Our TalkingNutrition blog has been active now for almost three and a half years, and we have been proud to bring our readers located all over the world the most up-to-date news on nutrition research since then. The basis of our blog are the thousands of research articles published every year, each one a very small piece of the enormous puzzle of human nutrition science. Last week, we brought you our most read blogs of 2013. And this week, as we did in 2011 and 2012, we present the results of our informal search of the most popular micronutrient of 2013.
Archive for '2013'
2013 was a great year for TalkingNutrition! Our main aim is to provide a source of relevant and timely information about recent nutrition research findings. We respond, often within hours of publication, with useful and referenced information written by nutrition scientists to place nutrition science in the context of a healthy diet. Read on for our figures this year!
From a strict nutrition point of view, vitamin D is not an essential nutrient. The term “essential” is normally reserved for nutrients that are required for life, and must be supplied from an external source because they cannot be produced by our own bodies. In the presence of sunlight, humans can produce enough vitamin D to support life, which makes vitamin D conditionally essential.
The problem with this strategy is that for people who have low exposure to sunlight, vitamin D is essential and must be provided by the diet or supplements. This is particularly important in pregnant women.
Imagine this scene. You are going out the door to drive to see family or friends during the holidays. Other people drive the same vehicle. As you approach it, you wonder: do I need to buy gas? What would you do? 1) Go back inside to ask available drivers when they last purchased gas and how much they spent. 2) Check the fuel gauge in the car. My reason for asking is to force you to contemplate nutrition assessment.
Because of convenience and cost, dietary assessment is the most frequent approach. Kilpatrick and colleagues conducted a systematic review of studies
Three nutrients that are needed for the immune system are vitamins A, E and zinc. Deficient individuals have a compromised immune system. The elderly appear to be at increased risk of vitamin deficiencies and also seasonal influenza, which is why Sundaram and co-workers investigated the relationship.
Since Annals of Internal Medicine lifted their embargo at 5pm EST on Monday, headlines would have you discard your multivitamin supplements because they are useless and some say harmful. It is astonishing, and embarrassing as a scientist, that findings from 3 intervention trials involving multivitamins are being extrapolated into a diatribe against the universe of dietary supplements. After all, dietary supplements come in many forms: multivitamins, single vitamins (often higher levels per serving), herbal products, and combinations. And the majority of people have not had a heart attack. And most people are not medical physicians (and certainly not male). These are important distinctions which qualify (limit) the interpretation and extrapolation of these studies.
Should I be taking a multivitamin supplement? If the headlines are confusing you, let’s discuss the studies and what you need to know.
Have you had a heart attack recently? Are your periodically using intravenous infusions? If not, then this study isn’t relevant to you. Lamas and colleagues wanted to know if patients who had previously had a heart attack (myocardial infarction) benefitted from taking a high-dose multivitamin supplement or intravenous infusions of a chelating agent. And the authors also fail to highlight that the controls also received an open-label, oral, low-dose vitamin regimen.
In an editorial in the New York Times, Paul Offit and Sarah Erush opine on the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia policy that parents discontinue use of dietary supplements when their children are hospitalized. As a parent, one of the most horrifying experiences in the world is having a child require medical attention beyond routine checkups and vaccinations. The transfer of responsibility for your child to a medical doctor in a hospital creates an overwhelming feeling of helplessness as a parent. Yet, it is necessary because the child needs medical attention. And to fully apply their knowledge in the medical treatment of your child under special circumstances, doctors need to know what the child is consuming.
Friday the 13th is a day of superstitions. USA TODAY says there are 5 things to know on Friday the 13th. If you persist past the ads, you will learn about 5 possibilities with better odds of happening than winning a $400 million Mega Millions jackpot. Here are insights from 3 research papers which will help you maintain health.
Introduction. Oxidative stress happens throughout life. Metabolism generates free radicals which contribute to inflammation. Activities which increase metabolism, such as strenuous workouts, pregnancy, or infections, contribute to oxidative stress, the production of free radicals and inflammation.
Salt reduction is one strategy that is widely recommended to reduce high blood pressure and the cardiovascular complications associated with it. Sodium, the mineral in salt responsible for high blood pressure, is essential and needed to regulate blood volume, blood pressure, maintain an equilibrium in dissolved mineral concentrations within and between cells, and other functions. Almost everyone consumes more salt than is needed for these vital functions. Salt intakes are on average too high and are a contributor to hypertension, heart attacks and stroke. But what is the best strategy to reduce salt consumption? Should it come down to individuals taking control of their own health, or should it rest squarely on the shoulders of the food industry?
Every cell in our body is encased in a cell membrane consisting of fatty acids. Fatty acid tails face into the lipid bilayer and membrane fluidity is a reflection of fatty acid length (number of carbons) and degree of saturation (proportion of double vs single carbon-carbon bonds. Increasing the omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) increases fluidity and the functioning of proteins traversing the membrane.
Higher plasma eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) levels are associated with lower total mortality (27% across quintiles) and the evidence is strongest for cardiovascular deaths. In fact, Mozaffarian and colleagues reported earlier this year that people over 65y with the highest plasma omega-3 levels (highest quintile) lived ~2.2 years longer
Folate is an essential nutrient for everyone, and particularly expectant mothers. Folate deficiency is associated with increased risk of major congenital abnormalities such as spina bifida. Folate has various roles in the body: the formation of red blood cells, DNA formation and repair, amino acid metabolism. Folate also influences epigenetic programming and the immune system. The role of folate in the development of childhood allergy including asthma focuses on these last two points. In the latest issue of Nutrition Reviews, Brown, Reeves and Bertone-Johnson summarize the current evidence on folate status during pregnancy and the later development of asthma.
There is a good reason to eat the recommended number of servings of vegetables. It is good for your eyes. New analysis of the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) finds that lutein and zeaxanthin are important to maintain vision.
AREDS 2 assessed the value of adding lutein and zeaxanthin to the AREDS formulation containing vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-caroten and zinc with copper. Remember, that the AREDS formulation reduced the 5-year risk of developing late age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by 25%
At TalkingNutrition, we identified vitamin D as the most researched vitamin in both 2012 and 2011, and even though we haven’t started our analyses yet for 2013, based on what has been coming through our daily searches, it will probably maintain its top position for this year. A systematic review published late yesterday in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology by Autier, Boniol, Pizot and Mullie summarized results from a great number of vitamin D publications, both observational and intervention studies. What were the final conclusions?
Looking out the window, the day is gray. The sun is blocked by a heavy layer of clouds, it rays barely reaching the ground. In my case, it is overcast because of rainfall. In other places, smog may be the cause. Regardless, it is a poor day for cutaneous synthesis of vitamin D.
According to a systematic review of 195 studies in 44 countries published between 1990 and 2011 (Hilger et al, 2013), my situation is not unique. 88% of the studies had mean serum
Three new studies report that low omega-3 fatty acid levels and excessive body fat are contributors to inflammation and poor health.
Reinders and associates wanted to know if circulating long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA) might induce loss of heart function. Using cross-sectional serum LC-PUFA data from 621 participants in the Hoorn Study and longitudinal data from another 336 participants (average age = 68.6y), they report that lower eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) were associated with both lower left ventricular ejection volume (LVEF) and heart rate. These are findings of reduced heart rate were also reported in a meta-analysis by Mozaffarian et al (2005).
Today is the 20th anniversary of the landmark 1993 World Development Report that identified how important investments into health care are for human development. A Lancet Commission has developed a new investment framework to further reduce the health gap between developed and developing countries and improve global health during the next two decades. Although progress has been made, how can we ensure that investments in health care can improve development going forward?
Days will continue to shorten for those living in the northern hemisphere for another few weeks. For most, this means commuting in the dark. Shadows are long for much of the day. If there is any precipitation, lights glare from wet surfaces. For many, these conditions make it difficult to see properly.
Weikel and colleagues review the importance of nutrition in maintaining vision
In this age of rising health care costs, researching simple and effective means to prevent prolonged hospital stays is a priority. The past decade has seen increasing interest in the role that vitamin D plays in the immune system. Quraishi and co-workers recently published some results of a retrospective analysis into vitamin D levels before bariatric surgery and the risk of infection after the operation.
As our understanding of human genetics has grown, we are starting to appreciate the effect of how genes and environment interact. Researchers Shaghaghi and associates published an article on the effect that variations in a vitamin C transporter have on two forms of inflammatory bowel disease. Vitamin C is a major water-soluble antioxidant. It has been shown to reduce inflammation by scavenging reactive oxygen species to prevent cellular damage according to a review by Traber and Stevens. Buffinton and Doe found that levels of vitamin C were lower in people with inflammatory bowel disease, and this could hinder recovery of the intestinal lining.
Have you ever kept a diet record or filled in a dietary questionnaire? Was it accurate? Did you forget to include something that you ate? Did you change your diet to make it seem like you eat healthier than you normally do? These are some of problems that make accurate assessments of food and nutrient intakes difficult. Last month, Archer and colleagues reported results of an analysis of under-reporting in the NHANES nutrition survey. There has been a recent reply by Mitka. TalkingNutrition provides a perspective on this issue, and how it relates to nutrient intakes.
Cataract is the worldwide leading cause of visual impairment, being responsible for a little under half of all cases according to the World Health Organisation. Cataract develops when the lens in the eye is damaged over time, and risk factors include older age, cigarette smoking and exposure to UV light. Although cataract can be treated surgically, there are barriers that prevent access in many countries. People also may suffer from impaired vision for years before they are treated for the condition. How can risk of cataract be reduced, and is there a role for antioxidants?
Food consumption data is valuable for many reasons. As the CDC notes, the data is used nutrition monitoring and surveillance and a variety of policy making and research purposes, including dietary guidance, food fortification, environmental exposure assessment, and nutrition assistance and education program planning and evaluation. The USDA has invested in the collection of national food consumption data for >70 years. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) is the primary instrument used to nationally assess the health and nutritional status of Americans.
Using cross-sectional data, Deierlein and colleagues assessed nutrient intakes and Healthy Eating Index (HEI) scores of 1,306 New York City adults living independently (60-99y)
Food fortification has been credited with helping to avoid widespread vitamin and mineral deficiencies in millions of people over the past decades. The reason why fortification is so effective is that it has the potential to increase the nutrient levels within an entire population without requiring any behavior change on the part of the individual. Fortification may be particularly helpful to increase the supply of nutrients that are only found in a limited number of foods, or restricted within a few food groups. Vitamin D has been added to milk in the United States and Canada since the 1940s, and the introduction of a carefully-planned fortification policy has been credited with eliminating rickets as a public health issue (the National Academies Press has a summary of fortification programs in the US and Canada here).
Other countries do not fortify with vitamin D. As vitamin D fortification is not allowed in Germany, yet the adult population appears to have generally low vitamin D levels compared to the US, Brown and colleagues have modeled the effect of fortifying various carrier foods with vitamin D
Telomeres are repeated nucleotide sequences which protect chromosomes during cell replication. In cell division, chromosomes are ‘read’. Having telomeres at the end to ensure the entire gene is transcribed. Similar to having an extra-long zipper in a coat which guarantees the full length of the coat is zipped up. Because some of a telomere may not get copied during replication, telomere regions become shorter as animals age. Shorter telomeres are associated with accelerated aging (Gasser & Coutre, 2013).
Suboptimal nutrition and stress contribute to accelerated aging (Aiken et al, 2013). In a new study
Yesterday, TalkingNutrition reported on how an adequate vitamin B12 status can improve health outcomes for babies during their first thousand days from conception to two years of age. Today, an article on the link between high vitamin B12 levels and cancer risk by Arendt and colleagues has been picked up as a nutrition news story by various online news providers. What is going on here?
Cells require a supply of methyl donors (vitamin B12, folate, methionine and choline) to function normally. Vitamin B12 deficiency is more common among vegans, the elderly, and people using medications to prevent heartburn. In vegans, the risk is increased because they don’t consume animal products which are rich sources of B12. In the other two examples, the primary cause is insufficient gastric pepsin and acid production required for its absorption from the gut.
In a new review, Rush and colleagues bring together human and animal studies
Folic acid status is especially important for women during pregnancy and to maintain healthy homocysteine levels (a risk factor for cardiovascular disease) throughout life. Changes in folate assessment methods have made it difficult to compare data (Pfeiffer et al, 2010) and to reliably quantify dietary folate recommendations for optimal health.
Duffy and colleagues conducted a dose-response meta-analysis in healthy adults to quantify the relationship between folic acid intake and folate biomarkers.
The CDC reports on four cases of vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB) in infants aged 6 to 15 weeks in a Tennessee children’s hospital. VKDB condition is actually preventable, but why does it happen, what can be done about it, and why would some infants not receive preventive measures?
Did you know that low serum vitamin E concentrations could lead to bone loss and muscle wasting? Probably not but new data from the Swedish Mammography Cohort (SMC) and the Uppsala Longitudinal Study of Adult Men (ULSAM) finds that low serum concentrations of α-tocopherol are associated with an increased risk of fracture in elderly men and women.
Swedes, like many others, do not consume recommended amounts of vitamin E. Because an increase in oxidative stress with aging leads to age-related bone loss and muscle wasting (sarcopenia), inadequate vitamin E status is a health concern.
Preterm birth affects around 10% of all births in the world, according to the World Health Organisation, and is a large contributor to poor infant-related outcomes. Not only are newborns at increased risk of illness because they have not had enough time to develop fully before they are born, the third trimester of pregnancy is also a time during which the greatest proportion of nutrients such as calcium, iron essential fats and the fat-soluble vitamins are transferred to the fetus. Vitamin E is one of those nutrients that is found in low levels in preterm infants. Researchers are interested in whether a simple treatment such vitamin E supplementation can help improve health outcomes in preterm infants.
Two trials found a small, borderline-significant benefit from multivitamin supplements on cancer in men only and no effect on CVD. So reads the conclusion by Fortmann and colleagues after systematically reviewing studies on multivitamin use by community-dwelling, nutrient-sufficient adults. What does this mean? What about women?
Cancer and cardiovascular disease are complex non-communicable diseases. Prevalence is attributable to many environmental and lifestyle influencers, including multiple nutrients – amount and type of fat consumed, vitamins, alcohol intake, etc. Using studies primarily conducted in men (because there weren’t many involving women), the most promising results came from 2 multivitamin trials using a wide variety of nutrients at physiological doses.
Over the weekend, reports came through about the rise of rickets in the UK over the past few years . The UK’s chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies included recommendations to provide free vitamin supplements to all children under the age of five in her report “Our Children Deserve Better: Prevention Pays”. Her recommendations are based on surveys of vitamin D status in children that have shown a sizeable increase in rates of vitamin D deficiency and rickets
Nutrition is confusing. It is frustrating too because we really don’t know our nutrient status unless we get a blood test. The most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999-2006) using blood lab tests reports that the prevalence of nutrient deficiencies hasn’t changed for vitamin B6, iron, vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin B12, vitamin A, vitamin E and folate. Without this information, how does one know if they should be using dietary supplements? To answer this question, let’s examine the practices of health professionals.
Rautianien and colleagues examined multivitamin use in middle-aged men participating in the Physicians’ Health Study.
If you search google with the term ‘antioxidants’, one of the first links is MedlinePlus which states:
Antioxidants are substances that may protect your cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced when your body breaks down food, or by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation. Free radicals can damage cells, and may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases.
No mention of antioxidants and hearing loss. So it was interesting to see the article by Choi and colleagues linking antioxidants with a risk of hearing loss.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death globally (WHO, July 2013). 7 million people died from heart disease (CHD) in 2011. 450,000 deaths in the US. More than 13 million Americans are affected with coronary heart disease and the direct health care costs exceed $150 billion annually. Doesn’t it make you wonder what to do nutritionally to prevent becoming included in these statistics? Is it more omega-3 fatty acids? Or B vitamins? The answer may lie in genetic screening.
Diabetes is a surprisingly common health problem. November has been designated National Diabetes Month in the United States to draw attention to diabetes and how to manage or prevent the condition.
Increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, especially long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to maintain a healthy heart, is recommended by many national expert committees and professional health associations (see DHA-EPA Omega-3 Institute).
Inflammation and atherosclerosis are hallmarks of coronary heart disease. When it comes to limiting the progression of cardiovascular disease, one target for drug manufacturers
The number of people with asthma in the US is growing every year. According to the CDC, roughly 25 million Americans have asthma, half of whom have had an asthma attack in the past year. Asthma is more prevalent among the poor and African Americans, Hispanics and Puerto Ricans than Caucasians. Worldwide, 235 million people have asthma. It is the most common chronic disease among children (WHO, 2011).
Asthma is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. One protective factor seems to be vitamin E, possibly because most people - especially children, young adults, non-Hispanic Blacks have low blood α-tocopherol levels
Culture influences food choices and nutrient status at the population level. Even in countries that share cultural roots, there can be marked differences in the consumption of certain foods. New Zealand is a prime example, where recent shortages in supply of the Kiwis own beloved brand of yeast extract spread lead to a “crisis” situation. The consumption of yeast extract spread on bread or toast is not only a quaint undertaking by antipodeans, as the high levels of B-vitamins that are consumed with the spread can be of public health significance.
A new review by Fenton and colleagues states that increasing long chain omega 3 fatty acid (LCFA) intake of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may have adverse health outcomes. Let’s discuss this statement. The conclusions were drawn from a summary of mouse studies where dietary EPA/DHA intakes were manipulated and immune responses to pathogens were assessed. As expected, manipulating the type of fat (saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated) and amount (% of total energy intake) in the diet exerted physiological changes in membrane and red blood cell composition and cellular signaling pathways. In effect, mice (and people) are made of what they eat.
Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress contribute to age-related disease. Having adequate antioxidant status helps maintain normal cell function, especially important in people who don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables, are overweight, and/or live a sedentary lifestyle. As summarized by Stephen Daniells on Oct 22, a depletion in plasma levels of antioxidants (in this case vitamin E) may play a role in age-related, non-communicable diseases.
Lambrecht and colleagues assessed markers of oxidation and inflammation in 42 obese, premenopausal women before and after a 30 min walk.
A new report finds that older volunteers are in better physical health than younger peers. Purdue University sociologists, Kim and Ferraro, used regression to analyze the effects of volunteering, employment, attending meetings and caregiving on a biomarker of stress and inflammation, C-reactive protein, measured in the blood of 1,790 adults (57-85y) from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project. CRP levels were ~15% lower in those who volunteered several times per year (vs those who did not volunteer during the past year).
The Gerontologist paper provides insight into the complexity of conducting randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to test nutrient-disease relationships.
Today’s blog is on interpreting science. It is an important topic because of our increasing dependence upon our ‘science intelligence (IQ)’ . The creation of the internet and mobile devices have given access to information and transparency unlike that experienced by any other generation. With access we can bypass experts, i.e. gatekeepers, who filtered information for us - Travel agencies. Professionals who distilled and summarized scientific evidence via a few national evening news channels or weekly health columns in print media. These are not needed because we can search the internet for airfares, insurance vendors, and more. We can verify our physician’s treatment, including prescription choice, online.
The first thousand days of a child’s life, from pre-conception to their second birthday, are the most important. Adequate nutrition during this critical window of opportunity helps children have healthier futures. Malnutrition is a significant worldwide problem, however, and many organizations are working hard to develop effective solutions. A study published recently looks at how effective baseline diet and supplemental foods are in meeting the needs of 6 to 11 month old infants.
Omega-3 fatty acids are good for the brain and the heart. It is not surprising since long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid(LCPUFA) docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) makes up 97% of the LCPUFA present in the brain. DHA, along with its precursor eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are important for heart health. Triglycerides are found in the blood in a range of particle size. Supplementation with 4g EPA and 5g DHA daily for 12 wk has been shown to reduce serum triglycerides 26% (Oelrich and colleagues).
It seems like a no-brainer. Chocolate is energy dense and irresistible. Therefore it must contribute to excessive calorie intakes. The average chocolate bar contains around 250 kcal and is part of the food group most nutritionists refer to as “discretionary calories.” Even so, chocolate does contain some other bioactive compounds, and it is also possible that a responsible intake of chocolate does not cause obesity, as diet is more than simply the consumption of one type of food.
Despite low awareness, over 10% of a well-nourished population such as the US has both low intakes and deficient or marginal vitamin status of vitamin B6. This is important because low vitamin B6 levels have been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Yesterday Chris van Tullekin advised readers that they were wasting their time, and potentially even harming themselves by taking vitamin supplements via BBC News Magazine. Chris started with an example of vitamin A toxicity from eating dog liver. It is true. Eating a bear liver can be toxic because it can contain 18,000 IU per gram (Rodahl & Moore, 1942). But I am digressing, as was Chris, into a discussion of nutrient toxicity from natural overdoses and away from the topic at hand – the wisdom of using dietary supplements to help meet nutrient requirements.
Pregnant women want to have a healthy pregnancy. One increasingly prevalent pregnancy complication is gestational diabetes, which affects 2% to 20% of all pregnancies depending on geographic region. Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that is first detected during pregnancy (normally during the end of the second trimester) and usually subsides after delivery. Women with gestational diabetes no longer respond effectively to the insulin that they produce after a meal and blood glucose levels increase too much. Vitamin D has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. Can it help in gestational diabetes?
Today is World Food Day. The theme for 2013 is sustainable food systems for food security and nutrition. The objective is to increase awareness of hidden hunger and drive greater collaboration throughout the food chain.
As Andre Croppenstedt, FAO, writes, “While nutritional outcomes depend upon many factors, food systems are a fundamental part of the equation as they determine the quantity, quality, diversity and nutritional content of foods available.” With the world population rapidly approaching 9 billion people, most of whom are opting to live in urban environments,
Much is written, spoken, and tweeted about public-private partnerships. Experts from academics, government, non-government organizations, and industry published 12 principles for building partnerships to benefit food safety, nutrition and health research in Nutrition Reviews.
The 12 principles are:
1. Have a clearly defined and achievable goal to improve the health of the public
Articulate a clear statement of work, rules, and partner roles, responsibilities, and accountability, to build in trust, transparency, and mutual respect as core operating principles
The days are getting shorter in the northern hemisphere. Streetlights turn on earlier. Headlights are essential to drive. Couple this darkness with rain, or heaven forbid snow, and night-time glare from oncoming headlights and reflections makes driving more difficult for many. The ‘perfect storm’ of events may bring to mind the old adage ‘carrots help you see in the dark’. (click here for an interesting perspective on the history of the phrase).
Carrots provide a rich source of beta-carotene, a source of vitamin A. As MedlinePlus, a service of the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health writes, “ Vitamin A promotes good vision, especially in low light.”