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Thursday 15 February 2024

7 Best herbs for lowering blood cholesterol naturally

 The fat-like, waxy substance called cholesterol is naturally produced by the human body. Although much vilified because of its role in the development of heart disease, cholesterol performs many important functions your body can't do without.

For instance, cholesterol is a crucial component of cell membranes that helps balance fluidity and permeability. It is also a necessary component for the production of different hormones and the fat-soluble vitamin E.

The cholesterol that spreads throughout your body via your blood comes either from the food that you eat or your liver. While the liver normally only produces enough cholesterol, genetics and an unhealthy lifestyle can cause your liver to produce more.

This is when cholesterol becomes bad, as having too much of it in your blood can clog your blood vessels, stifling the supply of oxygen and nutrients to your heart and brain. This could eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Because of the detrimental effects of having high blood cholesterol, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels has become a necessity for good overall health, especially that of your heart and brain.

Aside from avoiding unhealthy foods, you can maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels by taking herbal supplements. Some potent herbs used in traditional medicine have been found to possess powerful cholesterol-lowering properties.

7 Herbs that can help lower your blood cholesterol

The cholesterol produced by your liver is carried to and from cells by round particles made of fats and proteins. These cholesterol transporters, known as lipoproteins, exist in two forms: low-density and high-density.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is often called "bad cholesterol" because it contributes to the buildup of plaque in the arteries – the main cause of atherosclerosis.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, on the other hand, is called "good cholesterol" because it transports LDL cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it is broken down prior to being excreted from the body. This is why HDL is said to protect against heart attack and stroke.

Fortunately for people who wish to control their blood cholesterol through natural means, there are powerful herbs with beneficial components that can help lower LDL cholesterol or total cholesterol levels. Here are seven of them:

Artichoke

People may consume artichoke as part of a nutritious diet, such as the Mediterranean diet. Several studies over the years have looked at how artichoke affects cholesterol levels.

A meta-analysis published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition reported that artichoke leaf extract can help reduce LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The researchers found that supplementing with artichoke leaf extract benefits people with high blood cholesterol who are undergoing lipid-lowering therapy.

Fenugreek

Like artichoke, studies have found that supplementing with fenugreek also helps lower blood cholesterol levels. 

According to a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials exploring the effects of fenugreek on lipid profile components (i.e., total cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglycerides), taking fenugreek supplements significantly reduced total blood cholesterol and LDL levels in people with diabetes while increasing HDL. This suggests that supplementing with fenugreek can help improve the lipid profile of diabetics.

Ginger

Ginger has been used for thousands of years as a natural remedy for various ailments, such as colds, arthritis, nausea, migraines and hypertension. Recent studies show that this potent herb can also support heart health by lowering blood cholesterol levels.

In a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the journal Phytomedicine, researchers looked at 12 clinical trials to assess the effects of ginger supplementation on the lipid profile of adults. They found that consuming as little as two grams of ginger a day can help reduce total cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Ginger can be consumed in supplement form or added to your meals.

Holy basil

Holy basil, also known as tulsi, is a slightly spicy, bitter herb that you can eat raw or add to your recipes.

According to a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials, consuming at least one gram of tulsi a day has a favorable effect on fasting blood glucose levels. Tulsi can also help lower total cholesterol, LDL and very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) levels in older adults with metabolic disease. Like LDL, VLDL is also considered a type of bad cholesterol because it causes plaque buildup in excess.

Rosemary

The aromatic herb rosemary, widely celebrated for its potent antioxidant properties, has also been shown to help lower blood cholesterol levels.

In a study published in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine, researchers investigated the benefits of supplementing with rosemary by giving three groups of adults either two, five or 10 grams of powdered rosemary leaves a day for four weeks. They reported that rosemary not only helped lower the participants' blood sugar levels, but it also decreased their total cholesterol and triglyceride levels significantly.  

Turmeric

Turmeric is one of the most extensively studied medicinal herbs on the planet and is known for its many health-supporting properties. Turmeric's benefits are often attributed to curcumin, its most active component, which boasts high antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and lipid-lowering activities.

According to a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials, curcumin in turmeric can protect individuals who are at risk of cardiovascular disease by improving their serum lipid levels – i.e., by lowering their total cholesterol and LDL levels. Turmeric and curcumin are also well-tolerated and did not cause any serious adverse events across seven studies that involved 649 patients.

Yarrow

Yarrow is a popular herb used in European folk medicine. It is especially rich in flavonoids that have been shown to improve digestion and relieve stomach and menstrual cramps by helping relax smooth muscles in the intestine and uterus. .)

In a study published in the Journal of Family Practice, researchers assessed the cholesterol-lowering abilities of 11 herbal medicinal products that are often used as supplements by reviewing randomized controlled trials. They reported that yarrow supplementation caused a 39 percent reduction in total blood cholesterol levels – the highest of all the herbs tested. They also noted that yarrow and the other herbs could "exert beneficial effects in cardiovascular disease by elevating high-density lipoprotein levels and inhibiting lipid oxidation."

Maintaining healthy blood cholesterol levels is key to supporting the optimal health of your heart and cardiovascular system. You can achieve this by following a healthy diet and lifestyle and incorporating herbs like turmeric, ginger and rosemary into your meals or taking herbal supplements.

Big Ag pollution tied to pediatric cancers and birth defects

 Major agricultural corporations in the United States are being blamed for pollution tied to the rise of pediatric cancers and birth defects in the country.

From fertilizer run-off to pesticide leaching and methane emissions, pollution from large-scale agriculture Big Ag takes a heavy toll on both the natural systems of the environment and human health.

A growing body of literature and epidemiological studies have been indicating an increased risk of birth defects and childhood cancer from pesticides and other toxic run-off from big agriculture operations.

A review published in the journal Current Environmental Health Reports noted that the "weed killer" atrazine and nitrate-based fertilizers are two of the most commonly detected agricultural compounds in drinking and groundwater or surface water.

According to researchers, several control studies published since 2000 indicated that pregnant women exposed to higher concentrations of nitrate in drinking water were more likely to give birth to babies with limb deficiencies, neural tube defects (malformations of the spinal cord) and oral clefts.

They have also associated widely used herbicide atrazine with abdominal defects, gastroschisis – where a hole in the belly wall beside the belly button allows the baby's intestines to extend outside of the baby's body – and other birth anomalies.  

Agricultural chemicals causing cancers in children and adults

In June 2022, environmental epidemiologist Naveen Joseph at Radford University, Idaho Water Resources Research Institute Director Prof. Alan Kolok and their colleagues at the Northern Arizona University found a correlation between agricultural chemicals and cancer in adults and children in Idaho and throughout 11 contiguous states in the western U.S. – from Montana south to New Mexico and west to the coast.

Metam-sodium, an agricultural pesticide primarily used to control fungi, nematodes, soil insects, weeds and weed seeds, was the most predominant fumigant used in the Western states that produce food, such as fruits and vegetables, as opposed to other states that used mostly herbicides in the production of grains, such as corn and wheat.

Idaho's 44 counties, as well as 459 counties throughout the 11 neighboring U.S. westernmost states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, were included in two studies published in the peer-reviewed journal GeoHealth, entitled "Assessment of Pediatric Cancer and its Relationship to Environmental Contaminants: An Ecological Study in Idaho" and "Investigation of Relationships between the Geospatial Distribution of Cancer Incidence and Estimated Pesticide Use in the U.S. West."

Findings of a 2022 study published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health suggested that certain types of prenatal pesticide exposure from residing near agricultural fields play a role in the development of childhood retinoblastoma – the most common type of cancer in children that starts as a tumor in the retina (the very black part of the eye).

Researchers associated exposures to acephate (an insecticide used to control biting and sucking insects) and bromacil (an herbicide used for nonselective weed and brush control) with increased risk for unilateral retinoblastoma, or cancer in one eye.

"It is crucial to identify causes and prioritize intervention," said University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Fielding School of Public Health Epidemiologist Julia Heck. She stressed that although retinoblastoma has a high survival rate in high-income countries at greater than 95 percent, children can suffer long-term effects from chemotherapy.

What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Onions Every Day

 Including the humble onion in your daily meals might not sound like your conventional path to wellness. However, it actually offers some impressive benefits. Adding onion to your dishes doesn’t just give them a zesty kick; it also positively impacts your health. 

If you love onions and wonder what happens to your body when you eat these pungent veggies, get ready to cry tears of joy. This article will peel back the layers of what eating onions means for your health and wellness. 

 

Onion Nutrition Facts

Onions are a natural source of vitamins, minerals and plant compounds wrapped in a tasty package with many layers. While onions come in different varieties (think yellow, red, and even a sweet Vidalia) and may vary in flavor and culinary applications, they are all similar in their nutritional composition. However, some have extra impressive features that we will get into later. 

The following information shows the nutrition provided by onions.

NutrientWhite onion (100 g)Red onion (100 g)Yellow onion (100 g)
Calories334236
Carbohydrates8 g10 g9 g
Total Sugars*6 g6 g6 g
Dietary Fiber1 g2 g2 g
Protein1 g1 g1 g
Total Fat0 g0 g0 g
Saturated Fat0 g0 g0 g
Vitamin CNA16 mg8 mg
Sodium1 mg1 mg1 mg
Calcium21 mg8 mg15 mg
Potassium141 mg197 mg182 mg
Magnesium9 g11 mg9 g

Health Benefits of Onions

Onions are perhaps best known for their pungent, sharp and savory taste, especially when eaten raw, providing an intense, zesty kick that can bring any dish to life. And when sautéed or caramelized, onions develop a delightful sweetness accompanied by a mellow, slightly buttery taste, adding depth and richness to a variety of dishes. 


May Support a Healthy Gut

Onions are a natural source of prebiotics, which are necessary for optimal gut health. Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that serve as food for the beneficial gut bacteria, promoting their growth and encouraging a balanced gut flora. 

Specifically, onions contain the prebiotic inulin, which helps stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria. Evidence suggests that allicin, a compound found in onion, may also help support a healthy gut, but more quality human-based data is needed to confirm this.

May Improve Your Heart Health

Regular consumption of onions also supports heart health. Onions contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, especially quercetin, that may have antihypertensive effects. Additionally, quercetin has been shown to help decrease triglycerides and reduce cholesterol levels. Evidence suggests that eating onion can not only be helpful in preventing and treating dyslipidemia and high blood pressure but ultimately may help reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Might Benefit Your Eye Health

Onions are also helpful for supporting good eye health. They are rich in sulfur, which is important for producing glutathione, one of the body's most potent antioxidants. This antioxidant, in particular, is necessary for the eye's health, helping to prevent age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma. Therefore, incorporating onions into your diet can potentially support and maintain good eye health.

Might Reduce Your Risk of Certain Cancers

Notably, onions may also contribute significantly to cancer prevention. They are rich in antioxidants and sulfur-containing compounds that may potentially reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, including lung, prostate and stomach. 

One study assessed primary breast cancer cases among a sample of women in Puerto Rico. Results of the study suggest that high onion and garlic consumption may be protective against breast cancer among this population. Other data has shown that there may be a link between eating more foods that contain allicin, like onions, and a reduced risk of stomach cancer. That said, more robust research is needed to confirm these findings.

Have Antibacterial Properties

Onions may also have antibacterial properties to help fight off dangerous bacteria and reduce infections. Research suggests that onion essential oils could help reduce bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella.

Potential Downsides

Despite the myriad benefits of consuming onions, they may not be suitable for everyone. Here are some potential downsides to eating onions regularly.

May Cause Digestive Discomfort

The presence of fructans, a type of complex carbohydrate, can trigger digestive discomfort in some individuals. These compounds can cause bloating, flatulence and stomach cramps, particularly in those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other sensitivities to FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols). Consequently, while onions are generally a beneficial addition to most diets, individuals with digestive conditions may need to limit their intake or opt for cooked onions, which are often better tolerated.

May Cause Allergic Reactions

While cases are rare, onions can trigger allergic reactions in certain people. Symptoms may range from mild, such as itching or rash, to severe, like breathing difficulties or anaphylaxis. Therefore, those with known onion allergies need to do some homework to make sure they eat safe dishes with no onions included. And if you think you might have an allergy to onions, speak with your healthcare provider.

May Cause a Bad Breath

Another drawback to consuming onions is their potential impact on breath odor. Due to their high sulfur content, onions can cause bad breath or halitosis, which may persist for several hours after consumption. This can pose social discomforts and may require individuals to employ techniques such as proper oral hygiene or breath-freshening products to counteract the effects.

Best Ways to Cook and Enjoy Onions

Onions can be a delicious addition to your dishes. And thankfully, there are many interesting ways to cook and enjoy them. 

Caramelized

One of the best ways to cook and enjoy onions is by caramelizing them. Caramelization brings out the inherent sweetness of onions, providing a rich, complex flavor that can enhance many dishes. To caramelize onions, begin by slicing them thinly. Then, heat a pan over medium-low heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil or a pat of butter, followed by the onions. Simmer the onions, stirring occasionally. As they cook, the onions will start to soften and turn a deep golden brown. This process may take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. Patience is key here; rushing this process may result in burnt onions. Once fully caramelized, they are ready to be used in your favorite dish or as a delightful topping for burgers, pizzas or steaks. Remember to adjust the seasoning with salt and possibly a splash of vinegar to balance the sweetness.  

Roasted

Roasting is another fantastic way to prepare and savor onions. This cooking method highlights onions' natural sweetness and imparts a delightful, toasty flavor. To roast onions, first, preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C). Meanwhile, peel and quarter the onions. Toss them in a mix of olive oil, salt and pepper, then arrange them in a single layer on a baking tray. Roast for about 25-30 minutes, or until the onions are tender and have developed a deep, golden brown color. Roasted onions pair wonderfully with roasted meats, in salads, or as a flavorful addition to a cheese board. Enjoy this simple yet satisfying way of cooking onions.  

Grilled

Grilling onions is yet another excellent method to unlock their flavor potential. The grill's high heat chars the onions' outside, giving them a smoky taste, while the inside becomes tender and sweet. To grill onions, peel them and cut them into half-inch rounds. Then, brush both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the rounds on a preheated grill over medium heat. Grill them for about 4-5 minutes on each side or until they have prominent grill marks and have softened. These grilled onions serve as a perfect condiment for meats or as an addition to summer salads. This method offers an easy, flavorful and healthful way to enjoy onions.  

Raw

Eating onions raw is another way to enjoy their unique flavor and reap their health benefits. Raw onions, especially red ones, are a common ingredient in salads due to their crisp texture and pungent, spicy flavor that adds a zesty punch. Raw onions are also used in salsas, sandwiches, or ceviche. To prepare, peel the onion, slice it thinly or dice it, and add it raw, depending on your dish. Remember to use them sparingly, as their flavor is robust and can overpower other ingredients. If the raw onion's taste is too strong, you can soak the sliced onions in cold water for about 10-15 minutes to mellow their sharpness.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Eat Onions Every Day?

Consuming onions daily can be beneficial due to their rich nutrient content and numerous health properties. However, they may cause digestive discomfort to certain people, especially those with digestive issues.

Are Onions Healthier Raw or Cooked?

Both raw and cooked onions have health benefits, though these can vary. Raw onions retain their full complement of vitamins and antioxidants, making them a slightly healthier option if you're looking to maximize your intake of nutrients. However, cooking onions can break down some of their hard-to-digest fibers, making them easier for some people to eat.

Are Onions a Superfood?

Given their rich, nutrient-dense profile and numerous health benefits, one could argue that onions could be classified as a "superfood." However, it's important to remember that "superfood" is not a scientific term but a marketing term, and no single food, not even onions, can provide all the nutrition our bodies need.

Which Organs Benefit Most From Onions?

Several organs in the body can benefit substantially from the consumption of onions. The heart is one of the primary beneficiaries due to the antioxidant flavonoids in onions, which can help reduce heart disease risk by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The digestive system also benefits from onions as they promote healthy gut bacteria.

The Bottom Line

So, are onions the unsung heroes of the grocery store, effortlessly boosting our health with every crunch? It would seem so. Their unique blend of nutrients and potent antioxidants gives them a well-deserved spot in our daily diets. But don't ditch your apples and broccoli just yet. Remember, in the concert of good nutrition, onions may play a stellar solo, but the symphony of varied fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins makes the music of a healthy body. So, enjoy those onions, but make sure they share the stage with plenty of other nutritious foods, too. 

Wednesday 14 February 2024

Study reveals social isolation can increase inflammation in the body

 According to a study, spending too much time on your own can increase inflammation in the body. Details of the study were published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 

The research team warned that being excessively solitary may impact both your mental health and your physical health. This highlights the often-forgotten importance of balancing your digital connections and the need for genuine human interaction.

The researchers conducting the study focused on "the impact of social isolation during early adulthood and midlife." The results showed that there was a strong correlation between loneliness and inflammation markers.

The research team also said it was worth noting how childhood isolation was closely linked to higher soluble urokinase plasminogen activator receptor (suPAR) levels, a marker of chronic inflammation.

They added that this association persisted into adulthood, highlighting the long-lasting effect of early-life social experiences on inflammatory responses.

The research used diverse data sources to support their findings, such as data from the TRIAGE Danish study, a longitudinal study conducted in New Zealand and a comprehensive British twin analysis. The combined findings consistently stressed the crucial role of social isolation in influencing inflammation levels, as specifically evidenced by suPAR.

Overall, the study shows the negative consequences of social isolation, especially when living alone, because it contributes to elevated suPAR levels, signaling chronic inflammation.

This link also proved robust across various demographic groups, suggesting that social experiences may have a lasting influence on the body's inflammatory responses over time. 

Avoid social isolation by fostering healthy relationships and caring for your overall well-being

You may find yourself spending a lot of time on your devices and social media in today's modern world.

If you are worried about your physical and mental health, follow these tips to improve your social connections and create a sense of community.

They can also help prevent social isolation linked to inflammation:

Join group activities

If you have different hobbies but no one to share them with, look for group activities or classes in your neighborhood.

Joining these groups will help you share your love for your interests, like a book club or gym class.

Volunteer in your community

Volunteering doesn't just help you feel like part of your community, it also gives you a chance to contribute to a greater cause as you connect with others who share your passion for making a positive impact.

Volunteering at the local animal shelter or soup kitchen is a fulfilling way to build a sense of community.

Attend local events

Instead of mindlessly scrolling social media while you're in bed, go outside and explore different events in your local community.

In your free time, attend gatherings, workshops, or cultural events to meet new people and expand your social circle.

Stay connected with loved ones

Don't spend all day at work or binge-watching TV.

Regularly reach out to your family and friends. If they're too far away to visit, call them on the phone, video chat, or send a handwritten letter to help maintain strong connections.

Use digital platforms mindfully

Leverage social media to stay connected with friends and family.

Just make sure you're always mindful of screen time. It's also better to prioritize in-person or meaningful virtual interactions to strengthen your relationships.

Practice active listening

Talking to family and friends won't do you any good if you have poor active listening skills.

When engaging in conversations, practice active listening. You can do this by showing genuine interest in a friend's stories and experiences.

Adopt a pet

Pets can help improve your physical and mental health, especially since they provide companionship and love.

If you are physically able to care for a pet, adopt a dog. They're great companions because many dog breeds are active and require regular physical activity, which is also good for you if you're feeling low.

You can also meet new people by walking your dog to the nearest park.

Keep in mind that fighting social isolation is an ongoing process that requires your continued efforts to nurture connections and create a supportive social environment. Maintain healthy habits and care for both your physical and mental health to prevent inflammation linked to many health issues.

What, Exactly, Should You Eat? Inside the $190 Million Study Trying to Find the Answer

 At a biomedical center here, there’s a man scarfing down Frosted Flakes and tater tots while hooked up to an IV. His job? To help the government figure out what you should eat.

That man, Kevin Elizabeth, a 28-year-old tech worker, is one of 500 Americans who will be living at scientific facilities around the country for six weeks, eating precisely selected meals and undergoing hundreds of medical tests. He is part of a new study, costing $189 million, that is one of the most ambitious nutrition research projects the National Institutes of Health has ever undertaken.

If the study succeeds, it could help Americans get healthier and cut through years of confusion about nutrition guidance.

Chronic diseases linked to our diets are on the rise. Sometimes-conflicting advice hasn’t helped—remember the low-fat craze?—and has resulted in little improvement in our health. The percentage of U.S. adults ages 20 and over with obesity is 41.9%, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data collected from 2017 to 2020. That is up from 30.5% in 1999 to 2000. About 15% of American adults have diabetes, up from 10.3% in 2001 to 2004, according to CDC data.

The NIH study will involve 10,000 participants in total, some of whom are signing up for intense measures, like monitors that follow them and make sure they don’t eat smuggled food, or special eyeglass attachments to record what they eat.

If all goes according to plan, in a few years you’ll be able to walk into your doctor’s office, get a few simple medical tests, answer questions about your health and lifestyle, and receive personalized diet advice, says Holly Nicastro, coordinator for the NIH’s Nutrition for Precision Health study.


A diet plan, just for you

Scientists agree broadly on what constitutes a healthy diet—heavy on veggies, fruit, whole grains and lean protein—but more research is showing that different people respond differently to the same foods, such as bread or bananas.

Elizabeth and his fellow participants spend two weeks each on three different diets. One is high fat and low carb; another is low on added sugars and heavy on vegetables, along with fruit, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy; a third is high in ultra-processed foods and added sugars.

The study’s scientists aren’t going in with any particular hypotheses about which foods are best. Instead, they will take the vast amounts of data they are collecting to create algorithms that, they hope, can predict what a particular diet will do for any one of us. They’re recruiting participants with a range of ages, ethnicities, backgrounds and health conditions to make sure the results apply broadly.

“We might be able to fine-tune diets,” said Alice H. Lichtenstein, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Team at Tufts University, who isn’t involved in the NIH study. “So it will work out better if one person in the family gets a little more protein and somebody else gets a little more fat and another gets a little more carbohydrate.”

And with more customized guidance, nutrition researchers hope that more Americans will see results—like blood-sugar levels dropping or blood pressure improving—and stick to healthier diets.

“There can be this public perception out there that ‘Oh, everyone knows what you’re supposed to eat, but it doesn’t work for me.’ But if this is for me and based on me,” people might be more likely to follow the plan, Nicastro said.

Tater tots and a heart monitor

Elizabeth was encouraged to consume every last morsel of his Frosted Flakes breakfast, down to the sugary milk left behind in the cereal bowl. Scientists at the facility here, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, part of the Louisiana State University System, want to know exactly how much he’s eating of his carefully designed meal.

He wore a heart-rate monitor, a device to record his physical activity, and a continuous glucose monitor to measure blood sugar. An IV stuck out of his hand. Nine times over the next four hours, a technician drew Elizabeth’s blood to measure his body’s response to the meal, including his insulin and glucose levels, along with dozens of other metrics. Elizabeth gave samples of urine, stool and saliva. Scientists had already collected specimens of his hair and nails, and put him through a DEXA scan, a full-body X-ray that quantifies the amounts of fat, bone and muscle.

“I thought it would be nice if I could do something meaningful for, like, science and, personally, just to learn more about diet and how it affects me personally,” said Elizabeth, who works in technology at a company that rents out heavy equipment to businesses.

Since he works remotely from his Baton Rouge home, his schedule hasn’t changed much during the study. But he misses his fiancée, who’s a nurse elsewhere at Pennington Biomedical, and their two cats.

Elizabeth was on day 13 of the largely ultra-processed diet when he had his blood drawn around his Frosted Flakes breakfast. The diet resembled what Elizabeth typically eats at home (a lot of convenience foods like frozen pizza), though he said he felt more tired than usual, especially during exercise.

“Just not feeling great,” he said. He felt better and had more energy during the two weeks he was on the veggie-heavy diet, though sometimes “it was hard to eat so many vegetables,” he said.

A smart toilet paper device and camera glasses

One novel tool being used in the study: small cameras that attach to eyeglasses and start recording when the wearer chews. The cameras were designed to overcome one challenge in a lot of nutrition studies, which is that people don’t often accurately report what they eat. This way, the cameras can record the eating.

The glasses have been a tough sell. “A lot of the participants are wondering if it captures other things,” said Catherine Champagne, professor of dietary assessment and nutrition counseling at Pennington Biomedical and Louisiana State.

Study workers periodically blend the meals into a giant smoothie and have them analyzed by an outside lab, to make sure all the sites’ daily menus have consistent proportions of fats, carbs, protein and other components.

Staffers monitor participants who are staying at Pennington Biomedical to make sure they are sticking to the plans. Someone watches them eat their study meals and encourages them to eat the whole thing. Escorts accompany participants to the gym and on walks to prevent any sneaky vending-machine dashes. Visitors have to leave bags outside the study area and open their pockets, to root out any contraband food.

And then there’s the bathroom. Some participants elsewhere in the NIH study are using a new “smart” toilet paper device to collect stool samples. The researchers are particularly interested in how the three diets affect the gut microbiome—and how that influences how people respond to a diet.

On that Tuesday morning at Pennington Biomedical, Elizabeth was lying down in a hospital bed with a clear plastic hood covering his head. He was instructed not to move or talk. Biomedical engineer Isabella Reed was conducting a test to measure Elizabeth’s resting metabolic rate, basically the number of calories he burns just by being alive and awake. A TV was on.

“They can’t watch the Food Network,” said Reed, who said even looking at food can change the test results. Anything scary is out, too; being freaked out can burn calories. “We watch a lot of Hallmark movies and HGTV,” Reed said. “We keep it pretty chill.”

8 Conditions When You Might Need a Vitamin D Supplement, According to Health Experts

 How convenient it is to get one of your daily vitamins from the sun. While other vitamins are typically obtained through dietary sources, vitamin D—also known as the “sunshine vitamin”—can easily be obtained by simply soaking up those rays. 

“Vitamin D is important for healthy bones, along with other nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and vitamin K,” says Erin Stokes, N.D. “In addition, vitamin D supports healthy immune function, which is top of mind during the winter months. Maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D can also contribute to an overall sense of well-being.”

However, in practice, we know that getting enough of that sunshine vitamin is far more complicated than it seems. Environmental factors, seasons, conditions (such as skin cancer risk), and even your location play a big part in how much vitamin D you actually get during the day. So how does one know if they are getting enough vitamin D, and when would it be wise to take a vitamin D supplement? 

Factors That Affect Vitamin D Levels

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that promotes calcium absorption in the gut and helps you maintain healthy, strong bones. Getting a sufficient amount of vitamin D can also help to reduce inflammation in the body.

However, between 2.6 and 22% of people in the United States are deficient, per a 2022 article in Frontiers in Nutrition. What’s more, around 41% have vitamin D insufficiency, meaning that their numbers don’t reach a deficiency level but aren’t optimal. “Many of us are not getting enough vitamin D daily from sun exposure. We don't spend as much time outside or are more aware of the dangers of too much sun exposure. So we wear hats, put on sunscreen, and try to stay in the shade,” says Gillean Barkyoumb, M.S., RDN. “The signs and symptoms of vitamin deficiency in adults—fatigue, bone pain, muscle soreness or mood changes—can easily be missed. Anyone who is over the age of 65, has dark colored skin, or is homebound and unable to use sun exposure as a source of vitamin D should consider taking a vitamin D supplement.”


Other factors, such as season or even the environment, can also cause deficient levels.

“Our skin can synthesize vitamin D3 via UVB sunlight exposure, but various factors like skin melanin content, air pollution, weather variations, sunscreen use and geographic location, among others, can affect how much we produce,” says Huma Chaudhry RD, LDN.

Another way to obtain vitamin D is through food such as fatty fish, egg yolks, mushrooms exposed to UV light, fortified cereals and milk. Because this particular food list is limited, getting enough vitamin D throughout the week can be difficult for many. “Most of us are not consuming a large quantity of these foods, which can make it difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone,” Chaudhry continues.

 

8 Conditions That May Increase the Risk of Vitamin D Deficiency

1. Aging

As you age, you undergo a process of adding and losing bone density and mass. Before the age of 25, a person’s bone density will increase and remain pretty steady between the ages of 25 and 50. However, after age 50, bone breakdown (also known as resorption) will happen faster, so sufficient vitamin D and calcium to strengthen bones is vital for the older population.

Without a proper amount of these nutrients, skeletal effects due to reduced calcium absorption can result in a higher risk of falls and injuries. Production and metabolism of vitamin D change as you age, and older people are less likely to get the sun exposure needed. Research published in 2022 in Endocrine shows that, in this case, aging adults may benefit from low-dose vitamin D supplementation (around 25 micrograms) a day.

2. Osteoporosis and Osteopenia

Your body constantly breaks down and rebuilds new bones as you age. If your body can’t keep up with new bone creation, it increases your risk of osteoporosis—a condition where your bones are too brittle and weak, increasing your risk of fractures, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While not as severe as osteoporosis, osteopenia, which is the loss of bone mineral density, also makes bones weaker.

“Vitamin D is popular for supporting our bone health and can be used to help treat bone conditions like osteoporosis and osteopenia,” says Chaudhry. “It plays a crucial role in keeping a homeostatic balance of important structural minerals, calcium and phosphorus.”

3. Neurological Diseases

A 2023 review in Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy points out how vitamin D works as a neurosteroid in the body, which is essential for the development and functioning of one’s brain. Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with an increased risk of neurological illnesses such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson’s, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.

4. Malabsorption Disorders

Certain malabsorption disorders such as cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, short bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease can also result in a severe vitamin D deficiency, notes a 2015 review in the Journal of Digestive Diseases. These conditions make it difficult to digest and absorb certain nutrients. Due to this, people with malabsorption disorders may require supplementation to get an adequate amount of vitamin D and prevent other deficiency-related conditions.

5. Kidney and Liver Diseases

“Kidney and liver disease result in a reduction of the enzymes needed to convert vitamin D into a form that the body can use, which can lead to a deficiency,” says Barkyoumb.

Research has linked low-serum vitamin D concentrations with potentially developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). A 2021 meta-analysis published in Frontiers of Pharmacology concluded that vitamin D supplementation could be considered an effective strategy for those managing NAFLD.

6. Depression

“Low vitamin D levels have been linked to increased symptoms of mood disorders like depression,” says Chaudhry. “Encouraging time in nature, adding vitamin D rich foods to one’s diet, and a supplement can many times be added to one’s mental health treatment plan.” 

7. Pregnancy

“Fetal vitamin D demands make it crucial for pregnant women to take in enough vitamin D,” says Jamie Adams, M.S., RD, LDN. “Repeated clinical research has demonstrated how vitamin D intake can improve fetal growth and development but also better health outcomes for moms. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in fetal development, bone health and immune function. Pregnant women often have increased demands for vitamin D to support the growing fetus and maintain their own health.”

A 2020 review in Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology points out that vitamin D supplementation may be wise during pregnancy. It can improve fetal growth while also reducing the risk of certain conditions, such as small-for-gestational-age, preeclampsia, preterm birth and gestational diabetes.

8. Rickets

Although bones are building more rapidly at a young age, there is still the possibility of disease if a child experiences severe vitamin D deficiency, known as rickets, per the NIH. If the child doesn’t absorb enough calcium and phosphorus through food and is deficient in vitamin D, it can cause soft and weakened bones.

“A vitamin D-rich diet and supplement routine can be a necessary part of treatment,” says Chaudhry.

Benefits of Vitamin D Supplementation

Thankfully, vitamin D supplementation is possible and easily accessible. Vitamin D supplements can provide sufficient vitamin D for the day or week. Because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin—helping the body maintain calcium and phosphorous through fat absorption—it doesn’t flush out of your system when you urinate like a water-soluble vitamin, which means you can take a higher amount of vitamin D once or twice a week to get a sufficient amount versus every day.

“When shopping for a vitamin D supplement, you want to look for vitamin D3, cholecalciferol, the more easily absorbed and utilized form of vitamin D,” says Dr. Stokes.

Deciding how much to take is a conversation that is best to have with a healthcare professional who knows your particular needs, as well as your health habits and how often you are being exposed to vitamin D without supplementation already.

Recommended Daily Intake and Dosage Guidelines

To get sufficient vitamin D, the recommended daily value for the average person (between the ages of 1 and 70) is 15 micrograms (or 600 IU) daily. Adults 71 and over should get 20 micrograms (800 IU). However, as previously mentioned, since getting enough sunlight exposure or vitamin D through dietary sources may not be possible, a supplement may be wise. 

That said, the amount of vitamin D you should take from a supplement depends on many factors. So, your best bet is to consult your healthcare provider before starting supplementation to determine the appropriate dosage for you. 

“The most important factor for knowing which vitamin D supplement is best for you is to have your levels tested. It's an easy blood test and your result will help you and your doctor to determine the potency and frequency of vitamin D supplementation,” says Stokes.

The Bottom Line

Vitamin D is easily accessible thanks to sun exposure, but particular circumstances can complicate getting the recommended daily amount. Besides food sources, vitamin D supplementation could be wise for those with particular conditions such as neurological disease, kidney and liver disease, malabsorption disorders, rickets, or even mental health ones such as depression. Getting the proper amount of vitamin D is also crucial during aging and pregnancy to avoid the risk of injuries or fetal conditions.

However, with so many different factors at play, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional to get the best advice for vitamin D supplementation for your specific needs.