Vitamin D: Is It the ‘Cure-All’ Vitamin?

Studies surrounding vitamin D can be conflicting, often leading to confusion on the part of our patients. So our concierge primary care doctors in Jupiter thought we’d take a look at some of the newest findings about this essential vitamin.

Dueling Conclusions

As an example of how different researchers can draw opposite conclusions even from the same study, one doctor recently wrote in The Washington Post that a study she led “found no statistically significant reduction in cardiovascular disease or cancer” in a nationwide randomized trial of 26,000 adults over five years.

Furthermore, she wrote, “My colleagues and I have conducted further studies from VITAL [the study’s title] showing that vitamin D supplements do not decrease the risk of cognitive decline, depression, macular degeneration, atrial fibrillation or several other health conditions. The most recent report showed no reduction in the rate of bone fractures—once the vitamin’s most commonly touted benefit.”

She concluded that the vast majority of Americans are already getting all the vitamin D they need from brief sun exposure and a normal diet.

“Is it necessary for you to spend money on the supplement? For most healthy adults, the answer is no,” JoAnn Manson wrote in The Post.

However, this same researcher told the Harvard Gazette in January of this year that the VITAL study showed subjects who took vitamin D, or vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, had a significantly lower rate of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis than those who took a placebo.

“Given the benefits of vitamin D and omega-3s for reducing inflammation, we were particularly in whether they could protect against autoimmune diseases,” she said.

More Confusion

So maybe the vitamin has some value after all, at least for some.

Yet in 2018, another study published in the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Library of Medicine looked at the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in the U.S. population. In the introduction, the study’s authors wrote that, “Since foods containing natural vitamin D are rare, the primary source of the compound remains . . . exposure to ultraviolet rays in sunlight.”

It went on to assert that “subclinical vitamin D deficiency . . . plays a role in downstream clinical consequences, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and fractures.”

Why the frequent discrepancy among various studies? One 2020 clinical study published in the journal BMJ sought to answer that question. 

“Our analysis of pooled raw data from each of the 10,933 trial participants allowed us to address the question of why vitamin D ‘worked’ in some trials, but not in others,” Adrian Martineau, a professor at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and a lead researcher on the study, wrote in a release.

Those who have the lowest levels of vitamin D in their blood seem to show the largest benefit, he said, along with those who took it daily or weekly, as opposed to intermittently.

The Last Word?

A fact sheet on vitamin D produced by the NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) updated last month summarized numerous studies, including the VITAL study.

For each of the most common health claims connected to vitamin D it reached the following conclusions:

Bone health – All adults should consume recommended amounts of vitamin D and calcium from foods and supplements.

Cancer – Taken together, studies to date do not indicate that vitamin D with or without calcium supplementation reduces the incidence of cancer, but adequate or higher levels might reduce cancer mortality rates.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) – Overall, clinical trials show that vitamin D supplementation does not reduce CVD risk, even for people with low levels as measured in their blood.

Depression – Overall, clinical trials did not find that vitamin D supplements helped prevent or treat depressive symptoms or mild depression, especially in middle-aged to older adults who were not taking antidepressants.

Type 2 diabetes – Clinical trials provide little support for the benefits of vitamin D supplementation for glucose homeostasis.

Weight loss – Overall, the available research suggests that consuming higher amounts of vitamin D or taking vitamin D supplements does not promote weight loss.

And although the COVID-19 pandemic sparked hope that vitamin D could help prevent or reduce the severity of the illness, two new clinical studies released this month found that it didn’t help with the coronavirus or any other type of respiratory virus.

Vitamin D Overdose?

According to the NIH, the recommended daily allowances for vitamin D are:

  • 0-12 months: 10 mcg (400 IU)
  • 1-70 years: 15 mcg (600 IU)
  • >70 years: 20 mcg (800 IU)

And while many people who supplement with vitamin D take much higher doses than that, too much can be dangerous. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it tends to be stored in the body’s fat and can lead to accidental overdoses. 

The upper limit of safety appears to be 100 mcg (4,000 IU) daily.

Those who take more than that could experience side effects from supplementing with vitamin D, including nausea and vomiting, constipation, weakness, and kidney damage, among others.

Overall, most studies seem to show that supplementing with vitamin D doesn’t have much effect on various conditions. On the other hand, moderate doses from a reputable manufacturer are generally considered safe. So if you think you could benefit from vitamin D supplements, the decision is up to you.

New Guidance on COVID-19 Can Be Confusing

Sometimes it seems as though we need a spreadsheet to keep track of all the changing information and recommendations on COVID-19.

  • Masks/no masks?
  • Boosters? Maybe not, maybe now, maybe later.
  • Quarantine? Yes, no, who, and how long?

Our primary care concierge doctors in Jupiter don’t mean to criticize the researchers and public officials who are responsible for keeping us healthy. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is, after all, a disease we’d never seen until early in 2019. No one knew how to deal with it.

And thanks to the combined efforts of scientists around the world, we’ve made tremendous strides in the effort to combat it.

But one thing few counted on was “pandemic fatigue,” which meant many people rapidly grew tired of taking precautions and radically altering their lifestyles to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

Which may be what’s behind the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2022/p0811-covid-guidance.html

A new approach

This month the CDC relaxed many of its coronavirus recommendations, leaving measures to battle to limit viral spread largely up to individuals.

According to The Washington Post:

  • “No longer do schools and other institutions need to screen apparently healthy students and employees as a matter of course.
  • “The agency is putting less emphasis on social distancing—and the new guidance has dropped the ‘six-foot’ standard.
  • “The agency’s focus now is on highly vulnerable populations and how to protect them—not on the vast majority of people who at this point have some immunity against the virus and are unlikely to become severely ill.”

In releasing the new guidance, the CDC cited improved tools like vaccination, boosters, and treatments to better protect ourselves from the virus.

“We also have a better understanding of how to protect people from being exposed to the virus, like wearing high-quality masks, testing, and improved ventilation,” Greta Massetti, a CDC epidemiologist, said in a statement.

“This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives,” she added.

Isolation changes

In one fairly substantial shift, for example, the CDC no longer recommends quarantine if you’re up to date with your vaccines and have been exposed to COVID-19. Instead, you should mask for 10 days and get tested on Day Five.

Additional CDC guidance on isolation includes the following:

  • If you’ve tested positive and have a healthy immune system, regardless of your vaccination status, you should isolate yourself for five days. On Day Six, you can end isolation if you no longer have symptoms or have not had a fever for 24 hours and your symptoms have improved.
  • Once isolation has ended, you should wear a high-quality mask through Day 10. If you test negative on two rapid antigen tests, however, you can stop wearing your mask sooner.
  • Until Day 11 at least, you should avoid visiting or being around anyone who is more likely to have severe outcomes from COVID-19, including the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.

These changes stem from a new statistic, according to Massetti: 95 percent of the U.S. population has at least some level of immunity against the virus, either from vaccination or previous infection.

What about boosters?

As for booster shots, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally decided last month against allowing adults younger than 50 to become eligible for a second booster vaccine (for a total of four mRNA shots).

Currently, only those age 50 and older and children at least 12 years old with impaired immune systems can get a second booster.

This is because the agency expects to have reformulated mRNA boosters available by next month that will contain components from both the original virus and its variants, as well as from the currently circulating (and highly contagious) omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.

Meanwhile, the FDA still recommends that anyone under age 50 receive a single booster shot, and people older than 50 or those with weakened immune systems receive a second mRNA booster.

The mask question

No one likes wearing masks, especially in the heat. However, our primary care concierge doctors believe it’s better to err on the side of caution, especially if you’re immunocompromised or older than 65.

Especially given the new CDC guidance revisions, there’s no harm in wearing a mask in crowded indoor situations with poor ventilation.

It’s true that we now have effective treatments for COVID-19, but given the risk of long COVID—one recent study found that as many as one in every eight people who contracted it had lingering symptoms—what’s the point in taking unnecessary chances?

It’s up to you, of course, but in a recent interview with The Post, Ziyad Al-Aly, an epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis, compared the current state of the country to “the Wild West.”

“There are no public health measures at all,” he told the paper.

“We’re in a very peculiar spot, where the risk is vivid and it’s out there, but we’ve let our guard down and we’ve chosen, deliberately, to expose ourselves and make ourselves vulnerable.”

pfas

How to Combat the Lingering Danger of ‘Forever Chemicals’

They’re called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down fully in the environment, and this summer the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warned that they are more dangerous to human health than regulators knew.

Within weeks, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) weighed in with its own 300-page report on these chemicals, known as perfluoroalkyl and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances, urging doctors to test high-risk patients for PFAS contamination.

Because of the heightened attention on these chemicals, our primary care concierge doctors in Jupiter want to summarize for you what we’ve learned about them, and offer tips on how to reduce your exposure.

The Problems with PFAS

In 1946, DuPont introduced its revolutionary non-stick product, Teflon. By 1950, studies by DuPont and 3M showed that PFAS could build up in the blood, but chose to keep these results secret, according to the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Since 1998, when a class-action lawsuit against a West Virginia DuPont factory revealed the extent of the pollution from the factory, researchers have found probable links to such diseases as:

  • thyroid disease
  • high blood pressure
  • kidney cancer
  • testicular cancer
  • breast cancer
  • higher cholesterol levels
  • ulcerative colitis
  • weakened immune system 
  • vaccine interference
  • weight gain
  • changes in liver enzymes
  • decreased fertility
  • growth and learning delays in infants and children

The NAS report encourages doctors to conduct blood tests for these chemicals on patients who are worried about exposure or who are at high risk for exposure or who are in “vulnerable life stages”: during pregnancy, early childhood, and old age. 

They’re Everywhere

As we’ve seen with microplastics, PFAS can begin innocently enough and end up in unexpected places, including our water.

Recently, for example, Consumer Reports (CR) tested more than 100 food-packaging products from U.S. restaurants and supermarkets. They found dangerous PFAS chemicals in many of the products, including paper bags for french fries, hamburger wrappers, pizza boxes, molded fiber salad bowls, and single-use paper plates.

These chemicals are used in a wide variety of products, including waterproof and sweatproof makeup, nonstick cookware, cellphones, waterproof clothing, carpets, and—especially—fast-food containers, where their ability to make products grease-proof has led to their widespread use.

They are also used to make products water-repellent and resistant to high temperatures, as well as in fire-fighting foams used at military installations, floor wax, upholstery, and clothing. The qualities that make items containing PFAS so desirable, however, also make them long-lasting in the environment.

Lingering Threat

“These chemicals are ubiquitous in the American environment,” Ned Calonge, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health and chair of the NAS committee that wrote the report, told CNN.

“More than 2,800 communities in the U.S., including all 50 states and two territories, have documented PFAS contamination,” he said.

Researchers have even detected them in the snows of Mt. Everest, apparently shed from climbers’ waterproof tents and parkas. 

“You are not just exposed in one place or one source,” toxicologist Linda Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, told The Washington Post. “They are everywhere.”

The problem is that these chemicals build up (or “bioaccumulate”) in the body over time. 

And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has been conducting studies of the U.S. population, PFAS has been found in the blood of nearly all people they’ve tested. Since the risk appears to rise with the amount of exposure, it’s important to try to limit the amount we come in contact with.

What You Can Do

Because PFAS chemicals are found in so many consumer products, they’re next to impossible to avoid. But there are ways to reduce the amount you’re exposed to.

“The most dangerous way that people are exposed to PFAS is through drinking water,” says Don Huber, director of product safety at CR.

That’s why the NAS report recommended filtering tap water as a major step consumers could take to protect themselves.

“The water filters that are most effective for PFAS are reverse osmosis filters,” David Andrews, a senior scientist for the EWG, told CNN, adding that some carbon-based filters can also reduce some levels.

“The important part is that you have to keep changing those filters,” he said. “If you don’t change that filter, and it becomes saturated, the levels of PFAS in the filtered water can actually be above levels in the tap water.”

The NAS committee also offered these tips:

  • Stay away from stain-resistant carpets and upholstery, and don’t use waterproofing sprays.
  • Look for the ingredient PTFE or other “floro” ingredients on product labels.
  • Avoid nonstick cookware. Instead, use cast-iron, stainless steel, glass, or enamel products.
  • Boycott takeout containers and other food packaging. Instead, cook at home and eat more fresh foods.
  • Don’t eat microwave popcorn or greasy foods wrapped in paper.
  • Choose uncoated nylon or silk dental floss or one that is coated in natural wax.
health benefits of coffee

Coffee Scores Another Win for Improving Health

Besides water, our primary care concierge doctors in Jupiter are hard-pressed to think of another beverage that offers such a wide range of health benefits as coffee.

For example, research has found that regular coffee consumption has been linked to a lower risk of: 

  • heart disease and strokes
  • heart failure
  • melanoma
  • diabetes
  • liver and prostate cancer
  • Parkinson’s disease

Evidence piles up

Studies have also found that the caffeine in two cups of coffee a day provides significant protection against Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other types of dementia. A study released last year, for example, found that individuals who drank four to six cups of coffee or tea a day reduced their risk of stroke and dementia by 28 percent compared to those who did not drink either beverage.

Another study, published last year in the journal BMC Public Health, found that those who drink three to four cups of coffee a day (whether ground, instant, caffeinated or decaf) reduced their risk of chronic liver disease by 21 percent, compared with those who didn’t drink coffee at all.

A third study, also published last year in the American Heart Association (AHA) journal Circulation, found that drinking one or more cups of plain, caffeinated coffee a day was associated with a long-term reduced risk of heart failure.

The AHA researchers found that the risk of heart failure dropped between five percent and 12 percent for each cup of black coffee the subjects drank. The risk declined even more, to 30 percent, when subjects drank two or more cups daily in one of the studies. The study found, however, that decaffeinated coffee did not offer the same benefit. 

“The association between caffeine and heart failure risk reduction was surprising,” senior author Dr. David Kao, medical director of the Colorado Center for personalized Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, said in a statement.

“Coffee and caffeine are often considered by the general population to be ‘bad’ for the heart because people associate them with palpitations, high blood pressure, etc. The consistent relationship between increasing caffeine consumption and decreasing heart failure risk turns that assumption on its head,” he said.

Latest findings

The most recent research, published last month in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that people who drink a moderate amount of coffee, defined as up to 3 1/2 cups a day, were up to 36 percent less likely to die from any cause over the seven-year period of the study than those who did not drink coffee.

It didn’t matter what type of coffee the subjects drank—ground, instant, caffeinated, or decaf—or even if they added a modest amount of sugar: The results were the same.

According to Johns Hopkins, there are also many other benefits from daily coffee consumption. For example:

  • Coffee may help your body process glucose better, meaning you may be less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
  • Coffee may lower the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, and help those who have it control their movements better.
  • Coffee can help lower your risk of colon cancer.
  • Drinking dark-roast coffee has even been shown to decrease breakage in DNA strands, which helps protect against various cancers.

Some coffee caveats

It’s typical with humans, however, to think that if something is good for you, more of it is better. That’s rarely the case, including with coffee.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (U.S.D.A.) Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day. An average eight-ounce cup contains 95 milligrams of caffeine.

Several studies—including those outlined above—have found that five cups of coffee a day appears to be the upper limit of safety. In fact, a 2009 study found a 17-21 percent increased risk of death among those who drank four or more cups a day.

Other possible negative effects of too much coffee include:

  • increased blood pressure
  • headache
  • heartburn
  • dehydration
  • increased heart rate
  • abnormal heart rhythm
  • anxiety
  • dizziness
  • insomnia

In addition, a 2017 study found that pregnant women who drink more than four cups of coffee a day were more likely to experience low birth rate babies, preterm births, and stillbirths.

Another study linked coffee consumption with the possibility of increased bone loss in postmenopausal women if their diets lack sufficient calcium intake.

Finally, those who are sensitive to caffeine may experience many of these side effects with even small amounts of coffee. Older adults also may not be able to metabolize caffeine as well they did when they were younger.

And anyone who is taking certain drugs (like ephedrine, used in decongestants) can experience increased blood pressure, along with a higher stroke risk, when they consume coffee as well. 

But if you’re not caffeine-sensitive, and you don’t overdo it, our primary care doctors urge you to feel free to enjoy that third or fourth cup of the day without guilt.

The Risk of Salmonella in Backyard Chickens

If you’ve been buying cage-free eggs, or eggs from your local farmer, or even raising your own chickens to lower your risk of salmonella, our concierge doctors in Jupiter have some unhappy news for you: Most chickens, ducks, and turkeys carry some form of the more than 2,000 types of salmonella, according to Craig Coufal, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service poultry specialist.

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Skin Cancer Awareness

What to Know About Sunscreens

Because May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, our primary care doctors in Jupiter want to remind you of the dangers of sun exposure and remind you of the best way to avoid it.

It’s important to know the facts about skin cancer and the sun, along with exposure to tanning beds, because the National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that this year 99,780 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with melanomas of the skin, and that 7,650 people will die from this most deadly form of cancer.

But a proper use of an effective sunscreen can prevent most skin cancers.

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ibs

IBS: Don’t Be Embarrassed About This Common Disorder

From the time we’re little kids, any mention of bowel habits can trigger giggling embarrassment. We’re not sure why that is, because the intestine is simply another organ in the body. Nevertheless, our concierge primary care doctors in Jupiter know that talking about bowel disorders can be uncomfortable for our patients.

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omicron news

What We’ve Learned About the Omicron Variant

As we’ve just passed the second-year anniversary of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, our concierge primary care doctors in Jupiter think we should take a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come in dealing with this often-deadly disease.

It may not seem like it, because we still have to wear masks many places and haven’t fully returned to pre-pandemic life, but we have made progress.

For instance, we know more about how it spreads (through the air, especially in enclosed spaces), and how to protect ourselves (safe, effective vaccines and high-quality masks). And even though we’re still in the grip of of this still-relatively new coronavirus, and we’ve also found effective ways to treat it (monoclonal antibodies and anti-viral drugs).

Omicron a good thing?

And, believe it or not, the omicron variant of the virus may have turned out to be relatively good news, even though over 2,000 Americans a day are still dying from it.

But because it appears less lethal than its predecessors, omicron may make the pandemic more manageable.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the results of a study late last month showing that the omicron variant—which is now the dominant variant both here in the U.S. and around the world—causes less severe illness, fewer hospitalizations, and requires less time in isolation following exposure.

This is partly due to the large numbers of people who have been vaccinated and/or infected with COVID-19, as well as to the fact that the virus appears to concentrate its effects in the upper airways instead of settling deep in the lungs.

The downside is that omicron is far more transmissible than earlier variants or the original virus. This is why so many people are catching it, and why—due to the sheer numbers of infections— hospitals are still being overwhelmed and an average of 2,200 people a day are still dying from the coronavirus.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

But an NBC News analysis of COVID-19 case numbers at the end of January showed that Florida is one of the many states where omicron is no longer surging.

And chief White House medical advisor Anthony Fauci said in an interview with ABC’s “This Week” that he expects the wave to subside in “most” states by the end of February.”

“As we get into February . . . it is very likely that most of the states in the country will have turned around with their peak and are starting to come down with regard to cases and then obviously hospitalizations,” he said.

While cautioning that “our work is not done,” Hans Kluge, regional director of the World Health Organization (WHO) for Europe, released a statement two weeks ago that offered a glimmer of hope to a pandemic-weary world.

“The pandemic is far from over, but I am hopeful we can end the emergency phase in 2022 and address other health threats that urgently require our attention,” he said in a statement.

“This pandemic, like all other pandemics before it, will end, but it is far too early to relax,” he added.

Effective weapons

One recent setback in the fight against SARS-CoV-2 was the finding from the CDC, confirmed by the drugs’ manufacturers, that two of the most common monoclonal antibodies used to keep at-risk individuals out of the hospital do not work against the omicron variant.

But again, there’s good news on that front, as well, because one monoclonal antibody—sotrovimab—is effective, and is still available at most hospitals even though Florida’s outpatient centers have closed.

Those who have mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 (fatigue, cough, loss of smell or taste, fever) or have underlying risk factors (those over 65, diabetes, obesity, kidney, heart, or lung disease or those who are immunocompromised) can check with area hospitals to see whether they’re offering this treatment.

In addition, other effective weapons in the arsenal against COVID-19 include the intravenous antiviral treatment remdesivir and the newly authorized oral antiviral drugs, Paxlovid or molnupiravir.

Still work to do

Two years in, we still don’t have all the answers, and until more people in this country and around the world are fully vaccinated, SARS-CoV-2 will not be fully manageable.

Each person who remains unvaccinated not only puts themselves at risk, but others around them, as well. And each infection offers the virus another chance to mutate.

Speaking of mutations, you may have heard of another new mutation of the omicron virus that some are calling “son of omicron” or “stealth omicron” because it’s so difficult to detect in PCR tests.

The new variant, designated BA.2 (omicron is BA.1), was first reported in California in November. It has since been seen in isolated cases in Texas as well as other countries. However, while remaining cautious, at this point most virologists don’t think it’s more dangerous or more transmissible than omicron BA.1. We’ll let you know if we learn otherwise.

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