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Baby Nutrition, Health for the Body, Men's Health, Supplements, Women's Health

Vitamin D – The Sunshine Vitamin

March 27, 2015
Sunshine and Vitamin D

One of the most important supplements I take is Vitamin D. Ideally, we should be getting Vitamin D from the sun. Realistically, most of us are indoors all day and do not soak up nearly the amount of sun we need to make enough Vitamin D.

Why is Vitamin D so important?

Vitamin D is actually a misnomer, because it is not a vitamin, but, in fact, a fat-soluble steroid hormone obtained from sun exposure, the foods we eat, and supplementation.

A few of its vital roles include:

  • absorption of calcium to promote strong bones and teeth
  • regulation of the neuromuscular system for muscle control
  • regulation of the immune system to fight infection
  • support of the cardiovascular system for heart function and circulation
  • support of the respiratory system for lung function
  • aiding brain development
  • anti-cancer effects

Recent studies have shown that Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, weight gain, and inflammation as well as Type 2 Diabetes and emotional disorders such as depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. It was found that people with higher levels of Vitamin D generally have a lower risk of these diseases. This is possibly because scientists have discovered about 3,000 genes that are controlled by the Vitamin D levels in our bodies.

How do I get Vitamin D and how is it metabolized in my body?

1) Sunlight is the best way to get Vitamin D. Your body can potentially produce 10,000 – 25,000 International Units (I.U.’s) of Vitamin D in half the time it takes your skin to turn pink or burn in the sun during mid-day (e.g., if it takes you 30 minutes in the sun to burn, expose your skin for 15 minutes). The most Vitamin D is produced when a large part of your skin is exposed to the sun (i.e., the skin on your back, rather than just your arms and legs).

Metabolically speaking, when UVB rays from the sun hit your skin, Vitamin D3 is produced and taken to the liver where it is changed to 25-hydroxyvitamin D3. 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 is then sent to your kidneys and transformed into its activated form or 1,25-hydroxyvitamin D3, the form that allows Vitamin D to carry out its various tasks.

2) Some foods that contain higher levels of Vitamin D include:

– Cod liver oil – 500 I.U.’s per teaspoon
– Fatty fish – 792 (eel), 645 (trout), and 307 (wild salmon) I.U.’s per 3 ounce serving
– Portobello and Maitake mushrooms – 384 I.U.’s per diced cup (86g)
– Cheese – 134 I.U.’s per cup (122g)
– Egg Yolks (hard-boiled) – 44 I.U.’s per egg

When you ingest Vitamin D supplements or foods containing Vitamin D, your gut will send Vitamin D3 to your liver and repeat the same reactions mentioned above.

3) Vitamin D3 supplements are necessary if you can’t get enough sun exposure or eat enough Vitamin D rich foods to produce sufficient amounts in your body.

Who is at risk for Vitamin D deficiency?

Risk factors for Vitamin D deficiency include:

  • age > 50 – With age, our ability to convert sunlight into Vitamin D and our kidneys’ ability to convert Vitamin D into its usable form decreases.
  • people with more melanin in their skin (darker skin) – If you have dark skin, you may need up to 10 times more sun exposure to produce the same amount of Vitamin D as someone with fair skin.
  • obesity – Vitamin D is fat soluble and gets trapped in fatty tissue preventing metabolization in the body.
  • people with malabsorption or gut problems – Any gastrointestinal issues that may affect your ability to absorb fat will also affect your ability to absorb Vitamin D (e.g., Crohn’s Disease, Whipple’s Disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Celiac Disease, any type of liver disease).
  • sunscreen use and staying indoors – Using sunscreen blocks the UVB light needed in our skin to convert Vitamin D to its usable form. This is a dilemma as we also need sunscreen to protect against skin cancer from prolonged sun exposure.
  • geographic latitude – People who live north of 35 degrees latitude receive less sunlight.
  • use of certain medications – Anti-seizure medications, glucocorticoids (steroid medications), Rifampin (Tuberculosis medication), HIV medication, and St. John’s Wart have been found to affect Vitamin D metabolism.

What levels should my Vitamin D be at?

The old school of thought shows a wide “normal” range for Vitamin D levels from 30-100ng/ml. Extensive research has now shown that the optimum level should be between 40-60ng/ml. We will revisit how researchers have come up with this number in a later post.

How much Vitamin D do I need to take to reach optimum levels?
First, get your baseline Vitamin D levels checked. The test you want is a 25-hydroxyvitamin D or 25(OH) D test (remember, this is what is produced in your liver). If you are not deficient, you may only need 1000-2000 I.U.’s daily to maintain your levels. If you are deficient, (i.e. under 40ng/ml), the guidelines are as follows:

Age Under 5: 1000 units daily
Age 5-10: 2500 units daily
Adults: 5000-6000 units daily
Pregnant and Nursing Women: 5000-10000 units daily

In general, to achieve optimal levels, most adults and the geriatric population need to be taking between 5000-6000 I.U.’s of Vitamin D daily, especially during the winter months, and from all sources combined (sun, food, and supplements). Don’t worry about overdosing, as there have been no reported cases of Vitamin D toxicity below 10,000 I.U.’s of Vitamin D per day. As with anything, everyone responds differently to supplementation. Some people may require a smaller dose to reach optimal levels while others may require more. These are, of course, rough guidelines and the best way to determine how much you need is to recheck your levels at least once a year and adjust your dose accordingly.

What is the best form of Vitamin D to take and when should I take it?
Because it is a fat-soluble vitamin, the best form to take is liquid Vitamin D3 with your heaviest or fattiest meal of the day to maximize absorption. When I am pregnant or nursing, I take 6000 I.U.’s of Ortho Molecular Products Liquid Vitamin D3 daily. Otherwise, I take 5000 I.U.’s daily. For my son, I gave him Carlson Super Daily D3 drops for babies, 400 I.U.’s daily until he was 6 months old. Afterwards, I increased his dosage to 1000 I.U.’s daily using Ortho Molecular Product’s Vitamin D3. My most recent level (taken last summer) was 44ng/ml, while his level was 49 ng/ml. As you can see, taking 5000-6000 I.U.’s daily kept me just above the optimal level!

I hope you now have a better understanding of the basics of Vitamin D. Have a great weekend!

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

The Vitamin D Solution (Book Excerpt) by Micheal F Holick, PhD MD

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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

The Five Flavors

March 25, 2015
Five Flavors

I have been talking quite a bit about the thermal nature (cold and hot, yin and yang) of foods. Another important property that foods possess is its flavor or taste. In Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), there are five distinct flavors that also correlate with The Five Element Theory (another fundamental Chinese medicine theory). The flavors themselves have a thermal nature (read more about thermal nature here) as well as healing and restorative actions that can be used therapeutically to affect various organ systems.

The five flavors are sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, and salty.

Pungent and sweet are considered yang, warming, and their energies travel outward and up the body. Sour, bitter, and salty are yin, cooling and move energy inward and down the body.

According to the Five Element theory, the flavors are also closely associated with and affect our internal organs as follows:

  • Sour flavor associates with the liver and gall bladder (e.g., lemon, lime, pickles, sauerkraut, sour apple).
  • Bitter flavor associates with the heart and small intestine (e.g., alfalfa, bitter melon, romaine lettuce, rye).
  • Sweet flavor associates with the spleen, pancreas and stomach (e.g., apple, apricot, cherry, date, fig, beet, carrot, eggplant, squash, sweet potato, yam, most grains, all legumes such as beans, peas, lentils, most meats, dairy products).
  • Pungent flavor associates with the lungs and large intestine (e.g., spearmint, rosemary, garlic and all onion family members, all hot peppers, cayenne, fennel, anise, dill, mustard greens, horseradish, basil, nutmeg).
  • Salty flavor associates with the kidneys and bladder (e.g., salt, seaweed, soy sauce, miso).

Of course most foods will possess a combination of flavors (e.g., raspberries are sour and sweet, scallions are bitter and pungent, celery is bitter and sweet).

The flavors should be balanced in a healthy person’s diet, with the sweet flavor being the most important flavor, since its associated organs, the stomach, spleen, and pancreas, are located in the central part of the body where we digest and assimilate our food to receive the most nourishment. (As you can see in the above examples, many foods are sweet).  However, while the flavors benefit their associating organs, eating too much will actually result in the opposite effect and weaken the organ’s function. The take home message — flavors should also be balanced and in moderation. Are you sensing a pattern here? Balance is key.

What you need to know:

  • All foods are categorized into five flavors – sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, or salty.
  • Each flavor is also associated with and affects different internal organs in our bodies.
  • Eating foods of certain flavors, in moderation, benefits the organs it is associated with. (e.g. sour foods strengthen the liver and gall bladder, bitter foods strengthen the heart and small intestine, etc)

I will revisit this concept later and explain more in depth the function of each flavor.

Have a great day!

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Intro to Yin Yang Theory

March 23, 2015
Yin and Yang Crystals

A fundamental principle of Chinese Medicine is Yin and Yang Theory. In Chinese, yin (陰) literally means shade, while yang (陽) means the sun. Yin and Yang, in an essence, are pairs of opposites. Here are some examples*:

Yang                                    Yin

Active                                  Passive

Function                              Substance

Outside                                Inside

Mind                                    Body

Masculine                            Feminine

Light                                     Dark

Heat                                      Cold

Excess                                   Deficiency

Exterior                                 Interior

Expansion                             Contraction


Yin and Yang, Black and White

If we apply this to our foods and their thermal nature, yin foods will cool us down while yang foods will tend to warm us. Yang is energizing while yin is nourishing by building blood and fluids in our bodies. Yang contains ascending energy while yin contains descending energy.




Yin and Yang Theory can also be used to describe human personality and physiology*:

Yang                                              Yin

Warmer body and personality        Cooler body and personality

Dry skin/less body fluid                  Moist skin/more body fluid

Outgoing                                          Introverted

Active                                               Passive

Positive                                            Negative

Focused mind                                  Serene

Hyperactive mentality                     Unclear, dreamy

Aggressive                                        Timid

Angry, impatient                              Fearful, insecure

Loud voice                                       Soft voice

Urgent                                              Tardy

Logical                                              Intuitive

Quick                                                Slow

Motivated                                          Complacent

Red Complexion                               Pale complexion

In general, for someone who possesses a more characteristically yang constitution, both physically and mentally, it is best to avoid or limit foods that tend to warm and heat the body, such as spicy foods, garlic, and cayenne pepper. On the flip side, one with a more yin constitution should eat more warming foods and limit cooling foods such as raw lettuce, cucumber, and celery. The main goal is to maintain a constant balance between yin and yang in order to achieve physical and emotional health.  So balance and moderation is key as eating too much of anything, can put you from one extreme to the other.

What you need to know:

  • Yin and Yang Theory is used to describe pairs of opposites.
  • This principle can be extrapolated to describe food, physical attributes, as well as personality traits.
  • Balancing your body’s yin and yang is key to establishing and maintaining health.

Do you think you are more yin or yang?

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Thermal Nature of Food

March 21, 2015
Tomatoes and Cauliflower - Thermal Nature of Food

Hello universe and happy Spring! Welcome to my health and wellness blog!  I am so excited to share this project that I have been working on.  When I was practicing medicine, I found that my patients had many practical questions for me regarding nutrition, herbs, supplements, fitness, and stress management as well as more theoretical questions regarding Eastern medicine and philosophies, and how it affects them physically and emotionally. I am formally organizing this information and hope you will find it easy to understand and useful in your everyday lives.

I want to begin by talking about something that is important for everyone: the food you eat! More importantly I want to introduce a concept that not many people may be aware of, which is the thermal nature of food. This is a fundamental concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine and using food as medicine to heal. The three qualities that any food possesses are whether it is cooling/cold, warming/hot, or neutral in nature. When I say “hot” and “cold”, I am not only referring to the temperature of the food, but the actual property of the food and its ability to warm or cool your physical body. For example, we eat watermelon on a hot summer day, because it cools us down. We add ginger to our cooking, especially during the colder months because ginger contains a lasting warming property.

Summer Watermelon  Ginger





Click on the following links to see examples of common cooling, warming, and neutral foods.

So what determines whether a food is hot or cold? There are several theories that explain this*:

  1. Foods that take longer to grow (carrots, cabbage, ginseng) tend to be more warming than those that grow faster (lettuce, summer squash, cucumber).
  2. Eating cooked food is more warming than eating it raw.
  3. Warm or room-temperature food is more warming than cold or chilled food.
  4. Red, orange, or yellow colored foods are more warming than similar foods that are blue, green, or purple. (i.e. a red apple is more warming than a green apple, a lime is more cooling than a lemon)
  5. Cooking a food with more time, higher temperatures, greater pressure, more fat and oil, or less water will make it more warming.
  6. Manipulating food in various ways will have a more warming effect.  Finer cutting, pounding, grinding, pressing, stirring, and chewing breaks the food down and releases more energy and heat.
  7. Using gas or wood heat to cook a food creates more warmth than using electricity.  Microwaved food conveys the least amount of warmth to a food.
  8. Foods grown in temperate zones are more warming than foods in tropical or subtropical climates.

Cooking probably has the highest influence on the property of food. In general, moderate cooking (shorter cooking times and lower temperatures) makes it easier for the body to assimilate the nutrients of a food without destroying them. Raw foods, on the other hand, require a stronger digestive system to best assimilate its nutrients. So those who suffer from fatigue or low energy, allergies, and a weak digestive system will assimilate cooked foods better.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Most foods tend to have either a cooling, warming, or neutral effect on our bodies.
  • The way a food grows, its color, and the way it is prepared greatly affects its thermal nature.
  • Moderate cooking (shorter cooking times and lower temperatures) is the best way to assimilate a food’s nutrients.

I will discuss next when you should choose warming or cooling foods.

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford
The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia by Rebecca Wood

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