Healthy bones: more than just calcium or drugs

This scenario plays itself out on a daily basis: women are administered a bone density test and found to have some degree of bone loss labeled osteopenia in milder cases or osteoporosis in more severe ones. They are then prescribed one of several drugs known as bisphosphonates that include Fosamax, Actonel, Boniva, and a few others. At the same time they are instructed to take large daily doses of calcium.

The drugs do work. When repeated, bone density tests show improvement. WebMD tells us how they work: they “slow or stop the natural process that dissolves bone tissue, resulting in maintained or increased bone density.”

Stopping the bones from dissolving might seem like just the right thing to do

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, except that these natural processes are essential for bone tissue to remain healthy. Bones need to be continuously broken down and rebuilt, and if you disrupt this process you generate bones that are denser but also unhealthy and brittle. Read More »

Essential minerals: supercharge your (or your child’s) diet with homemade beef bone stock

When it comes to maintaining or regaining health, nothing plays as important a role as proper mineral balance in the body. Although we no longer hear much about it

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, leading experts in the field of nutritional medicine sounded the alarm as early as the 1930’s and 40’s: modern agricultural practices were depleting the soil, generating widespread mineral deficiencies and imbalances. This in turn left us vulnerable to weakened immunity, digestive and nervous system disorders, and more. When combined with the dramatic spread of environmental chemicals and other toxins over the past half century, the recipe for disaster is complete.

Those sounding the alarm were the likes of Henry Bieler, MD, and Max Gerson, MD. Dr. Bieler wrote the book “Food is Your Best Medicine.” He believed in drug-free medicine and was well-known at the time for being the personal physician to Greta Garbo and other stars. He was also known because his patients had a habit of living well into their nineties. Dr. Gerson authored “A Cancer Therapy.” He used food, vegetable juices, and little else to successfully treat diseases ranging from migraines to diabetes and even cancer.

Mineral supplements can help correct deficiency in some instances; however, many essential minerals are poorly absorbed from supplements. In addition, manmade supplements that are not properly balanced can aggravate any existing imbalance. The bottom line is that only natural unprocessed foods contain minerals in optimal ratios and, in fact, the body is ideally suited to absorb minerals from food rather than supplements.
Read More »

Healing and the ocean

I grew up by the sea and often tell people that the ocean is in my blood. Recently I came across some fascinating old research that made me think that this is true in a far more literal sense than I had ever thought possible.

The research dates back to the early 1900s and was conducted by French biologist and self-taught physician Rene Quinton. In analyzing the composition of human plasma and that of ocean water, and superimposing the two, Quinton observed that they are virtually identical – the only real difference between the two being that ocean water is three times more concentrated than plasma.

Quinton attributed this difference to the fact that, since life originated in the ocean millions of years ago, seawater has become more concentrated. His conclusion was that we all still carry original ocean water in our blood. Human (and animal) plasma, in his view, is a “marine environment.”

To prove his point Quinton carried out a series of experiments that later came to be known as the “dog studies.” Though we are no longer accustomed to studies being performed on dogs, in his day dogs and cats were often used for medical research.
Read More »

The Calcium Story: Part II

A few years ago I wrote a piece entitled “The Calcium Story” that can be found in Newsletters. It dealt with how much calcium we need and how we can get it, especially in a dairy-free diet. Although a great deal of new information has surfaced since I wrote it, readers will still find it informative.

This article follows up on that older one and discusses what happens to calcium inside the body. Although doctors frequently recommend taking 1,000 or even 1,500 mg of calcium, how can we tell if the calcium we take actually goes to strengthen bones and doesn’t instead do something completely different, and possibly even harmful?

Let’s consider some facts: a majority of women past the age of forty or fifty today are being diagnosed with osteopenia, if not full-blown osteoporosis, and a growing number of men are found to have the same problem. This means that, in an aging population, bones are losing calcium at an alarming rate.
Read More »

Add osteoporosis drugs to the list of toxic medications

The problem with modern drugs is simple: virtually all of them are made from chemicals that are foreign to the human body and potentially toxic. They might be fine as long as they are used occasionally or for brief periods of time, but when these new drugs are prescribed “forever” you can bet trouble is around the corner.

An article just published in the New York Times reveals that women who have been on the common osteoporosis drugs are now coming down with osteonecrosis of the jaw, a condition where parts of the jaw bone deteriorate and then die. This is apparently becoming so common that some dentists refuse to treat women on these medications or ask them to stop taking them for some time before dental work. However, this precaution is unlikely to help since these chemicals remain in bones for years after being discontinued.

For the full article, go to What the Times calls a “mysterious side effect” is not a mystery at all to me. I even anticipate that in time we will see this complication develop at other sites as well, not only in the jaw. In fact when these drugs first came out skeptics remarked that while they increased bone density, they also caused the quality of the bones to deteriorate – so we could say that this outcome was predicted from the beginning.
Read More »

Calcium, Osteoporosis and Heart Disease

If there is one thing Iíve learned, itís that when it comes to diet and nutrition, what we’ve been told all along is often wrong. One such thing is that to protect our bones we need more
calcium. It makes sense, right? Donít bones contain calcium? But maybe itís not so simple!

What always struck me as odd is that Americans already drink more milk and take more calcium supplements than just about anyone else and yet also have record rates of
osteoporosis and old age fractures. Could we be missing something?

An article recently published in the journal Medical Hypotheses provides a shocking new theory. According to the authors, a number of studies prove definitively that a lower lifetime
intake of calcium is associated with fewer – not more – fractures in old age and that this is not the result of genetic differences!

The authors then theorize that taking too much calcium somehow inhibits the innate ability of bones to heal tiny fractures that happen inevitably with aging. Once the bones lose the ability to repair these minor traumas, more severe ones ensue. (1)

Of course it is important to realize that if the intake of calcium fell below a certain threshold the number of fractures would increase again, so as for everything else in nature, there is
an optimal balance and more is not better. In my opinion this optimal balance not only relates to the total amount of calcium but, maybe even more importantly, to the ratio of calcium
with magnesium and other minerals.

But this is not all. A second article, also recently published in the same journal, points out that there is enough evidence from numerous published studies to recommend a dairy- and
calcium-restricted diet for people who suffer with atherosclerosis, or clogging of the arteries. (2)

Of course, atherosclesoris is calcification – or calcium buildup – that blocks the arteries, and I have always thought it strange that conventional medicine decided to only focus on cholesterol and never even consider that calcium could also be a culprit.

Aside from these articles, researchers are seeing atherosclerosis increasingly as the end result of a chronic inflammatory process in the artery walls. This process eventually leads to
abrasion and damage of the artery itself, which the body patches up by laying down calcium with cholesterol acting as glue.

Osteoporosis itself has been described as the result of chronic inflammation, since the inflammatory process needs calcium to perpetuate itself and ends up leaching it out of the
bones. A classic example of this is gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums, which is known to eventually lead to osteoporosis in the jawbone and loss of teeth.

In this context, calcium is at least a two-edged sword. The calcium you might take to protect your bones could be instead fueling an inflammatory process that will eventually result in
both heart disease and osteoporosis!

My advice is not quite to throw all calcium out of the window, but to take moderate amounts of it with enough magnesium and other minerals as well as trace minerals that actually
have counter-balancing effects and help reduce inflammatory processes in the body.

1. “Lifetime high calcium intake increases osteoporotic fracture risk in old age.” Med Hypotheses, 2005; 65 (3): 552-8

2. “The case for dietary calcium restriction in patients with atherosclerosis” Med Hypotheses, 2005; 65 (3): 521-4

Vitamin D for chronic inflammation, MS and (possibly) autism

The more we learn, the more it becomes evident that chronic inflammation is a universal troublemaker that plays a part in almost every ongoing health condition.

Acute inflammation is one of the most beneficial, and often life-saving, defense mechanisms of the body. Acute inflammation is what gives us a fever when our bodies are fighting a virus, a sore throat in response to strep bacteria, or a swollen ankle after a hard fall. In every case like these, inflammation helps promote recovery.

However, chronic inflammation is a superfluous and harmful process. It’s a healthy process that forgot when to stop and no longer serves a useful purpose. What causes it?

According to recent British research, air pollution – something most of us breathe on a daily basis – can cause it. See Exposure to toxins like mercury or lead can also be a cause, as can too much copper, iron, or even calcium in the blood. Studies have shown that a progressive shift in the human diet from consuming mostly omega-3 fats to mostly omega-6 can also set the stage for chronic inflammation (see “The Omega-3 Connection” by Andrew Stoll, MD). Finally, a simple lack of vitamin D can be the culprit.
Read More »

Low thyroid: is it everybody’s problem?

A partial list of signs and symptoms of low thyroid reads a bit like a “who’s who” of adults who come to see me:

Morning fatigue
Headaches or migraines
Muscle and joint pain
Menstrual disorders
Weight gain
Hair loss
High cholesterol
and so on

In many cases it would seem that just ordering a simple blood test to measure thyroid hormones would solve the riddle, and yet blood tests are often normal – even tests that are sophisticated and expensive!

Some seemingly forward-thinking doctors try to solve the problem by prescribing thyroid medication based on symptoms regardless of test results, but this is probably a bad idea. Excessive thyroid hormones suppress the body’s thyroid function and cause osteoporosis, and people rarely feel better in the long run. A better solution may be found by looking at what happens to thyroid hormones after the thyroid produces them.

The thyroid gland produces mostly T4, an inactive hormone, and much smaller amounts of T3, the active thyroid hormone. As T4 circulates in the blood, it is carried to body tissues where it is gradually converted to T3. For some people, the problem is that their bodies do not convert T4 to T3, not that they don’t produce enough T4.

Since blood tests are just a snapshot, they don’t fully evaluate the conversion of inactive T4 into active T3, a gradual process that occurs throughout the day. Experience has shown that a more sensitive test to evaluate conversion adequacy requires a 24-hour urine collection.

Once it is determined that there is a conversion problem, through testing or a process of elimination, we need to look at factors that could be hindering this conversion. The first of these is a deficiency of the mineral selenium.

I believe that selenium deficiency is widespread, because the soil in which our food is grown is itself depleted of this important mineral, and what little might be in our food is wiped out in refining and processing. Selenium in multivitamins may not be absorbed, considering that minerals compete with one another for absorption and that certain forms of calcium block absorption of other minerals. Further, the form of selenium used for thyroid hormone conversion, selenocysteine, which is found in garlic and broccoli from selenium-rich soil, is rarely included in supplements.

Stress also indirectly suppresses the conversion of T4 to T3 . Stress causes overproduction of the adrenal hormone cortisol, and cortisol blocks the conversion. Therefore, testing adrenal hormone levels makes a lot of sense when there is stress in addition to symptoms of low thyroid. Many herbal extracts, including the Indian herb Ashwagandha can be used to help normalize cortisol levels and can therefore improve thyroid metabolism.

Finally, herbal extracts that support liver function – such as milk thistle – have been found to help thyroid hormone conversion as well, simply because a majority of the T4 our bodies produce is converted to T3 in the liver.

It has been my experience that we need to look at more than blood tests to diagnose low thyroid, and treat stubborn cases with more than just a thyroid supplement.

More News on Vitamin D

Although I have written about the importance of vitamin D before, new information on this vitamin continues to surface. The more we learn about vitamin D, the more we find how many critical roles it plays in the body.

A “Vitamin D Council” was set up as a cooperative effort by a group of research scientists and recently launched a new website that can be found at

Members of this council include Robert Heaney, MD, Professor of Medicine at John A. Creighton University. Dr. Heaney is considered the world’s leading expert on vitamin D, having published over three hundred original papers on this topic.

According to Dr. Heaney, the current government vitamin D recommendations are so low they ensure deficiency for anyone who adheres to them and also avoids the sun. Oddly enough, Dr. Heaney participated in setting up those very recommendations, but later discovered that humans need 4,000 IU of vitamin D per day, not the recommended 400.
Read More »

Vitamin D: is it the missing link in (bone) health?

Most women past the age of menopause have probably been offered one of several drugs to treat or prevent osteoporosis. These drugs work primarily by inhibiting hormones like parathyroid, although in most cases these hormones are at healthy levels and are not what causes bone loss. The drugs may well lead to stronger bones, but toxicity and side effects are a real concern.

All of us know about the importance of calcium for bone growth in children and healthy bones in adults. However taking calcium alone has not been shown to help reduce bone loss and osteoporosis. One reason is that the body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and deposit it in bones.

A recent study showed that taking 800 to 900 IU of vitamin D in addition to 1,200-1,300 mg of calcium resulted in increased bone density in both younger and older postmenopausal women. The study also revealed that vitamin D deficiency was widespread among aging individuals. Ensuring adequate intake of vitamin D and calcium would seem to be a reasonable first step in manag ing osteoporosis before even considering drugs that cause undesirable hormone disruption (J Women’s Health (Larchmnt) 2003 Mar; 12:2: 151-6).

Unlike other vitamins, our bodies can make Vitamin D. The skin has enzymes that, when exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun, convert cholesterol into Vitamin D. We also obtain some Vitamin D from food, but since the amount we get from the sun can vary a great deal, it is a challenge to determine exactly how much Vitamin D we need from our food or supplements.

The US recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 400 international units (10mcg) daily from infancy to adulthood, and it was long thought that intakes exceeding 2,000 IU daily posed a risk of toxicity. However, expert opinion is shifting on this point since it has become apparent that the body can make many times more Vitamin D from even brief exposure to the sun.

Deficiency of Vitamin D is probably becoming more common in part because of widespread use of sunblocks that interfere with the skin’s ability to synthesize this vitamin. Large doses of Vitamin A, while beneficial in certain cases, can also induce a deficiency of Vitamin D if the levels of the two vitamins are not monitored and maintained in proper balance.

Studies have also shown that Vitamin D plays a central role in regulating the immune system. People with low blood levels of Vitamin D have been shown to have a higher occurrence of numerous cancers, including prostate, breast, colon, and others. The rate of autoimmune disease is higher in those who are deficient in this important vitamin.

Regular but sensible exposure to the sun may be the best way to ensure adequate stores of Vitamin D. Individuals at risk for osteoporosis, those who take Vitamin A supplements, or those with immune system disorders should ask their healthcare professional to order a simple test called 25-hydroxy-vitamin D to help determine their level of this important vitamin.

The Calcium Story, Part I

More and more of us are finding that eliminating dairy from our diet can help solve chronic health problems. Children stop having ear infections, digestive problems or constipation suddenly improve, and asthma, headaches and even depression may finally come to an end with just this simple step.

I am not suggesting that milk is always bad, or that everyone should avoid it, but those who are sensitive to it are better off without it. This is not an indictment of milk itself, but of the
modern production techniques that have altered an otherwise perfectly healthy food.

The next question on many people’s minds is: how can I get enough calcium without milk? The calcium story is a bit more complicated than just counting the number of milligrams consumed per day, but the good news is that there are many excellent sources of calcium aside from milk.

The first point to keep in mind is that the body cannot use calcium by itself. Without enough Vitamin D, for example, we cannot adequately absorb and utilize calcium. Bones also need other important minerals, and taking too much calcium alone can be actually damage our health by causing acidity in blood and contributing to plaque buildup in arteries.

To promote ideal calcium absorption, a majority of our calcium should come from natural food sources, whether we consume dairy products or not. Calcium-rich foods don’t just contain calcium; they also contain many associated nutrients including minerals and proteins that promote optimal calcium utilization. This complex food synergy cannot be easily achieved by just taking supplements. Supplements are man-made and can never quite match the optimal balance of nutrients found in nature.

Most foods contain at least some calcium as this mineral is found everywhere in nature. Certain grains, seeds and green vegetables are very rich in calcium, with sesame seeds containing four times more calcium than milk. The seeds can be digested properly only if finely ground – it’s easy to grind them in an inexpensive coffee grinder at home and sprinkle them over salads or other foods, add them to drinks like smoothies, use in baking, etc. If you are concerned about your ability to fully digest these foods and absorb the calcium and other nutrients they contain, having them with a digestive enzyme might help.

One strategy to obtain enough calcium is to select several combinations of high-calcium foods you can include in your or your child’s diet on a rotating basis. Calculate the calcium content of each combination using the table at the end of this section. You may also take a well-balanc ed, high-quality calcium supplement every day to fulfill any residual need.

For example, on Day One you can have one cup of amaranth flour and a quarter of a cup of ground sesame seeds in your meals for a total of 750 mg of calcium. Add 250 mg of calcium from a supplement if you need to reach 1,000 mg.

On Day Two, have half a cup each of almonds, tofu and ground flaxseeds and reach roughly the same 750 mg of calcium. You will not be able to match exactly every day’s calcium intake, so just average it and remember: variety is the key to obtain not only calcium but also a wide range of synergistic nutrients!

The next question is how much calcium do we really need on a daily basis? Unfortunately there is no general consensus on this point. Although the US recommended daily allowances (RDA) are often very low and have been nicknamed “recommended deficiency allowances,” they are unusually high when it comes to calcium.

The U.S. RDA for calcium in children aged 1 to 10 is 800 mg per day, whereas in the United Kingdom the recommended intake is 350-550mg. In addition, other dietary factors affect

calcium balance. Sugar and caffeine cause excretion of calcium and other minerals from the body, so if the diet is high in these products you will need extra calcium to make up for the loss.

In my opinion, an intake in the range of 500 mg in children under the age of 11, roughly double that for children over 11 and 700 mg in adults is adequate as long as the diet is “clean”
and low in sugar, stimulants and other junk foods. Higher intakes of calcium should be considered in special cases, including osteoporosis. I have included both the U.S. and U.K.

RDAs for calcium to give you more information about target intakes.

Food/Calcium content (mg) per cup unless otherwise indicated.

Milk, whole/291
Milk, 2%/297
Milk, nonfat/302
Cottage cheese/150
Yogurt, plain/274

Currants, zante, dried/124
Figs, dried/269 per 10 figs

Amaranth grain, boiled/276
Amaranth flour/407
Carob flour/359
Cassava flour/193
Cottonseed flour (low fat)/1,080
Garbanzo flour/324
Quinoa flour/324
Rice bran/128
Soybean flour (low fat)/165
Sweet potato flour/115
Teff, grain or flour/407 (note: contains gluten)

Hummus spread/124
Black-eyed peas, boiled/212
Navy beans, boiled/128
White beans, boiled/161
Wax beans, cut, canned/174
Beet greens, boiled/165
Chard, Swiss, boiled/102
Dandelion greens, boiled/146
Kale, boiled/180
Mustard greens, frozen, boiled/150
Okra, boiled/100
Parsley, dried/912
Taro, Tahitian, cooked/202

Soybean products:
Firm tofu/516

Nuts, seeds and nut butters:
Almond butter/688
Brazil nuts/400
Cashew butter/96
Cottonseed flour, low-fat/1,080
Filberts (hazelnuts)/424
Macadamia nuts/160
Pistachios, shelled/304
Pumpkin seeds, dried/96
Safflower seeds, dried/176
Sesame seeds, whole/1,408
Soybean nuts, dry roasted/464
Sunflower seeds/272

Sea Vegetables:
Agar agar, dried/1,438
Arame, dried/2691
Carragheen, dried/2,036
Dulse, dried/681
Hijiki, dried/3,220
Kelp, raw/386
Kelp, dried/1,840
Wakame, dried/2,990

Fish and shellfish:
Salmon (canned)/167 per 3oz serving (includes bones)
Sardines (canned)/371 per 3oz serving (includes bones)
Oysters (raw)/226

Sources: mostly from “Calcium without the Cow” by Sally Rockwell, PhD, CCN. Other books by Dr. Rockwell include “Allergy-Free Baking Tips for Special Flours,” “Allergy Recipes” and “The Rotation Game,” all available from

Recommended daily allowances for Calcium

Category/Age (years)/US RDA (mg)/UK nutrient intakes (mg)
Infants/7-12 mo/400/535

Vitamin A and Brittle Bones: is there any Truth to the Media Reports?

CNN and various newspapers, including The New York Times and the Houston Chronicle, recently reported on a Swedish study (The New England Journal of Medicine, January 2003; 348: 287-294, 347-349) linking Vitamin A with an increased risk of fractures in aging men. These reports have led many people to wonder if supplements containing Vitamin A are safe, and many media outlets are advising readers against the use of any Vitamin A.

Since I often recommend cod liver oil (which does in fact contain Vitamin A) and other Vitamin A supplements, I was very puzzled by these reports and read the study in its entirety. I was surprised to see how little is known about the participants in the study. Basically all that was recorded was their level of Vitamin A in blood and the incidence of fractures over a thirty-year period. To conclude with certainty from this scant information that Vitamin A is dangerous seems quite a stretch to me.

Before we start thinking of Vitamin A as hazardous, let’s remember that it plays many important roles, including in vision, cell differentiation, early fetal development, immunity, taste, appetite and growth. Vitamin A is an important antioxidant and may have anticancer and antiviral actions. Signs of deficiency include night blindness, acne and other skin conditions, reduced immunity, chronic viral conditions, complications from measles and, conceivably from the measles vaccine.

The US RDA (recommended daily allowance) for Vitamin A is 5,000 IU (international units) a day for adults and proportionately less for children. The most important recognized risk of Vitamin A is that doses exceeding 10,000 units a day in pregnant women were associated with a higher risk of certain birth defects in one study (Lancet 1988;1:236). However, another study found such doses to be associated with a reduction of the same type of birth defects (Lancet 1996;347:899-900). In total there have been fewer than 20 cases reported worldwide of birth defects possibly caused by Vitamin A overdose.

In numerous studies, doses far greater than the RDA were found to be both safe and effective. Doses of 400,000 units a day for 5 months in adolescents with acne were found to be effective and caused no side effects (Int J Dermatol 1981;114:1776 and Br Med J 1963;2:294). The short-term administration of doses of 200,000 to 400,000 units in small children were also studied, and were found to reduce the occurrence of complications from measles and pneumonia while enhancing immunity, again with no side effects reported. Incidentally, the benefits were documented both in children who were deficient in Vitamin A as well as in children who were not (J Trop Pediatr 2002;48(2):72-7, Clin Infec Dis 1994;19(3):489-99, Am J Epidemiol 1997;146(8):646-54, and many other published studies. You may e-mail me for a full list).

Interestingly, this most recent study linking Vitamin A with fractures in aging individuals was performed in Sweden, a country not known for its abundant sunshine. Since we know without a doubt that Vitamin D is associated with bone health and that much of our intake of Vitamin D comes from the sun, it is possible that Vitamin D deficiency is rampant in Sweden. This may explain why Scandinavians in general have higher rates of fractures in comparison to other Europeans.

One possible explanation of why fracture rates were higher in the study participants who had more Vitamin A in their blood is that vitamins A and D need to be balanced. Everything in nature is a matter of balance, and excessive intake of Vitamin A without enough Vitamin D may cause a relative Vitamin D deficiency, possibly leading to brittle bones.

Cod liver oil is apparently a very popular supplement in Sweden, and some experts suggested that the individuals with high levels of Vitamin A in their blood may have consumed ample doses of cod liver oil, over many decades, and this may have depleted them of Vitamin D.

Cod liver oil actually contains both vitamins A and D, but is tilted towards Vitamin A. It is plausible that consuming it without being exposed to sufficient sunshine or taking additional Vitamin D explains the results of this study. This theory may be the best we have, but is not entirely convincing since cod liver oil, in spite of its high Vitamin A to Vitamin D ratio, was used successfully in the 1800’s to treat rickets, a childhood disorder of bone development caused by Vitamin D deficiency.

In my opinion, a normal intake of Vitamin A from cod liver oil or other sources within the RDA should not be of concern, especially if properly balanced with Vitamin D through sunlight exposure or supplements. In special cases much higher doses of Vitamin A can be greatly beneficial, but these doses should be taken only under the supervision of a trained professional, and this study clearly points out some of the risks of not doing so.

Vitamin K May Prevent or Even Reverse Osteoporosis

Vitamin K comes in two forms, vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) found primarily in green vegetables, and vitamin K2 (menaquinone) found in fermented foods. Two recent review articles focus on the considerable roles that both forms of vitamin K play in preventing, and even reversing, osteoporosis.

Human studies have shown that vitamin K supplements can increase bone mineral density and reduce fracture rates in osteoporotic individuals. Other studies have shown that vitamin K and vitamin D work synergistically on bone density.

Although most studies used vitamin K2 at pharmacological doses ranging from 45 to 90 mg per day, there is consistent evidence to suggest that much lower doses of vitamin K1 (80 to 1,000 mcg per day) may achieve similar results, especially if combined with vitamin D (Curr Opin Nutr Metab Care, 2001;4:483-7 and Nutrition, 2001;17(10):880-7).

If you are concerned about osteoporosis, it may be worthwhile to have a blood test to evaluate your vitamin K status. Testing directly for vitamin K in blood is expensive and may not be entirely accurate; however, a blood test for osteocalcin levels is simple, inexpensive and provides an indirect measure of vitamin K status.

Studies Find Sun Exposure, Vitamin D Protect Against Cancer

The journal Cancer (March 15, 2002;94(6):1-9) published a study analyzing patterns of sun exposure and cancer rates in a large segment of the U.S. population over a 24-year period spanning 1970 to 1994. The study confirmed prior research showing that moderate exposure to the sun protects from several deadly cancers. These include cancer of the breast, colon, ovary, prostate, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Dietary differences among population subgroups were minimal and could not account for the difference in cancer rates.

It is believed that ultraviolet radiation from the sun – the same type of radiation linked to skin cancer – protects from other cancers by promoting vitamin D synthesis in the body.

Researchers concluded that: “many lives could be extended through careful exposure to solar UV-B radiation, and vitamin D3 supplementation, especially in the non-summer months.”

Another study also confirmed that vitamin D protects against cancer. Looking at individuals with a prior diagnosis of adenomas who were consequently at increased risk for colorectal cancer, it concluded that vitamin D supplementation has a strong protective effect. In fact, for every 10 ng/ml increase in blood levels of vitamin D within the normal range, the risk of contracting cancer was reduced by 26% (Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev, Dec 2001;10:1267-1274). It should be noted that vitamin D from sources other than the sun can be toxic, and supplementation beyond a typical multi-vitamin dosage requires professional supervision.

In addition to its cancer-protecting benefits, vitamin D also plays important roles in preventing osteoporosis and preserving muscle function. A recent study showed that elderly people taking vitamin D supplements have a lower occurrence of falls and hip fractures (Am J Clin Nutr, 2002;75:611-615).