October 19th, 2020
Are you on your daily dose of vitamin D yet?
If not, you are missing out. Common belief is, that vitamin D is only relevant for bones, but it can do so much more.
Vitamins, by definition, are essential for life and cannot be produced in the body, but have to be ingested. Fact is, that under the right circumstances vitamin D actually can be produced in the body. At the same time you could argue, that the conditions to produce it are only there half of the year (at least in our latitudes). I’ll get to that later. The reasons, why it has been classified as a vitamin, are historical. Because we know more today than we did when it was discovered, we consider it now a pro-hormone.
It’s essential for calcium metabolism, without it we can’t build bones. One of the most important molecules vitamin D has a strong relationship with is calcium. With enough vitamin D in your system you will be able to absorb and transport calcium into your body. Calcium on the other hand is an important nutrient, not only for bones, but also for nerve and muscle function.
This is the reason why you can develop muscle and nerve pain when you are deficient in vitamin D. So if you are suffering from aches and pains, you should also check your vitamin D levels.
Little known vitamin D effects
But that’s still not all. The interest in vitamin D has been huge over the last decade. Meanwhile numerous studies are showing a benefit of vitamin D intake to prevent infections, allergies and … even cancer, as vitamin D has been shown to be a powerful gene modulator. Vitamin D is also an important immune modulator, meaning that it will boost your immune system when required but also make sure that your immune system is not overreacting, as in autoimmune diseases.
Being a big player in the bodies biochemistry it also has an important role in the hormone metabolism. There is an inverse relationship with estrogen, which explains, why good vitamin D levels seem to be preventive of breast cancer.
Vitamin D and sun light
Now, here’s the thing. While dietary sources of vitamin D are scarce (you may be fine if you ate about half a kg of salmon or mackerel a day), our bodies are actually able to produce vitamin D. Great, isn’t it? But the problem is that we need UV-B sunlight on bare skin to do that. Why is that a problem? Because in winter UV-B sunlight is reflected in the atmosphere and therefore doesn’t come down to the ground. The closer you live to the poles, the longer the time frame during which this happens. In Ireland between September to March you will find it impossible to build enough vitamin D. Therefore our vitamin D levels drop gradually over the winter and, when tested by a blood test, will be lowest around March.This is particularly relevant in winter when most people, who don’t supplement, would be vitamin D deficient. That’s one reason why we tend to be more prone for flues and other viral infections (including SARS-COV-2) in the winter time.
The other problem is that, once sunlight is available again, many of us tend to lash factor 50 (sun cream) on to prevent sun damage. Or many would work all day in the office and not get exposed to the sun in the first place. Unfortunately this behavior will let you miss out on all the positive effects from good levels of vitamin D. You (and your dermatologist ) might say now, that the sun is dangerous for your skin and can cause skin cancer. While that is true, you have to put it into perspective.
First of all I recommend not to get a sunburn, but instead I recommend responsible sun exposure, as much as tolerable. Second, it’s the less dangerous white skin cancer, that is caused by sun damage, while melanoma very often develops in areas, that are rarely exposed to the sun. On top of all that, good levels of vitamin D seem to be protective of cancer, including skin cancer. The best time of the day and year to acquire good vitamin D levels is between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. from April till August.
What vitamin D level should we aim for?
The labs lower limit is usually a 50 mmol/l, which will prevent acute osteomalacia in adults or rickets in children. But as I explained above, vitamin D has so many more functions, that can’t be fulfilled at this rather low level. Therefore, in my opinion anything between 75 mmol/l and 200 mmol/l can be fine and will be well tolerated. That said, there are people that will do better on the higher end of the spectrum and others will be fine on the lower end. We are all individuals and as such have different requirements. So get tested and take vitamin D, now!
September 4th, 2018
It happens while you sleep
Did you know that the position you sleep in can cause you pain? If you sleep like 80% of people, then you’re spending most of the night in a sideways position, with your hips and knees bent and your arms in front of you.
What does that position remind you of? Correct, it’s sitting while you sleep. So if you’re one of those side sleepers and have a sitting job and like to do sitting activities in your leisure time, you will end up spending most of the day in a sitting position.
Unfortunately sitting is bad for your posture and therefore it is the breeding ground for unfolding of pain. As I mentioned in my previous article “Lower back pain or the curse of sitting”, sitting is a major reason for back pains. The sideways sleeping position does even more harm. It shortens your hip flexors and your rear thigh muscles as mentioned in the blog about sitting but it also tilts your shoulders forward. A very common cause for shoulder and neck pain.
Why do so many people prefer sleeping on the side? Maybe, because it reminds us of the fetal position, which we spent the most comfortable time of our lives in? I’d say it’s because it reduces the stress for our tight, shortened muscles in the short term.
What can you do?
Now if sleeping on the side is potentially harmful obviously there must be a good position as well. The secret is to sleep on your back or front. That way you have your hips and knees straightened and your shoulders naturally fall back again as well, your upper back will straighten as well and your body will thank you for it. At the best you even leave the pillow aside. That will avoid that shift of your neck forward, which is aggravating the tension in the neck muscles, that are already stressed from staring at phones and tablets, etc.
What to expect
You think that’s tough? You’re right. It’ll take a few days or even weeks to get used to it. You might have a few restless nights, using the moments where you wake up during the night to reposition yourself. In the short term you might even feel more pain because your short and tight hip flexors, hamstrings and pectoral muscles get a decent stretch until your body has adjusted. That’s why I highly recommend to combine sleeping on your back with the right stretching exercises. In the long term though, you will be rewarded. You will wake up in the morning without wondering where all that back, calf, thigh, shoulder and/or neck pain is coming from, even though you’ve actually just been resting eight hours. Try it, it’s like stretching while you sleep. How much better can it get?
May 7th, 2018
Pain is based on (bad) conditions
If you have pain, change the conditions and your body can thrive
I would like to start this blog with a quote from vitamin D expert Prof. Michael Holicks book ‘The Vitamin D Solution: A 3-Step Strategy to Cure Our Most Common Health Problems’, as I think he put it nicely, when he wrote the following:
‘We should give the human body more credit than it sometimes gets. People don’t shrivel, shatter, or shut down at the first sign of stress. Instead, the human body operates on the “overload principle”—when subjected to outside forces, it adapts by getting stronger. Examples of this phenomenon abound in the human body. Your muscles don’t pop and your bones don’t break if you regularly lift weights—they get bigger and more powerful so they can handle a heavier load. Your heart and lungs don’t explode or collapse if you go running every morning—they become more efficient and your lung capacity expands. Your ligaments and tendons don’t snap if you do stretching exercises—they get more flexible.’
I think Prof. Holick gets it absolutely right here. What he’s saying is, that our bodies are perfect the way they are, as long as they find the right conditions to work properly.
So what conditions can help the body to stay or become free from pain?
The main pillars of a good and pain-free health are a well balanced diet, regular high quality movement, plenty of sunshine, good supportive friends and family and of course good stress management.
Now, what’s a good diet? Ask five different people and you will probably get five different answers. So I will give you my opinion based on my research and my personal experience. Muscles hate acid and work best in a relative alkaloid environment. This means that a diet high in micronutrients (such as magnesium, potassium, vitamins, secondary plant substances) and rich in alkaloids like vegetables, fruit, legumes and whole grains, and low in animal based protein is going to help you get smooth, flexible muscles and soft tissue. Drink plenty of fluids (water or herbal teas).
I’ve been talking about the importance of regular high quality exercise balancing out your daily routines of one-sided movement patterns in recent blogs. There is an idiom that nails it: Use it (the right way), or loose it! Provide high quality stretches for tense muscles. That way you will gradually improve your range of motion and reduce pain. Exercise also gets your muscles to excrete myokines, molecules with a very wide range of healthy properties. Foremost, they are involved in exercise-associated metabolic changes, and in the metabolic changes following training adaptation. They participate in tissue regeneration and repair, maintenance of healthy bodily functioning, immune-modulation, cell signaling, expression and differentiation. What more could you want?
What’s sunshine possibly got to do with pain? Sunshine has several great benefits: It provides warmth. Muscles love that. It provides endorphines, which reduce pain and make you feel good. But first and foremost the UVB-fraction of sunlight makes your skin produce vitamin D. Sunshine is actually the main source of vitamin D. Even with the best diet you could not get enough of it. Vitamin D is a real jack of all trades. Among other functions vitamin D gets your bowels to absorb calcium and distributes it to the right places, like the bones and, very important, also the muscles, which is essential for good muscle function. So get out in the sun and enjoy it sensibly. Without getting burnt, of course.
Stress and a supportive environment
The last topics from my list, stress and a supportive environment, go hand in hand. The latter will reduce stress, which can be a major factor in increasing muscular tension. The stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol (long term stress hormone) create acid, which, as mentioned above, increases tension and therefore pain. So beware of stress, be it mental or physical and avoid people causing same.
In the end it all comes down to one thing. Be nice to yourself and do not exploit your body. You will be rewarded.
Do you have any further questions? Do send me an email.
October 31st, 2016
8 spooky facts about food
Things you don’t/might want to know about
- One The sight of food makes us hungry. Experiments showed, that we get hungry from watching food.
- Two We make 66% of decisions during grocery shopping spontaneously.
- Three Experiments have shown, that we would eat more of multi-coloured candy, than candy of one single colour. That way nature makes sure we eat from all the variety of food it has to offer, in order to provide all the nutrients. Multi-coloured candy suggests variety.
- Four According to 2014/2015 figures from the Irish Food Board the Irish ate on average 77 kg of meat per person yearly. That’s an average of 210 g per person per day.
- Five In the US the average fat content of peoples diets in the last 30 years has gone down about 20%, while the number of obese people has doubled.
- Six 50 years ago a chicken had been butchered after 60 days at an average weight of about 1 kg. Today the average slaughter weight of 1.6 kg is already reached after 35 days.
- Seven Up to 33% of food within the EU is being disposed of during storage, during transport, in food factories or by the consumer. Prices seem to be too cheap.
- Eight 1 kg of fat equal about 7000 kcal which equals about 10 hours of jogging.