Summer Fun In The Sun

May 15th, 2015

Summer is the time of year when individuals and families are playing at the park, cooking out in the backyard, swimming and boating, and just generally soaking up the sun.  The sun, much like food, has the potential to be harmful if not approached with balance and knowledge.  We want to be exposed to enough sunlight for our bodies to make Vitamin D but need to know how to do so safely.

The sun produces two main types of radiation we should be concerned with, UVA and UVB.  UVA radiation penetrates deeply into the skin.  It is less likely to cause a superficial sunburn, while causing premature wrinkles and DNA mutation.  It is the DNA mutation from the UVA radiation that is considered a strong contributing factor for skin cancer development.  UVB radiation from the sun affects the skin more superficially causing tanning (or sunburns) and vitamin D formation.  Vitamin D encourages the absorption and metabolism of calcium and helps maintain your immune system.

In June 2008 the Archives of Internal Medicine stated that “lower levels of vitamin D increases risk of dying from all causes.”  Regarding cancers, a vitamin D deficiency has been correlated with: breast, colorectal, brain, melanoma, stomach, kidney, ovarian, lung, pancreatic, leukemias, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and esophageal cancers.  Other illness that have been shown to be related to a vitamin D deficiency include: Diabetes, autoimmune diseases, mood disorders, autism, developmental delays, osteoporosis, immune function, gum disease & dental health, and cardiovascular disease.  We need to make sure we are getting enough Vitamin D on a regular basis and in the summer the sun can offer this protection.

It was in the late 1980’s that we were advised to limit sun exposure and began to use sunscreens regularly.  Since then cancer incidence has increased, including the prevalence of skin cancers.  The chemicals in most sunscreens are primarily blocking the UVB radiation to prevent sunburns (and hence Vitamin D formation) while doing very little to protect the skin from the UVA radiation.  To help increase vitamin D levels through sun exposure, we only need 15 to 20 minutes of mid-afternoon sun daily.

To protect ourselves and our families from sunburn, wrinkles, and DNA mutation from extended sun exposure use a sunblock that protects from both UVA and UVB radiation.  I recommend a block with zinc or titanium dioxide as the blocking agent.  This creates a physical block that inhibits sun radiation absorption at the skin.  Avoid products that contain: parabens, oxybenzone, and benzophenone-3 because of the potential allergic and hormone concerns from these chemicals.  Spray sunscreens with these ingredients pose a particular risk because of the potential for inhalation when applying them.  For extended periods of sun exposure away from water, tight knit clothing and hats are the ideal way to protect skin from solar radiation.

Also remember the protective benefit of naturally occurring phytonutrients from vegetables and fruits. The same phytonutrients that help to protect the plants from the UVA and UVB radiation will minimize the oxidative, inflammatory, and DNA damage at our cellular level.  So eat lots of fresh and local fruits and veggies this summer and enjoy the sun responsibly.

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Posted in Nutritional and Lifestyle Support/Modification |

Three Tests To Run This Year With Your Doctor

February 1st, 2015

When seeing your primary care doctor it can be difficult to know which blood tests are important and which are not.  For my patients there are three non-standard tests I recommend they have when doing blood work at their annual check up. The information is not crucial to any particular diagnosis, however the tests provide information that helps to paint a picture of the underlying health and may inspire meaningful and lasting lifestyle changes that will impact overall health and wellbeing down the road. As a side note, if you have insurance, often one annual physical is covered.  The blood tests may cost extra but are well worth the expense.

Vitamin D – The 25 Hydroxy Vitamin D test is the most accurate way to check your vitamin D status. Greater than 90% of my patients have been lower than the optimal range when checking this marker. Vitamin D is crucial for immune function, bone health, cardiovascular health, mood, and so much more. Because Vitamin D is chronically low in our society today, I recommend 2000 to 4000 IUs of Vitamin D3 for my patients until they get their levels tested. We then may adjust the dose depending on the results of the level.

Hemoglobin A1C – The HA1C test is a standard test for individuals with diabetes. It differs from a blood sugar test in that the blood sugar test is specific to that particular point in time, while the HA1C gives a broader reflection of the blood sugar levels over the past 3 months. For a diabetic, the HA1C indicates how well the individual has been controlling their blood sugar levels with diet, medication, and/or insulin over the past few months and can provide information for making changes to any of these areas based on the results of the test. I think everyone should have this checked, diabetic or not, because individuals that are not diabetic, may be walking the edge of developing diabetes yet their fasting blood sugar may be in the normal range when they have blood drawn for their annual exam. Eating for stable blood sugars is an important component of long term health and vitality. If you have your HA1C checked and the value is above a 5.6% it would be valuable to discuss with your doctor how to eat for healthy blood sugar levels. If you doctor tells you to “eat more whole grains” ignore that doctor and find a new one.

High Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein – The HSCRP test is a measure of inflammation. Currently this test may be run if the patient is at risk for heart disease based on other factors such as elevated cholesterol, lipids, triglycerides, blood pressure, or other indicators. The HSCRP test is not specific to cardiovascular inflammation. In fact it is a measure of inflammation throughout the body. Someone with an autoimmune condition does not need to run this test because we already know they are hyper inflamed. Someone with a normal lipid panel may still have systemic inflammation and the HSCRP test could give us an indication of this status. Inflammation is a unifying theme for the chronic diseases that are causing so much trouble in our society today. If someone can get a glimpse of their inflammatory status before developing any chronic disease and then begin to implement lifestyle and diet changes to address the inflammation, this is a perfect example of preventative medicine.

The final important point I want to make about these three tests is that individuals can continue to have their levels checked during future blood work so that they can fine tune various interventions to improve the results and optimize the overall status of their health. Next time you go to your primary care physician, ask them to check these three markers in your blood.

~Dr. Swanz

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Posted in Nutritional and Lifestyle Support/Modification |

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