Could Vitamin D protect against Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia? The media recently wrote about this after a new study:
- The Telegraph: Study: sunshine “could help to stave off dementia”
- Science Daily: Link between vitamin D, dementia risk confirmed
However, there are a few important points to keep in mind. The study is based solely on statistical associations (an observational study). The statistics show that people with dementia are more commonly Vitamin D deficient. But this doesn’t mean that we know what the cause is.
We know from similar previous studies that almost all diseases are more common in people with Vitamin D deficiency. However, it may just as well be that for some reason people with diseases are less often out in the sun than healthy people.
If you only look at the statistics, you might think that Vitamin D is the all-time magic bullet that with some luck, may cure any disease. The most incredible pill that ever existed. However, it isn’t that fantastic.
To know for sure you need to test Vitamin D supplements in large high-quality studies to see what the effect is. Existing studies investigating supplementing with Vitamin D show more modest results than the fantastic hopes.
Maintaining a good Vitamin D level through supplementation (or sun) seems to, on average, have small or moderately positive effects on the immune system (including in several autoimmune diseases like MS), muscle strength and coordination, bone density, mood as well as fat and lean mass. It might also, on average, slightly prolong life.
Large reviews of existing studies on supplementation don’t, however, show any significant protective effect on common diseases such as heart disease, cancer or stroke. When this is tested, it will probably also be shown to apply to Alzheimer’s. But we don’t know yet.
Personally, I continue to supplement with Vitamin D daily, especially during the winter months. This is the only supplement I take daily. I think it’s good for my health and well-being – but I don’t expect any miracles. Continue Reading →
Antioxidants are often pushed as being beneficial for health, largely based on speculations and uncertain observational studies. But could supplementation with antioxidants on the contrary be harmful? Yes, probably.
A new study on mice shows that those who received antioxidant supplementation – including Vitamin E – suffered a dramatic worsening of their lung cancer.
Of course, mice are not humans. But studies on humans show alarming signs that supplementation with antioxidants is harmful for us too. They may increase the risk for certain cancer forms and supplementation with high doses of the antioxidant Vitamin E increases the risk of dying prematurely.
Your body makes its own antioxidants, in the right place. Supplementation with extra antioxidants may be harmful, among other things by preventing the immune system from fighting infections… and cancer cells. Antioxidants may neutralize one of the immune system’s weapons against unwanted intruders, oxidizing agents.
The irony is that excess doses of antioxidants might protect the cells you want to eliminate: harmful bacteria and cancer cells.
A new review of studies on vitamin D supplementation show that it does not have a major effect on common chronic diseases. There is no evidence that the risk for heart disease, cancer or stroke is significantly reduced. However, a small reduction in the risk of death (in other words a longer life) was seen in older women taking vitamin D supplements.
- USA Today: Review of vitamin D studies finds little health benefit
- BBC: Vitamin D not needed for healthy people, study finds
- MailOnline: Why taking vitamin D is “pointless”: Review finds taking supplement does little to prevent chronic disease or early death
In previous studies, relatively small doses of vitamin D were given (800 IU, or less, daily) for limited periods of time and to relatively small groups of people. Currently, several high quality studies (supplementation with high doses to larger groups of people for longer periods of time), and the first results are expected to come in 2015. They will give us much more reliable knowledge.
We can, however, already conclude that any potential effect on heart disease, cancer and stroke is limited (probably at best less than a 15% reduction in risk). Supplementing with vitamin D does not give us immunity to our most common causes of death – if anybody expected it to.
However, very exciting findings remain, indicating that avoiding vitamin D deficiency may provide other health effects. When it comes to treatment for depression, certain pain conditions, reduction of abdominal fat and various diseases associated with the immune system (asthma, seasonal allergies, eczema, MS and upper respiratory tract infections) there are many smaller studies demonstrating a positive effect.
There are many more ongoing studies on Vitamin D – including several gigantic studies as mentioned above – and we’ll soon know more.
It may be that some people have been too enthusiastic: Vitamin D is not a miracle cure for every disease (which uncertain observational studies may lead you to think). But many likely positive effects remain. And it’s still a harmless and promising way of improving your odds for keeping healthy and feeling well during the winter months.
A couple of scientists have now determined why hobbits and elves usually win over orcs, even when they are severely outnumbered. The good guys’ secret weapon? Vitamin D.
- ScienceShot: Why Hobbits Always Win
- The Medical Journal of Australia: The hobbit – an unexpected deficiency
This is of course a tongue-in-cheek statement. Being both a fantasy nerd and a Vitamin D nerd I find it quite funny.
However, imagine if it weren’t fantasy literature that was examined, but real history – perhaps the result would have been the same? What do you think?
A reader sent me this picture of a bottle of Grape seed oil. They seem to imply that their oil is better than olive oil as it’s loaded with omega 6 PUFA and vitamin E. And most non-updated experts would likely agree.
However I’ll pass, as excess omega 6 seems to increase the risk of heart disease and excess vitamin E seems to increase mortality.
I’ll stick to the olive oil, thanks. Or some perfectly heart-healthy butter.
Should pregnant women take Vitamin D supplements, and if so, how much?
No other vitamin deficiency is as common during the dark winter months as the sun vitamin. Therefore, supplementing to avoid deficiency during pregnancy makes a lot of sense.
A recent study shows that supplementing Vitamin D reduces the risk of common pregnancy complications, such as high blood sugar and high blood pressure. Despite a very low dose – only 400 IU daily, compared to placebo – there were significantly positive results.
As previous studies have shown the same results (a lower blood sugar, a lower blood pressure, lower insulin levels) from supplementation in non-pregnant people, the results from this study are clearly credible.
What Dose is Appropriate During Pregnancy?
I usually recommend a dosage between 2,000 IU daily (small women) to 5,000 IU (large men) for adults during the dark winter months. For young children 1,000 IU daily may be appropriate.
The above are the doses needed to avoid severe deficiency and where the risk of overdosing hardly exists.
I see no reason for pregnant women to take lower doses than this. The requirement will likely be at least as great during pregnancy. A previous study on 4,000 IU Vitamin D given daily to pregnant women showed, furthermore, that this was completely safe and cut the risk of infections and preterm birth in half.
When my spouse was pregnant she took 4 – 5,000 IU Vitamin D daily. Since birth, my daughter Klara has received 1,000 IU Vitamin D drops daily. She couldn’t be healthier or more perfect (of course). She’s also the least autistic child I know.
Do you have an interesting experience with Vitamin D supplementation?
Can a safe dietary supplement dramatically prolong life for people with heart failure? Yes, if we can believe the results from a new study.
The study enrolled people with severe heart failure. This is a condition where the heart can barely pump blood around the body any more. This, for example, after previous heart attacks have damaged the heart (a broken heart, literally). People with severe heart failure run a large risk of dying within a few years.
The study tested the dietary supplement coenzyme Q10 in heart failure. CoQ10 is an endogenous cholesterol-like substance involved in energy production in the cells. Particularly the heart contains a lot of Q10, probably because it takes so much energy to constantly pump blood. Q10 is also found in the food that we eat, particularly in meat and fish.
Cholesterol-lowering drugs, known as statins, are used by almost all people with heart disease. Interestingly enough, statins also reduce the production of the cholesterol-like substance Q10, and deficiency in Q10 has been shown to worsen the prognosis in heart failure. So what happens if you supplement with the substance?
Half of the study’s 420 participants with severe heart failure received supplementation with 300 mg CoQ10 daily for two years. The other half received a placebo. What do you think happened? Continue Reading →
Parkinson’s disease is a common cause of debilitating complaints in predominantly older people. They experience successively increasing problems with stiffness and tremor. Two celebrities affected by the disease are Muhammed Ali and Michael J. Fox.
The cause is death of neurons in the brain that govern motor control. The treatment is providing dopamine supplements in various ways, which increases the activity in the remaining nerve cells. It’s effective as long as sufficient nerve cells remain (in early stages of the disease), but in the long run it’s less successful.
Now there may be a new addition to the arsenal of treatment. This is another application for Vitamin D, in which many people are deficient.
A new study tested supplementation of 1200 IU daily (as compared with placebo) over a year’s time, to patients with Parkinson’s. Only the control group experienced the typical successive worsening of symptoms, while the Vitamin D group did not.
What is the cause?
The discovery is exciting but it isn’t necessarily Parkinson’s disease in itself that is being stopped. Vitamin D supplementation has been shown before to improve muscle strength in elderly people [1 2], as well as reducing the risk of falling [1 2 3 4]. In younger subjects it may improve athletic performance. All of these effects may be connected to an observed increase in the testosterone levels in the bodies of Vitamin D-deficient people given supplements.
Thus, Vitamin D supplements have been shown to have a positive effect on muscle strength and balance in the elderly. It may be this effect that we see in the study on Parkinson’s disease. Or there may be an additional positive effect.
Either way, it appears wise for elderly people who want to improve their mobility to avoid Vitamin D deficiency. Whether they have Parkinsson’s disease or not.
Do you know someone who could benefit from knowing this?
This is pretty cool. A well-designed study just showed that supplementing omega-3 – one gram of DHA per day – for six months can improve memory and reaction times. Apparently it made the brain work better.
This finding could very well be true. After all, omega-3 is an important component of the structure of brain cells. And our Western diet is low in omega-3, meaning a lot of people might be deficient.
So, taking an omega-3 supplement could make you smarter. An even better option: eat plenty of fatty fish, or grass-fed beef, to get all the high-quality omega-3 you need the natural way.
How do you get your omega-3?
Do you want to lose weight? Here’s part 12 of 17 in a series of blog posts on the subject. You can read the whole series on the How to Lose Weight page.
12. Supplement vitamins and minerals
Your body needs a certain amount of essential vitamins and minerals to function properly. What happens when you don’t get enough of them? What happens when you eat too little food, or when the food you eat isn’t sufficiently nutritious? Perhaps our bodies catch on and reply by increasing hunger levels. After all – if we eat more, we increase the chances of consuming enough of whatever nutrient we are lacking.
On the other hand, reliable access to vitamins and minerals could perhaps mean decreased hunger levels and decreased cravings, thereby promoting weight loss.
The above is, of course, speculation. But now there are well-performed studies which suggest it might not be far from the truth. Continue Reading →
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