Laura G Owens ~ Writer

Humanity. Health. Happiness.

Month: August 2011

Can Vitamin D Impact Weight Loss?

Vitamin D continues to make headline news. Findings suggest adequate levels may break barriers with individuals battling excess weight.

Research reveals a relationship between vitamin D levels in the body, vitamin D intake, and body weight. While the exact relationship is not entirely understood, a growing body of evidence suggests an association between obesity/excess body weight and D levels exists.

(Photo credit, Flickr)

vitamin d, weight loss, vitamin d deficiency

In addition, the link is supported by the fact that obesity and low D are co-morbid (occur at the same time) with diseases such as: disease, hypertension, diabetes, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, depression and even periodontal disease.

Vitamin D Levels Predict Weight Loss Success

In a 2010 study researchers found that adequate vitamin D levels in the body improves weight loss success with a diet program.

“Vitamin D deficiency is associated with obesity, but it is not clear if inadequate vitamin D causes obesity or the other way around,” said the study’s lead author, Shalamar Sibley, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota.

For the study, scientists measured circulating blood levels of vitamin D in 38 overweight men and women before and after the subjects followed a diet plan for 11 weeks consisting of 750 calories a day fewer than their estimated total needs. Subjects also had their fat distribution measured with DXA (bone densitometry) scans.

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While the participants’ vitamin D levels were lower than what many experts consider sufficient, the subjects’ baseline, or pre-diet vitamin D levels predicted weight loss in a linear relationship. For every increase of 1 ng/mL in level of 25-hydroxycholecalciferol, the precursor form of vitamin D and a commonly used indicator of vitamin D status, subjects lost almost a half pound (0.196 kg) more on their calorie-restricted diet. For every 1-ng/mL increase in the active or “hormonal” form of vitamin D (1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol), subjects lost nearly one-quarter pound (0.107 kg) more.

In addition, subjects with higher baseline vitamin D levels (both the precursor and active forms) lost more abdominal fat. The implications of these findings, researchers believe, are promising. “Our results suggest the possibility that the addition of vitamin D to a reduced-calorie diet will lead to better weight loss,” Sibley said.  

Obesity and Vitamin D Levels

In another study out of the University of Madrid researchers found that excess body weight was associated with decreasing amounts of vitamin D. Scientists measured the body weight of 61 young, overweight/obese women and randomly assigned them to two different weight control programs: diet V, increased greens and vegetables, or diet C, increased cereals (some of which were enriched with vitamin D).

Taking into account only women with a vitamin D intake below expert-recommended levels, the women who were obese had a significantly lower average serum 25(OH)D concentration than those who weighed less. In addition, group C (increased cereals, some enriched with vitamin D) subjects lost more weight than the Group V subjects.

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In another study out of Spain, researchers gathered the following data on 102 children ages nine to 13: height, body weight, body mass index (BMI), waist and hip measurements (to determine the quantity of visceral or abdominal fat), and the thickness of the tricipital and bicipital skinfold (to determine the quantity of subcutaneous fat). Scientists also analyzed the childrens’ diet with a three-day weighed food record and their vitamin D intake as compared to recommended (expert) levels.

Results showed while there was no significant difference in body weight based on vitamin D intake, children who had insufficient levels of D in their body had higher weight, BMI, waist measurement and waist/height ratio than the children with adequate levels of D in their body.

In addition, results showed that children with a body weight, BMI, bicipital skinfold thickness, waist measurement and waist/height ratio above the 50th percentile for each variable were at a greater risk of having a low serum 25(OH)D concentration.

Obesity and Vitamin D Epidemic: Coincidence? 

Dr. John Cannell, Director of the Vitamin D Council in his 2004 Newsletter article, “Obesity and Vitamin D,” writes, “One third of Americans are obese. While much of that epidemic is surely due to playing Nintendo instead of baseball, or the consumption of soft drinks instead of water, does that explain it all? Is it a coincidence that the twin epidemics of obesity and vitamin D deficiency are occurring together?”

A growing body of research suggests more than a coincidence. While there are numerous alternative explanations for the findings notes Dr. Cannell, an overwhelming number of studies suggest a link. The following is an incomplete list, for the full list refer to Dr. Cannell’s September 2004 newsletter.

Click image 

  • When aboriginal populations migrate from high altitude (more UV rays to convert to D in the skin) to low altitude, body fat increases.
  • Higher calcium intake is consistently associated with lower body weight, as vitamin D significantly increases calcium absorption.
  • The combination vitamin D and calcium reduced subsequent spontaneous food intake and increased the metabolism of fat.
  • Genetic abnormalities of the vitamin D receptor (called VDR polymorphisms) are associated with body weight and fat mass. Patients with VDR polymorphisms have reduced vitamin D activity at their receptors.
  • Blood parathyroid levels, which are elevated in vitamin D deficiency, predict obesity.
  • Starting since 1981 studies have consistently shown that 25(OH)D levels are lower in obese subjects.
  • Obesity is associated with early death, and low vitamin D levels are more likely in the winter. Scientists have known about and debated the cause of excess winter deaths for years
  • Obese subjects obtain lower 25(OH)D levels when exposed to ultraviolet light or when they take supplemental vitamin D. Subjects appeared to deposit some of their vitamin D in their excessive fatty tissue which impaired their ability to raise their 25(OH)D levels.

Whether excess weight contributes to lower levels of vitamin D in the body or low vitamin D causes excess weight is still unclear. Research indicates however, a relationship exists. The implications for weight management and leveraging the effectiveness of a diet program are promising.

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Sources

The Endocrine Society (2009, June 12), “Successful Weight Loss With Dieting Is Linked To Vitamin D Levels,” ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 18, 2010.

Ortega RM, López-Sobaler AM, Aparicio A, Bermejo LM, Rodríguez-Rodríguez E, Perea

JM, Andrés P, “Vitamin D status modification by two slightly hypocaloric diets in young overweight/obese women.”International Journal of Vitamin & Nutritional Research 2009 Mar;79(2):71-8.

Rodríguez-Rodríguez E, Navia-Lombán B, López-Sobaler AM, Ortega RM,

“Associations between abdominal fat and body mass index on vitamin D status in a

group of Spanish schoolchildren,” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010 Mar 10.

Cannell, John, MD, The Vitamin D Council, “Obesity and Vitamin D,” The Vitamin D Newsletter, September 17, 2004.

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Narcissists Spotted From Facebook Posts and Profile, Find Psychologists


Facebook, narcissism, narcissistic personality disorder, online personality

Who we are on Facebook, online, often mirrors we we are.

Photo credit link: Flickr

Let me disclaim upfront, the findings represented in this article don’t suggest Facebook users are narcissists, rather narcissists can be spotted on Facebook based on certain indicators.  

I’d also like to look at more current research to see if the 2008 findings I reference in my article change over time. As social media, particularly Facebook, becomes increasingly the cultural norm for communication, media and public opinion, the factors used to spot narcissists from Facebook posts/profiles may no longer hold true.

Increasingly these findings may simply represent the majority of online users who are now becoming the populous. For example, many users have lots of “friends” and a flattering photo and are not in any way borderline or full-blown narcissists.

Facebook, like all platforms for expression will eventually blend seamlessly with the population rather than differentiate. Facebook will increasingly, I believe, define, parse and profile people to the same degree all forms of communication offer a form of expressing who we are.

It’s not the communication medium that makes the person, it’s that people are finding new, increasingly more convenient, and in the case of the shy or introverted, more comfortable ways to express who they are anyway.

I will say however, online communication offers a form of emotional protection with its absence of face to face cues and reaction. This form of social connection fosters, I think, a safe camaraderie and an easy kinship that isn’t always gained so fast when people are eyeball to eyeball for the first time at a party, fidgeting with their shyness, pregnant pauses, agendas, or moment to moment social awkwardness.  

Just last night someone told me she’s more outgoing on Facebook than she is in person. Communication outlets don’t turn us into who we are, we use them for how we need them, how they complement or at times, hinder our authentic self.

Facebook Wall Posts and Profile Can Predict Narcissistic Personality Disorder

A 2008 study showed that social media sites may offer a vivid snapshot of a person’s true personality. With the explosive growth of online communities like Facebook, social psychologists are studying how personality traits are expressed in cyberspace. A 2008 study from the University of Georgia found narcissists are likely to have a large number of Facebook friends and wall posts as well as a glamorous, self-promoting profile picture.

 A narcissistic personality disorder is defined as having an inflated sense of one’s own importance and a deep need for admiration. People with narcissistic personality disorder believe they’re superior to others and have little interest in offering empathy. Yet behind their elevated confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

Researchers at the University of Georgia administered a personality questionnaire to 130 Facebook users, analyzed the content of their pages and asked untrained observers to view and rate the pages. Results indicated a correlation between the number of Facebook contacts and wall posts and narcissism.

The results of the study don’t suggest people who use Facebook are narcissists, rather narcissists are likely to have these particular traits.

The behavior of narcissists on Facebook is often consistent with their real world behavior. In both arenas they tend to have numerous shallow connections because the disorder influences their ability to form healthy, long-term relationships. “Narcissists might initially be seen as charming, but they end up using people for their own advantage,” said associate professor W. Keith Campbell. “They hurt the people around them and they hurt themselves in the long run.”

Facebook Users Not More Narcissistic, Narcissists Often On Facebook

Researchers found that even untrained observers could detect narcissism in Facebook users. Observers tended to use three characteristics to form an impression of the individual’s personality:

  1. Quantity of social interactions
  2. Attractiveness
  3. Degree of self-promotion in the main photo

And while the observers were not 100% accurate in their assessments, they were able to form a relatively accurate impression.

Campbell notes that there’s no research suggesting that Facebook users are more narcissistic than others. “It seems to be a normal part of people’s social interactions,” he said. Although because narcissists tend to have more contacts on Facebook, a typical Facebook user is likely to have a higher proportion of narcissists in their contact list than in the real world.

Online Profile and Photo Accurately Convey Real-Life Personality

First impressions count, even online. A study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found people learn a lot from a person’s appearance. In the study observers looked at 123 photos of strangers and were asked to rate them across ten personality traits.

Ratings were compared to the photo subjects’ self-ratings and those provided by close acquaintances. Results indicated that regardless of whether the person stood in a controlled or neutral pose, observers were able to accurately judge major personality traits including extraversion, self-esteem, and religiosity.

When subjects were in a neutral position, observers accurately predicted nine of the ten personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness, likability, self-esteem, loneliness, religiosity, and political orientation.

Simine Vazire, an assistant professor of psychology who runs Washington University’s Personality and Self-Knowledge Lab and an author of the study warns that strangers can find out as much about someone’s personality as acquaintances, just by looking them up on the Internet. “It’s another example of how pervasive personality is,” she says. “You can’t outrun your personality. It’s going to follow you everywhere.”

Psychological Science researchers found that online social networking sites don’t convey an “idealized identity.” Instead, these sites often portray a person’s personality quite accurately, a finding that might help explain online sites’ popularity. While online users might believe they’re creating a particular persona, their content, number of online friends, frequency of posts and profile picture are fairly accurate indicators of their actual personality.

Sources:

MayoClinic.com,”Narcissistic Personality Disorder,” November 19, 2009, Retrieved January 15, 2010.

University of Georgia (2008, September 23).”Facebook Profiles Can Be Used To Detect Narcissism,” ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 15, 2010.

Johannah Cornblatt, “Making a Digital First Impression: Why You Can’t Fake Your Facebook Profile,” Newsweek.com. November 10, 2009. Retrieved January 15, 2010.

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
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Integrative Massage For Chronic Pain – Multi-Disciplinary Approach More Effective

photo of facial massage, integrative massage, therapeutic massage, neuromuscular massage, trigger point therapy, myofascial release, chronic pain

Multiple massage modalities during one session can be very effective to treat chronic pain issues.

Photo, Flickr 

I probably have every massage tool known to mankind at home. I think a good massage is a one of the best physical and mental stress and strain relievers, so I treat myself every few months.

The price is worth the return, times ten.

If I can’t get a massage however, this Homedics chair, a gift from husband and my daughter one Mother’s Day, is the next best thing to hands-on massage. The rollers are strong but not painful, and for the price, I like the flexibility of the easy to use options.

Many people treat their chronic pain due to injury or illness with one kind of massage therapy. Yet, integrative or medical massage may offer a more effective approach.

Medical practitioners often prescribe one type of massage therapy for patient’s with ongoing physical or emotional pain due to injury, trauma or illness. Yet the most effective massage treatment for chronic pain may be a multi-disciplinary or integrative approach, as well massage sessions that engage the patient in the healing process.

Integrative Massage Therapy

Integrative massage offers a more holistic approach to massage therapy, applying a technique according to the kind that will work on various issues in the body (and mind).

During the first session therapists generally gather detailed information about their client’s medical history and past treatments. This lets them tailor the therapy to their patient’s specific physical and emotional needs. They avoid a “one size fits all” massage approach and instead use multiple modalities, borrowing from a wide variety of cultures and practices.

Integrative massage therapists don’t try to diagnose medical conditions, nor do they rely on a client’s current diagnoses to steer the course of treatment. Instead they listen to their client’s symptoms and apply the technique(s) they feel will most effectively address the issues. The therapist serves as a kind of healing “detective,” so to speak, working to pin point the physical and potentially emotional causes behind the patient’s chronic pain.

Integrative Massage Therapy Treats A Number of Chronic Health Conditions

The cause of chronic unexplained pain is complex, yet depending on the condition, integrative massage therapy can effectively treat or alleviate symptoms in a variety of conditions such as:

  • Arthritis
  • Repetitive strain injuries like carpal tunnel or tendonitis. *(I like Biofreeze for muscle pain. It gives cold therapy when you can’t bother with an ice pack.
  • Poor posture issues
  • Unexplained chronic pain in soft tissue/musculoskeletal system
  • Accident or sports injuries
  • Cancer patient pain management

Integrative Massage Therapy Empowers the Patient

Integrative massage can be very empowering to the patient and a good integrative massage therapist will explain to her patient that she is merely a facilitator to the client’s own ability to heal. Some therapists use positive words and affirmations during sessions to help “re-program” their client’s response to pain and treatment.

In addition, integrative massage therapists often teach their patients an at-home therapy plan that may include cardiovascular and targeted strengthening and stretch exercises, as well as pain and stress management tips. This approach can be quite encouraging for chronic pain sufferers who may been told for years their pain is “all in their head,” were regularly misdiagnosed or have been at the mercy of the traditional medical establishment with no relief.

Integrative Massage Therapies For Chronic Pain

Integrative massage therapists combine any of a number of techniques to relieve chronic pain depending on the patient’s symptoms and the therapist’s certification in a particular massage modality. Some of the common massage modalities used in the treatment of chronic pain include:

  • Neuromuscular therapy
  • CranioSacral therapy
  • Myofascial release
  • Trigger point therapy
  • Lymphatic drainage
  • Orthopedic massage
  • Massage for cancer patients

Integrative Massage Therapy vs. Medical Massage

The term “medical or therapeutic massage” is sometimes used interchangeably with the term integrative massage. Integrative simply implies using a multi-disciplinary massage approach to treat medical conditions. James Waslaskin in his 2004 online article on Massage Today entitled, “Defining Medical Message,” explains that “Medical massage is performed with the intent of improving conditions or pathologies that have been diagnosed by a physician; a wide variety of modalities or procedures are utilized to focus the treatment based on the diagnosed condition.”

Match The Chronic Pain Condition With the Right Kind Of Massage

Any hands on massage work that manipulates soft tissue structures of the body in order to prevent and alleviate pain, discomfort, muscle spasm, stress and promotes health and wellness is beneficial.

If a patient is suffering with from chronic pain the may not want to limit their massage treatments to those that strictly feel good but may not have much healing or long term curative effect. Instead they should find an experienced integrative massage therapist who has the skills to assess which treatments are the most effective for their particular medical conditions.

Additional Reading: 

Vitamin D Deficiency, Fibromyalgia, Anxiety & Depression, Possible Links

Fibromyalgia Pain: Magnesium and Malic Acid Combined More Effective

Vitamin D Deficiency and Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Linked

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

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Vitamin D Deficiency, Fibromyalgia, Anxiety & Depression: Possible Links

vitamin d, fibromyalgia, depression, chronic pain

The Sunshine Vitamin. Vitamin D deficiency may contribute to fibromyalgia, chronic pain symptoms.

(Photo credit, Maggie Smith)

While researchers have found a relationship between insufficient vitamin D, chronic pain, anxiety and depression, the exact causality is still unknown.

Researchers in a 2007 study reported in Clinical Rheumatology that vitamin D deficiency is common in people with fibromyalgia and also occurs more frequently in those with anxiety and depression. Yet research is also emerging that may dispute the once believed link between Seasonal Affective Disorder, its depressive symptoms and D deficiency.

Regardless of the unanswered questions, patients suffering with mood issues and/or chronic muscle pain may want to consider having their 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels tested.

Fibromyalgia, Vitamin D, Anxiety & Depression May Be Linked

People with fibromyalgia often have symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as low levels of vitamin D. In the 2007 study, researchers tested serum vitamin D levels in 75 patients with fibromyalgia. The subjects completed a Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ) and Hospital Anxiety and Depression Score (HADS). Results showed that patients with vitamin D deficiency scored higher on the HADS .

Research has also linked vitamin D deficiency to patients who suffer with chronic pain. While the relationship between fibromyalgia, pain, anxiety, depression and vitamin D deficiency is somewhat complex and the exact relationship remains unclear, evidence is mounting to suggest that vitamin D plays some role in chronic pain and mood imbalance.

Vitamin D Deficiency, Depression With Seasonal Affective Disorder Research Disputed

Vitamin D continues to gain worldwide attention due to emerging research linking it to more than 2,000 gene processes in the body. Yet evidence has surfaced to challenge vitamin D’s once presumed role in Seasonal Affective Disorder and the associated depressive symptoms. Researchers believe Seasonal Affective Disorder manifests during winter months as a result of lack of sunlight exposure on the skin which then results in vitamin D deficiency.

In a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, Dr. Oscar Franco, Assistant Clinical Professor in Public Health and his team, recruited more than 3,000 people and tested levels of vitamin D (25-hydroxyvitamin D) in the blood. Subjects completed a questionnaire to measure depressive symptoms. Researchers found no clear association between depressive symptoms and the concentration of vitamin D in the blood.

“Few studies have explored the association between blood 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations and depression in the general population, ” said Dr. Franco. “Previous studies into the effects of vitamin D supplementation have produced mixed results. More studies are still needed to evaluate whether vitamin D is associated with seasonal affective disorders, but our study does raise questions about the effects of taking more vitamin D to combat depressive symptoms.”

A Japanese study conducted in 2009 also found no evidence linking higher blood vitamin D levels with decreased depressive symptoms.

Vitamin D, Mood & The Brain

In a report entitled, “Vitamin D and the occurrence of depression: causal association or circumstantial evidence?” researchers concluded that based on the body of research to date, high doses of supplemental vitamin D may improve mild depressive symptoms. Yet questions persist regarding the following critical study areas of mood regulation:

  • how vitamin D affects monoamine function and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis response to stress
  • whether vitamin D supplementation can improve mood in individuals with moderate-to-severe depression
  • whether vitamin D sufficiency is protective against incident depression and recurrence.

Investigators in the report suggest it is “premature to conclude that vitamin D status is related to the occurrence of depression. Additional prospective studies of this relationship are essential.”

While the exact relationship between mood disorders, chronic muscle pain and vitamin D deficiency has not be clearly established, evidence suggests that patients with chronic muscle pain, anxiety or depression should at least consider testing their vitamin D levels and supplementing if they are deficient.

Additional Reading:

Fibromyalgia Pain: Magnesium and Malic Acid Combined More Effective

Vitamin D Deficiency and Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Linked

Integrative Massage For Chronic Pain: Multi-Disciplinary Approach More Effective

Footnotes:

Armstrong DJ, Meenagh GK, Bickle I, Lee AS, Curran ES, Finch MB, “Vitamin D deficiency is associated with anxiety and depression in fibromyalgia,” Clinical Rheumatology,2007 Apr.

An Pan, Ling Lu, Oscar H. Franco, Zhijie Yu, Huaixing Li, Xu Lin. “Association between depressive symptoms and 25-hydroxyvitamin D in middle-aged and elderly Chinese., “ Journal of Affective Disorders, 2009.

University of Warwick (2009, March 18). Vitamin D May Not Be The Answer To Feeling SAD. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 3, 2010.

Bertone-Johnson ER, “Vitamin D and the occurrence of depression: causal association or circumstantial evidence?” Nutritional Review, 2009 Aug.

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
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Magnesium and Malic Acid Combination for Fibromyalgia

fibromyalgia, magnesium, malic acid, chronic pain, supplements for fibromyalgia, natural treatments for fibromyalgia

Synergy with both supplements may improve symptoms in FMS.

Photo credit: Flickr

While magnesium can reduce pain in some fibromyalgia patients, not everyone with FMS has low levels of magnesium. Yet research indicates that taking adequate doses of magnesium in combination with malic acid over an extended period of time can significantly reduce the muscle and soft tissue pain associated with fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia and Muscle Energy Disruption

It’s unclear how or if these two elements work synergistically, yet magnesium and malic acid are both key components in how energy is produced and transported within the cells of the muscles. Evidence suggests that one cause of fibromyalgia pain is local hypoxia in the muscles (low oxygen) which contributes to muscle tissue breakdown.

Magnesium Deficiency and Fibromyalgia Pain

Magnesium is an essential mineral for good health and is involved in a long list of critical functions in the body including: nerve signaling, muscle contraction, and as a co-factor for 350 enzymes. Some people with fibromyalgia are low in magnesium.

Magnesium activates the most important enzyme in the body, ATP (adenosine triphosphate) an energy molecule produced within a component of cells called the mitochondria, the body’s “energy furnace.” About 20 percent of the body’s production of ATP is located in the brain. As a result, diminished levels can reduce the brain’s cognitive functions, a common problem in people with fibromyalgia.

Magnesium is needed in the production of serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter involved in the perception of pain. Serotonin levels have been shown to be significantly lower in people with fibromyalgia. Magnesium is one of the many co-factors needed to release and bind serotonin in the brain to provide balanced mental functioning.

Magnesium deficiency increases a chemical in the body called substance P, a neurotransmitter and protein found in the brain and spinal cord. People with fibromyalgia have abnormally high levels of substance P. Substance P serves as a pain messenger and is associated with inflammatory processes in the joints. Excess levels can cause pain signals to be sent to the brain even when there is no actual injury or illness.

Malic Acid and Fibromyalgia Pain

Malic acid is an organic substance found in fruits (particularly apples) and plants.

Malic acid is involved in the production of energy in the body. It plays a role in the molecules involved in controlling mitochondrial, energy production, within the cells. Malic acid provides greater stamina and endurance in muscle cells.

Malic acid is particularly useful in helping remove aluminum from the body. Aluminum toxicity is thought to be one contributor to fibromyalgia symptoms. While magnesium also helps block the toxic effects of aluminum, malic acid may be even more effective.

Studies On Magnesium and Malic Acid To Reduce Fibromyalgia Pain

In a 1992 study 15 fibromylagia patients received an oral dose of 1200-2400 mg of malate (malic acid) and 300-600 mg of magnesium over a four and 8 week period. Patients reported a reduction in pain across a tender point index (TPI). Six subjects felt an improvement in 48 hours.

During another study conducted in 1995, researchers gave 24 subjects with fibromyalgia a “Supermalic” low tablet with 50 mg magnesium and 200mg malic acid. Scientists measured pain levels through patient self-assessment and the tender point index. Results showed that the low dose, short term trial was not effective to reduce fibromyalgia pain. However, higher doses over an extended duration significantly reduced subjects’ pain.

Magnesium Malate Dosage and Side Effects

Magnesium Malate has been shown to be the most effective form of magnesium to reduce fibromyalgia pain. The recommended dose is 1,500 mg, although people should adjust their dose according to their pain level and side effects.

Side effects with extended use may include headache, muscular pain, and mild gastrointestinal symptoms. The most common side effect is loose stools. Should this occur people should decrease their next dose by 50%.

Additional Reading:

Vitamin D Deficiency, Fibromyalgia, Anxiety & Depression, Possible Links

Vitamin D Deficiency and Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Linked

Integrative Massage For Chronic Pain: Multi-Disciplinary Approach More Effective

Footnotes:

Abraham GE, Glechas ID. “Management of fibromyalgia: A rationale for the use of magnesium and malic acid.” Journal of Nutritional Medicine,1992;3:49-59.

Russell IJ, et al. “Treatment of fibromyalgia syndrome with Super Malic: A randomized, double blind, placebo controlled, crossover pilot study.” Journal of Rheumatology, 1995; 22:953-958.

“The Team Value of Magnesium and Malic Acid,” Marc D. Braunstein, Oralchelation.com. Accessed 11/6/08.

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
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Autism and Insomnia – Melatonin Improves Kids’ Sleep Disorders

Melatonin May Help Children With Autism & Sleep Problems Slumber Better

Photo by: Hepingting, Flickr

A sleep hormone produced by the pineal gland may improve sleep issues in children with autism, resulting in an improvement of the day to day dynamics for the entire family.

Americans are tired. About 40 million suffer from a chronic sleep disorder, with an additional 20-30 million affected by intermittent sleep-related problems. Yet for children with autism the problem is even more common, resulting in an issue that negatively impacts the day to day dynamics of the whole family. Researchers estimate that between 40% and 80% of children with autism have difficulty sleeping or staying asleep.

Autism Associated with Higher Incidence of Sleep Disorders

Dr. Beth Maslow, Associate Professor of Neurology and Director of Vanderbilt Sleep Disorders Center reports that sleep disorder diaries completed by parents of children with autism revealed that the most common sleep concern is insomnia which may include:

  • Prolonged time to fall asleep/difficulty falling asleep
  • Inconsistent sleep routines
  • Decreased sleep duration and continuity
  • Restlessness or poor sleep quality
  • Increased arousals and awakenings
  • Early morning wake time

In her 2007 presentation, “Promoting Sleep in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” Dr. Maslow outlined other sleep issues children with autism may experience such as sleep disordered breathing, bruxism, arousals from sleep with confusion or wandering, rhythmic movement disorder, leg movements and daytime sleepiness.

While the sleep disorder estimates are high in children with autism, Dr. Maslow reports that only 54% of parents surveyed indicated their child had a sleep problem (Honomichl and Anders 2002). Yet for those families affected by autism who do struggle with nighttime slumber, the cumulative effects of sleep deprivation trickle down, wreaking havoc on the family’s emotional and physical well-being, and exacerbating behavioral issues the child may already exhibit.

“Sleep onset problems at the beginning of the night are very troublesome for children and their families,” says Beth L. Goodlin-Jones of the M.I.N.D Institute at the University of California Davis Health System in Sacramento, “Sometimes children may take one to two hours to fall asleep and often they disrupt the household during this time,” says Goodlin-Jones.

Autism and Sleep Have Neurochemistry Connection

Scientists aren’t quite sure why autistic children tend to have sleep problems, although several theories exist.

Children with autism don’t always pick up on social cues, including those from siblings and parents that signal when it’s time to go to bed; many have increased sensitivity to stimuli such as touch or sound that may keep them awake, and some kids with autism struggle with anxiety issues which disrupt their sleep patterns.

Another theory is the relationship between the biochemistry of sleep and the brain imbalances associated with autism. Dr. Maslow reports that abnormalities in serotonin, GABA and melatonin, (three neurotransmitters involved in the sleep-wake cycle), are associated in people with autism.

Serotonin for example, promotes sleep by dampening cortical arousal systems or by stimulating the accumulation of hypothalamic sleep factors. Research has shown people with autism tend to have problems with serotonin synthesis, metabolism, and transport as well as GABAeric interneuron disruption (Levitt, 2004).

Melatonin Promising for Children with Autism and Insomnia

Melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain, is a critical factor involved in regulating the sleep-wake cycle and to promote sleep.

People with autism, research shows, often have deficiencies in melatonin secretion and excretion (Nir, 1995; Kulman, 2000;Tordjman,2005). Autism’s association with problems with sleep latency (falling asleep) and decreased sleep time, coincides with a disruption in the circadian rhythm regulated by melatonin.

In a study reported in the Journal of Child Neurology, Dr. Malow and her colleagues reviewed the medical records of 107 children with autism, ages 2-18, who tried varying dosages of melatonin for insomnia. The results indicated that 25% of parents reported their children no longer had sleep concerns, 60% reported the sleep problems improved, 13% still had major concerns and only 1 percent (one child) had worse symptoms. Only three of the 107 children studied reported mild side effects.

Researchers in the April 2009 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine reported that melatonin medication decreased the length of time it takes for children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), Fragile X Syndrome (FXS), or both to fall asleep at the beginning of the night.

Children in the study experienced significant improvements in total night sleep durations, sleep latency times, and sleep-onset times. Mean sleep duration was longer on melatonin than placebo by 21 minutes, sleep-onset latency was shorter by 28 minutes and sleep-onset time was earlier by 42 minutes.

In addition, in a June 2010 study involving twenty-two children with autism spectrum disorders, melatonin significantly improved sleep latency (by an average of 47 min) and total sleep (by an average of 52 min) compared to placebo. It did not however, decrease the number of night wakenings.

“Rather than treating them [the kids] with some other drug that would promote sleep, [we could] give them what they’re missing,” said Dr. Malow. She noted that melatonin is very appealing to parents because “it’s something natural that’s already in your child’s body.”

“Although prospective trials will be needed to determine if melatonin is an effective sleep aid in this population, this study does support that it may be a reasonable treatment option in these children when administered under the care of a physician and combined with behavioral therapies for sleep,” Malow said in a 2008 press release for Vanderbilt Medical Center.

Autism Speaks, in conjunction with the Dana Foundation, is contributing funds to a study led by Malow and McGrew. The study is tracking how sleep patterns change in children with autism with the introduction of melatonin. Results are being measured by parent reports and a method called actigraphy which monitors sleep by tracking movements at night via a wristwatch-like device.

So far all children completing the trial have had better sleep, improved daytime behavior, and parents reporting they’re coping better with their child’s autism, said Dr. Malow.

While additional and long term research needs to be conducted, results look promising for the use of melatonin to improve sleep latency and duration in children with autism, and in response, to improving the overall day to day family dynamics.

Footnotes: 

Honomichl RD, Goodlin-Jones BL., Burnham M., Gaylor E.and Anders T F. “Sleep patterns of children with pervasive developmental disorders.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 2002.

Guénolé F., Baleyte J. “Effectiveness of melatonin for sleep problems in autism spectrum disorders: Evidence grows but research is still needed.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Sept 24, 2010.

Malow, Beth, M.D. “Melatonin Well-Tolerated Sleep Aid In Children With Autism.” February 8,2008.

Wright B, Sims D, Smart S, Alwazeer A, Alderson-Day B, Allgar V, Whitton C, Tomlinson H, Bennett S, Jardine J, McCaffrey N, Leyland C, Jakeman C, Miles J.”Melatonin Versus Placebo in Children with Autism Spectrum Conditions and Severe Sleep Problems Not Amenable to Behaviour Management Strategies: A Randomised Controlled Crossover Trial.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. June 2010.

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
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Autism and Vitamin D Incidental Findings Gaining Attention

autism, vitamin d, vitamin d deficiency

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Researchers are continuing to piece together one of the most mysterious modern day epidemics, autism spectrum disorder, a syndrome affecting one in 110 children. A growing body of evidence suggests low vitamin D levels may play a role.

Scientists studying autism and vitamin D believe there may be an association between a woman’s vitamin D levels during pregnancy, her child’s subsequent vitamin D levels, and autism symptoms. Researchers aren’t however, suggesting a vitamin D deficiency causes autism, rather that a number of incidental studies suggest a link.

Autism Epidemic Presents Five Unexplained Features

The Autism Society of America (ASA) describes autism as “a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills.” Autism is considered a spectrum disorder because it impacts individuals differently and to varying degrees.

ASA estimates 1 to 1.5 million Americans are impacted by autism, making it a national health crisis costing about $35 billion annually. Yet, despite numerous exhaustive metabolic and genetic evaluations conducted by scientists all over the world, researchers still aren’t able to pinpoint the exact causes.

Dr. John Cannell, Executive Director of the Vitamin D Council, writes that scientific groups have been trying to account for the 20-year increase in autism. Yet any valid theory says Cannell, must account for the following five unexplained features:

  1. significantly higher concordance (if one has it, the other is likely to have it) rates in identical, but not fraternal, twins
  2. widely-varying symptoms, even among identical twins
  3. striking 4:1 male to female sex ratio
  4. increased rates in blacks
  5. rapid increase in occurrence rates over the last 20 years

A 2009 Scientific American article “What if Vitamin D Deficiency is a Cause of Autism?” reported that five researchers at Harvard endorsed the vitamin D theory of autism, and that Dr. Darryl Eyles with the University of Queensland joined the expanding list of scientists who support the theory.

Despite the name, “vitamin” D is a secosteroid hormone that directly regulates more than 1,000 human genes. Not readily available in foods, vitamin D is made in large quantities when sunlight strikes bare skin.

fibromyalgia,vitamin d,anxiety, depression,chronic pain

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Vitamin D Regulates Long List of Genes

Geneticists believe that genetic codes may not properly transfer in children with autism, and that multiple genes aren’t expressed, possibly the result of environmental injury. Vitamin D, it seems, may protect an individual’s genome (entire genetic material) from damage from environmental toxins.

Researchers with the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) identified mutations in four genes within the AGRE families. Two of the genes were shown to be associated with autism and often are involved in forming or maintaining neural synapses, the point of connection between individual neurons. One of the new genes identified was neural cell adhesion molecule 2 (NCAM2). NCAM2 is expressed in the hippocampus of the human brain, a region previously associated with autism.

Dr. Lei, lead researcher on the study, explains the implications, “Studies such as this provide evidence that autism is a genetically based disease that affects neural connectivity.”

Dr. Cannell emphasizes that the vitamin D theory of autism doesn’t downplay the genetic role. In fact, he writes, “Without the genetic tendency for autism, I suspect that severe maternal or early childhood vitamin D deficiency may cause bone abnormalities, as referenced above, [but] with no evidence autism.” A vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy and early childhood may, however, trigger symptoms in a child who is genetically pre-disposed to the disorder.

Autism and Vitamin D Deficiency Linked Through Incidental Findings

In the May 2010 issue of Acta Pædiatrica, Dr. Cannell submitted a paper stating his position regarding D’s role in autism, “I have suggested that the primary environmental trigger for autism is not vaccinations, toxins or infections, but gestational and early childhood vitamin D deficiency (1,2),” he writes.

In the report, Cannell cited several studies that offer incidental evidence (unexpected clinical findings) of a link between D deficiency and autism:

A few of the findings include:

  • Boys with autism have unexplained metacarpal bone thickness. At some point these boys developed less cortical bone than normal children, a finding consistent with undetected and untreated childhood or even intrauterine vitamin D deficiency.
  • Melanin in the skin is an effective sunblock. Melanin is higher in dark-skinned people. Three of four recent U.S. studies found a higher incidence of autism in black children.
  • A Somali immigrant study in Sweden found a higher rate of autism in the Somalian population. These refugees traded family compounds and regular exposure to the equatorial sun for cloistered high-rise apartments, and many of them Muslim, cover their bodies from head to toe (thus received minimal sun exposure).
  • Studies showed autism in three U.S. states was higher in areas with more precipitation and clouds (less exposure to sunlight).
  • Lower seafood consumption during pregnancy was associated with low verbal intelligence quotient, suboptimum outcomes for prosocial behavior, fine motor, communication and social development scores. Fish is one of the few foods with significant amounts of vitamin D.
  • Autism is more common in mothers who take antiepileptic drugs. Antiepileptic drugs are one of the few classes of drugs that interferes with vitamin D metabolism, lowering 25(OH)D levels.

While the government’s advice to the public over the past few decades to use sunblock and to avoid excessive sun exposure to reduce the incidence of skin cancer was well-intentioned, an unfortunate side effect has contributed to two modern day epidemics, vitamin D deficiency and autism spectrum disorder.

Footnotes: 

“Study adds to evidence that autism has genetic basis,” ScienceDaily, May 3, 2010. Accessed July 23, 2010.

Cannell JJ. “On the Aetiology of Autism.” Acta Paediatrica. May 2010.

Cannell JJ.” Autism and Vitamin D,” Medical Hypotheses 2008, Accessed July 23,2010.

Lite, J., “Vitamin D deficiency soars in the U.S.,” Scientific American, March 23, 2009. Accessed July 23,2010.

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

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Depression Caused by Low GABA Rather Than Serotonin in Some

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SSRI meds For GABA-Related Depression May Not Work

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Doctors may be closer to treating major depression in individuals who don’t respond to selective-serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective-serotonin nor epinephrine re-uptake inhibitors (SSNRIs).

Medications prescribed to treat major depression are often those designed to increase the availability of serotonin, dopamine and/or nor epinephrine in the brain, neurotransmitters involved in a number of processes, including mood. Yet patients who don’t respond to those classes of drugs may in fact have an imbalance in another key brain chemical, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid).

Depression Not Always Due to Serotonin, Dopamine, Nor Epinephrine Imbalance

Major depression is a complex mood disorder that can be caused by a number of underlying and potentially intertwined biochemical and psychological factors. While some patients respond to serotonin therapies, for others, SSRI’s don’t improve their symptoms or can even make them worse.

Scientists in a study released in 2005, “Corelease of Dopamine and Serotonin from Striatal Dopamine Terminals” found that higher serotonin concentrations caused by SSRIs can “trick” transporters of another key neurotransmitter, dopamine, into retrieving serotonin into dopamine vesicles. This is referred to as “cosignaling” and can lead to a dangerous, even life threatening condition called serotonin syndrome.

In a March 2010 study published in Biological Psychiatry, co-authors Drs. Andrea J. Levinson and Zafiris J. Daskalakis of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) studied a group of brain chemicals involved in virtually all brain activity, the neurotransmitter GABA. In the study, individuals who were the least likely to respond well to prior depression treatments were also the ones with the lowest level of GABA in their brain.

Depression and GABA

GABA controls the brain’s rhythmic theta waves that allow individuals to feel physically and mentally balanced. They are the electrical brain waves associated with an “in between” mental state, a drowsy, semiconscious, alert yet relaxed dream-like state of mind.

Dr. Ray Sahelian, author of Mind Boosters [St. Martin’s Press, 2000] explains, “GABA is the most important and widespread inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Excitation in the brain must be balanced with inhibition. Too much excitation can lead to restlessness, irritability, insomnia, and even seizures. GABA is able to induce relaxation, analgesia, and sleep.”

GABA creates a sense of well-being and is involved in the production of endorphins, brain chemicals that create feelings of well-being known as the “runners high.” “Endorphins are produced in the brain during physical movement, such as stretching or even sexual intercourse,” explains Dr. Braverman in his book The Edge Effect [Sterling Publishing, 2005]. As endorphins are released, people begin to feel a sense of calm, often referred to as the Endorphin Effect.

A GABA imbalance can be involved in bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorder but it’s also inherent to a number of critical day to day brain functions. “We apply so many conscious and unconscious perceptions and judgments to our actions at every second, without even realizing that we are doing so,” says Dr. Levinson. “GABA is part of the brain system that allows us to fine-tune our moods, thoughts, and actions with an incredible level of detail,” she says.

The findings on GABA and major depression may explain why electroconvulsive therapy, once thought barbaric, is still the most efficacious therapy for major depressive disorder. “Electroconvulsive therapy may act on GABA brain chemicals in a way that can reset the balance,” says Levinson.

GABA deficiency symptoms

Because GABA is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, it’s involved in an impressive list of regulatory processes in the body. A GABA deficiency can lead to:

  • Allergies, light-headedness, restlessness, transient muscle tension or aches;
  • Feelings of dread, blurred vision, protein cravings, impulsive attention errors, cold or clammy hands, butterflies in the stomach, feeling of a lump in the throat;
  • Dizziness, coughing or choking, temporomandibular joint syndrome, paresthesia (prickling or tingling sensation), phobias;
  • PMS, irritable bowel syndrome, night sweats, moderate to severe constipation/diarrhea;
  • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), mood swings, various mild pain syndromes, various anxiety disorders, hypertension;
  • Delusions, unexplained chronic pains, trigeminal neuralgia and other facial pains;
  • Short or violent temper, chronic insomnia, neuropathy (nerve pain), fibromyalgia (chronic muscle pain);
  • Severe heart arrhythmias, carbohydrate cravings, severe migraines, rage; and
  • Severe tinnitus, severe pain, manic depression, seizures.

The implications of the study suggest that targeted drug therapies that include GABA medications may be more effective for patients with major depression than the trial and error approach that relies on serotonin and other neurotransmitter drug therapies.

“We are advancing the goal of a truly personalized medicine,” says study co-author Dr. Daskalakis. “It is intriguing to think that we may soon be able to apply simple brain stimulation to identify which treatments are most likely to help the individual person, eliminating the guesswork. That is, through these findings we may be able to one day determine who is and who is not going to respond to traditional pharmacological approaches to depression.”

Footnotes: 

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (2010, March 6). “Critical brain chemical shown to play role in severe depression.” ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 19, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2010/03/100301102803.htm

Fu-Ming Zhou, Yong Liang, Ramiro Salas, Lifen Zhang, Mariella De Biasi, and John A. Dani: “Corelease of Dopamine and Serotonin from Striatal Dopamine Terminals” Publishing in Neuron, Volume 46, Number 1, April 7, 2005, pages 65–74. http://www.neuron.org

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
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Five Ways To Improve Mood Naturally: Dopamine, GABA, Fish Oil…

Natural mood elevators, including fish oil

(Photo credit: Kittikun Atsawintarangkul)

Depression and anxiety treatment continues to explode as a highly profitable industry for drug companies. A growing number of people are popping prescriptions, desperately seeking solutions that will work long term and don’t carry risky side effects.

Pharmaceutical companies continue to spend millions on advertising to convince consumers that the solution to conquering mood disorders comes from a doctor’s prescription pad. Yet there are numerous natural alternatives available that cost little money, are safe and effective and will treat a spectrum of acute and chronic mood issues.

Serotonin Not Always Solution to Depression

Many prescription anti-depressants are designed to address low levels of serotonin and nor epinephrine. Yet in a 2005 review, researchers Jeffery Lacasse and Jonathon Leo wrote that they couldn’t find any article to directly support the long-held claim that a serotonin deficiency causes mental disorders.

Moreover, not all mood disorders are due to a biochemical imbalance, and medications often miss the mark or don’t address the underlying causes. Drugs can have unpleasant side effects such as weight gain, loss of libido, or diminished affect (emotion); and can even exacerbate symptoms. Alternatively there are a number of natural alternatives to boost mood.

1.Increase Dopamine for Depression Relief

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in arousal and motor function is a precursor to adrenaline and a related molecule, not adrenaline. Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine and is central to the creation of reward systems such as food, sex, positive social interactions, even humor. While doctors can prescribe medications to treat dopamine-dependent depression, there are natural ways to elevate dopamine.

Michael Lardon, a doctor and researcher on the neuroelectric assessment of athletic peak performance explains in an online article for the Modesto Bee that everyone who exercises can reap the benefits from the “dopamine buzz.”

“Dopamine is released within just 20 minutes of moderate exercise, says Lardon, “and triggers within your brain positive feelings about yourself even after your first session of exercise, before your body has had a chance to firmly establish an association between the exercise and the great feelings.”

2. Boost GABA for Mental Health

Another neurotransmitter involved with mood regulation is GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA controls the brain’s rhythmic theta waves that allow individuals to feel physically and mentally balanced.

Dr. Ray Sahelian, author of Mind Boosters [St. Martin’s Press, 2000] explains GABA’s key brain balancing role, “GABA is the most important and widespread inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Excitation in the brain must be balanced with inhibition. Too much excitation can lead to restlessness, irritability, insomnia, and even seizures. GABA is able to induce relaxation, analgesia, and sleep.”

GABA is involved in the production of endorphins, brain chemicals that create feelings of well-being known as the “runner’s high.” An imbalance can be involved in bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorder but it’s also inherent to several critical day to day brain functions.

A GABA-rich diet and certain supplements can elevate GABA, and so can yoga, research finds. “The practice of yoga should be explored as a treatment for disorders with low GABA levels such as depression and anxiety disorders. Future studies should compare yoga to other forms of exercise to help determine whether yoga or exercise alone can alter GABA levels,” write scientists in a 2007 study.

3. Take Fish Oil to Improve Mood

Fish oil is most often associated with cardiovascular health, but the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can also improve mood in some people.

According to Dr. Mercola, a leading natural health expert, “Numerous studies worldwide have linked lack of omega-3 consumption – specifically DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) – with depression. One study found that depression symptoms were higher among infrequent fish consumers than among those who ate fish on a regular basis.”

Researchers found that low plasma concentrations of DHA were good predictors of low concentrations of brain serotonin. Low serotonin can be associated with depression and suicide in some individuals.

4. Socialize With Cheerful People

Depressed people often avoid social interaction, but forcing face-to-face connections with upbeat people can boost mood, research indicates.

Forbes.com reported on a 20-year study that found social networks can have a deep impact on an individual’s happiness. Scientists tracked over 4,700 people and found that social interactions with both cheerful friends and strangers considerably influenced the subject’s chances of happiness.

5. Pet a Pet to Boost Mood

Petting Rover can be plus for mental and physical health. “The benefit is especially pronounced when people are strongly attached to their pets,” says researcher Judith Siegel, PhD for a WebMD article.

Blair Justice, PhD, a psychology professor and author of Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods, and Thoughts Affect Your Health [Peak Press, 2000] tells WebMD that like any enjoyable activity, playing with a pet increases serotonin and dopamine. “People take drugs like heroin and cocaine to raise serotonin and dopamine, but the healthy way to do it is to pet your dog, or hug your spouse, watch sunsets, or get around something beautiful in nature, “says Justice.

While the pharmaceutical industry continues to promote a long list of medications for anxiety and depression, several natural alternatives are available that are safe, often very effective, and without risky side effects.

People suffering with acute or chronic mood changes who are interested in natural treatments should seek a holistic practitioner. Holistic physicians often measure neurotransmitter and hormone levels and then develop a comprehensive treatment plan that may include a combination of diet changes, exercise, hormone replacement and supplements. Treatment may be combined with conventional approaches to mood management or as an alternative.

Footnotes:

Lacasse JR, Leo J, “Serotonin and depression: a disconnect between the advertisements and the scientific literature,” Florida State University College of Social Work, Tallahassee, Fl., 2005 Dec;2(12):e392.

Lerche Davis, Jeanie, “5 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health,” WebMD. November 16, 2009.

Mercola, Joseph, Ph.D., “More Omega-3 Studies Find Links to Depression,”November 24 2004.

Rebecca, Ruiz, How To Beat The Winter Blues. Forbes.com. December 15, 2008.

Streeter, CC, Jensen JE, Perlmutter RM, Cabral HJ, Tian H, Terhune DB, Ciraulo DA, Renshaw, PF, “Yoga Asana sessions increase brain GABA levels: a pilot study.” Journal of Complementary Medicine, 2007 May 13.

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Heart Health Risk With Calcium Supplements, Research Suggests

calcium, heart health, heart attack, supplements calcium, heart health, heart attack, supplements, research on calcium and heart

Calcium supplements (vs. food-based calcium) may contribute to heart issues

(Photo credit: Carlos Porto) (Photo credit:Master isolated images)

A new study finds supplementing with calcium may slightly increase risk of heart attacks. Researchers suggest a review of current calcium recommendations.

A study published in the British Medical Journal found that calcium supplements commonly prescribed to benefit skeletal health, may increase the risk of a heart attack and cardiovascular events such as stroke, in healthy older women by 20% to 30%.

Calcium and Osteoporosis

While the increased risk is small, and some researchers say the findings are unnecessarily alarmist, given the widespread use of calcium supplements to help prevent osteoporosis, even a small risk within a large population could become a health burden, warns the study’s lead researcher Dr. Ian Reid.

Calcium supplementation has proven to provide only minimal benefit to increase bone density and to prevent fractures in women. As a result of its limited use for osteoporosis patients and the new heart risk findings, Reid suggests the current supplement recommendations be re-assessed.

In an editorial published with the study, cardiologist John Cleland of the U.K.’s Hull York Medical School called the analysis “concerning but not convincing.” Like Reid however, Cleland remains cautious. “Given the uncertain benefits of calcium supplements, any level of (heart) risk is unwarranted.”

Council for Responsible Nutrition Questions Implications

Dr. Andrew Shao, senior VP, scientific & regulatory affairs with the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) says in a press release for CRN that the warnings have been overstated and dilute the importance of calcium. Calcium’s role in building and maintaining bone is vital says Shao, and to prevent osteoporosis. “The results from this meta-analysis does not undermine the value calcium supplements offer to those concerned with maintaining or increasing bone density, as years of research shows these products do,” he says.

The problem explains Shao, is the meta-analysis only included 15 randomized trials on calcium, rather than the available 300. Moreover, seven of the 15 trials had no, or incomplete data on cardiovascular outcomes and the study excluded studies that combined calcium with vitamin D. “This analysis should not dissuade consumers, particularly young women, from taking calcium supplements. They should talk with their doctors about their current and long-term needs and determine how much calcium they are getting from their diets, and supplement accordingly, likely in combination with vitamin D,” says Shao.

Vitamin D and Heart Health

Vitamin D, actually a secosteroid hormone, is gaining increasing attention among researchers. Once largely associated with bone health, studies indicate vitamin D may play an essential role in a wide array of key body functions including immunity, cancer prevention, and heart health.

“Vitamin D deficiency is an unrecognized, emerging cardiovascular risk factor, which should be screened for and treated,” says researcher James H. O’Keefe, MD, director of preventive cardiology at the Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Mo., in a news release. “Vitamin D is easy to assess, and supplementation is simple, safe and inexpensive.”

The December 2008 issue of The Harvard Heart Letter reported on the link between vitamin D and heart health, writing that calcium deposits that stiffen the arteries are more likely to develop in people with low levels of vitamin D and cause coronary artery disease. Like low magnesium, a D deficiency contributes to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

Jennifer Warner in her WebMD article “Too Little Vitamin D Puts Heart at Risk,” writes that researchers are finding a growing body of evidence to suggest a vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of heart disease and is linked to other, well-known heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.

Magnesium and Heart Health

Another unsung hero involved in heart health is magnesium. Dr. Carolyn Dean, Medical Director of the Nutritional Magnesium Association and author of several books including The Magnesium Miracle, has long warned doctors and the public against over promoting calcium and under promoting magnesium.

Magnesium is a mineral that plays a critical role in heart health and balances the effects of calcium. Most calcium-magnesium formulations however, have a 2:1 (or higher) ratio. Dr. Dean recommends the inverse, 2:1 magnesium.

Andrea Rosanoff, Ph.D.Director with the Center for Magnesium Education & Research writes in her book The Magnesium Factor, “The most important marker for impending heart disease is a low magnesium to calcium ratio in the cells.” Rosanoff’s co-author, Dr. Mildred Seelig writes, ”While several essential nutrients are imperative for heart and blood vessel health, the vast research on low magnesium and its impact on heart health has gone unheeded, so much so that much of the heart disease seen today is a direct result of low magnesium consumption.”

In recent decades calcium supplementation has been heavily promoted to prevent osteoporosis, build bone density and prevent fractures, yet results have been disappointing. Calcium, a new finding suggests, may actually increase the risk of heart attack. Yet magnesium and vitamin D once largely in the shadow of calcium, are gaining attention for their role in the prevention of a wide array of diseases and to improve overall health functioning, including heart health.

Footnotes:

Boyles, Salynn, “Calcium May Increase Heart Attack Risk, WebMD Health News. July 29, 2010.

Bolland MJ, Avenell A, Baron JA, Grey A, Maclennan GS, Gamble GD, Reid IR., “Effect of calcium supplements on risk of myocardial infarction and cardiovascular events: meta-analysis.” British Medical Journal, 2010 Jul 29.

Rosanoff, Arlene, Ph.D. and Seelig, Mildred. The Magnesium Factor, Penguin, 2003.

“Vitamin D deficiency bad for the heart, bones, and rest of the body,” Harvard Heart Letter, December 2009, Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School.

Warner, Jennifer, “Too Little Vitamin D Puts Heart at Risk.” WebMD Health News. Dec. 1, 2008.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

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