Controversial Nutrients

Iodine is Good! Iodine is Bad!  

Take Chromium! Don’t Take Chromium! 

You Need Calcium! Calcium is Bad for your Heart!

What Do I DO?!

When the pandemic started, there were posts daily about nutrients that we need to stay healthy and those that we need to really be sure to take if we get “It.” Most of those were already mentioned in Part 1:What Does It Mean to be Anemic?, Part 2: Anemia: Let’s Talk Vitamins (and Iron) , and Part 3: What Other Vitamins and Minerals are Important? One of them is very controversial, so I saved it for this week. We might as well get into the muddy waters all at once.

The research around Iodine, Calcium, Chromium, and Vitamin D is all over the place.  I’ve heard many talks and read plenty of studies to be thoroughly confused, so I think we need to stick to the facts.  

#1 Only supplement when needed.  A supplement is meant to be just that, a supplement.  You cannot supplement your way out of a poor diet.  Supplements will not help you build healthy muscles without adequate nutrition.  Supplements will not help you have strong nails, teeth, and hair without adequate nutrition. Supplements will not reverse your chronic health condition without nutrition.

#2 Get your vitamins and minerals from food.  Eat foods of all colors, lots of different vegetables and healthy fats, and drink plenty of pure water.

#3 Use supplements when necessary.  There are times when you may need the assistance of added nutrients.  If you’ve had a body part removed, you need to add back nutrients that are affected by that organ.  If you’ve been ill and unable to eat, get the nutrients you need to get better.  If you’ve had a feeding tube or IV nutrition, those only provide some of the nutrients you need.

Iodine has been in the news a lot lately.  This is probably the most controversial of the main vitamins and minerals.  Iodine is a component in the thyroid hormones.  Iodine supports the immune system, aids in skin infections, breaks down excess estrogen, and aids the thyroid with cellular metabolism, memory, energy, mood, weight, and hormonal fluctuations. Iodine is frequently deficient due to poor soil, toxins in our water and air (they block thyroid receptors), radiation, bromine in foods, and low-iodine diet. Iodine is found in sea foods which isn’t so common here in the U.S. 

The thyroid hormones, T3 and T4, (triiodothyronine and thyroxine) are named for the number of iodines that are in their structure.  Thyroid cells must be able to accept the iodine to make these hormones.  If you think back to the elements chart back in chemistry, Iodine is in the same column on the chart as Fluorine, Chlorine, and Bromine.  All of these actually fit into the thyroid receptors just like when you put the wrong key into your lock.  These other elements fit, but they cannot enter, which blocks the necessary actions.  Our drinking water (city tap water) contains fluorine and chlorine.  When we drink tap water and don’t take in enough iodine, our thyroid will not get the nutrients it needs.  A common additive in commercials breads and pastries is bromine; it is a dough conditioner.  If we eat commercial breads and baked goods and don’t get enough iodine, our thyroid does not get the nutrients we need.  If we drink tap water, use fluoride toothpaste, swim in a chlorinated pools, and eat commercial bread, … you get the picture.  That was me 20 years ago. If only I knew then what I know now.  The bread alone can really turn someone’s thyroid health around.  Stop eating commercially baked breads and READ THE INGREDIENTS. 

Iodine doesn’t only affect the thyroid.  Many studies have linked an iodine deficiency to fibrocystic breasts, uterine fibroids, breast cancer, and lymphatic congestion.  Signs of low iodine include thyroid symptoms like goiter, elevated TSH, cold hands and feet, thin hair, brain fog, dry skin, constipation, but also sore joints, irritated skin, achy hands and feet, sore throat, headaches, swollen breasts, swollen belly, cellulite, allergies, and chronic colds.

Taking supplemental iodine may not be the best choice.  As with other minerals, iodine can build up and may be hazardous.  The best way to get iodine is to eat iodine-rich foods and avoid the foods and other items that block iodine. Eat sea vegetables like nori, wakame, kelp, dulse, bladderwrack. I personally do not like the taste of most of these, but I have found that I can sprinkle dulse flakes on my Everyday Salad without noticing the flavor.  I also add sea vegetables to my broths, soups, stews, and beans without noticing the flavor, and I recently purchased Sea Salt with Sea Veggies from Maine Coast Foods that doesn’t smell good but hasn’t changed the flavor of my foods. I also do not eat commercially baked goods, I do not use fluoridated toothpaste, and I try to avoid x-rays and chlorinated swimming pools. Bromide is also found in fire-retardants in clothing and furniture and is absorbed through the skin.  Other food sources of iodine include other seafoods, potato peels, beans, poultry, and eggs.

In Japan, they consume about 12,000 mcg per day.  Here in the U.S., we consume about 240 mcg per day. We could probably take in a bit more. Most studies are focused on thyroid health, but newer research is showing the importance for breast health.

Some studies show that you shouldn’t take iodine if you have an autoimmune thyroid condition while others show you should take large amounts.  It appears that selenium is what is being overlooked.  A selenium deficiency can increase TPO antibodies (antibodies to the thyroid), so while it looks like high iodine is the cause, it’s really low selenium compared to the high iodine. The majority of the studies show a strong connection between low iodine and autoimmune conditions and high cancer risk, and some even show that iodine can prevent cancer. Because the information on iodine is so controversial, I am sticking to iodine-rich foods.  

Calcium is another mineral on my controversial list.  Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. Calcium is so important that the body will steal from the bones to maintain enough calcium. Calcium is involved in muscle contractions, nerve impulses, blood vessel contraction, hormones, and enzymes. Calcium is important for cell signaling and intracellular communication. It constricts and relaxes blood vessels, aids in nerve impulses, strengthens bones, stabilizes proteins and enzymes, is involved in neuromuscular transmission, blood pressure, and peripheral blood flow. It’s difficult to single out 1 mineral. Muscle cramps could be from high calcium or from low magnesium or low potassium. Calcium interacts with sodium, potassium, and magnesium to regulate blood pressure and water. These all work together.

When taking calcium supplements the form is what matters. Calcium carbonate which is usually found in Tums is very difficult to absorb even though it is marketed as a supplement for calcium. It takes one hour in the stomach to be broken down. It must be taken with food to stay in the stomach long enough to be broken down by hydrochloric acid. If it’s taken with juice it doesn’t stay in the stomach long enough and passes through unchanged.   The best way to take a calcium supplement is to take it with protein and/or a fat, so it will sit in the stomach long enough to be broken down. 

The regulation of calcium involves the kidneys and the bones and other minerals and vitamins like vitamin D3. The parathyroid secretes hormones to help with the reabsorption of calcium from bone reabsorption in the kidneys and to increase the activation of vitamin D3 which promotes absorption of calcium from the intestines. When we need more calcium, we absorb it from the intestines, and we get it from our bones. When calcium levels get too high, hormones are secreted from the thyroid. If the blood shows high calcium amounts, then there is something wrong with the parathyroid. We lose calcium when we sweat a lot from heavy training, but most is reabsorbed in the kidneys. The absorption of calcium is affected by high oxalates from oxalate-rich greens, high phytates from beans and grains, high sodium, high phosphorus from sodas and meat, smoking, and alcohol, but calcium absorption is increased by magnesium, vitamin D3, K, vitamin E, and the minerals, boron and potassium. There is a a lot of calcium in some foods, but the body is not able to use it. In spinach the calcium is bound to the oxalates, so we cannot rely on these calcium-rich foods for our calcium. Also, a diet that contains high amounts of grains leads to poor absorption of calcium. Calcium deficiencies are due to deficient soils, processed foods, fluoride in water, high fat diets, medicines, diuretics, and deficiencies in vitamin D3, vitamin K, and magnesium.

Calcium deficiencies can look like muscle weakness, sleep issues, muscle spasms, irritability, heart palpitations, kidney stones, pregnancy issues, type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer or polyps, fatigue, restless legs, muscle twitching, brittle nails, numbness, depression, bone pain, and many other conditions.

In the United states, we have the highest intake of dairy and yet we have the highest rate of osteoporosis. A high protein diet leads to 50% more calcium loss then a low protein diet. A high protein diet leads to a high acid state. Calcium must be pulled from the bones to buffer this acid.

The calcium that is naturally found in foods does not build up and cause any issues. But the calcium found in supplements can build up and lead to hypercalcemia. Symptoms of hypercalcemia include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, constipation, frequent urination, hypertension, prostate cancer, cardiovascular disease, confusion, delirium, coma, and death. Hypercalcemia can also lead to a high risk of kidney stones. The best way to take in calcium is through foods and herbs like dark leafy greens, low oxalate of course, figs, beans, broccoli, sea vegetables, almonds, sesame seeds, salmon, and okra which are good sources of calcium. Herbs like basil, dill, and thyme are also good sources of calcium.

Chromium is not as common as the other nutrients mentioned as far as marketing goes.  Chromium is important for blood sugar and insulin resistance. Chromium enhances insulin on target tissues, it stimulates fatty acid synthesis, and cholesterol synthesis. Chromium is involved in carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism. Supplemental chromium must be converted to an organic biologically active form to be used. 

In insulin sensitivity, chromium binds to the receptors to help regulate insulin signaling which moves sugars into cells. Chromium improves insulin sensitivity. It reduces insulin clearance and enhances insulin signaling. Chromium also reduces oxidative stress and inflammation. A deficiency of chromium leads to type 2 diabetes. It also leads to high cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol, and high triglycerides. Supplemental chromium increases lean mass and decreases body fat due to its effects with insulin. For those with diabetes, supplemental chromium improves blood lipids and reduces insulin concentrations. Chromium is a very toxic mineral; however, it is poorly absorbed and rapidly excreted. Chromium is decreased by simple carbohydrates, phytates, zinc supplements, corticosteroids, antacids, and H2 blockers, high niacin, and NSAIDS.  It is increased by vitamin C, methionine, and histidine. 

Chromium competes with zinc and also with iron. When there is too much iron in the blood, it interferes with chromium transport. When the chromium is not able to be moved, there is an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. 

Many people are deficient in chromium due to poor soils, a processed food diet, iron and zinc and their supplements, fluoride in their waters, and high intakes of sugar. This deficiency leads to a high risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, muscle weakness, blood sugar swings, anxiety, fatigue, and mood swings. For people with kidney issues or liver problems they may have a higher risk of damage from supplemental chromium.

Chromium is high in broccoli and romaine and even oats. You can also find chromium in apples, green beans, tomatoes, and herbs like wild yam, nettle, and licorice root. High doses of antacids like Tums can stop chromium absorption.

Vitamin D is the last of my controversial nutrients. Vitamin D helps absorb calcium and phosphorus, it regulates calcium and phosphorus metabolism, it aids in adrenal health and blood sugar control, bone metabolism, the brain and nervous system development and function, digestion and absorption, and permeates the blood brain barrier and the gut membrane. We need vitamin D for moods, immune system health, memory and behavior, muscle nerve and athletic performance, blood pressure, pancreatic health, skin health, sleep, hormonal balance, vision, and weight control. When we have low amounts of vitamin D, we also have low absorption of calcium and phosphorus. This causes our bones to release more calcium and phosphorus and weakens the bones. When we get sufficient amounts of vitamin D, then calcium and phosphorus return to the bone. Many people are deficient in vitamin D, because they are afraid of the sun, many wear sunscreen every day, some work inside all day long, some have poor liver function, poor kidney function, and sluggish bile. Food allergies, living in a cold climate, genetics, frequent showers, and statins can also all lead to a deficiency of vitamin D.

Symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency show up in the brain as schizophrenia or depression, show up as cancer in the forms of breast cancer, colon cancer, or prostate cancer, can be involved in urinary infections, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity. Low vitamin D is also related to our bones and our muscles and shows up as osteoporosis, osteomalacia, osteoarthritis, muscle aches, and weaknesses ,and medicines can also interfere such as anti-seizure drugs ,corticosteroids, and even herbs like St. John’s wort. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, so it is stored in the fat cells of the body. This means that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. We need an optimal level and what is suggested as normal for here in the United states is 50-100iu however for optimal health the best range is 70 to 100. 41% of Americans have less than 20iu and only 23% have greater than 30iu. That means most of us probably do need to take supplemental vitamin D;  however, you can get your doctor to test your vitamin D levels ,because like I said it can build up.

Many studies have shown that Melanoma is actually caused by a vitamin D and omega 3 deficiency. We need to get our vitamin D from the sun. We were not meant to be inside all day long. We need to get outside just for a few minutes a day, 15 to 20 minutes a day, with no sunscreen and slowly let our skin get used to the sun. When we’re going to be out for longer than that, we need to use safe ingredients like zinc and titanium dioxide for our sunscreens. Those highest at risk for vitamin D deficiency are those who are overweight, when you have more fat you need more vitamin D. Those who are pregnant, those who are elderly, and those with dark skin also are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency. It is generally recommended that if you live South of Atlanta, GA that you do not necessarily need to supplement between the months of March and October, but that you should from October to March. If you live north of Atlanta then you should supplement year round but once again have your doctor check to make sure that you are not getting too much. Some populations need higher doses of vitamin D. Those with an autoimmune condition, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, depression, kidney disease, muscle weakness, and diabetes need more vitamin D. Do not take calcium with high amounts of vitamin D. 

There are some signs of toxicity, and they include weight loss, fatigue, anorexia, nausea, vomiting, high blood calcium, kidney damage, and even death when taken with steroids. Food sources of vitamin D include cod liver oil, salmon, sardines, tuna, and mushrooms. You can even increase the amount of vitamin D in mushrooms by setting them out in the sun. Even store-bought mushrooms can be set in the sun for 20 minutes to increase their vitamin D. I do suggest that you have your doctor test your vitamin D levels and supplement accordingly and get tested twice a year, once in the summer and once in the winter, to see how your levels do.

Even though all of these nutrients are considered controversial you can see how they can be important in certain situations but as with all supplements please run this information by your medical provider for safety.

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