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Should We Supplement with D?
by Paul Pitchford
Nearly everyone with an eye on nutrition has come across information in the last few years about the vitamin D deficit in contemporary people. Part of this deficit can be traced to our current lifestyle of working and living inside during most daylight hours and then applying sunscreen whenever exposed to sunshine for more than a few minutes. As a result of misinterpreted science, many people are now afraid to get any sunshine whatsoever because they fear it will age them prematurely and cause skin cancer. Unfortunately, with a lack of vitamin D in our systems, a number of functions in the body diminish. Bones get weaker and even the RNA-genetic processes involved in healthy cellular renewal are thwarted. Without appropriate cell renewal, we degenerate much faster than otherwise and cancer and the autoimmune diseases become more likely.
One of nutritional science’s quick and easy solutions to the vitamin D dilemma is to take vitamin D supplements. There are several forms of these supplements and the most common are vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. A number of reports indicate that vitamin D2 is unsafe and recommend only the D3 form. And now certain research suggests that vitamin D3 can present problems as well. For instance, well-designed studies indicates that taking vitamin D3 doses higher than 2000 IU daily (recommendations for 4000-5000 IU are now commonplace) can cause excess calcium in the blood, which in turn leads to calcification of the soft tissues as well as bone loss. And soft tissue calcification is commonly known in medical practice to contribute to vascular disease such as hardening and thickening of the arteries; moreover, such calcium excess is thought to set up the conditions for our common degenerative diseases including arthritis, cancer and diabetes—the very conditions that vitamin D from sunlight protects us from.
We can learn something about vitamin D risk by understanding another fat-soluble nutrient—vitamin A. And since vitamin A and D are related, let’s now look at vitamin A risks. A little too much supplementary vitamin A/retinol ingestion and severe liver damage can result. Also life expectancy tends to plummet with long-term vitamin A supplementation [JAMA. 2007;297:842-857]. On the other hand, vitamin A from green and yellow plants (provitamin A) as well as animal foods is virtually always safe and in fact, highly desirable. However one food source of vitamin D—modern cod liver oil is normally much too high in vitamin A relative to vitamin D—and an excess of Vitamin A aggravates the function of Vitamin D in the body—thus the current recommendation by numerous health authorities to avoid cod liver oil. Generations ago, the cod liver oil given to children contained far more vitamin D.
Like vitamin A, will vitamin D in supplement form, even in amounts less than 2000 IU daily, also be shown by future science to contribute to a foreshortened life span? We simply don’t know. However, studies suggest that people who take supplements containing moderate doses of vitamin D for many years in the range of 400-600 IU daily do seem to accrue certain long-term health benefits, while exhibiting few if any adverse side effects. [Arch Intern Med. 2007; 167(16): 1709-1710] Thus, it appears that the widely available dosages of 400 or 500 IU are safe for prevention and health maintenance for those who simply do not get enough vitamin D from sunlight exposure.
Yet consider the differing forms of vitamin D. Clearly they all work uniquely and as capsules, tablets, liquids, and sprays that we intake, none function identically to the incredibly complex action of vitamin D from sunshine on our skin. An isolated nutrient can never function in body as well as nutrients in the context of natural sources such as sunshine or whole foods. All isolates (including pharmaceuticals and refined foods) rob the body of the necessary cofactors needed to fully metabolize them. Therefore we should be wary of taking not only isolated vitamin D, but the long-term intake of all other isolates.
In my opinion, taking any isolate including drugs should be a well understood, disciplined process used only in a crisis and then ended when safer, more wholesome methods can support enduring health. Long-term use of individual chemicals, drugs, and nutrients all too often leads to deep deficiencies. Those who choose massive vitamin D3 supplementation, e.g., 10,000 IU daily for 8 months or more to overcome a severe deficiency, should be checked every 12 weeks by a doctor for possible imbalances in blood calcium, phosphorus and parathyroid hormone. If you opt for sunshine, these issues seldom arise. No one ever gets too much vitamin D from sunshine because the sunlight destroys excess vitamin D once an adequate threshold is reached.
How can we maintain sufficient vitamin D without supplementation? The ideal way is to absorb sunshine for 15 minutes or so each day, at least on the hands and face, where most vitamin D receptors are located. Exposing arms, legs and more in the warmer weather helps to build a several-month store of vitamin D in our fat cells. Sunscreen, or better yet, light clothing can be utilized long before the skin starts to burn. Ultraviolet lamps are now available that supply UV-B wavelength to produce true and safe vitamin D—though one must monitor exposure, just like with sunlight exposure. Sunlight through clouds is also effective although less so than direct sunshine. (Sunlight through glass, such as in a car, home or office, provides no vitamin D activity.)
Thus the vitamin D challenge is solved by simply being outside enough in the daytime. Gardening, picnics, outdoor swimming, going for walks, biking, the traditional outdoor practice of qi gong ….there are plenty of ways we can choose to benefit from being in nature. We receive valuable “qi” vitality (an ancient Chinese term for life energy) from fresh air, plants, the soil, and the celestial bodies including the sun while ensuring adequate and safe vitamin D.
As we exit buildings and cars and enter a park or other pristine environs, we can embrace the non-linear, non-digital, unified nature of Nature. Wonderful alive colors of flowers and plants, aromas, reflected light, sights and sounds of wind, birds, moving leaves, falling rain, ocean waves… everything in Nature is able to impart healing renewal for our minds, psyches, emotions, and bodies. If we become mindful of the infinite in Nature, we will want to respect and merge with it. Instead of the attitude that getting enough sunlight/vitamin D is a necessary “health chore”, we can joyfully look forward to being outside because we appreciate it and its limitless benefits.
A complementary approach to the vitamin D issue involves what nutrition pioneer Bernard Jensen referred to as “stored sunshine”. This of course is chlorophyll, the substance created from sunlight on plants that makes them green. Dr. Jensen would advise convalescents and others without regular access to the sun to eat plenty of greens. Valuable edible green plants include parsley, kale, collards, mustard greens, cabbage, broccoli, arugula, dandelion greens, and many others. Can chlorophyll substitute completely for sunshine? Absolutely not, however it mimics vitamin D from sunshine in this regard: chlorophyll supports bone mass by directing calcium to deposit in the bone; it can also, like vitamin D, help with cellular renewal because chlorophyll foods all contain “growth regulating factors” that spark proper cell differentiation, growth and development. This healthy cell patterning stands in contrast to the unchecked, undifferentiated, malignant growth of cancer. Therefore the most chlorophyll-rich sources such as barley grass and chlorella are frequently used in nutritional approaches to cancer therapy. As Vitamin D via gene regulation counteracts pain, inflammation, and depression, chlorophyll-laden foods likewise feature these benefits, though the precise physiologic pathway is not yet known.
Summer 2013 Seminar
[+ Risotto Recipe]
I’m pleased to announce that the venue of my next seminar is the Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH), one of the premier schools of healing and Asian Medicine in the USA.
During the last weekend of July, I will be leading two-day training for students in the Institute’s master’s degree nutrition program. At my request, the MUIH department of Continuing Professional Education has opened the seminar to anyone with an interest in my work. [Continuing Education Units (CEUs) available.]
This will be the second time to offer this course at MUIH, and I have enhanced it in several ways, making the information easier to assimilate. In addition, I now have staff from MUIH to assist with evaluating students’ work.
The training features information that I have developed based on decades of healing and awareness practice. I use this fresh approach to 21st Century nutrition—merged with Asian medicine—each day in my work with clients as well as in the design of client-specific food programs, diets, and nutritional products.
And with this update to the merger of ancient tradition with modern health science, a new and unique integrated awareness emerges that clears the confusion and provides a workable perspective on the endless stream of nascent, and often contradictory, research on health and nutrition.
With kindest regards,
The Energetics of Food [Course NUTR 662]
Using readings from Chinese Medicine and other ancient healing systems, students will explore the inherent qualities of food and how these impact the eater’s physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. And also learn how to assess and choose the most reliable scientific theories to support their healing work.
Students will be provided with a highly functional definition of Yin/Yang according to traditional Chinese clinical nutrition. This definition will include these energetic dimensions:
- The 5 climatic excesses [Hot/Cold/Damp/Wind/Dry] as assessment tools and their nutritional components used for patient recommendations
- Other essential dimensions of Chinese medicine with dietary advisories:
- Strength [Excess/Deficiency]
- Depth [Interior/Exterior]
- Flow [Slippery/Obstructive]
- Weight [Light/Heavy]
- How traditional Chinese metaphysics and the Sattva concept of Ayurveda of India can be utilized to develop a clear and engaging understanding of ideal modern nutrition—that enhances one’s vision of unity and compassion.
- The “Qi” energetics system according to Chinese medicine. How the Spleen-Pancreas Qi model informs us of virtually all beneficial dietary habits.
- How “Obstructed Liver Qi” inhibits the entire digestive process; ways to smooth out Liver Qi Stagnation.
- The nutritional aspect of stem cells elucidated via the Jing concept of Chinese medicine and metaphysics.
Quinoa Beet Risotto Recipe
In Argentina, where I live and grew up, risottos are quite popular due to the Italian heritage in the area. And beyond risottos, many of our dishes have a strong Italian influence, e.g., pasta and gourmet pizza recipes are numerous. Yet it is risotto that I always loved since childhood, as it’s originally made with rice, and I could live on rice. Riso actually means rice in Italian, so risotto would be rice cooked to a creamy consistency.
Quinoa reminds me of a beautiful trip I once did to Peru, mother land of this grain. Actually not a true grain but a protein-rich seed, quinoa is nevertheless used, cooked and eaten as a grain.
My first encounter with this seed was 11 years ago, on my first trip to Peru, ancient land of “Kinwa”, its original name transliterated from Quechua [people of the central Andes and their language]. We were in the north of Argentina, Salta to be precise. My brother and a couple of friends were going to do a two-week trip to the ruins of Machu Pichu, through Bolivia and all the way up into Peru. So my cousin and I asked permission to join which was luckily granted. Through the most uncivilized parts of Bolivia, travelling on the worst public transport ever, with bad smelling chickens all around and even on us, the “Cholas” [women with Indian blood] didn’t respect us at all. Sitting on the floor of an old deteriorated bus, our journey started.
In Bolivia, we would always eat on the streets or at local markets. The streets are usually packed with food stands around stations, even very early in the morning when it’s still dark, you can see warm vapor coming out of the stands, where the common food would be chicken soup with rice. It was only by mid Bolivia where we got off the bus and people were buying at this one stand that had nothing similar to chicken soup. People were walking away with a small double plastic bag and a straw dipped in, sipping some kind of hot juice. I was so amazed by the way they were in line just waiting for the juice and sipping it out of little bags. So I went over to buy one. I then found out it was a typical mountain breakfast, as it can get cold in the mornings. It was nothing but a Kinwa, apple and cinnamon “soup-juice”. To which they said, why take coffee? Kinwa is what you need for an energetic start. So there I was having my first kinwa breakfast, which by the way, tasted delicious.
After some days, having the soup in the mornings or in warmer climates like Cusco in southern Peru, puffed amaranth and Kinwa bars (handmade by locals, with nothing but that and a little unrefined sugar, combined with fresh orange juice blended with the tonic herb maca), made our journey light and easy; no need for anything else even on 3-4 hour morning walks. These really felt like “super” foods, as they are now called.
Quinoa (Kinwa) is a seed used all around Peru and Bolivia. Originally grown in the Andes, it has been the staple food of the ancient Incas, who have walked the mountains and worked the land for centuries.
In Chinese healing arts, we can say that quinoa builds the Kidney Yang energy. The Kidneys are said to keep us alive, as they are our reservoir of essence through life. This essence is what ancient Chinese called Jing. I usually say it’s the like the “fuel storage tank” we bring to earth the day we are born. How we use it and take care of it will determine our health and lifespan. So eating foods that nourish the kidneys and their Jing is always good, as it will help us keep our vitality up, helps with reproduction and longevity and keeps us in balance with the earth and its Yin calming qualities.
The high protein content of quinoa makes it an appropriate food for those on a vegan or highly plant-based diet, or even on the transition to eating fewer and better quality animal products.
Colors in food many times tell us about the nature and effect of those foods in our bodies. It can be according the “Five Element” theory, like green mung beans, string beans and fresh green peas are some the best legumes to nurture and detoxify the liver. This color and organ relationship comes from the fact that liver corresponds to the Wood Element, which is affected by the color green. Or it can be also according to substances in our bodies. In this case, the red-purplish color of beets, reminds us of blood. Likewise beets are very cleansing for the liver and blood, as well as tonifying for the heart. Beets also promote menstruation and boost blood circulation. The effect of beets on these two organs–the Liver and Heart—make them especially appropriate to eat during spring and summer. [Spring corresponds to the Liver, and summer to the Heart, in classical Chinese healing theory.]
So why “Quinoa Beet Risotto”? Well, this dish brings together a little of my history and lifestyle. Here are some pieces of that history: loving risottos since my earliest memories; eating into a healthy plant-based lifestyle; boosting my energy with quality vegetable protein; and taking good care of my heart, a deficiency in my younger years. I’ve experimented with risotto recipes like the one below for some years. Lately, I teach that same recipe at my “5 Element Cooking Courses” in Argentina. It’s so creamy and yet extra fresh–you´ll love it.
Something special I usually do with this recipe is make some extra “beet pâté”—puree cooked beets with a little olive or flax oil, lemon juice and a dash of ground black pepper. You can keep it in the fridge and use it as a dipping sauce, to put over grains, legumes, salads, toast or bread, or anything you can imagine. Enjoy.
Medicina Tradicional China
Dra. en Acupuntura
1 cup of Golden quinoa
2 cooked beets (boiled or steamed)
2 cups cauliflower or broccoli florets
2 medium sized coarsely chopped button or portobello mushrooms
1 handful of chopped parsley
1 large onion finely chopped
1 large carrot finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
Wash and rinse the quinoa, fill with 3 or more cups of fresh water and soak for at least 8 hours or overnight.
Puree beets with garlic in a food processor or blender.
Heat a casserole and add a quarter cup or so of water; and after a few seconds when bubbling, add the chopped onion, carrot and coriander seeds all with a pinch of salt. Simmer a few minutes by adding a little water to prevent the vegetables from sticking to the pan. This is called “water sauté”.
After some minutes add the quinoa (discard the soaking water or use on plants) and stir energetically until the quinoa becomes shiny and a little more transparent.
Add the apple cider vinegar and about 1½ cups water—to cover an inch above the quinoa. Add the beet puree, a teaspoon of black pepper and a teaspoon of sea salt, stir and bring to boil. Once boiling, cover and reduce heat to a minimum.
Cook, stirring every 10 minutes, until the quinoa is tender on the inside and has an open white ring on the outside. Adjust the water level by adding more, if needed, or removing the cover to let water evaporate if the consistency is too watery. It should be of a thick stew consistency. Just like a regular risotto.
5 minutes before serving add the flowerets (cauliflower or broccoli), and coarsely chopped mushrooms, stir in and cover. Cook for the last five minutes.
When ready, remove from heat, incorporate the tablespoon of chopped parsley and serve with a spoonful of extra beet puree if desired.
Tip If you want to give this dish a Peruvian touch, change parsley for cilantro
A message from Paul Pitchford on seasonal attunement…
Below this introduction to the flavors, Sharla Chao-Zi Cooper welcomes us into the midst of the upsurges of spring by using the metaphorical and empirical science of traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM sees spring and summer as Yang seasons signified by increasing light, warmth, and growth, with the overall energetic directional flow being upward and outward (expansive). [For a more complete explanation of the flavors in the context of Chinese medicine, please refer to my book, Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition.]
Furthermore, the ancient Chinese felt that in order to achieve the best health attributes, one creates and mirrors the current season internally. One way to create internal spring and summer is by eating foods of appropriate flavors that create those seasonal energetics within us. For example, the rising expanding Yang flavors are sweet and pungent. So, making sure these are amply represented, starting in the early spring diet, is thought to be a prudent health choice. As spring turns into the torrid heat of summer, then one wisely adds the most Yang, fiery flavors, such as hot peppers.
So what are the sweet flavors? Most staple foods in planetary diets are considered sweet.
2013 message from Paul Pitchford…
As we enter the New Year, we look at its qualities. We have just completed a 5000-plus year Mayan cycle to begin a new one that has yet to be revealed.
If we consider going from 2012, a 12-year into a 13, it first brings to mind the idea of 12 as the completion or fulfillment number [a dozen articles of food or materials, 12 constellations, 12 hours on a clock, 12 inches in a foot, the 12 tribes, the 12 apostles, etc.]. Next we might consider the “unlucky” number 13. But is it? According to some, it’s a special number that indicates the beginning of a new cycle. And new beginnings can be difficult. And perhaps this initial difficulty explains the negative reputation of 13. However, if we prepare, a cyclical transition can be harmonized and the challenges of a new cycle become less so.
What about the traditional Chinese view of the forthcoming year, which begins on Feb 10th?