vitamin D makes muscles stronger in athletes (and you too)

A study published in the Oct 2012 issue of the Journal of Sports Sciences by the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences , Liverpool John Moores University , Liverpool , UK. (read abstract here) showed that 62% of a group of 61 professional UK athletes in winter months who were not taking vitamin D supplements were vitamin D deficient (average blood level of 25-hydroxy vitamin D was 12 ng/ml), which is quite low indeed. The control group was a group of 30 age matched healthy non athletes, who were also not taking vitamin D supplements, and 73% of them were deficient. The athletes were supplemented with 5,000 units of vitamin D per day (despite regulatory councils in both the US and the EU stating that 4,000 IU is the “upper safe limit”), which brought their average blood levels up to 41 ng/ml. (the units were expressed in nmol/L, which must be divided by 2.5 to get the units in ng/ml). The control group received a look alike placebo, and their blood levels of 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels did not change. The researchers then tested muscular performance with the following results: “There was a significant increase in 10 m sprint times (P = 0.008) and vertical-jump (P = 0.008) in the vitamin D group whereas the placebo showed no change (P = 0.587 and P = 0.204 respectively). The current data supports previous findings that athletes living at Northerly latitudes (UK = 53° N) exhibit inadequate vitamin D concentrations (<50 nmol · l(-1)). Additionally the data suggests that inadequate vitamin D concentration is detrimental to musculoskeletal performance in athletes. Future studies using larger athletic groups are now warranted.”

P values of .008 in a group this small (91 people) means that this effect is HUGE. Many clinical trials require thousands of participants to obtain statistically significant results, with p values of only .05   — .008 is HIGHLY significant.  Of course, skeletal muscle in professional athletes and elderly people, who are prone to falls and hip fractures, is made of the same stuff. Studies from years ago have shown that vitamin D supplementation reduces falls in the elderly. Muscle is muscle. Muscle, indeed EVERY tissue in the human body functions better with blood levels of 25 hydroxy vitamin D above 40 ng/ml (I prefer 50 ng/ml, for optimum health, and in my cancer patients, I aim for 70-80 ng/ml). Any athlete, trainer, or owner of professional sports team who is not measuring blood vitamin D levels and supplementing vitamin D to be sure their blood levels are >40 ng/ml is missing a very significant competitive edge. And if you have elderly parents who are looking frail, ask their doctor to measure their blood levels as well, and see that they are corrected if low. This will not only reduce the risk of falls, but of many many negative health consequences. Vitamin D is not only a ‘vitamin’— it is the most potent steroid hormone in the human body. Before the industrial revolution when people started working inside, humans got it from the sun in the summer, and stored enough in body fat to make it through the winter. These days, most people require 4000 to 5000 IU per day for optimum function, during the winter months in temperate regions, and all the time for people who don’t get regular sun exposure without sunscreen in the summer months. An hour of sun exposure in mid summer produces 10 to 20 thousand IUs of vitamin D, which was discovered for the first time by Dr.  Michael Holick and his team in the late 1980s. Up till then everyone assumed that 400 IU of vitamin D (the amount in a teaspoon of cod liver oil, which has been known for 100 years to prevent rickets in a baby), was all that healthy adults needed. We were only off by a power of 10…….

standardized OPC extract of French Maritime Pinebark clinically useful in asthma management

A clinical trial done at the Chieti-Pescara University in Pescara Italy, published in the Sept 2011 issue of Panminerva Medica, showed that a surprisingly small amount of a standardized oliogmeric proanthocyanidin (OPC) extract of French Maritime Pinebark (Pycnogenol®, produced by Horphag Research), made a very significant difference to a group of chronic asthma sufferers, who were already being treated with inhaled corticosteroids. You can read the abstract here. One group received only 50 mg of the OPC concentrate twice daily, while continuing their inhaled corticosteroids, whereas the control group continued to receive only inhaled corticosteroids. It has previously been shown that OPCs decrease expression of an enzyme that produces highly inflammatory fatty acids called leukotrienes, which are known to mediate bronchial muscle inflammation in asthma. Over the 6 month period of the study, nearly 20% of the control group required an increase in the dose of inhaled steroids to keep their asthma under control, whereas none of the Pycnogenol group did. In fact, in the group taking the OPC supplement, 55% of them improved enough that they were able to lower their dose of inhaled steroids, vs only 6% of the control group that was able to lower their inhaled steroid dose.

To quote detailed results from the study: “The levels of asthma control in the 6 interventional months as compared to the same period in the previous year were compared. In the Pycnogenol® group, night-awakenings were less frequent, the number of days with PEF<80% were decreased, days with asthma score >1 were lower, requirement for salbutamol and additional asthma medication less frequent, and consultation of general practitioner and specialist required less commonly. All these parameters were statistical significantly improved in Pycnogenol® + ICS (inhaled corticosteroid) group versus the ICS control group where no considerable changes were observed. Various common signs and symptoms were evaluated by visual analog scale, (dry) cough, severity of chest symptoms, wheezing, dyspnea and daytime symptoms. In the ICS-only group values did not improve while they did improve significantly in the ICS + Pycnogenol® group (P<0.05 vs. ICS only group). A decrease by 15.2% of the specific IgE titer was found in the Pycnogenol® + ICS group, whereas the titer increased by 13.4% in the ICS-only group.”

All that means that the group that received 50 mg of OPC from pine bark supplement twice daily for 6 months experienced very significant clinical improvement in their asthma symptoms, and were able to decrease dependence on medication. That fact that the results were statistically significant with only 76 patients in the whole study indicate that this was a very large effect. Many clinical trials require thousands of patients to demonstrate a statistically significant improvement.

Having grown up with pretty severe asthma myself (I recall one of my professors in medical school telling me that I could expect to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD, also known as emphysema), by the time I would be 60, which I am now well past)– I’ve learned that many nutritional factors can help to heal asthma. In addition to OPCs,  Fish oil (and keeping dietary intake of omega-6 fatty acids low), Evening Primrose oil (or other source of gamma-linolenic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that is actually anti-inflammatory) vitamin D (5000 IU per day), lipid extract of New Zealand Green lipped mussel,  recognition of food sensitivities (and avoiding those foods) all have helped to the point, that, except for several weeks after the occasional viral upper respiratory infection, I can exercise, even in cold air, without wheezing, be around cats without the asthma attacks that only 25 years ago were predictable after exposure to cats, and generally live an active and for the most part asthma free life. So the only surprise to me about this study, was how little Pine Bark OPC it took to make a very significant clinical difference in this group of people with moderately severe asthma. Personally I have experienced and also seen similar effects in other people with asthma, from supplementation with grape seed derived OPC, and with combinations of grape seed and pine bark OPC concentrates. The important thing is that they be high quality, high purity concentrates, as is the case with Pycnogenol®.

I’m also glad that my medical school professor (who was a specialist in pulmonology, ie study of lung diseases) turned out to be quite wrong about me!

fish oil improves working memory in healthy young adults

Omega-3′s, especially DHA research, just keeps confirming what our grandmother’s said about fish being ‘brain food’. Research headed by Rajesh Narendran at the University of Pittsburgh was published in the on line journal PLOS one in early October 2012, (you can read the rather technically written abstract here). This clinical trial tested working memory in 11 young men and women between the ages of 18 and 25, before and after 6 months of supplementation with 930 mg of EPA and 750 mg DHA per day.

Working memory is the memory that we use to hold a number of different tasks in mind–such as when we ask our kids to ‘go upstairs, put on your pajamas, wash your face, brush your teeth, then get get a book, get in bed, and then I’ll come up and read to you”. Until this becomes a routine, it requires working memory to keep all those steps in mind. We need it a lot working with computers, to follow a set of complex sequential tasks–the better our working memory, the less often we have to refer back to the directions.

There were a number of very surprising things about this study. First, they found that baseline working memory correlated rather well with the level of DHA found in each participant’s red blood cell membranes (a convenient place to test, since DHA and EPA are taken up in cell membranes). Further, at the end of the study, all 11 subjects had an improvement in working memory, which again correlated with the increase in DHA content of their red blood cell membranes.Researchers were a bit disappointed that the sophisticated brain imaging that they also did could not discern the mechanism by which this improvement in working memory occurred.

Researcher Bita Moghaddam commented “Before seeing this data, I would have said it was impossible to move young healthy individuals above their cognitive best. We found that members of this population can enhance their working memory performance even further, despite their already being at the top of their cognitive game.” Coauthor Matthew Muldoon noted “So many of the previous studies have been done with the elderly or people with medical conditions, leaving this unique population of young adults unaddressed. But what about our highest-functioning periods? Can we help the brain achieve its full potential by adapting our healthy behaviors in our young adult life? We found that we absolutely can.”

These levels of EPA and DHA can be achieved with 2 capsules of any high quality fish oil that is concentrated to at least 2/3 EPA+DHA (standard fish oil is 1/3 EPA+DHA). Be sure that it is from small ocean fish, such as sardines, which have lower levels of environmental contaminants to begin with, is protected from oxidation during processing, which should include molecular distillation to remove residual contaminants such as PCBs, and dioxins, and is preserved with potent antioxidants. So if you or your kids want to do well in school, 2 capsules a day of high quality fish oil appears to definitely provide a benefit.