential part of bone remodeling, the process that keeps our bones young and strong. When these drugs are used for more than a few years you end up with bones that are dense, but are also old and brittle. Long term use of these drugs is associated with jaw bones that simply dissolve and bones that easily break during everyday activities. This is yet another example of drugs with side effects that look a lot like the disease you were taking the drug for in the first place.

 

The Bottom Line

  1. A recent study has reported that the RDA recommendation of 1,000 – 1,200 mg/day of calcium for people over 50 provides only a minimal increase in bone density (0.7-1.8%) over the first year or two. This translates into a very small (5-10%) decrease in risk of bone fractures. It did not matter whether the calcium came from dietary sources or from supplementation. The authors concluded that adding extra calcium to the diet, whether from foods or supplements, was not a very efficient way to increase bone density and prevent fractures.

2. This study suffers from some serious flaws, which I discussed in last week’s “Health Tips From the Professor

3. Unfortunately, many doctors are likely to take this study to heart. They are likely to stop recommending calcium and other natural approaches and start relying even more heavily on drugs to preserve bone mass. That’s bad news because, while the most frequently proscribed drugs do increase bone mass and prevent fractures short term, they also cause your bones to age more rapidly. After a few years you end up with bones that are dense, but are also incredibly brittle and fracture very easily. That’s right. If you use these drugs long enough, they will cause the very condition you were trying to prevent.

4. We should also consider the possibility that this study may just be correct. Let’s assume for a minute that the RDA recommendation of 1,000 – 1,200 mg/day of calcium for everyone over 50 may actually be flawed advice. If so, it may finally be time to put away the “magic bullet” thinking and start seriously considering holistic approaches to preserving bone mass.

5. A far better choice is to follow a “bone healthy” lifestyle.

  • Start with a “bone healthy” diet. Avoid acid-forming foods like sodas, meats, eggs, dairy, and grains. Instead choose alkaline-forming foods like most fruits & vegetables, peas, beans, lentils, seeds and nuts.
  • Check on the medicines you are using. If they are ones that adversely affect bone density, ask your health professional if there are bone-healthier options.
  • Check your blood level of 25-hydroxy vitamin D on a regular basis. If it is low, consult with your health professional on the amount of vitamin D you need to take to bring your 25-hydroxy vitamin D into the optimal range.
  • Get plenty of weight bearing exercise. This means pumping iron. It is an absolutely essential part of a bone healthy lifestyle. Of course, if you have physical limitations or have a disease, you should consult with your health professional before beginning any exercise program.
  • If you are not getting sufficient calcium from your diet, consider a complete calcium supplement. In addition to calcium and vitamin D, a bone-healthy calcium supplement should at the very least contain magnesium and vitamin K. I also recommend it contain zinc, copper, and manganese.

Just don’t rely on a calcium supplement alone to keep your bone density where it should be. If your 25-hydroxy vitamin D isn’t where it should be and/or you aren’t doing weight bearing exercise on a regular basis, your calcium supplement may be almost useless.   All the aforementioned may aid in preventing osteoporosis.  In my opinion, that may be the biggest take-home lesson from the recent meta-analysis.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Should You Eat Often to Lose Weight?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in current health articles, Health Current Events, Healthy Lifestyle, Lose Weight

6 Small Meals a Day Plan?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

eat like a birdShould you eat often to lose weight?  A friend, your doctor, or your favorite health guru may have told you with some conviction that eating 6 small meals a day, as opposed to 2 or 3 large meals, can help you lose weight. If you are like most people, you are probably wondering whether something so simple might be the secret to permanent weight control. Should you really eat like a bird?

The advocates of eating frequent, small meals argue that large meals cause a much larger spike in insulin resulting in more of the calories being stored as fat. They also argue that a long time between meals leads to excessive hunger and overeating when you do sit down to a meal. The opponents of this idea claim that those arguments are nonsense and that eating frequent meals can cause you to lose track of the calories you have consumed.

The clinical studies on this subject have not been much help. Some studies show that more frequent food consumption during the day is associated with lower body weight, while other studies find no association between frequency of food consumption and weight.

Your friend may have also told you that consuming your calories earlier in the day will help prevent weight gain. You’ve probably heard the saying: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper”. This hypothesis is on a bit stronger footing, but there are far too few studies on the subject.

With both of those concepts in mind, a recent study provides an excellent perspective.

Should You Eat Often to Lose Weight?

A recent study (Aljuiraban et al., Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 115: 528-536, 2015) used data from the International Study on Macro/Micronutrients and Blood Pressure to evaluate the relationship between frequency of eating and time of eating with caloric density (calories/serving), nutrient quality and BMI (a measure of body weight). The study included 2,696 men and women aged 40 to 59 years from both the United States and England. The dietary data were obtained from each participants on two consecutive days at the beginning of the study and again 3 weeks later.

The results of the study were:

  • BMI was significantly less for those individuals consuming >6 meals per day than for those consuming <4 meals/day.
  • BMI was also significantly less for those individuals consuming their calories early in the day than for those consuming most of their calories late in the day.

What Is The “Rest Of The Story”?

Those of you old enough to have heard the Paul Harvey radio show might remember that he would tell a fairly ordinary story. Then, after the commercial break, he would come back and tell “The Rest Of The Story”, and that was always the most interesting part of the story. This study is no different.

should you eat often to lose weightIf this study had just measured associations with BMI, it would have been just another boring food frequency study that just happened to show an association between more frequent food consumption and lower body weight. However, it also evaluated the association of food frequency and food timing with many other parameters. This was the most interesting part of the study. This was “the rest of the story”.

  • Those individuals consuming >6 meals/day had higher intakes of low fat dairy products, fruits and vegetables and lower intake of alcohol and red meats than those consuming <4 meals/day.
  • Those individuals consuming >6 meals/day also consumed less energy dense foods, fewer total calories, and more nutrient rich foods than those individuals consuming <4 meals/day.
  • Those individuals consuming >6 meals per day were much less likely to have their evening meal at a restaurant or cafeteria than those individuals consuming <4 meals/day.
  • Similarly, those individuals consuming the majority of their calories early in the day also had higher intake of low fat dairy products, fruits and vegetables and lower intake of alcohol and red meat than those consuming the majority of their calories late in the day. They also consumed less energy dense foods, fewer total calories, and more nutrient rich foods.
  • Although the difference was not statistically significant, it is perhaps worth noting that individuals consuming >6 meals/day tended to eat a higher percentage of their calories early in the day compared to individuals consuming <4 meals/day.

In other words, it was not necessarily the frequency or time of eating that was associated with body weight. It could simply have been the quality of the diet that determined body weight. It’s no secret that eating fewer calories, more fresh fruits and vegetable, eating lower fat dairy products, and consuming less alcohol and red meat is associated with a lower body weight. In today’s world of supersized portions, it’s also not surprising that frequently eating your dinner at restaurants is associated with higher weight.

What’s not clear from this study is why there was such a strong association between consuming a healthy, low calorie diet and frequency/timing of eating. It’s also not clear whether this is a universal association, or whether it was unique to this clinical study.

 

The Bottom Line

  • A recent study has shown that BMI was significantly less for those individuals consuming >6 meals per day than for those consuming <4 meals/day. BMI was also significantly less for those individuals consuming the bulk of their calories early in the day compared to those consuming their calories late in the day.
  • In both cases, it turns out that the individuals with lower BMI were also consuming healthier diets as measured by lower calorie intake, greater consumption of fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy and reduced consumption of alcohol and red meats.
  • Consequently, it isn’t clear from this study whether low BMI is associated with frequency of eating, timing of eating, or simply the quality of the diet.
  • The jury is still out on whether consuming frequent, small meals can help you lose weight. This just may be one of those approaches that works better for some people than for others.
  • The preponderance of evidence suggests that consuming the bulk of your calories early in the day may help you lose weight, but the evidence is far from definitive at this point.
  • However, there is universal agreement that eating a healthy, low calorie diet will help you lose weight. My money is with a healthy, low calorie diet.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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The Truth About Vitamin D

Posted December 11, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Does Vitamin D Reduce Risk Of Heart Disease & Cancer?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

the truth about vitamin dYou have every right to be confused. One day you are told that vitamin D reduces your risk of heart disease and cancer. The next day you are told vitamin D makes has no effect on those diseases. You are told vitamin D is a waste of money. What should you believe?  What is the truth about vitamin D?

In mid-November a major clinical study called VITAL was published. It examined the effect of vitamin D and omega-3s on heart disease and cancer risk. Last week I wrote about the omega-3 portion of the study. This week I will cover the vitamin D portion of the study.

Once again, if you rely on the media for your information on supplementation, you are probably confused. Headlines ranged from “Vitamin D Is Ineffective For Preventing Cancer And Heart Disease to “Vitamin D Lowers Odds Of Cancer Death.” What is the truth?

The problem is that reporters aren’t scientists. They don’t know how to interpret clinical studies. What they report is filtered through their personal biases. That is why I take the time to carefully evaluate the clinical studies, so I can provide you with accurate information. Let me sort through the dueling headlines and give you the truth about vitamin D, cancer, and heart disease.

How Was The Study Designed?

the truth about vitamin d studyThe VITAL study (JE Manson et al, New England Journal of Medicine, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1811403) enrolled 25,871 healthy adults (average age = 67) in the United States. The study participants were 50% female, 50% male, and 20% African American. None of the participants had preexisting cancer or heart disease. The characteristics of the study group were typical of the American population at that age, namely:

  • The average BMI was 28, which means that most of the participants were significantly overweight.
  • 7% of them had diabetes.

Study participants were given questionnaires on enrollment to assess clinical and lifestyle factors including dietary intake. Blood samples were taken from about 65% of the participants to determine 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels (a measure of vitamin D status) at baseline and at the end of the first year. The participants were given either 2,000 IU of vitamin D/day or a placebo and followed for an average of 5.3 years.

There were two important characteristics of the participants in this study that may have influenced the outcome.

  • The average 25-hydroxyvitamin D level of participants at the beginning of the study was 31 ng/ml (78 nmol/L). The NIH considers 20-50 ng/ml (50-125 nmol/L) to be the optimal level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D for most physiological functions. This means that study participants started in the middle of the optimal range with respect to vitamin D status.

[Note: The NIH defines the 20-50 ng/ml range as “adequate.”  However, I know many of my readers like to aim beyond adequate to reach what they consider to be “optimal.”  In the case of vitamin D, that might not be a good idea. The NIH considers anything above 50 ng/ml as associated “with potentially adverse effects.”  For that reason, I will refer to the 20-50 ng/ml range as optimal for this article. I wouldn’t want to encourage my readers to be aiming for above 50 ng/ml.]

  • Only 12.7% of participants had 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels below 20 ng/ml, which the NIH considers to be inadequate. The results with this group were not statistically different from the study participants with optimal vitamin D status, but it is not clear that there were enough people in this subgroup for a statistically valid comparison with participants starting with an optimal vitamin D status.
  • At the end of the first year, 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels in the treatment group increased to 42 ng/ml (105 nmol/L), which is near the upper end of the optimal range. Thus, for most of the participants, the study was evaluating whether there was a benefit of increasing vitamin D status from the middle to the upper end of the optimal range.
  • The study allowed subjects to continue taking supplements that contained up to 800 IU of vitamin D. While the authors tried to correct for this statistically, it is a confounding variable.

Does Vitamin D Reduce The Risk Of Cancer?

 

the truth about vitamin d and cancerYou may remember from last week that omega-3s were more effective for reducing heart disease risk than for reducing cancer risk. What is the truth about vitamin D and cancer risk?   The results are reversed for vitamin D, so I will discuss cancer first.

The study reported that vitamin D supplementation did not reduce a diagnosis of invasive cancer of any type, breast cancer, prostate cancer, or colon cancer during the 5.3-year time-period of this study. This was the result that was reported in the abstract and was what lazy journalists, who never read past the abstract, reported.

However, the rest of the study was more positive. For example, occurrence of invasive cancer of any type was reduced by:

  • 23% in African-Americans.
  • 24% in patients with a healthy body weight.

Several previous studies have suggested that vitamin D may be more effective at preventing cancer in people with a healthy body weight, but the mechanism of this effect is currently unknown.

Most previous studies have not included enough African-Americans to determine whether they respond more favorably to vitamin D supplementation. However, African-Americans have a higher risk of cancer, so this finding deserves follow-up.

In addition, when the study looked at deaths from cancer, the results were very positive. For example:

  • Cancer deaths during the 5.3-year study period were reduced by 17%.
  • The longer vitamin D supplementation was continued the more effective it became at reducing cancer deaths. For example,
  • When the authors excluded cancer deaths occurring during the first year of supplementation, vitamin D reduced cancer deaths by 21%.
  • When the authors excluded cancer deaths occurring during the first two years of supplementation, vitamin D reduced cancer deaths by 25%.

Finally, no side effects were noted in the vitamin D group.

 

Does Vitamin D Reduce The Risk Of Heart Disease?

 

the truth about vitamin d and heart diseaseThe VITAL study also looked at the effect of vitamin D on heart disease risk. What is the truth about vitamin D and heart disease?  The results from this study were uniformly negative. There was no effect of vitamin D supplementation on all major cardiovascular events combined, heart attack, stroke, or death from heart disease. Does that mean vitamin D has no role in reducing heart disease risk? That’s not clear.

The authors had a thought-provoking explanation for why the results were negative for heart disease, but positive for cancer. Remember that the participants in this trial started with a 25-hydroxyvitamin D level of 31 ng/ml and increased it to at least 42 ng/ml with vitamin D supplementation.

The authors stated that previous studies have suggested the 25-hydroxyvitamin D level associated with the lowest risk for heart disease is between 20 and 25 ng/ml. If that is true, most of the participants in this trial were already in the lowest possible risk for heart disease with respect to vitamin D status before the study even started. There would be no reason to expect additional vitamin D to further reduce their risk of heart disease.

In contrast, the authors said that previous studies suggest the 25-hydroxyvitamin D level associated with the lowest risk of cancer deaths is above 30 ng/ml. If that is true, it would explain why vitamin D supplementation in this study was effective at reducing cancer deaths.

However, previous placebo-controlled clinical studies have also been inconclusive with respect to vitamin D and heart disease. My recommendation would be to think of adequate vitamin D status as part of a holistic approach to reducing heart disease – one that includes a heart-healthy diet and a heart-healthy lifestyle – rather than a “magic bullet” that decreases heart disease risk by itself.

As for heart-healthy diets, I discuss the pros and cons of various diets in my book, “Slaying The Food Myths.”  As I discuss in my book, the weight of scientific evidence supports primarily plant-based diets that include omega-3s as heart healthy. As an example, the Mediterranean diet is primarily plant-based and is rich in healthy oils like olive oil and omega-3s. It is associated with reduced risk of both heart disease and cancer.

 

What Is The Truth About Vitamin D?

 

the truth about vitamin d signThere is a lot of confusion around the question of whether vitamin D reduces the risk of cancer. This study strengthened previous observation suggesting that vitamin D supplementation decreases cancer deaths. However, it is also consistent with previous studies that have failed to find an effect of vitamin D on cancer development. How can we understand this apparent discrepancy? The authors provided a logical explanation. They pointed out that:

  • Cancer development takes 20-30 years while this clinical study lasted only 5.3 years. That means that vitamin D supplementation only occurred at the tail end of the cancer development process. In fact, the cancer was already there in most of the patients in the study who developed cancer. It just had not been diagnosed yet. In the words of the authors: “Given the long latency for cancer development, extended follow-up is necessary to fully ascertain potential effects [of vitamin D supplementation].”
  • In contrast, none of the patients had been diagnosed with cancer when they entered the trial. That means that the patients were diagnosed with cancer during the 5.3-year study period. They were receiving extra vitamin D during the entire period of cancer treatment. Thus, the effect of vitamin D on reducing cancer deaths was easier to detect.

What Does This Study Mean For You?

the truth about vitamin d questionsVitamin D Is Likely To Decrease Your Risk Of Dying From Cancer: When you combine the results of this study with what we already know about vitamin D and cancer, the results are clear. Vitamin D appears to reduce your risk of dying from cancer. More importantly, the longer you have been supplementing with vitamin D, the greater your risk reduction is likely to be.

Vitamin D May Decrease Your Risk Of Developing Cancer: Association studies suggest that optimal vitamin D status is associated with decreased cancer risk, especially colon cancer risk. However, the long time for cancer development means that we may never be able to prove this effect through double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials.

Holistic Is Best: When you combine the VITAL study results with what we already know about vitamin D and heart disease, it appears that supplementing with vitamin D is unlikely to reduce your risk of developing heart disease unless you are vitamin D deficient. However, a holistic approach that starts with a healthy, primarily plant-based diet and makes sure your vitamin D status is adequate is likely to be effective.

The same is likely true for cancer. While the latest study suggests that vitamin D supplementation reduces your risk of dying from cancer, those vitamin D supplements are likely to be even more effective if you also adopt a healthy diet and lifestyle.

How Much Vitamin D Do You Need? The optimal dose of vitamin D is likely to be different for each of us. One of the things we have learned in recent years is that there are significant differences in the efficiency with which we convert vitamin D from diet and/or sun exposure into the active form of vitamin D in our cells. Fortunately, the blood test for 25-hydroxyvitamin D is readily available and is widely considered to be an excellent measure of our vitamin D status.

I recommend that you have your blood level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D tested on an annual basis. Based on the best currently available data, I recommend you aim for >20 ng/ml (50 nmol/L) if you wish to minimize your risk of heart disease and >30 ng/ml (75 nmol/L) if you wish to minimize your risk of cancer. If you can achieve those levels through diet and a multivitamin supplement, that is great. If not, I would recommend adding a vitamin D supplement until those levels are achieved.

Finally, you shouldn’t think of vitamin D as a magic bullet. If you are a couch potato and eat sodas and junk food, don’t expect vitamin D to protect you from cancer and heart disease. You should think of maintaining adequate 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels as just one component of a holistic approach to healthy, disease-free living.

 

The Bottom Line

 

There is a lot of confusion around the question of whether vitamin D reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease. A major clinical study has just been published that sheds light on these important questions. It reported:

  • Vitamin D did not decrease the risk of developing cancer during the 5.3-year study duration. The authors pointed out that cancer takes 20-30 years to develop, which means their study was probably too short to detect an effect of vitamin D on the risk of developing cancer.
  • Vitamin D did decrease the risk of dying from cancer, and the longer people were supplementing with vitamin D the bigger the protective effect of vitamin D was.
  • Vitamin D did not decrease the risk of heart disease. However, most study participants had a level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D that was optimal for reducing the risk of heart disease at the beginning of the study. There was no reason to expect that extra vitamin D would provide additional benefit.
  • With respect to both cancer and heart disease the best advice is to:
    • Get your 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels tested on an annual basis and supplement, if necessary, to keep your 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels in what the NIH considers to be an adequate range (20-50 ng/ml).
    • We do not have good dose response data for the beneficial effects of vitamin D on heart disease and cancer. However, according to this article, previous studies suggest you may want to am for 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels above 20 ng/ml to reduce the risk of heart disease and above 30 ng/ml to reduce your risk of cancer.
    • Consider vitamin D as just one component of a holistic approach to healthy, disease-free living.

For more details about the interpretation of these studies and what they mean for you, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

 

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