May 30, 2011

116 Vitamin D & Autism [30 May 2011]

Autism is a neurological disorder that severely affects the social and communication behavior of children. Its cause is not well understood but a strong genetic component is recognized. Treatments to date have not been very successful.

In 2005 Dr John Cannell developed the theory that a deficiency of vitamin D during pregnancy and infancy greatly increases the risk of autism. Subsequent research has shown remarkable improvement in autistic children treated with high levels of vitamin D. Evidence in support of his theory includes:
• Increased prevalence with latitude (similar to MS – a topic for another week)
• Higher rates for children born in the spring (whose mothers would be sunlight deprived during pregnancy)
• Increased risk for children of dark-skinned mothers living in high latitudes (eg a study of Somali immigrants in Sweden)
• Extremely low D levels measured in mothers of autistic children
• Animal studies of young deprived of vitamin D during gestation show brain abnormalities similar to those in autistic children
• Children with rickets frequently have autistic markers that disappear with vitamin D treatment

Cannell’s subsequent research with vitamin D as a treatment for autism shows great promise. While vitamin D cannot reverse the damage to the genes, it does control the expression of many genes in the brain. At this time there are no controlled studies of autism treatment with vitamin D, but many anecdotal reports of improvement have been published in Dr. Cannell’s newsletter. The best outcomes occur in children started at a young age and with very high levels of supplementation, which require monitoring by a knowledgeable physician. For more information on Cannell’s work see or more specifically

This article is intended for educational purposes only; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

May 26, 2011

115 Astaxanthin [24 May 2011]

Astaxanthin is the most potent member of the carotenoids – antioxidant pigments that give vegetables (and some animals) their bright colors. As an antioxidant, astaxanthin is 11 times stronger than its more famous cousin beta carotene (the precursor to vitamin A).

Here are some interesting facts about astaxanthin:
• It is only produced by a specific marine algae to protect itself from UV radiation
• It gives salmon and flamingoes their pink color from feeding on the algae
• It is a very strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and free radical scavenger
• it crosses the blood brain barrier and blood-retinal barrier, providing protection to the brain, spinal cord and eyes
• It offers even more protection to the eye than zeaxanthin and lutein, two other carotenoids known for their eye protecting properties
• It protects your eyes from glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, inflammatory eye diseases, and eye fatigue
• research is showing similar benefits for the brain and central nervous system, reducing symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS, Parkinsons and MS
• it protects from radiation damage from UV sunlight (sunburn) and X-rays
• animal studies show promise of astaxanthin as an immune support and prevention for cancer
• it increases muscle endurance (assisting salmon with their upstream migration)
• It is non-toxic – there have been no adverse reactions observed
• Natural astaxanthin from marine algae is more effective and safer than synthetic astaxanthin (used by some fish farms); wild Pacific salmon have superior astaxanthin content than farmed fish
• Krill oil contains significant amounts of astaxanthin, making it a better choice than fish oil for your omega 3 EFAs
• It is available in a concentrated supplement; Dr. Mercola recommends 2 mg per day

For more information, visit or search astaxanthin on

This article is intended for educational purposes only; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

May 16, 2011

114 Gout [15 May 2011]

Gout is an extremely painful type of arthritis that commonly occurs in the big toe but also in feet, ankles, knees, hands and wrists. Gout is caused by the formation of needle-like uric acid crystals in the joint fluid which causes pain and inflammation. Uric acid is a byproduct of breakdown of a group of chemicals called purines, found in organ meats and certain fish (herring, sardines, anchovies). At normal levels uric acid is a beneficial antioxidant, but in higher quantities it can cause gout. Recent research found that the sugar fructose, either alone or in sucrose (table sugar) and HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), increases uric acid levels, thus aggravating gout. Kidney disease, Metabolic Syndrome, obesity, and being male are risk factors in gout.

Here are some tips to relieve or prevent gout:
• avoid purine-rich foods – reduce organ and red meats (and their gravy), certain fish (see above) and shellfish; avoid brewer’s yeast
• eliminate fructose – soft drinks, processed foods, fruit juices, excess fruit
• minimize or eliminate alcohol consumption
• drink plenty of pure water (10-12 8oz glasses a day)
• normalize high blood sugar and insulin levels, both of which increase inflammation (see my columns on the Ideal Protein diet to learn how to reduce blood sugar without increasing insulin levels)
• drink milk or eat yogurt at least once a day
• eat sour or black cherries (or juice (1oz) – the juice concentrate has less sugar than the whole fruit
• other items that may help include vitamin C, vitamin B5, vitamin E, alfalfa tablets, celery seed, celery juice, lemons, blueberries, strawberries
• herbs and spices such as turmeric & nutmeg and Omega 3 EFAs may reduce inflammation; herbs such as devil’s claw and yucca may also provide relief
• there are effective homeopathic remedies for gout

This article is intended for educational purposes only; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

May 9, 2011

113 Grass-fed Beef [9 May 2011]

I believe grass-fed beef and bison are healthier meat choices than “conventional” grain-finished animals. Yes they may be more expensive because it takes more time and land to finish them, the meat won’t be as tender because fat marbling is reduced or absent, and the meat may have a “grassy” taste. But here are the reasons why I think grass-fed beef is better for both the consumer and the environment:
• Grass (and hay) are the normal diet of ruminants; the heavy corn and grain diet upsets their digestive systems which increases risk of bloating, makes the stomach more acidic, and increases the need for antibiotics (which likely contributes to the development of resistant “superbugs”)
• Grass-fed beef has a lower overall fat content; the fat in grain-fed marbled meat is more difficult to trim off
• Grass-fed beef contains 3 to 5 times more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a beneficial fatty acid shown to prevent cancer and reduce abdominal fat while increasing muscle. The natural form of CLA found in meat is more effective and safer than that sold in supplements.
• The Omega 6:Omega 3 ratio is closer to the ideal of 1:1. A study by North Dakota State University found the Omega 6:3 ratio was 4:1 in grass-fed bison and 21:1 in grain-fed bison.
• Grain-fed beef has a higher vitamin E content
• E. coli bacteria thrive in the acidic stomachs of grain-fed ruminants, increasing the risk of meat contamination
• Fossil fuel consumption is higher in the production of grain for feed, and in the distribution of manure from feedlots, thus contributing more to climate change (although grass-fed animals produce more methane)
• Finally, increasing grass-fed beef requires more land in grass which benefits grassland birds []

For more discussion on this topic see or The book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan (2006) looks at this issue within a larger context.