March 25, 2013

209 Magnesium – a Crucial Mineral [25 March 2013]

Magnesium plays many vital roles in our body. I remember a high school chemistry lab where the teacher lit a strip of metal magnesium. It burned quickly with a very bright flame leaving a whitish powder ash. This ash is magnesium oxide, the most common form of magnesium supplement.

Magnesium plays many critical roles in our health. It is a component of over 300 different enzymes, and 3,751 binding sites have been identified on human proteins. GreenMedInfo lists over 100 health benefits of magnesium and describes seven “key therapeutic applications for magnesium”:
• fibromyalgia;
• atrial fibrillation;
• Type 2 Diabetes; PMS;
• cardiovascular disease;
• migraines; and
• aging.
I would add bone health and strength to the most important roles of magnesium.

Dr. Joseph Mercola estimates that 80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium. Blood tests are not reliable as only 1% of our body’s magnesium is in the blood and blood levels are so critical that our body keeps it stable even as tissue stores are being depleted.

Early signs of deficiency include:
• loss of appetite;
• poor sleep;
• headaches;
• nausea;
• fatigue and
• weakness.

Other symptoms include high blood pressure; anxiety; menstrual cramps, and stiff joints. More severe chronic magnesium deficiency can cause:
• numbness and tingling;
• muscle spasms and cramps; abnormal heart rhythms;
• coronary spasms; and
• seizures.

Conditions that increase the risk of deficiencies include
• Crohn’s disease;
• diabetes;
• alcoholism;
• old age;
• kidney impairment; and
• the use of diuretics, antibiotics and certain cancer drugs.

In the Introduction to Dr. Carolyn Dean’s 2003 book The Miracle of Magnesium she lists 16 different therapeutic areas where magnesium is used successfully. See the list here.

Next week I’ll list good dietary sources and discuss supplementation.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

March 18, 2013

208 Selenium [March 18, 2013]

For my second article on minerals I selected selenium. I mentioned selenium in #189 last October as one of the anti-oxidants in a study that improved many of the risk factors of heart disease.

Selenium is an essential trace mineral which means it is essential to good health but required in small amounts. It functions in the body as a component of certain antioxidants such as glutathione peroxidase (arguably our body’s most important antioxidant), which protects our cell membranes from free radical damage, reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease, and plays a role in thyroid function and in our immune system.

Population studies show that a lower intake of selenium is associated with a higher incidence of several cancers and some other diseases, but controlled clinical trials have been less clear. One large study by the U of Arizona in the 1980s found a 50% reduction of total cancer deaths in those taking 200mcg of selenium. While not considered deficient, most of the participants were in the low end of the normal range. Other studies have had mixed results, so the scientific consensus is that selenium supplementation only benefits people with a deficiency of the mineral, which is rare in North America.

People with inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, or people taking a proton pump inhibitor could be deficient in selenium. Ask your doctor for a blood test to find out. But be careful with selenium supplementation – it is toxic in high doses. Selenium also may interact with niacin, antacids, chemotherapy drugs, statin drugs, corticosteroids and birth control pills.

Health Canada’s RDA is 55 mcg for teens and adults with an upper limit of 400 mcg. Most people can obtain sufficient selenium from a healthy diet. Foods rich in selenium include nuts (especially Brazil nuts), seafood, meat and whole grains. Selenium supplements in Canada are sold in 50 to 200 mcg sizes. An average Brazil nut contains 70 mcg of selenium so eating one or two nuts a day would be a healthier choice if you want to ensure you are getting enough.

Web MD
NIH Dietary Supplements
UBC Urology

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

March 11, 2013

207 MSM the Sulfur supplement

This is the first of a series of articles on minerals. Sulfur is an essential mineral – the third most abundant mineral in the body (after calcium and phosphorus). MSM (MethylSulfonylMethane) is a naturally-occurring sulfur compound often used as a sulfur supplement.

Sulfur is a component of several essential amino acids and also:
• gives skin a healthy elasticity and makes hair and nails grow faster and stronger
• is essential for the function of immunoglobulins, an important part of the immune system
• neutralizes allergens in both the GI & respiratory tracts thus reducing food and air-born allergy symptoms
• protects the GI tract from parasites
• improves permeability of cell walls to allow nutrients in and flush toxins out
• reduces muscle soreness by helping flush out lactic acid and other toxins
• increases permeability of cell walls to insulin thus reducing insulin resistance and helping to normalize blood sugar

Sulfur is found in many foods including most fresh raw fruits and vegetables, milk, meat, eggs and some grains. For this reason it is sometimes assumed that we get sufficient in our diets. But the sulfur compound is easily lost with even modest processing – cooking, drying, pickling, even long-term storage depletes the sulfur.
MSM supplementation:
• is safe and non-toxic – you can’t overdose with msm
• is odorless, does not produce intestinal gas or body odor
• has no reported interactions with other medications
• works better with vitamin C
• is often combined with glucosamine for joint pain

Another way to obtain sulfur is to soak in a bath with Epsom Salt (magnesium sulfate) – both sulfur and magnesium are absorbed through the skin.

U Maryland Medical Center
Nutrition & Metabolism – Are we getting enough sulfur in our diets?
Mercola – MSM ad

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

March 4, 2013

206 Folic Acid May Prevent Autism [4 March 2013]

A Norwegian study published in the February issue of JAMA provides mothers-to-be with an additional reason to take folic acid supplements, and to start even before becoming pregnant. It has been known for decades that folic acid (or folate), one of the B complex family of vitamins, is essential during pregnancy to prevent neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida. This new study provides strong evidence that folic acid can also reduce the risk of childhood Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The study looked at over 85,000 children in Norway. Children whose mothers had taken folic acid supplements prior to and during early pregnancy had a 39% lower risk of developing ASD (0.10% compared to 0.21%). A previous study from California, published June 2012 in the Am. J. Clinical Nutrition, found that supplementation with at least 600mcg folic acid during the first month of pregnancy lowered the chance of autism by 38%.

The main author of the Norwegian study, Dr. Pal Suren, is quoted in a Medscape article that while a causative relationship has not been proven, these results “support the current recommendations of taking folic acid supplements during pregnancy and emphasize the importance of starting early – preferably before conception”.

The timing of supplementation is critical. Starting folic acid supplementation in mid pregnancy did not lower the risk of ASD – it was already too late. And a study from Australia found that supplementing with folic acid in late pregnancy could increase the risk of childhood asthma. The current Health Canada recommendation is for 400 mcg to a maximum of 1mg of folic acid daily starting 3 months before conception and throughout the pregnancy. I suggest at least 600mcg and to stop after the first trimester. So if you are even thinking about becoming pregnant, start taking folic acid supplements right away – don’t wait for a positive test result. It won’t hurt you and it could give your baby a much healthier start in life.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner. See this article on my website for links to sources and further reading.