Good health through better nutrition
It’s a widely accepted fact among physicians and consumers alike that eating a healthy diet, getting adequate exercise, and maintaining a proper weight helps prevent many common health problems. What’s less commonly agreed upon is which specific nutritional supplements and foods can actually help prevent or even cure disease, and what individuals should consider taking on a routine basis.
Steven Vlach, M.D., recently joined Southwest Memorial Primary Care and says there are a few things that almost everyone should be doing to get or stay healthy. Vitamin D supplementation is at the top of his list. We get vitamin D naturally through exposing our skin to the sun, but even here in the high desert where cloudy, overcast days are rare, Vlach says most people are still deficient in vitamin D.
“Almost everyone I check is low,” he said.
Why do we need vitamin D? Mainly, it’s good for bone health because it helps the body absorb calcium, but the benefits may extend beyond that. “Vitamin D has more than 200 functions within the body,” said Vlach. “It supports the immune system, can help prevent diabetes and heart disease, and it may be an anti-cancer agent,” said Vlach.
Some foods contain vitamin D, but the list of those that do is fairly short. Salmon, tuna, and mackerel in the fish family are good sources of vitamin D, and dairy sources include butter, eggs, and fortified milk. Mushrooms also contain D, and fish liver oils are high in the vitamin.
According to the Institute of Medicine, people up to the age of 70 should consume at least 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D daily and those over 70 should up that number to 800. Some healthcare providers recommend 1,000-2000 units, and Vlach recommends 5,000 – 10,000 units for his patients. Individuals who have a tendency to form kidney stones should not take high doses of vitamin D, nor should anyone who cannot tolerate the supplement which, according to Vlach, is about one in 200 people. If you take a vitamin D supplement, any one of the other-the-counter brands is fine, says Vlach.
Magnesium is another supplement that Vlach says is important and safe for most people to take. According to the National Institutes of Health, magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical functions in the body, including supporting muscle and nerve health, maintaining a steady heart rhythm, and keeping the immune system and bones strong. Magnesium may also play a role in preventing and managing chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.
“Almost everyone is deficient in magnesium and should supplement with over-the-counter magnesium malate or citrate,” said Vlach. Good nutritional sources of magnesium including whole grains, green leafy vegetables (Vlach is a fan of broccoli in particular, and spinach is quite high in magnesium), beans, and nuts.
Third on Vlach’s list of simple, good things we can do for our bodies it to use a probiotic supplement. “We have 2.4 pounds of bacteria inside us. If we have the right bacteria there is helps prevent obesity and diabetes,” said Vlach.
Probiotic supplements, available in health food stores, are similar to the healthy bacteria already found in the digestive tract. This supplement may be helpful for people who suffer from diarrhea, gas, irritable bowel syndrome, vaginal yeast infections, and bladder infections, although more research is needed. Yogurt is a good dietary source of probiotics. Taking a probiotic following a round of necessary antibiotics is very important, according to Vlach, because those medications kill the good bacteria naturally found in the digestive tract. A probiotic following antibiotic therapy can help restore the body’s natural bacteria levels.
On the top on Vlach’s “do not consume” list for anyone wanting to maintain optimal health is artificial sweeteners. “They disrupt glucose levels, increase appetite, and cause weight gain,” said Vlach. “If a food says ‘diet’ or ‘low-cal’, don’t eat it.” Energy drinks should also be avoided, says Vlach.
Vlach believes that consumers should be very wary of genetically modified foods.
“This is an upcoming disaster,” he said. If you eat meat, he recommends purchasing it locally and checking to be sure the animals have not been fed soy and corn that has been genetically modified.
“Unless you know who’s growing it, you shouldn’t buy it,” said Vlach. We are fortunate here in the Four Corners area to have access to a great deal of locally grown meat, poultry, vegetables, and fruits.
As always, speak with your personal healthcare provider about taking any over-the-counter medications, including vitamins and supplements. Most are safe, many are helpful, but some may interact negatively with prescription medications and may be counter-indicated for individuals with certain medical conditions.
Southwest Health Notes is a public service feature provided by Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez, Colorado. The information provided herein is not intended as patient-specific medical advice or as a substitute for consultation with your personal healthcare provider.