Simple Nutrients and Foods That Can Save Your Life

May 2009 13 Simple Nutrients and Foods That Can Save Your Life
Dr. David Brownstein’s
May 2009
Vol. 2, Issue 5
N atural W a y to H ealth
Achieving & Maintaining Your Optimal Health
4 What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know 2
4 Fortification Helps, But Decent Food Better 2
4 The Natural Way to Get Your Vitamins 3
4 Case History: Signs of Toxic Overload 4
4 Most Common Nutrient Deficiencies 5
4 In the News: Mercury Hidden in Your Food 6
4 More Minerals Your Body Needs 7
4 Ask Dr. Brownstein 8

Simple Nutrients and Foods
That Can Save Your Life

I have been practicing holistic medicine for more than 17 years. When I first began researching and studying holistic medicine, I was overwhelmed with the various forms of supplements available. How could anyone decide which form of vitamin C was best? When I went into a health food store, there were more than 20 brands to choose from. I had no idea which brand to choose and why one brand might be better than another. Now, 17 years later, I am able to make better choices when it comes to supplements.

Most doctors today would be just as confused as I once was. In medical school we were taught a model of disease. We were trained to diagnose illness and then to prescribe the one drug to treat the illness. Nowhere in my medical training was I taught about health and how to maintain and achieve it. Later, when I became interested in holistic medicine, I began to test my patients for various nutrient levels. I was astounded at the results. The vast majority of my patients, especially the ill ones, had many different nutrient deficiencies. Correcting these imbalances with a nutritional program has proved very effective for the vast majority of my patients.

There is no question, however, that conventional medicine has an inherent bias against nutrient therapies. Recent media attention given to multivitamin use in more than 161,000 women illustrates the bias. The Women’s Health Initiative looked at eight years of multivitamin use in the participants. The authors of this study reported that the use of a multivitamin did not lower a woman’s risk for heart disease and cancer.1

Media coverage of this study was astounding. It made headlines in nearly every major newspaper. In The New York Times, the headline read, “Vitamin Pills: A False Hope?” The article went on to quote a prominent physician, who claimed, “The public’s belief in the benefits of vitamins and nutrients is not supported by the available scientific data.” I wonder to which data he refers.

If he is referring to the data found in this study, then he needs to reread it. It was done via a questionnaire that participants filled out. No one was given a specific multivitamin to take; the women merely were asked whether they took a multivitamin. So, each woman was on her own to pick her own multivitamin and to take it. In fact, it is unclear whether the participants actually took multivitamins.

Furthermore, many multivitamins on the market are of very low quality. Some contain synthetic vitamins instead of natural, bioidentical vitamins. Many of the negative studies about vitamins are the result of using these synthetic vitamins. For example, many of the problems with vitamin E and its association with lung cancer is because of using the synthetic form of vitamin E known as dl-alpha tocopherol instead of natural vitamin E, which is d-alpha tocopherol and mixed tocopherols.

Avoid synthetic vitamins; use only products that contain natural vitamins. I will devote a future newsletter to teach you how to read labels and understand the differences between synthetic and natural vitamins.

What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know
Are nutrients vilified by conventional medicine?

This answer is easy: yes.

Many doctors have no knowledge of and, unfortunately, very little interest in natural therapies. This is why I write my books, blog, and compose this newsletter. I want to educate you about the effectiveness of these natural therapies, show you there is a safe way, and tell you why they often outperform conventional drug therapies.

Nutritional deficiencies were not a priority in medical school teaching. The only nutritional deficiencies we were taught about were diseases like scurvy — a severe vitamin C deficiency.

Vitamin C is necessary to produce collagen, which is a protein that holds tissues together and gives skin and other tissue their elasticity. Scurvy leads to the formation of spongy gums (where the teeth fall out), bleeding, depression, heart disease, and death.

During the 1700s, sailors were dying from scurvy on long voyages. Dr. James Lind (1716- 1794) thought there was something in citrus fruit that would prevent scurvy. He performed the first experiment by giving a group of sailors citrus fruit and then compared them with a control group.

Those who were given citrus did not develop scurvy. Lind published his findings, but he was virtually ignored. It took almost 40 years for his ideas to be accepted. It sounds like not much has changed in the last 250 years!

In medical school, we did learn about scurvy. We were basically taught the “all-or-none” theory about vitamin C. In other words, if you did not have scurvy and all of its manifestations, then you did not have a vitamin C deficiency.

This idea of an “all-or-none” theory did not sit right with me. Why couldn’t someone be a little vitamin C deficient? I see patients with low iron levels who are not terribly anemic. I take care of patients with slightly lowered thyroid hormone levels who are not myxedemic, which is a severe, life threateningly low thyroid-hormone level.

The “all-or-none” hypothesis was not limited to vitamin C. It was applied to nearly every nutrient about which we were taught. Now, don’t think we were taught a lot about nutrients; we weren’t. But the nutritional teaching we did receive was inadequate: We were only taught about the severe depletion of nutrients that results in a life threatening situation. I now know better.

Fortification Helps, But Decent Food Better

Another example of this is vitamin B1, or thiamine. A severe deficiency of vitamin B1 results in a condition known as beriberi. Symptoms of beriberi include depression, weakness, pain, irregular heart rate, edema, heart failure, and death. In medical school, we were taught if you did not have beriberi, you did not have a thiamine deficiency.

However, I can assure you from my 17 years of checking thiamine levels there are many individuals who have low thiamine levels yet not low enough to manifest all of the signs of beriberi.

One of the reasons that we don’t see such severe levels of nutrient depletions causing the worst-case scenarios such as full-blown scurvy and beriberi is that our food is more plentiful and has been fortified with nutrients to prevent these illnesses.

This fortification has been effective. Many cereals, breads, and pasta have been fortified (that is, items have been added) with various nutrients to prevent serious, life-threatening illnesses.

Why is the fortification of food necessary? Shouldn’t food already have these important nutrients in them in order to prevent these serious illnesses?

The answer to these two questions goes to the heart of why I am so passionate about holistic medicine. Once you educate yourself about the importance of eating whole food products and why it is best to avoid refined food products, you can make the right food choices for you and your family. The right choices will lead to a healthier lifestyle.

The Natural Way To Get Your Vitamins

Going into the grocery store and looking at the wide variety of food products available can be a daunting task if you are trying to choose between refined and unrefined food. A refined food product is one that has been processed to increase shelf life. This refining process generally removes nearly all of the vital nutrients naturally found in the items.

For example, polished white rice has most of the B-vitamins removed from the finished product. Guess what happens to populations that eat primarily polished white rice? They get beriberi at high rates, because thiamine has been removed during the refining process. Beriberi was discovered in the 1800s by a Japanese doctor who observed that low ranking crew who ate nothing but polished white rice developed beriberi at high rates, compared with higher-ranking crew members, who ate a more diverse diet.

Back to refined vs. unrefined foods. Unrefined rice contains the B-vitamins that the rice naturally acquired. Why would food companies refine products, such as rice? I am sure you can guess this one. To prolong shelf life and maximize profits.

Most refined food products can sit on the shelf for much longer periods of time, compared to unrefined products. Unrefined products contain vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, which can undergo oxidation over time. If you bite into an apple and let it sit for a short period of time, oxidation starts to turn the apple brown and then rot. This oxidation process is nature’s way of recycling.

However, if you refine a product and remove the naturally occurring items, the oxidation process is delayed for long periods. Companies refine food products, such as oil, flour, salt, and sugar, in order to extend the shelf life of the product, sometimes indefinitely, thus maximizing profits.

As refined food products began to be consumed in larger amounts in the 1800s, many illnesses like scurvy and beriberi were being seen at epidemic rates. Our government became concerned about this rapid growth of illness and decided to fortify many refined foods to prevent these life-threatening diseases.

In order to combat this, the government mandated that many refined products be fortified with various vitamins and minerals. For example, most refined grain products (breads from refined flour, sugar, and salt) are fortified with B-vitamins, such as thiamine.

This fortification can prevent life-threatening illnesses such as beriberi but still leave people deficient in these various nutrients, leading to chronic disease.

It is best to avoid all refined products. These items are devitalized substances lacking the natural nutrients that should be found in the food product. Eating a diet consisting largely of refined food products will lead to a devitalized body and to illness.

Unfortunately, the standard American diet for most of us is full of refined foods. Is it any wonder we have an epidemic of chronic illnesses never seen before in human existence?

Keep in mind that our maker designed us to eat healthy, unrefined food in order to take the nutrients from the food to help our body achieve its optimal health. When we eat refined food, we have to use our own store of vitamins and minerals to help properly digest the food products. Therefore, the long-term use of refined food ensures nutrient deficiencies.

As previously mentioned, conventional medicine relies on the “all-or-none” idea. For example, either you have a thiamine deficiency, manifested by beriberi, or you don’t. When I lecture to doctors and medical students, I ask them the question, Why couldn’t you have a mild, moderate, or severe deficiency of thiamine?”

Common sense would dictate that there would be different clinical presentations in mild, moderate, or severe thiamine deficiency. Conventional medicine may not recognize a mild or moderate deficiency, but I see them occur in my patients on a daily basis.

Most Common Nutrient Deficiencies

Every patient who walks in my door gets a complete history and physical exam. As part of my initial workup, I order laboratory tests, including an analysis of vitamins, minerals, and hormones. I walk patients through the most common nutritional deficiencies that I find and what can be done about them. Keep in mind, the best source of any nutrient occurs in whole foods. Therefore, it is best to eat a diet full of whole foods. one that supplies the largest amount of nutrients to our bodies.

Here are the most common nutritional items that I find are deficient in the vast majority of my patients:

Vitamin B12. I discussed vitamin B12 in the March newsletter. It is necessary for energy production in each of the cells of our body. Vitamin B12 deficiency can manifest in many ways, including fatigue, headaches, brain fog, and altered cognition, anxiety, depression, neuropathies, body aches and pains, transient ischemic attacks, infertility, heart disease, Bell’s palsy, and restless legs. Vitamin B12 is best given by injection. I train my patients to do their own vitamin B12 shots at home. The cost of home injections is minimal, a few dollars per month.

There are oral and nasal forms of vitamin B12, but they don’t have the clinical benefits of the injectable form. Always use natural vitamin B12 — hydroxyl-, methyl-, or adenosyl-cobalamine versions. Avoid synthetic vitamin B12, which is cyanocobalamine.

The cost of a therapeutic trial of injectable vitamin B12 is less than a blood test. Therefore, if you have any of the signs and symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, consider first a trial of injectable, natural vitamin B12.

Vitamin B1 (thiamine). Thiamine is from the family of B-vitamins. We discussed severe thiamine deficiency earlier (beriberi). Thiamine is found in pork meat, whole grains, vegetables, oranges, liver, flax, and eggs. It is necessary for catalyzing hundreds of reactions in the body. It is used for energy production, immune system functioning, neurotransmitter production, and synthesis of myelin, the sheath covering our nerves. Thiamine levels can easily be checked by a blood test. Low levels can be treated with either oral or injectable thiamine.

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). Vitamin B6 deficiency is, unfortunately, common. A deficiency of Vitamin B6 is associated with anemia, depression, skin problems, high blood pressure, edema, and elevated homocysteine levels. It is easily checked in a blood test. I use a lot of vitamin B6 in my practice. It can be given either via an injection or orally. Oral doses range from 10 to 100 mg/day. There is some toxicity associated with vitamin B6, so larger doses (more than 100 mg/day) need to be followed by a healthcare practitioner knowledgeable about nutritional medicine.

Magnesium. This mineral is crucial to our well-being. I regularly supplement with magnesium on a large number of my patients. Unfortunately, magnesium deficiency is occurring at epidemic rates in our society. Our food supply is woefully inadequate of magnesium. In fact, only 32 percent of the U.S. population ingests the recommended daily allowance of magnesium.

Furthermore, calcium can act as an antagonist to magnesium. So, if you are supplementing with calcium you actually can worsen a magnesium deficiency problem. I don’t think anyone should supplement with calcium without taking extra magnesium. It is used to produce energy and helps regulate calcium levels in the body, and it is necessary for maintaining optimal bone strength and function.

Magnesium deficiency has been associated with heart disease, abnormal heart rhythms, asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and muscle disorders.

If magnesium supplementation is recommended to you, make sure to take it at least several hours later than taking any calcium and calcium-containing substances. Magnesium helps relax the body and can be taken at bedtime to facilitate sleep. Oral doses range from 100 to 300 mg/day. The side effects of magnesium supplementation are gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea.

These side effects can be remedied easily by lowering the dose. When measuring magnesium levels, I suggest measuring red blood cell magnesium levels only. Serum magnesium levels are woefully inadequate.

More Minerals Your Body Needs

Zinc. Like magnesium, zinc is a mineral that is important to the body. Zinc deficiency is occurring at epidemic rates across the United States. It functions as an antioxidant and can protect the skin against aging. It can improve the body’s healing capacity. Zinc also has been shown to help prevent and treat colds and other respiratory illnesses. It has been used to prevent sunburns. Recent research has demonstrated its ability to treat (and possibly prevent) macular degeneration.

For those undergoing surgery, pre-treating with zinc supplementation aids markedly in the healing process. Doses of zinc vary between 25 to 100 mg/ day.

Zinc can act as an antagonist to copper, however. Therefore, if zinc supplementation is being considered, copper levels need to be measured as well. I generally supplement both zinc and copper together (though taken at opposite times of the day). When measuring zinc levels, I suggest doing a red blood cell zinc analysis. It is much more accurate than regular serum tests.

Copper. Copper is an essential mineral for both plants and animals. It is used in the body to aid in detoxification and in energy production. It is necessary for facilitating iron intake. Its deficiency can produce an anemia that can mimic iron-deficient anemia. Copper depletion is all too common. Illnesses and symptoms of copper deficiency include high triglycerides, abnormal fat metabolism, fatty liver disease, depression, and an elevated risk of sunburn. Copper dosages vary between 1 and 3 mg/day.

When measuring copper levels, I suggest using red blood cell copper levels. Standard serum levels are not reliable. As previously stated, copper can antagonize zinc absorption in the body. Therefore, it is best to take copper at a different time from ingesting a zinc or zinc-containing supplement. One side effect of copper supplementation is nausea. Taking copper with food minimizes this complication.

There are other vitamins and minerals that can be checked in the blood, hair, or urine. Do I think all nutrient levels need to be checked before beginning supplementation with nutrients? The answer to this is unequivocally “no.”

However, you can check the appropriate nutrients for your specific concerns and needs. Having said that, I find that the cost of checking red blood cell zinc, copper, and magnesium levels is relatively low, which makes it worthwhile to check once a year or every other year. Another inexpensive way to test minerals is through a hair-mineral analysis. I will discuss hair-mineral analysis in a future newsletter.

It is important to use good quality supplements. I have found many over-the-counter supplements are of poor quality and contain substances that are not healthy. I will devote a newsletter to discussing how to choose a good supplement and why it is so important to demand quality out of your vitamins.

I will also teach you how to properly read a vitamin label so that you can educate yourself about whether the product is worthwhile to ingest.

Dr. B’s Case History of the Month Low Energy and Aching Muscles Are Signs of Toxic Overload

In each issue, I will share with you the story of one of my patients and how sometimes simple alternative approaches can solve major health problems. Names and some details have been changed for privacy’s sake, but the problems and their resolutions are real. Dr. David Brownstein

Mary, 62, had complained for years about fatigue and aching, irritated muscles. Her medical history was significant; she had breast cancer, which was treated surgically five years ago. “I have been to so many doctors and have gotten no help. All they want to do is prescribe more medications, which I cannot take. I am too sensitive to medications,” she said.

To monitor her breast cancer, Mary was undergoing computerized tomography (CT) scans every three to six months. This was a problem for her. “Every time they use the dye for the CT scan in me, I become more and more ill,” she said. The dye injected for the scan made her break out in severe hives. To combat this, Mary was treated with steroids, with little result. The steroids caused her many side effects, including an inability to sleep, and she lost her appetite when taking them.

The dye also caused severe itching, which had become intolerable. Mary works as a hairstylist. On a daily basis she is exposed to many different chemicals. My experience has shown that hairstylists often have toxic levels of heavy metals, particularly mercury. Often, they have to undergo detoxification in order for their immune system and liver to function optimally.

Mary and I have been working for two years to enhance her health. On a hair test, she was found to have high mercury levels, confirmed with a heavy metal challenge test. Furthermore, she was found to have low thyroid hormone levels. For the last year, we were trying to do a gentle mercury detox, due to her sensitivities.

Mary was feeling somewhat better on a detoxification regimen of vitamin C, MSM, and alpha-lipoic acid, all of which aid in the removal of mercury.

I also treated her with a small dose of thyroid hormone and iodine to help her hypothyroid condition. I was feeling about 20 percent improved and I was grateful for that, but I was nowhere near what I wanted to be,” she said.

Many patients complain about low energy and aching muscles. These symptoms can be a sign of an inability of the liver to handle the toxin load presented to it and an inability of energy-producing cells to manufacture enough energy for the muscles to optimally function. One of the metabolic pathways in the body responsible for optimizing energy production and detoxification is the methylation pathway.

Recall from the September issue of Natural Way to Health my discussion of the MTHFR enzyme, which helps the body to convert folic acid to its activated form, folinic acid. Approximately 20 percent of the population has a problem with this enzyme. It can be checked easily with a routine blood test.

Mary was checked for a defect in this enzyme by blood testing. She came up positive by having a defect (C677T homozygous). This defect could explain Mary’s problem with producing an adequate amount of energy. It comes as no surprise that she was having a hard time detoxifying herself from the substances to which she was exposed on the job.

Taking folic acid would be useless for Mary because her body could not convert it to the activated form, folinic acid. So I placed Mary on a substance that I helped develop, called DMG Complete, which is available at my office via www.centerforholisticmedicine. com or (866) 877-6467. DMG Complete has nutrients to stimulate the methylation pathway, particularly for those with MTHFR defects.

This Feels Wonderful

Mary sent me a fax approximately two months after starting the DMG (two pills twice per day) that read, My experience with DMG Complete was that within three hours of taking my first pill I had a sense that my whole body was calming. Three days later, my tongue flattened out (it had been swollen) and my floppy gums hardened about a month later. Slowly, my extreme fatigue faded away. It took at least six weeks. I was experiencing a funny feeling in my arms and legs and that sensation is finally gone. I am feeling normal again and I am getting my physical strength back. Finally, I can exercise and lift weights again. I haven’t been able to do that in a while.”

Mary also told me during her return visit that many of her allergies have subsided. She was thrilled. “I have been working on this for years. I wish I would have known about this a few years ago. It would have saved me a lot of heartache. This feels wonderful,” she said. I now check all of my patients for MTHFR defects.

The test costs around $150 and is available from nearly all laboratories. If you are found to have a defect, you may want to have your family members checked, because it is a hereditary condition. However, it is a hereditary condition for which there is a relatively easy solution: take the right supplements. I have found DMG Complete (two tablets two times per day) and MSM 4,000 mg/day very effective solutions for this problem.

In the News: Reading Between the Medical Headlines Mercury Hiding In Everyday Foods

One of the most common toxicities I see in my patients is mercury toxicity. Where do you get mercury from? Amalgam fillings (silver-gray fillings in teeth) are the most common source of mercury. Fish is a another common source of mercury.

Another, less-recognized source is high-fructose corn syrup. To make the syrup, industry can use mercury-grade caustic soda and hydrochloric acid, which adds to shelf life.

Researchers looked at this common food sweetener.

There are eight manufacturing plants in the U.S. which use this technology. Researchers studied 20 samples of corn syrup to see if the end product contained mercury. Eleven out of 20 samples (55 percent) tested positive.1 In the United States, the average consumption of high fructose corn syrup in 2007 was approximately 49.8 grams per person. Using these numbers, up to 28 mcg of mercury could be ingested on a daily basis.

How much mercury is safe to consume? The answer is easy: zero. Mercury is toxic in any amount and should be avoided. I have been counseling my patients to avoid vaccines, dental fillings, and certain fish (white tuna), which all have high mercury. Now we need to add high-fructose corn syrup. What is really unfortunate is that there are manufacturing processes for corn syrup that do not use mercury.

Avoid Cancer With Simple Minerals

A recent study found that selenium prevents bladder cancer. Researchers looked at the selenium levels in the toenails of 1,800 subjects. Increased levels were associated with a 34 percent reduced risk of bladder cancer among females and a 39 percent reduction in cigarette smokers.2 Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that has a wide range of effects in the body.

Unfortunately, selenium deficiency is increasing because of the declining mineral content of our food supply. Selenium deficiency has been associated with thyroid disorders, including autoimmune thyroid disorders and hypothyroidism.

Zinc the Missing Nutrient for Many

A randomized, doubleblind, placebo-controlled study of 218 third-grade students supplemented with zinc found significantly reduced symptoms of attention deficient disorder and hyperactivity compared with supplementation with a placebo.

In a subgroup of children of mothers with a low education levels, significant reductions in attention deficit, hyperactivity, and oppositional behavior occurred in the zinc group compared with the placebo.

The authors concluded, “In our study, zinc supplementation decreased the prevalence of children with clinically significant scores for attention deficit and hyperactivity. The effect on behavior was more evident in the children of low educated mothers.”3

My experience has shown zinc deficiency to be commonplace. In fact, I find low zinc levels in a majority of my patients. Our food supply is deficient in zinc as well as a host of other vitamins and minerals. Supplementing with a good multivitamin can help remedy these deficiencies.

ADHD, meanwhile, is not a “ritalin-deficiency” disorder. My experience has shown that ADHD patients significantly improve their symptoms when they are evaluated and treated for nutritional and hormonal imbalances.

Pesticides Linked To Birth Defects

Researchers studied the effects of pesticide residue found in surface water and its effects on birth defects. Over a six-year period (1996-2002), scientists looked at the monthly water concentrations of pesticides in surface water using the U.S.

Geological Survey’s National Water Quality Assessment data. They compared this data with the monthly record of birth defect rates during the same time. The researchers then compared the birth defect rates by the month of the last menstrual period (in other words, when the woman became pregnant, the conception date) and the exposure to the pesticide residue found in surface water.

The authors found that elevated concentrations of pesticide in surface water from April to July coincided with the highest risk of birth defects. This is a significant association between the season of elevated pesticides and birth defects.

I have no doubt that the increasing rates of neurologic disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other chronic illnesses are being driven, in part, by our over-exposure to toxic chemicals. Furthermore, many of these toxic halides lower the levels of iodine in the body, increasing the risk of thyroid problems and cancer of the breast, thyroid, and other endocrine glands.

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