An alternative to vitamin D supplements?

Posted 11 Feb 2013 — by Todd
Category Diet, Fitness, Health, Hormesis

Screen Shot 2013-02-10 at 11.51.13 PMMy recent post on Why I don’t take vitamin D supplements generated a lot of interest and a few misconceptions.  In that article, I did not suggest any practical alternatives to taking high dose vitamin D supplements.  Here I will suggest a way that may provide the benefits of vitamin D without popping any pills, spending all day in the sun, or ingesting copious amounts of fish.

Some readers got the idea that I believe vitamin D is not beneficial, and that I discount the evidence from studies that show the benefits.  I want to dispel that notion.  I do acknowledge the key role that vitamin D and the vitamin D receptor (VDR) play in bone mineralization and regulation of  innate and adaptive immunity, and among other things.  I further acknowledge that many (but certainly not all) studies support an association between higher vitamin D3 levels and reduced incidence of diseases such as cancer.

As I wrote:

Nobody doubts the important role of vitamin D in the body. But are higher levels of a hormone like vitamin D–whether or not provided as a supplement– always a good thing?

My doubts are focused on several points:

  • Under-appreciation of the fact that vitamin D is a hormone with diverse and dose-dependent systemic effects, still not fully understood
  • Misleading  claims that vitamin D supplementation is “equivalent”  to vitamin D from sun exposure. While the two forms are chemically identical, levels of vitamin D3 synthesized from sun exposure are self-limiting due to feedback regulation.  What happens when we chronically exceed natural limits?
  • Inadequate attention to the possible effects of chronic vitamin D supplementation on homeostatic down-regulation of the VDR receptor. See this discussion bv Dr. David Agus of USC medical school.
  • Inadequate study of the possible long term adverse effects of chronic vitamin D supplementation. Few studies look beyond 4 years. Hormone replacement therapy was in favor for 50 years before the risks came to light . Things don’t necessarily look any more promising when synthetic hormones are replaced bioidentical hormones.

My article created a dilemma for several commenters. These people acknowledged the risks, but nevertheless cited  benefits they personally experienced  from supplementing with vitamin D–ranging from fewer colds and flu, to relief of autoimmune symptoms, and even lessening of depression.

For these people, a key question remains:

Is there a way to get the benefits of vitamin D supplementation, while avoiding the dependency and risks of taking vitamin D capsules daily for the rest of your life?  While I don’t have a definitive proven answer to that question, recent research leads me to speculate here that there is a promising approach that is within everyone’s reach.

It lies within a powerful natural biological process called autophagy.

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Conquer your fears

Posted 13 Dec 2012 — by Todd
Category Psychology

What follows is a guest post by a frequent contributor to the comments and Discussion Forum of this blog, Dr. Nate Eliason.  Nate, who has an M.D. in Pathology, has written on the Discussion Forum about his own success in applying hormesis to vision improvement.  As someone who sees the medical system “from the inside”, Nate has observed that medical interventions such as antidepressants often deliver short-term benefits while paradoxically causing long-term impairments.  This is the mirror image of hormesis, which promotes long-term health by deliberate application of short-term “stress”.

In this post, Nate focuses on an interesting case where “controlled stress” is particularly useful: the treatment of phobias by exposure therapy.  

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy has interested me since my days in medical school. It is a very effective, but often underused therapy for phobias, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and anxiety.  In writing this post, I have relied on David Tolin’s excellent book, “Face Your Fears“.  I highly recommend it.

When fear becomes a problem. Fear is a natural emotion, necessary for our survival. A good analogy for how fear works is a car alarm system.  A well-functioning car alarm system protects our car by alerting us when someone is attempting to break in.  A car alarm which constantly goes off, however, is more harmful than helpful. In the same way, some people have a “broken” fear system, in which fear becomes hyperactive, turning into anxiety. Common anxiety disorders include panic disorder, agoraphobia, phobias, social phobia, OCD, generalized anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and separation anxiety disorder.  All of these are categorized as specific disorders, they have many features in common, and all respond to exposure therapy. While exposure therapy is primarily used for dealing with pathologic fears, it can also help us deal with routine fears which aren’t severe enough to be pathologic. For instance, most people have some fear of public speaking–but not to the degree that it is pathologic.  The same principles apply in overcoming non-pathologic fears. Towards the end of this post, I’ll give some examples on how I’ve used exposure therapy to deal with my own fears.

Fear is necessarily unpleasant because its “purpose” is to help us stay safe by avoiding dangerous situations.  However, when it becomes overactive, our entire life can be unpleasant. Exposure therapy deliberately ‘exposes’ us to fear in order to help us learn how to bring it under control and experience it in a normal way.  I need to emphasize that one of the primary objectives in exposure therapy is to feel the fear.  That’s right–our goal is to feel fear, and then to learn to deal with that fear. Read More

Why I don’t take vitamin D supplements

Posted 11 Nov 2012 — by Todd
Category Uncategorized

Vitamin D has been associated with numerous health benefits, including cardiovascular and immune health, bone strength, and prevention of cancer. However, studies claim that most of us are deficient in vitamin D, and thereby unnecessarily vulnerable to increased heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, infection and autoimmune disorders. According to a review of recent studies in Natural News, there is a woldwide epidemic of vitamin D deficiency:  59% of the population is “vitamin D deficient”.  The article goes onto to speculate that “What’s becoming increasingly clear from all the new research is that vitamin D deficiency may be the common denominator behind our most devastating modern degenerative diseases.”

Supplementation with vitamin D capsules is advocated even by “primal” advocate  Mark Sisson, normally one to take inspiration from our paleolithic ancestors, shunning medication and embracing a lifestyle of eating whole foods and engaging in moderately stressful, playful exercise:

We can’t all bask in the midday sun.. For those of us unable to run shirtless and shoeless through a sun kissed meadow…our option is oral intake… food will help, but it won’t suffice. You need something stronger. ..take a good D3 supplement if you can’t get real sunlight. As long as you don’t go overboard on the dosage, you’re good to go. If it’s not in an oil-based capsule, just take it with a bit of fatty food (not a stretch for an Primal eater). It travels the same pathway and results in the same benefits. It’s always easier to just let nature take its course, but it’s not always realistic. A good general rule is 4000 IU per day.

Therefore, we should supplement with vitamin D.  Right?

Not so fast.  A closer examination shows that low vitamin D levels may be a consequence, not a cause, of poor health.  And that supplementation with Vitamin D may actually be counterproductive.  Let me explain.

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AHS 2012

Posted 13 Aug 2012 — by Todd
Category Uncategorized

What a great conference!  I had heard such high praise for the inaugural meeting of the Ancestral Health Symposium last August, but I was too late to register in 2011.  This year I submitted an abstract that was accepted as a poster presentation.   For those who missed it, I’ve attached a copy of my presentation below.

What an edifying and uplifting experience! We just wrapped up three days of excellent talks, panels, poster presentations and plenty of informal networking and socializing. This conference is really the hub of the Paleo movement. The emphasis was on the most recent developments in the scientific, cultural, political, and practical approaches to overcoming the contemporary health epidemics that derive from a mismatch between contemporary lifestyles and the biology of our evolutionary heritage.  The talks and panels were diverse, covering nutrition, cholesterol, cancer, immune health, farming, exercise, and many other topics.

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See you at the Ancestral Health Symposium

Posted 15 Jul 2012 — by Todd
Category Uncategorized

I’m excited to be poster presenter at AHS 2012, meeting August 9-11 at Harvard University:

 

My presentation at AHS 2012 will be about the role of hormesis in optimal health

UPDATE:  Here is a link to the poster sessions – scroll down to see the full abstracts and biographies.  You’ll see my talk and abstract listed there:

AHS 2012 Poster Sessions

 

The Ancestral Health Symposium is considered by many to be the “Woodstock of Evolutionary Medicine”.  According to the Ancestral Health Society website, this annual event “fosters collaboration among scientists, healthcare professionals and laypersons who study and communicate about health from an evolutionary perspective to develop solutions to our modern health challenges.”

This year’s Ancestral Health Symposium will be only their second annual meeting.  Last year’s inaugural meeting was the buzz of the paleosphere, featuring a long list of paleo luminaries familiar to readers of this blog, including:  Loren Cordain, Mark Sisson, Robert Lustig, Gary Taubes, Seth Roberts, Robb Wolf, Stephan Guyenet, Michael Eades, Denise Minger, Chris Masterjohn, Doug McGuff, Erwan LaCorre, Tom Naughton, Richard Nikoley, J. Stanton, Emily Deans and others.  AHS 2011 was informative, exciting and featured both formal and informal debate and even controversy.  For a great synopsis of last year’s meeting, here are a few good review posts:

Nora Gedgadaus and Denise Minger

This year’s roundup promises to be equally impressive.  Take a few minutes to look at the program,  speakers, and poster presenters, as well as details on how to attend:

If you are interested in attending, my understanding is that tickets are moving fast and are likely to sell out.

If you plan to be there, I’d like to meet you; send me a note using the contact form at the right of the blog page.

Todd

 

 

How one person improved his vision

Posted 21 Apr 2012 — by Todd
Category Uncategorized

One of the articles on this blog that has garnered the most interest and generated the most comments–both here and on the Discussion Forum–concerns the use of plus lenses and threshold focusing in order to reverse myopia. In my post “Improve eyesight— and throw away your glasses“, and the accompanying page on “Rehabilitation“, I showed how the principles of Hormetism can be applied to restore visual acuity and eliminate the need to wear glasses — without the need for laser surgery or other artificial measures. In essence, reading or viewing “at the edge of focus” for extended intervals over a period of about a year will stimulate the eye to physically shorten, substantially reducing or eliminating myopia. In my post, I cited research supporting research for the Incremental Retinal Defocus Theory of myopia and its reversal.

The article has generated a lot of interest, but also some skepticism.  People who otherwise recognize that weight lifting can remodel muscles and diet can change metabolism fail to appreciate how the same principle of gradually applied stimulus can change the focal range of the eye. Since I wrote the article, many contributors to the Discussion Forum have chimed in with their progress, their questions, and their success stories.  Quite a few individuals have been able to significantly reduce the strength of their optical prescriptions.  In a few cases, they have been able to return to 20/20 vision, or better.

Sometimes real success stories can inspire us to try a new approach.  So I invited one of our Forum members, who goes by the screen name “Shadowfoot”, to share his story with you.

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The Iceman

Posted 29 Jan 2012 — by Todd
Category Fitness, Hormesis, Psychology

Wim Hof can raise or lower his body temperature at will, overriding his autonomic nervous system. He is able to sit in a box of ice for almost two hours. He can swim 50 meters under arctic ice. Wearing only shorts and going barefoot, he has run a marathon in Lapland and climbed through snow to the summits of Mt. Everest and Mt. Kilamanjaro. In carrying out these feats, he is able to avoid hypothermia, the normal human response to extreme cold. Monitoring by physiologists show that he keeps his core temperature constant and normal during these challenges.

Yet Wim is not a genetic freak or Tibetan monk. He is a 52 year old Dutch man without much body fat. He believes that anyone can adapt to the cold and learn to control body temperature.

In this article, I will try to answer two questions:

  • How does he do it, and can anyone really do the same?
  • Is this basically an impressive stunt, or is there any benefit to learning Wim’s methods?
I will end by reporting on a preliminary experiment of my own with cold exposure.

Hormesis and the limbic brain

Posted 02 Jan 2012 — by Todd
Category Health, Hormesis, Psychology

There is a powerful way to re-program your brain that has been largely overlooked.  A way to change your relationship with eating, sleep, sex and basic emotions like fear, love and aggression.  While cognitive therapies can modify behavior, they are of questionable help in altering these basic drives.

Our drives are largely governed by two small primitive brain structures, the hypothalamus and the amygdala – shown in red in the drawing at right.  Remarkably, these two tiny structures are respectively the size of a pea and an almond — representing less than 1% of the brain’s three pounds of neural matter. Together, they constitute the control center of the paleomammalian brain–the “limbic” brain that governs our basic urges and desires as well as our homeostatic “set points” for temperature, sleep, body fat and behavioral urges like sex drive and aggression.

You can attempt to change your behavior by conscious determination and cognitive therapies.  But most attempts at intentional change are temporary and are doomed to fail in the long term because they are strongly resisted by powerful homeostatic processes encoded in our limbic brain.  Modern medicine recognizes the importance of homeostatic drives, and has developed pharmaceuticals to override them with diet pills, sleeping pills and antidepressants.  In fact, these medications do shift the balance of neurotransmitters and neural activity — at least in the short term.  But such chemical interventions are short-sighted “crutches” that promote dependency and come with side effects.  Often they exhibit  a “tolerance” effect: the brain’s control system fights back and weakens the impact of the medication.  To maintain the benefit, doses are increased, but this strategy may not always work.

This article will explain how the hypothalamus and amygdala contribute to the regulation of basic drives like eating, sleeping and sexuality, and how the amygdala can actually override the hypothalamus by enhancing the reward value of foods and other stimuli. (As I will explain, however, my take on “food reward” is different from that of Stephan Guyenet and other advocates of the Food Reward Hypothesis). This dual-control model can help explain anomalies such as obesity, addiction, and disordered sleep.

Finally,  I will provide suggestions on effective and natural ways to re-program the hypothalamus and amygdala and change your homeostatic set points, using the principle of hormesis.

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Obesity starts in the brain

Posted 25 Nov 2011 — by Todd
Category Diet, Health, Psychology

 

Where does obesity begin?  What drives you to eat too much or expend too little energy, and why has there been such a dramatic increase in obesity since 1980? Some recently popular explanations are the carbohydrate / insulin hypothesis (CIH), singling out the prevalence of carbohydrates in the diet, and the food reward hypothesis (FRH), putting the primary blame on the availability of “hyper-palatable” food.

In this post I will present evidence for new paradigm, which I call the  Hypothalamic Hypothesis (HH).  I think it provides a better explanation for the facts of obesity than the CIH and FRH theories, and leads to some different advice about how best to lose weight.

Some recent research suggests that obesity starts with specific physical changes to the brain. Appetite is regulated by the hypothalamus, particularly the arcuate nucleus (ARC), ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH) and lateral hypothalamus (LH). It turns out that two very specific changes to the brain cause us to get get hungry, overeat, burn less fat, and gain weight. And these changes to particular brain structures come about as a result of what you eat, eating frequency, and to some extent your activity level. The problem of obesity or overweight is often portrayed as a single problem, but it is really two problems, and each type of obesity corresponds to one type of brain alteration. Failure to distinguish these two types of obesity has resulted in much confusion. In part, the confusion comes about because these two types of obesity frequently occur together in the same individual, although one type is usually dominant. If you understand this, and you understand the role your brain plays, you can become more successful at losing excess weight.

I’ll spend a little time explaining the theory, provide some specific suggestions for how it can help you fine tune your weight loss program, and try to point out why I think the Hypothalamic Hypothesis overcomes some weaknesses of the other obesity theories.

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Voluntary stress

Posted 22 Sep 2011 — by Todd
Category Hormesis, Psychology, Stoicism

When does stress help you and when does it hurt you? There is no doubt that stresses of the wrong sort can lead to anxiety, emotional turmoil — and eventually depression and diseases like atherosclerosis and cancer.  Yet a central theme of this blog is that certain stresses are “hormetic”: at the right dose and frequency, stress can actually make you stronger and more resilient.  The many posts on this blog illustrate how stress can be channelled to build muscle, retrain appetite, improve eyesight, strengthen immunity, defeat allergies, and tame addictions and anger.  Judicious exposure to stress can even promote joy and excellent health.

But one can come away from the study of hormesis with the misleading impression that it’s all about adjusting the level and timing of stressors to induce an appropriate adaptive or defensive response.  In this article, I would like to focus on a frequently overlooked ingredient in hormesis:  the role of intention, attitude and voluntary choice.  If you omit this ingredient, you are leaving out an important element of the way that stress helps you become stronger.

Voluntary, deliberate exposure to stress can be particularly effective in providing psychological benefits, including overcoming anxieties, obsessions and phobias, and vanquishing appetite cravings, addictions. Beyond overcoming such self-defeating tendencies, deliberate exposure works to unleash confidence and generate a sense of joy and accomplishment.

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