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Blog posts of '2013' 'September'

How Much Vitamin D Do You Need? It Can Depend on Your Race

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How Much Vitamin D Do You Need? It Can Depend on Your RaceVitamins have many roles in human health and vitamin D is no exception. Although it’s closely associated with calcium absorption and bone health, vitamin D has also been linked to the immune system and cardiovascular health. The Food and Drug Administration has recommended guidelines on how much vitamin D people should get, but these levels can vary by fitness, gender, and even race. In a new study examining the role of vitamin D in heart health, researchers found that low vitamin D levels may increase the risk of heart health challenges in white and Chinese ethnicities, but not in blacks or Hispanics.

Genes May Be a Factor

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), was an observational paper pulled from data on over 6,400 patients enrolled in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). MESA is one of the most diverse, long-term studies on heart health among different ethnic groups in the United States. Vitamin D is produced naturally in skin cells from sun exposure. Races with less melanin (or pigment cells) tend to produce more vitamin D than blacks or Hispanics under the same amount of light exposure. According to Dr. Cassianne Robinson-Cohen, the lead author of the JAMA paper, “We don’t know for sure, but perhaps genes affecting the need for and use of vitamin D could have evolved to adapt to different levels of sun exposure in places where various ethnic subgroups of people originated.” One of the key findings that researchers noticed was that while blacks and Hispanics may have higher rates of developing heart health challenges, low vitamin D did not appear to be a significant factor. This may be because their bodies have adapted to metabolizing vitamin D differently.

It’s the Little Differences That Count

One of the most important things to take home from the study is that a one-size-fits-all approach to treatments seldom works. Increasing white or Chinese patients’ vitamin D dosage to support their heart health may be effective for them, but taking the same approach to black or Hispanic patients may have little effect. Dr. Michael Lauer, director of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute’s Division of Cardiovascular Sciences that funded the MESA study, hopes that the report “underscores the value of conducting studies that include participants from diverse backgrounds. The MESA investigators have presented a finding that could serve as a foundation for future research on the possible link between vitamin D blood levels and heart health.” Studies like these may also lead to more personalized nutritional recommendations of vitamin D and other nutrients, so that future populations may get essential levels of vitamins and minerals that are truly essential to them.


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When It Comes to Immune Function, Go with Your Gut

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When It Comes to Immune Function, Go with Your Gut"Probiotics are only good for digestion," or at least that's what most people assume when they think of these helpful microscopic organisms. However, the digestive system also plays a large role in immune function and according to researchers good bacteria are largely responsible for that relationship. In a new analysis conducted at Oregon State University (OSU) that was published in Clinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology, scientists believe that communication between gut microbes and other cells is crucial to overall immune support. When there's a breakdown in communication between gut bacteria and immune cells, it may affect everything from immune function to moods to body weight.

What We've Got Here Is a Failure to Communicate

The human gut is home to millions of cells, including hundreds of types of helpful bacteria that can make up 3–5 lbs of an average adult's body weight. Other types of cells include T cells and other immune cells that make up about 70% of the immune system. Previous research has discovered that good bacteria, or probiotics, may influence the development of the immune system and help increase the number of T cells. According to Dr. Natalia Shulzhenko, assistant professor and physician in the OSU Department of Biomedical Sciences, communication between probiotics and immune cells that inhabit the digestive tract is crucial to help stimulate the immune system into action. However, she also points out, "There's an increasing disruption of these microbes from modern lifestyle, diet, overuse of antibiotics, and other issues. With that disruption, the conversation is breaking down." Besides affecting immune function and digestion, scientists speculate that miscommunication between probiotics and the immune system can affect other areas such as your mood and metabolism. When gut bacteria become accustomed to a high-fat diet, they also learn to "prefer" these types of food, leading to increased fat absorption and body weight.

Balance Gut Health in Your Favor

Dr. Shulzhenko and her fellow researchers hope that by having a better understanding of how gut bacteria influence immune function and overall health, future health care may include examining a person's gut bacteria and prescribing probiotics in addition to antibiotics to help correct any gut imbalances. It's also a good idea to take a probiotic supplement daily to help keep up the numbers of helpful microbes that populate your digestive tract. While good hygiene and sanitation are definitely important to everyday health, peoples' overreliance on antibacterial cleansers, antibiotics, and fear of all things germ-related may be largely responsible for many health challenges that can be traced back to gut imbalances. That's why it's important to make the distinction that while there are germs that can cause illness, there are also bacteria that help you in your day-today life. So be good to your gut because the benefits are worth it.

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“Beauty Sleep” Isn’t Just a Figure of Speech

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“Beauty Sleep” Isn’t Just a Figure of SpeechSleep is a crucial part of our lives; unfortunately it is usually the first thing we compromise when our time is stretched thin. Have you ever noticed the differences in the way people say “you look refreshed” and “you look tired”? In the first instance, it's meant as a compliment and people tend to be friendlier and more cheerful around you. In the latter case, people aren't exactly eager to keep company with you—and there's a reason why. According to a new study, sleep deprivation can affect the way you look and the way others behave towards you.

Your Face Says It All...Literally

A recent study done on the facial effects of sleep deprivation took 10 subjects and photographed them on two separate occasions; first after eight hours of normal sleep and then again after 31 hours of sleep deprivation. The photographs were taken in a laboratory at the same time of day; 2:30 p.m. after both occasions. Forty other participants were then brought in to rate the 20 photographs based on fatigue, sadness, and 10 other facial cues. Unsurprisingly the results showed that sleep deprivation resulted in hanging eyelids, redder eyes, swollen eyes, and darker circles beneath the eyes. It was also associated with paler skin, more fine lines and wrinkles, and more droopy corners around the mouth. In short, lack of sleep made people look sadder, unhealthy, and less attractive compared to when they had normal amounts of sleep. The interesting side-effect of looking sleep deprived was the way it affected the behavior of others towards the person who looked sleep deprived. Facial perception involves a complex neural network and is said to be one of the most developed visual perception skills in humans. Apparently, how tired you look influences the way people interpret traits such as trustworthiness, aggressiveness, and competence. "Since faces contain a lot of information on which humans base their interactions with each other, how fatigued a person appears may affect how others behave toward them," said Tina Sundelin, lead author of the study and doctoral student. "This is relevant not only for private social interactions, but also official ones such as with health care professionals and in public safety."

Healthy Sleep as a Problem Solver

According to the National Sleep Foundation about two-thirds (63%) of Americans say their sleep needs are not being met during the week. Healthy adults need an average of 7–8 hours of sleep a night. Instead of watching television or surfing the internet before bedtime try reading, listening to soft music, or drinking a warm decaffeinated beverage to help you relax and fall asleep easier. Healthy sleep is also a creature of habit. Going to bed early, or forming a consistent routine leading up to your bedtime can help the body induce sleep easier. As the study above shows, getting a healthy amount of sleep can have a large positive impact not only on your daily health and energy, but it can also influence your interaction with others. They don't call it beauty sleep for no reason, so support your health and make sure you get plenty of those important z's.


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Community Immunity: Protecting Against Seasonal Germs

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Community Immunity: Protecting Against Seasonal GermsAs summer recedes into the rearview mirror, fall seems just around the corner. For many, the changing of seasons signals a time where children go back to school, the daytime gets shorter, and the weather makes a cooler turn as the winter months approach. This is also a time where protecting your immune system is vital for your health and the health of your community.

Surfaces, Germs, People, and More Germs!

Most people tend to focus on kids spreading germs in school, but the reality is, adults—especially older citizens—need to understand the importance of good sanitation and immune system protection just as much as their younger counterparts.

One of the easiest—yet often overlooked—ways of keeping clean is habitually washing your hands. Have a family of four? That’s eight hands touching the same doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, remote controls, light switches, and more. Frequent hand washing throughout the day defends against spreading germs and bacteria. And while public drinking fountains are traditional staples at many schools, gyms, and parks, they can also harbor germs. Getting in the habit of using a personal water bottle can eliminate the need for community sharing (and the spreading of germs) at places like drinking fountains or faucets. Carrying tissues and hand sanitizers, as well as properly learning how to cover a sneeze (if no tissue is available, use the crook of your elbow) can be crucial steps in teaching children how to stay healthy for their own sake and for the people around them.

The Health of Your Community Starts with You

Seasonal changes can often put added stress on your immune system, so here are some personal tips for protecting your immune health:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet – Research indicates that proper nutrition helps strengthen your immune system.
  • Get plenty of restful sleep – While you sleep your immune system is busy rebuilding and repairing itself.
  • Wash your hands regularly – Proper hand washing with water and soap is the most effective barrier against the spread of germs. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends rubbing your hands for an average of 20 seconds.
  • Build up healthy intestinal bacteria – Good bacteria help keep bad bacteria at bay as 70% of the immune system resides in your large intestine.
  • Protect your living area – When cooking, be aware of cross contamination, look out for areas of mold in your house, and keep surface areas (doorknobs, tables, bathroom tiles, and kitchen countertops) clean.

Building up your immune system should be a daily priority. Being aware of personal hygiene can be the difference between a healthy community and a common illness. You can’t always be sure when you are completely protected from microscopic immune system zappers, but you can help defend against their spreading by taking the necessary steps to protect your immune system by practicing better cleanliness habits.


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