Iodine an Essential Nutrient for the Thyroid

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

Get ready aficionados of iodine! In the same way that vitamin D caught the supplementing world by storm in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the 53rd element is poised to become the latest darling of the world of nutrition.

Although we’ve known about the purple mineral (the term “iodine” is derived from the Greek word for violet)) for over 200 years and iodine’s importance as an essential element has been recognized since the late 19th century, it’s only been in the last few years that the iodine’s astounding versatility and significance has become apparent. Perhaps its because of the crippled Japanese nuclear plant at Fukushima (according to experts using iodine can provide protection from radiation) or maybe it’s the seeming epidemic of hypothyroidism (even the nutritionally ignorant are aware of iodine’s relationship to thyroid health), but for whatever reason more and more people are becoming aware of the significance and health relevance of this important mineral.

Iodine an Essential Nutrient for the ThyroidAlthough full blown deficiencies are rare, iodine, which even lay people recognize as being an essential nutrient for the thyroid, is becoming more and more scarce in the American diet. According to Dr. Laura Pizzorno, writing in the journal Longevity Medicine Review, iodine intake in the United States has been decreasing since the 1970’s and much of the US population may be deficient. Dr. Pizzorno blames changes in American dietary habits and reduced intake of iodized salt, and even mentions discrepancies in label claims on salt containers and the condiment’s actual content.

With the exception of seafood, iodine is not found in great abundance in many foods and many iodine experts believe that we could all use more of the stuff than we’re getting, and that medical professionals recommend. The RDA for iodine is around 150 mcg but according to Doctor David Brownstein, writing in his classic go-to reference source “Iodine, Why You Need It and Why You Can’t Live Without It”, we should probably be getting a 12.5 mg day, nearly 100 times the government recommended dose. And given iodine’s multi-functionality and non-toxicity, it’s hard to argue his point.

In addition to being protective against radiation toxicity such as the kind being spewed out by the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant and its critical importance for thyroid and thyroid hormone effectiveness, iodine plays a key role in the development of the fetal and infant brain. Around the world iodine deficiency is a leading cause of mental retardation in infants. And according to a British study of 1040 pregnant moms, who were iodine deficient, had children with lower IQs and reading levels.

And there’s more—although most folks could tell you that iodine is important for the thyroid gland, it hardly recognizes that other hormone secreting glandular structures need it too. It can be helpful for the adrenals and the pancreas. And, according to Dr. David Howenstine, iodine supplementation “resolves nearly every case of breast cysts”. Dr. Howenstine writes that iodine can heal ovarian and skin cysts too (20 percent of the body’s iodine stores are in the skin and one of the signs of iodine deficiency is dry skin). Muscles may benefit, ie: muscular pain and fibromyalgia are associated with iodine deficiency.

The most commonly used iodine supplement is Lugol’s solution which is a blend of two forms of iodine combined with potassium. This formulation is available in a tablet form as well. Some researchers believe that absorption of the liquid or tablet forms of these blended iodines may not be efficient. They recommend another type of iodine called “Nascent Iodine” which is an electrically active form that has been separated from other elements (e.g. potassium), and from other iodine atoms as well. The net result of this electrification is a little piece of free element that can be called “atomic” iodine. Nascent or “atomic” iodine is more easily recognized and usable by the body than other forms and thus its superior absorption and utilization.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Nutrition

Vitamin A Part 2

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

Athletes take note:  Vitamin A can improve performance and provide tremendous benefits because it helps increase protein synthesis from muscle cells.  This means Vitamin A is one of the most important nutritional supplements for weight lifters and body builder and anyone interested in improving athletic performance.  And you don’t have to be pumping iron or running a marathon to benefit; the increased protein synthesis cans also improve vitality and energy and day to day strength for sedentary couch potatoes too.

Vitamin A Part 2

By Martin Doege (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the most well-known role for vitamin A involves vision.  Some of the Vitamin A you ingest ends up in your eyes where it acts to turn light into our reality (!).  In other words, if you think see the world through rose colored glasses think again.  You actually observe the world through lenses made up of (partially, at least) of Vitamin A! From a historical perspective, the most significant sign of a lack of Vitamin A was night blindness, which can which can ultimately result in total blindness.  This was noted as early as 3500 years ago by ancient Chinese and Egyptian physicians used Vitamin A-rich fish liver oil as a treatment and cure.  The health of the cornea also depends on Vitamin A and deficiencies can lead to swelling, inflammation and ultimately ulceration and blindness.

It’s also important for the immune system.  While most people think of Vitamin Cwhen it comes to warding off colds and supporting the body’s defenses, as it turns out Vitamin A plays even more significant anti-pathogenic, anti-toxin role.  In addition to having an enhancing effect on specific antibodies, the workhorses of immunity, Vitamin A upregulates the body’s non-specific, general resistance to infection.  Dr. Robert Atkins, of Atkins Diet fame recommended taking extremely high doses (up 100,000 i.u., 50 times RDA) to be taken (along with Vitamin C and Zinc) at the first sign of a cold.

Finally, no discussion on Vitamin A would be complete without mentioning its non-essential cosmetic properties.  Topical Vitamin A is one of the most important and powerful anti-wrinkle ingredients you could every use.  The same connective tissue and protein stimulating properties you can get from eating or supplementing with Vitamin A can be targeted to the skin by directly applying the stuff.  It’s so effective at driving protein and collagen synthesis that it’s regulated by the FDA as a drug.  The brand name for this prescription Vitamin A cream as most people know is Retin-A and it contains just .01 to 1 percent retinoic acid (the most potent form of Vitamin A)  and that’s all you need to use just a few times a week to have noticeably smoother, healthier and younger looking skin.

Worldwide, Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is considered a serious problem by the World Health organization.  Because of its growth stimulating properties, children are especially susceptible to the negative health impacts of VAD. According to the World Health Organization, deficiencies in Vitamin A affect nearly 250 million preschoolers; it’s the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and it increases the risk of disease and death from serious infections. In addition to visual problems some of the indicators of VAD include dry eyes, skin conditions including acne and dermatitis and decreased resistance to infections and chronic colds and respiratory conditions.

Luckily, while Vitamin A deficiency is relatively common in undeveloped countries, in the United States and Europe full blown deficiencies are rare. Yet, it’s safe to say, most people could benefit from extra Vitamin A taken as a nutritional supplement. This critical nutrient is important for bone and eye health, the immune and reproductive systems and it helps keep skin looking soft, supple, and blemish-free. It acts synergistically with thyroid hormone and helps the body use protein and iron more efficiently. If you’re deficient in Zinc or if you have problems absorbing fats, you’re probably not getting the benefits you need from this versatile and very important vitamin.

Vegetarians and vegans are especially at risk for Vitamin A deficiency which is only found in animal products. Eggs, beef organ meats and dairy are nature’s richest sources of Vitamin A and especially high concentrations are found in liver and kidney.  Non-meat eaters (as well as carnivores that want make sure they’re getting enough) may want to consider supplementation with 20,000 international units a day.  The RDA for Vitamin A is a paltry 5000 i.u., but daily doses as high as 50,000 iu have been used for short periods of time for treating acne and heavy menstrual bleeding.  In one study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 1993,la whopping 300,000 iu daily dose was used to suppress the formation of tumors in lung cancer patients.

While Vitamin A is only found in animal products, many fruits and vegetables do produce a “phyto” version of this important nutritional molecule.  It’s called beta carotene and can be obtained via dark green leafy vegetables as well as red and orange fruits veggies like cantaloupe, carrots, pumpkins and squash and sweet potatoes.  Kale and turnip greens are particularly good source of beta carotene which is essentially 2 molecular chunks of Vitamin A stuck together to form what can be considered pre-vitamin A.   Beta carotene conversion to Vitamin A requires enzymes and effective biochemistry and depending on the health of the individual this may or may not occur.

Last, but most certainly not least, Vitamin A absorption requires bile and that means you want your gall bladder, and hundreds of thousands of patients lose theirs every year.  Liver disease, which affects 30 percent of Americans, can mess up the body’s ability to process Vitamin A too.  Pretty much anything that impairs fat absorption, including pancreatic insufficiency, small intestine inflammation and lymphatic congestion, can have a negative impact on the body’s ability to process and utilize vitamin A from foods and even supplements. If you suspect any issues with fat malabsorbtion or you are sans gall bladder, you might want to think about taking a vitamin A supplement and eating vitamin A rich foods with fat absorption aids such as lecithin, digestive enzymes, pancreatic enzymes, bile salts, probiotics and apple cider vinegar.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Nutrition

Omega-3 Supplements

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

A couple of weeks ago in a study that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and plastered all over the internet and the mainstream media,  investigators found that that was correlation between prostate cancer and high levels of an essential fatty acid derivative  called DHA.

Here’s my take:

Omega-3 SupplementsFats are like women, they’re complicated!  Highly complicated!   Thus, to make sense of the nonsense associated with the incendiary headlines like: “Fish oil supplements linked to prostate cancer” (Health News) and “Men who take omega-3 supplements at 71 percent higher risk of prostate cancer” (NY Daily News) or “Omega-3 supplements may trigger prostate cancer” (Nursing Times) we have to digress slightly and talk about fats and fatty acid supplements.

In the world of nutrition there’s different kinds fats (technically called “lipids”), classes of fats you might say.  For example there are plant lipids like beta carotene and bioflavonoids, which are nutritional terms most people have heard of, and you’ll find fat soluble compounds like phytoestrogens and resins in vegetation as well as the fatty vitamins D, E,A and K.

Then there the fatty acids.  There’s a bunch of them but two stand out in importance.  And the reason they stand out is because they are “essential”.    That means that along with amino acids and vitamins and minerals, these two very special types of acid made out of fat must be ingested on a regular basis at the risk of facing significant health challenges including the biggies: heart disease and cancer .  They’re called essential fatty acids, we know them as Omega-3 and Omega-6 and by definition, they are absolute requirements in the human diet.  You’re dead in the water without them and heading in the direction and degeneration and disease to the degree you’re deficient.  Your brain is especially dependent on them as is the blood and circulatory system.  Every single cell in the body contains appreciable amounts of EFAs, mostly omega-6s, except for the nervous system and the eyes which contain large amount of the omega-3 variety and their derivatives.

In the JAMA article what was noticed was a relationship between high blood levels of a specific breakdown product of Omega-3 called DHA and the incidence of prostate cancer.  Now DHA is vital stuff.   It’s an especially important part of the brain and eyes.   In fact, right now, as you read this article, light from the page you’re looking at is hitting your eyes and activating the DHA embedded in the eye cell membranes, which in turn is causing chemical reactions that create the visual experience in your brain.  The world we see is literally constructed out of DHA (at least partially) right now.

But here’s the catch:  DHA is very active.  What makes it so potent is its very activity.  In the world of nutrition, activity is always associated with instability and from a health perspective instability is not necessarily a good thing.  This is why oils are so problematic.  They’re volatile and fragile.  Remember we said fats are complicated.  You need them but you have to be careful!   This combination of instability and potency must be accounted for with balancing and protecting nutrients.  In other words, you don’t want to ingest high levels of one fat with corresponding balancing FATS and balancing NUTRIENTS.   For example you don’t want to be using Vitamin A without Vitamin D.  And Vitamin E should to be stabilized with selenium, alpha lipoic acid Vitamin C.   And when it comes to Omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids EFAs, they need to be taken together and they need to be balanced with each other.   Most nutritionists recommend 3 parts Omega-6 fatty acids for every one part Omega-3 fatty acids.  And, all EFAs should always be taken with protective 400 i.u of Vitamin E.   In the case of DHA, Omega-6s, Vitamin E and A and selenium all work together to shield this sensitive and vulnerable nutritional lipid.  In the JAMA study, the only parameter that was measured was DHA levels.  Were these patients using Vitamin E, selenium?  We don’t know.  How about Vitamin A and alpha lipoic acid?  Again, we don’t know.    How about balancing Omega 6’s and Omega 3’s?  Once again, we don’t know.   And, without this information, any causal conclusions drawn between this important fish oil component and development cancer must be considered dubious at best.

The most significant flaw the JAMA study was the fact that investigators examined patients who already had cancer!   And, some of the men had a family history of prostate cancer, a known risk factor for carcinogenesis.  This was a population of men who were prostate cancer cases waiting to happen.  We don’t know if the existing cancer caused elevations in DHA or if it was that the DHA that resulted in the cancer.  Or if there’s any correlation at all.   In other words, the two factors (high plasma DHA and prostate cancer) may be completely UN-related.

Even worse, the tests were one-time-only each patient and measured only the blood plasma content of DHA.  Plasma levels fluctuate and vary.  A fish sandwich eaten an hour prior to a blood test would cause an elevated DHA score even if a patient had never eaten seafood or ingested fish oil before or since.  That means that elevated DHA measurements merely provided a one-time picture of what was in the body, temporarily, at the moment the blood was drawn and in no way indicative of how much DHA a person was getting and storing!   Of course, no one thought to check what these patients were eating, when they were eating it or what kind and how much DHA or fish oil supplements they were using.  In fact, despite the alarming headlines no one knows if they were even using fish oil supplements at all!

Finally, a quick internet search will reveal numerous studies that associate fish oil and DHA with a decreased risk of cancer.  In one for example, from Tuscia University in Italy, researchers concluded that:  “DHA can exert antitumor activity” and can function as “an effective adjuvant in cancer chemotherapy”.   In another study from the University of California at Davis researchers showed that “omega-3 dietary fatty acids (fish oil) reduce the risk of…cancers” although “the mechanisms by which these omega-3 lipids inhibit… (tumor formation)…are poorly understood”.  And in yet another study, published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Pathology in January of this year investigators found that “DHA inhibited (cancer) cell migration, a marker of metastasis and that stated that  “DHA, a ω-3 fatty acid, could play a beneficial inhibition of the incidence and progress of a series of human including cancer (italics mine)”.

The bottom line and incontrovertible, undeniable fact remains that Omega-3 fatty acids are essential.  That means they’re required for health and survival.  There are NOT optional.  And, while their instability and thus their potential for becoming degraded and perhaps unhealthy is  equally undeniable, given their  must-have nature, that simply means they must used with great care, with balancing nutrients and with as little heat and processing as possible.  And any studies that suggest avoiding these vital substances need to be examined closely and in my opinion, with skepticism.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Nutrition

Vitamin A

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

While all nutrients play important and unique roles, in the world of nutrition one vitamin stands out like a diamond among ordinary gemstones.  In a nutritional world of betas this stuff is truly vitamin version of an alpha male.  In fact, it’s actually called Vitamin Alpha or more simply, as most people refer to it, as Vitamin A.

Actually there’s really no such thing as Vitamin A.  Instead, the term is an umbrella designation for a family of compounds called retinoids that are found through the plant and animal kingdoms.  These ubiquitous chemical structures exist in a variety of forms and perform multiple functions in a healthy biological system.The three most common forms of retinoids are called retinyl palmitate, retinol and retinoic acid.

Vitamin A Alpha
Perhaps the most important retinoid role involves the division of parent cells and the development of resultant offspring, so-called “daughter cells”. These processes, known as mitosis and differentiation are the most important of cellular events.Mitosis involves a cell splitting in two and forming a parent and an offspring.  Via this process one cell, made up of the combined female egg cell and male sperm cell (it’s called a zygote from the Greek word for combined) turns into the 100 trillion cells or so of the human body.  Obviously, the division is critical to formation of an animal body and this most fundamental of all biological phenomena is initiated and regulated by Vitamin A.

Differentiation is even more critical.  Once a cell it divides it may need to shape up, so to speak.  Daughter cells have to develop to become mature liver, muscle, bone, heart or “whatever”cells.  They have to shape up and take on a certain form.  Offspring lung cells have to mature to do the things that a parent lung cells can do and the same is true for heart cells or muscle or bone cells any other cells that divide. This maturation processes is what is called differentiation and it is a sophisticated affair that requires a tightly choreographed chemistry, and biological precision.And, much like the maturation of human being from baby to teenager to adult, the process is fraught with danger.  Anytime a system is growing and maturing and developing it reaches critical points where its survival is threatened. These tumultuous juncture points can be a matter of life or death for any system including a cell.  Fortunately nature has provided support to sustain the cell in its stressful differentiation periods…it’s called nutrition!  In fact one of the most important roles for nutrients is to assure healthy differentiation and of the entire support nutrient the most important bar none, the most powerful maturation nutrient is none other than the biochemical family known as Vitamin A.

Under conditions of vitamin A deficiency cell division is accelerated and cell differentiation is suppressed.  The net result is the production of lots of un-differentiated.,immature cells.   This can show up as various health issues ranging from to asthma to cancer to birth defects to skin conditions like psoriasis and acne all of which involve the appearance of large numbers of rapidly dividing immature cells that can muck up ordinarily organized chemistry.  In all these conditions relatively high doses of Vitamin A (we’ll get to those in a moment) can provide effective therapeutic treatment.

Vitamin A plays another important role in the biochemical play of life.  It turns on the production of meat.  Not the kind of meat you get at McDonalds, but rather the kind of meat of that makes up the mass of the body.  Technically the meat is called collagen and connective tissue and muscle protein and it gets pumped out cells called fibroblasts when commanded to do so by the alpha vitamin, Vitamin A.  Breakdowns in connective tissue are behind degenerative disease and that means Vitamin A can be used to help prevent diverse and distinct disorders including osteoporosis, heart disease, aneurysms and circulatory issues.  It can accelerate the healing of tissue after surgery or burns or wounds or other physical trauma. It can reduce the development of fine lines and wrinkle saggy skin and plain old regular aging.   And, it’s not just sick or old folks that benefit from the body building benefits Vitamin A.  Kids need it too. The most important sign of Vitamin A deficiency in children which 100 million kids worldwide is suboptimal growth and development.  Without enough Vitamin A children will stop growing and eventually die. [Vitamin A Part 2]

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Nutrition

Understanding Unsaturated & Saturated Fat

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

The most misunderstood and maligned nutrient is undoubtedly fat. Those three letters that are responsible for so much misery and marketing spell out the most powerful and energetically dense of all the macro and micro nutrients human beings and animals consume.

There are two main classes of food fats, which are sometimes referred to as “lipids” : saturated fats which are solid (think lard) and unsaturated fats which are liquid (think corn oil). Liquid oil, i.e. unsaturated fats can contain important components called EFAs and this makes them very, very important. Deficiencies in EFAs are associated with a myriad of health problems including skin issues, degenerative disease, impaired mental health and heart pathology name just a few. Because of the important role unsaturated lipids play in keeping the body strong and healthy, for most part nutrition-mined folks have rationally focused on getting enough those important fats while marginalizing, completely ignoring the significance of their saturated biochemical cousins.

Saturated FatUntil recently that is. In the past couple of years one the most important and functional, (not to mention tasty) of the saturated fats has been getting quite a bit of attention. Coconut Oil for many years vilified and verboten, a heavy, artery clogging, and cholesterol raising generally unhealthy fat, as it turns is not so bad after all. In fact there actually a lot to love about coconut oil!

Another three letters should come to mind when you think about coconut oil: M.C.T. . Coconut Oil is one of nature’s richest sources of MCT. MCT stands for medium chain triglycerides and it is very good stuff. And, coconut oil is 2 thirds MCT, which means in every teaspoonful you’re going to get 3 grams of MCT oil.

So why should you care about MCTs? Two words: weight loss! Well actually there are a lot of things MCTs are good for, they suppress your appetite you can use them for energy really quickly. They’re very satisfying and you’ll find yourself eating less food, and you’ll have more energy to do stuff.

Body builders love MCTs because they go right into the blood, for use they don’t need to be processed before they can be used. As opposed to the long chain fatty acids that comprise most of our dietary fats, MCTs are relatively inert; they don’t really affect digestive chemistry. That’s important, especially if the digestive system is stresses or impaired. MCT’s don’t require bile. For those sans gall bladder, a teaspoonful or two of coconut oil can be a very tasty way to make sure they’re getting fats. We used them alot in the pharmacy when I worked at University Hospital which was a regional center for digestive system health issues. Burt best of all, MCTs don’t get stored like other fats, they’re used! Which makes them an ideal source of fat nutrition for dieters.

And coconut oil has non MCT related features that make it so darn loveable! Most especially it tastes great. Roast some veggie in it and not only do you get stable oil with a high smoke point, and nutritional value, but you get all that in great tasting oil!

You can use coconut oil topically as a moisturizer or hair conditioner, it’s vitamin E content can protect skin and moisturize skin and hair protective and if you mix it up with a little honey or stevia and some fruit flavoring it has some great adult “entertainment” benefits too (use your imagination here!).

If you have a favorite way to use coconut oil I love to know about it. Please fell free to share it in the comments below.

Nutiva Certified Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil

One 54-ounce jar of pure-white, USDA-certified-organic, extra-virgin coconut oil, cold-pressed from fresh coconuts within two hours of chopping; light true-coconut taste, aroma.

Nutiva Certified Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil – 54 fl oz

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Nutrition