Smorgasbord Health Column – Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Nutrients and strategies to manage the condition

On Monday I outlined the basics of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and today a look at some of the nutrients that your intestine needs to work efficiently and also some of the triggers for the condition.

For some people the discovery that their favourite food – bread, pasta etc. is causing their discomfort, will be upsetting. We are lucky that in most cases there are alternatives and for some there is a management solution, where the food can be eaten in small amounts very infrequently.

As I do with most disease I look at three fundamental key triggers. Physical, mental and emotional. The body has one role in life and that is to survive. But stress of any kind creates a chronic condition that impacts more than your nervous system.

Think about some of your own reactions to extreme stress be it physical, mental or emotional.

  1. You stop eating and drink too much tea, coffee or alcohol.
  2. You binge eat on ice-cream, chocolate and carbohydrates.
  3. You eat irregularly and probably don’t do any exercise or drink enough fluids.
  4. You feel hyped up with cortisol the stress hormone and your heart begins to beat rapidly. Your imagination is working overtime as you pour fuel on the stress flames
  5. You feel nauseated and feel that you would not be able to keep any food down.
  6. You don’t sleep and lie awake worrying about the cause of your stress.
  7. All of the above or one that is particular to you.

Most of these will immediately have an impact on the digestive system which includes the intestines and the way they function. Within a couple of day you have an imbalance of good and bad bacteria and your body is not receiving the nutrients it requires to bet back to normal. If you have been eating at odd times and foods that are quick, easy and out of a packet, you will start to have cramps and other symptoms related to IBS.

Today I am looking at the nutrients needed to support the intestinal function but in the next post on Monday, I will be outlining some strategies to help you get back to normal function as quickly as possible. This includes some that are helpful in alleviating stress.

During this time it is key is to listen to your body and to keep notes each day on symptoms and how you feel in general. This includes any physical, mental and emotional triggers that are present on a daily basis that might be playing havoc with your body and its normal functions.

It helps to keep a food diary, as this will provide you with the blueprints for your new diet going forward. If you can look back 24 or 36 hours and spot a suspect food you can eliminate for a couple of weeks and then reintroduce. If you get the same reaction you will know to avoid this trigger in the future.

First however.. the nutritional aspect.

Nutrients needed to help support the intestinal function.

A broad spectrum of nutrients is required to enable the body to function and it is important that you eat a wide variety of foods to provide them. This is particularly important when your intestines are not working efficiently and only partially processing the food you eat.

There are blogs on some of the nutrients in the archive but here are some that you should make sure you are consuming in food rather in supplemental form, as the body is designed to extract what it needs from natural sources rather than pills.

  • Cook from scratch and avoid all processed foods including sauces, ketchups, mayonnaise etc.
  • Even the savoury kinds are full of sugar and additives that can irritate a sensitive gut.
  • You should be eating lots of vegetables, some sugar reduced fruits and lean protein.
  • Try not to eat very large meals that require a great deal of processing.
  • Smaller portions with a gap of around 2 hours minimum between eating.

Some specific nutrients and food elements that are helpful for your gut.

Calcium (helps control diarrhoea) sardines, dark leafy vegetables, sardines, tinned salmon, beans, fruit such as figs and oranges, nuts and dairy if not lactose intolerant – in which case use lactose free alternative.  Calcium needs Magnesium and Vitamin D to be absorbed efficiently.

Magnesium (helps relieve constipation) Pumpkin seeds, Halibut, beans, wholegrain rice, avocados spinach.

Vitamin D acts more like a hormone and is essential for a wide range of reactions in the body. The best source of the vitamin is direct contact on the skin for at least 45 minutes a day (not to burn) but also from specific foods such as egg yolks, fatty fish like salmon and liver. If you cannot obtain Vitamin D from sunshine then you might think about supplementing.

In Monday’s post I shared the new research that has identified Vitamin D’s role in IBS.

For fast absorption straight into the bloodstream I use a Vitamin D oral spray. I have been using throughout this winter and have noticed a marked difference in my general health.

Fibre, to slow down the digestive process and allow normal absorption of nutrients and fluids from food – all vegetables and fruit.

Iron (for energy and blood health) Green leafy vegetables, fish and meat, beans, nuts, bananas.

Also anti-bacterial agents such as green tea, garlic and onions to restrict Candida growth

Peppermint tea 60 minutes after meals to reduce the cramps, spasms and pain if you are not intolerant to peppermint. You can also use peppermint oil but it is very strong and just one drop in a large glass of water is more than enough.

You can also buy peppermint capsules that dissolve in the intestine and if you take daily may help to relieve the symptoms.

Some foods that can be hidden.

There is a link, as I have already mentioned, between certain foods and strong contender is gluten.The clue is in the name and comes from the Latin word for Glue!  It is a protein present in wheat and some other grains such as barley and rye.  Although not inherently present in other grains such as oats, they can become contaminated if they are processed in a mill that also works with wheat and the other grains. Gluten gives that elastic feel to bread dough and it also helps it rise.

I have not experienced a problem with wholegrain rice but it can be harsh on the intestines if you are going through an episode of IBS.. I suggest that you only have one or two tablespoons.  I find if I mix brown and white Basmati rice that is a gentler mix.

Grains are not just in cereals and bread but in many processed products including hamburgers, soups, sausages, processed meats, crisps and ready meals.

I have tested most of the gluten free bread available on the shelves and found that most tasted okay, but most tend to use a lot of seeds. Seeds are pretty indigestible and large varieties such as pumpkin seeds may cause you problems.

Refined Sugars are a real problem for IBS sufferers, particularly with the strong link to Candida, and it is important that you avoid refined sugar completely and also your intake of processed foods. Even savoury foods contain high levels of sugar as do breakfast cereals, jams, biscuits etc.  Here are the links to the Candida posts.


Water is important to help hydrate the body, particularly after IBS symptoms such as diarrhoea, and also to flush toxins from the body. However – you don’t need to drink litres as this will only cause a flushing effect. It will push any food you eat rapidly through the system – most vegetables an any fruit you eat have a high fluid content. If you are drinking a cup of peppermint tea after meals and other herbals such as Green Tea, you should be able to drink a glass of water when you get up in the mornings and perhaps one mid-evening after your supper has digested to achieve your 2 litres of fluid a day.

Alcohol is sugar.

I love a glass of wine or a shot of whisky but for this re-establishment of good bacteria in your intestinal system you need to give up for the six weeks. You can re-introduce in week six – just one glass and then limit intake and watch for any increase in symptoms.


Our body is a rich soup of bacteria and yeasts, many that are needed for all the processing that is taking place continuously. Probiotics are the good guys and are beneficial for your digestive system especially when it is struggling to maintain a healthy balance.

You can find in foods which is obviously the best way for your body to utilise the bacteria. And whilst I would caution the use of some commericial live yogurts that can contain too much sugar and additives you can make your own at home.

I sometimes take Kefir which is a fermented dairy combination of goat’s milk and fermented kefir grains. High in lactobacilli and bifidus bacteria and antioxidants you will find in better supermarkets and also in your local health store.

Fermented foods are your other option including pickles,Sauerkraut, pickled red cabbage etc.  Also Japanese Miso soup which anyone who is familiar with macrobiotic cooking will be familiar with. It is again fermented and made from rye, beans and usually rice or barley.

Supplemental probiotics

I do take certain specific supplements when needed and one of these is a high quality friendly bacteria including acidophilus and bifidus. Whilst food should always be the first source of the nutrients that we need on a daily basis, there are times, such as during the recovery from an illness, when additional support is needed.

I take one  capsule a day for maintenance and two when I feel I need extra help. Some must be kept in the fridge when opened and it needs to be of adequate strength. The one I use has 25billion active cultures and ask advice in the pharmacy or the health shop to find the most effective one for your specific needs.

If you are taking broad spectrum antibiotics, you either should wait until you have finished since they are designed to kill off all bacteria including any you might take in supplementation form, or you can get specifically formulated capsules that are effective when taken in conjunction with antibiotics.

Next week – A six week action plan to help reduce your symptoms long term including the physical, mental and emotional triggers.

I am happy to answer questions confidentially by email if you prefer at If your question is general and might help someone else then please include in the comments.  I hope this has been helpful.

Smorgasbord Health Column 2018- Seasonal Affective Disorder – Part Two – Vitamin D the Sunshine Vitamin

Seasonal Affective Disorder

First a reminder if you missed the first post in this series of the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The typical symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) include depression, lack of energy, increased need for sleep, a craving for sweets and weight gain. Symptoms begin in the fall, peak in the winter and usually resolve in the spring. Some individuals experience great bursts of energy and creativity in the spring or early summer. Susceptible individuals who work in buildings without windows may experience SAD-type symptoms at any time of year. Some people with SAD have mild or occasionally severe periods of mania during the spring or summer. If the symptoms are mild, no treatment may be necessary. If they are problematic, then a mood stabilizer such as Lithium might be considered. There is a smaller group of individuals who suffer from summer depression.

To show the connection to Seasonal Affective Disorder I need to give you an idea of the scope and breadth of the influence of Vitamin D Levels in the body. And as you will see later in the post it has been identified that there is a difference in the incidences of several diseases between population is sunnier areas of the world and those that have extended winter months.


Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that is found in some food sources. We are also designed to make the vitamin in our body after exposure to the ultraviolet rays from the sun. When it is manufactured in the body it takes on a number of different forms, each of which have a different function to perform.

The main function is to maintain the correct balance of calcium and phosphorus in the blood and then to ensure that calcium is absorbed efficiently so that new bone is formed and maintained throughout our lifetime.

This link to calcium resulted in the first major nutritional breakthrough nearly 100 years ago when it was identified that children with rickets, usually from poor and industrial areas suffered from Vitamin D deficiency and were supplemented with fish liver oils resulting in a virtual eradication of the disease.

Calcium plays a crucial role in other functions in the body but one of the most important as far as cancer is concerned is its ability to maintain the acid/alkaline balance within all our operating systems.

There is also a strong link between magnesium and calcium in the role of balancing hormones and are used very successfully in the treatment of PMS and menopausal symptoms.

Oestrogen the female hormone has been identified as the fuel that breast cancer cells prefer and this is why during the menopause when levels are likely to be elevated, we are more likely to develop tumours. This can therefore be linked back to a deficiency in Calcium and by definition a lack of vitamin D which enables the mineral to be absorbed and used by the body.

Vitamin D also works to promote healthy cell growth and actively prevent the formation of abnormal growth which strengthens the link between not only breast cancer and a deficiency but other cancers as well. Incidences of breast, prostate and colon cancer in the cloudier, Northern parts of the United States are two to three times higher than in Sunnier states. A link has been established to a deficiency of Vitamin D with all these types of cancer.

Apart from working with other nutrients to provide a healthy balance, Vitamin D is also associated with a number of other chronic diseases including Osteoporosis (calcium) Diabetes, Heart disease, arthritis (immune system) Multiple sclerosis (autoimmune system) Obesity ( lowers the levels of leptin hormone produced by the fat cells which regulates weight) , PMS and infertility, chronic fatigue and depression.

Many people in countries with long wet and dark winters suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Vitamin D which has been activated in the adrenal gland regulates an enzyme called tyrosine hydroxylase which is necessary for the production of neurotransmitters in the brain such as dopamine and epinephrine. Not only do they regulate how we feel but also are linked to some interesting parallel conditions associated with a lack in Vitamin D namely obesity, PMS and menopausal symptoms such as migraines, and chronic pain associated with arthritis etc.


There are actually two types of vitamin D found in nature – D2 is the one activated by sunlight in plants and D3 is found in animal foods. D3 is the one that is most commonly used in supplementation usually in combination with calcium as it is the most biologically usable and effective for humans.

If you have a liver or kidney condition then you should not supplement without your doctor’s advice. When we take in Vitamin D from food or sunlight it firsts goes to the liver and gets converted to one form and then onto the kidney to be converted into another form before being active and usable. If you have a liver or kidney problem you will be unable to convert the vitamin and will need the already activated form on prescription from your doctor.

Vitamin D taken in excess can be toxic and you should not supplement more than 1000 IU to 3000IU per day. The upper limit for safety has been set at 10,000 IU per day and if you are getting adequate sunlight provided vitamin D you should not need to supplement in summer months.

The recommended daily levels are confused as since 1997 when the original levels were set at between 200 and 600 IU An IU represents 5 micrograms. Researchers now believe that we need a minimum intake of 1000 IU rising as we age to 3000 IU

Most of what we require on a daily basis is produced in the skin by the action of sunlight and many of us who suffer from depression through the dark winter months are actually missing around 75% of our required daily dose this represents over 2000IU of vitamin D for someone in their 70’s

There is quite a lot of information available regarding the amount of time that you need in the sunshine to produce sufficient Vitamin D and unfortunately it is also very confusing. Some researchers say that you only need 15 minutes per day in the sun and others recommend two to three hours of exposure.

What is crucial is the type of ultraviolet light, the time of day, the latitude and altitude and amount of bare skin exposed.

Ultraviolet light is divided into 3 bands or wavelength ranges which are UV-C, UV-B and UV-A. UV-C is the strongest and it is the band that causes our skin to burn in a very short space of time. This band is absorbed by the ozone level and thankfully never reaches our skin – yet.

UV-A is responsible for our tans as it activates the pigment in our skin. Usually we will not burn in this range unless we are photosensitive (some anti-depressants and St. John’s Wort can cause this) or very high and frequent doses are used. This range is used for tanning beds and there have been incidences of skin cancer resulting from over use. Until very recently this UV-A was not blocked in any sunscreens and of course sunbathers would lie out in extremely strong sunlight believing that they were protected completely from harmful rays. Of course they were not which is believed to be the reason for the increase in the level of skin cancers.

The ultraviolet wavelength we need to produce Vitamin D is UV-B and unfortunately despite its benefits also is the burning ray and the primary cause of sunburn.

It also however, produces the beneficial effects of stimulating Vitamin D production, causes special skin cells to produce melanin which protects our skin and also for those of us trying to lose weight also stimulates a hormone MSH (Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone) that helps in weight loss and energy production.

A drawback is that although UV-A is present all through the day the UV-B available is dependent on a number of factors including the angle of the sun rays and cloud cover as well as latitude and altitude. The upshot is that the most beneficial time to take advantage of the UV-B rays is in the peak burning zones of 10.00 a.m. to 2.00p.m.

The sensible approach is to build up you tan slowly and carefully over a period of time so that the melanin in your skin provides protection from burning. Start by getting five minutes exposure to very bright sunlight if you have very fair skin and then increase this as your tan builds. Walking at other times of the day will also benefit you and try to expose as much skin as is decently acceptable (don’t frighten the tourists) You need to try and reveal around 85% of your skin to be effective.

I don’t advise anyone to sit in scorching sunshine in the middle of the day for hours – If you do make sure you have adequate protection to begin with and then reduce the factor down to 8 over a period of time. Any sun blocks over 8 will not allow the UV-B rays through to produce Vitamin D so when you are ready and you have sufficient protection in your own skin reduce the sunblock to under 8.


Our ancestors mainly worked outside until the industrial revolution and activities such as farming, fishing and hunting meant that we were exposed to sunlight throughout the day depending on the latitude and altitude of our immediate vicinity. Those not lucky enough to get adequate sunshine would have instinctively sought other sources of Vitamin D from food. In those days it was the intestines, livers, kidneys, skin and fat of the animals they caught as well as seafood, oily fish and insects. It is obvious from this list how many foods have disappeared from our plates in the last 100 years. When was the last time that you ate liver, kidneys, the fat on your steak or the crispy skin on your chicken. We certainly have been told not to eat most of these to preserve our health but ironically it means that we are also missing out on viable sources of Vitamin D.

This has limited the available food sources of the vitamins and some of them are rather inadequate anyway.


An egg contain approximately 24 with a 100g serving of herring or tinned salmon providing just over 400 IU. Dairy products such as milk contain the vitamin but an 8oz glass only contains 100 IU of the vitamin.

Pork fat contains 2,800 IU per 100gms so start eating the crackling again (do not attempt if trying to lose weight. Herrings contain 680 IU, Oysters contain 640 IU (would need a lot more than a dozen) Sardines 500IU. Mackeral 450 IU and butter 56IU

This compares to 2,000 IU to 5000IU produced from sunlight dependent on the factors we have already covered.


Now that most of us are well into the winter months I do recommend that everyone take high quality cod liver oil. Apart from the Vitamin D you will also be supplying your body with an excellent source of Omega 3 Fatty Acids essential for a great many of our bodies functions and the subject of another programme. Cod liver oil also contains rich amounts of vitamin A and the whole package will help protect you against age related diseases.

As children we were given spoonfuls of cod liver oil and thanks to that simple breakthrough in the early 1900’s we did not get rickets. Today if you cannot face a tablespoon of the oil, you can obtain high quality cod liver oil capsules. There are lots to choose from so I suggest you shop around to find the best quality you can.

As we get older our skin thins and we are less able to manufacture Vitamin D naturally, which is when supplementation is really quite important.. It is a good idea to take not only cod liver oil but also an additional supplement of calcium, magnesium and Vitamin D. This is important for both men and women to maintain the correct acid/alkaline balance and also to balance hormone levels during midlife when breast and prostate cancer is more of a risk.

For the last two years I have been using a Vitamin D3 spray – one spray on the inside of the cheek supplies me with 3000 IU. It is absorbed much more efficiently in this form and I take all year round now that we are not living in a place with 300 days of sunshine a year.

Next time the link between Sunshine and Tryptophan.

©sally cronin- Just Food for Health – 2004 – 2016

Smorgasbord Health Column 2018 – Seasonal Affective Disorder – Part One – The way we were!


Normally I would start the year with weight loss but there are so many blog posts and books out there that I really do not think that you need my contribution.. I will save that up to the summer when you are thinking about getting a beach body!  Only kidding.

But having spoken to family and friends (on and offline) it is clear that the cold and flu season has been extended and very debilitating this last couple of months.

Whether or not we know we are suffering from lack of sunshine (and I am still very sun deprived after being back in Ireland for the last two winters) we actually are likely to be deficient in Vitamin D… which usually requires sun on skin action to be usable by the body.

I am going to repeat my SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder earlier than usual as it might help you get through the next three months physically, mentally and emotionally in better form.

For those of you who have read the post before I hope that some of the scientific updates and new products now available that I feature during the next posts will be helpful.


On the off chance that some eminent scientist involved in the extensive research over many years into the cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder might stumble upon my blog…… never know!!! I am not going to apologise about my theories as to the cause of this alleged disorder that affects millions around the world as their days become shorter and the nights longer.

We are now in the last two months of winter and having moved to Ireland at the end of April last year this has been my first Irish Winter for fifteen years. And I know that my body has noticed the difference.

Here is a little more about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

The typical symptoms of SAD include depression, lack of energy, increased need for sleep, a craving for sweets and weight gain. Symptoms begin in the fall, peak in the winter and usually resolve in the spring. Some individuals experience great bursts of energy and creativity in the spring or early summer. Susceptible individuals who work in buildings without windows may experience SAD-type symptoms at any time of year. Some people with SAD have mild or occasionally severe periods of mania during the spring or summer. If the symptoms are mild, no treatment may be necessary. If they are problematic, then a mood stabilizer such as Lithium might be considered. There is a smaller group of individuals who suffer from summer depression.

My experience with SAD.

I loved summer in Madrid – long sunny days, heat of the sun as I worked in the garden or swam (lots of Vitamin D and more about that on Wednesday), crisp salads and lots of fish and protein, being tanned (safely of course) and sitting at 10 at night watching the sun going down. Autumn was also a very pleasant season – beautiful colours in the garden – still sunny days – little nip in the air – prospect of getting the leather jacket out of the depths of the wardrobe, a move to slightly more carbohydrates in the diet. Nuts and seeds, porridge with a little honey…lovely.

Then winter……………for millions of people around the world the lights go off. Add the fact that for many of those millions, their diet consists of white fats, grains and sugars and their bodies are not prepared for the plunge into darkness. And, because their diet is not going to change through the winter months the symptoms of SAD will only intensify. The symptoms are varied but include, depression, anxiety, inability to concentrate, unexplained weight gain and loss, slow growth in children, overeating of carbohydrates and sugars, insomnia and for many increased infections.

For me the last two winters have been hard. Not because it has been cold but because most days it has been grey. I do not like the dark days and although I include foods that contain Vitamin D in my daily diet I do require it in supplemental form too.. I will talk about that at the end of the series.

So you can see why I have spent many years exploring ways to improve my health and those I have worked with who also suffer winter blues.

So, back to our lives in caves and my hypothesis as to why our bodies have not adapted to this ultra high tech modern world of ours as fast as our minds have.

Reading Jean M Auel’s books, starting with the Clan of the Cave Bear back in the 80’s, was a revelation for me when I was determined to sort my health and weight out. Jean was decorated by the French Government for her work and her research alongside anthropologists was evident throughout her books which I highly recommend.
I would like you to consider this.

DNA mutations occur in humans rarely, about every 10,000 to 12,000 years. So for the sake of argument let us take a quick trip back in time.


During the summer months the clan would hunt, fish, gather nuts and seeds, possibly some root vegetables and some green edible shoots and leaves. All would have been seasonal and most would have been consumed at the time. However, fats from their meats would have been used along with nuts and seeds to make long lasting cake and stored probably in gourds or leaves and used by hunters heading out as well as for the winter months. Meat and fish was dried in the sun both at the time of the hunt and for transport back to the cave but also during the months of abundance for consumption in the winter months.

nuts and seeds

Autumn in particular would have been a wonderful opportunity for finding fruit, seeds and nuts and of course these could be sweetened with honey.

Then came the dark – there are various theories about when fire was discovered but probably quite early on from natural events such as lightening strikes that caused bushes to combust and as man developed he would have exploited this resource – probably 10,000 years ago someone had discovered that liquid fat in a gourd burns and provided light but for all intents and purposes the dark came and stayed for many months.

Apart from opportune kills and for the lucky ones on the coast who could fish, the reliance was on stored foods. If it had been a lousy hunting season and poor autumn for nuts and seeds, many starved to death, especially the very young and elderly. What, do you do in the dark months anyway? Most babies were born in the late spring! Still happens today in the winter months following winter power outages!

Imagine a world without any stimulation except for a few brief hours a day when you would rush around getting firewood if available – collecting water or snow in the depths of winter for drinking water, hunting for the few animals still awake. Then back to the cave where I guess apart from interaction between the clan, working in dim light on essential tasks, it would be nibbling on the sweet stored cake and the dried meat and then sleeping until the sun came up the next day.

Back to the present day, for our minds perhaps; but I believe that our bodies have not evolved enough yet. Remember that our world that we know and understand with all its sophisticated technology is really only around 150 years old. Our DNA is about 9,850 years adrift. Therefore, SAD is not a disorder, illness or disease but our natural winter state.

And, if you are going to try and alleviate the symptoms associated with this natural, semi hibernating condition, you need to do so with the right type of diet and exercise.

If you have been reading my blog about some of our modern lifestyle diseases you will have already twigged that the diet that I enjoy and have introduced to my clients, readers and listeners over the years is simply this. Natural unprocessed, meats, poultry and fish, oily in particular, wholegrains, seeds, nuts, root vegetables and green leafy varieties, fruits and honey. As you can see nothing new in history and not something I invented but my great grandmother several times removed.

The reason diet is so important is that there are certain nutrients that are necessary for the chemical reactions in the brain and our bloodstream that tell our body that, along with the artificial light many of us now enjoy, we also continue to have access to essential food groups that would have normally disappeared by the end of the autumn. Additionally, the body needs to try and adapt to the concept that we now no longer need to limit our activity, change our sleep patterns or suffer from nutrient deficiency.

In the following posts I am going to be writing about the most important ingredients in our food that will encourage our bodies to stay well and also promote emotional and mental well being year round…..Including Vitamin D and Tryptophan.

©sally cronin 2017 Smorgasbord Health

Smorgasbord Health 2017 – Top to Toe – The Male Reproductive System -Testosterone and Cholesterol

men's health

We covered the physical components of the male reproductive system in the last post and despite being highly complex and mechanically a miracle of nature… Like a flash car they are useless without the right fuel.

In this case it would be the Male hormone – testosterone

Testosterone is the most important of the male sex hormones, called androgens.

It is responsible for the development of the male sexual and reproductive organs – which I have already covered in the first post on the male reproductive system. You can find all the Top to Toe posts in this directory:

Testosterone also stimulates the development of the secondary male sex characteristics, such as an increase in muscle mass, increased body and facial hair, enlargement of the larynx and the vocal-chord-thickening, which leads to a deepening of the voice.

There are likely to be some changes in behaviour around this time too. In some cases there will be an increase in aggressive behaviour but there is certainly much more sexual awareness as the effects of the testosterone kick in.

Although testosterone is produced in the testes its production is regulated by a complex chain of messages that begins in the hypothalamus in the brain.

The hypothalamus secretes Gonadotropine-releasing hormone (GnRH) to the pituitary gland in carefully timed bursts. This triggers the release of luteinising hormone (LH) which in turn stimulates the Leydig cells of the testes to produce testosterone.

At puberty the production of testosterone increases very rapidly and declines equally rapidly after the age of 50. This change in testosterone levels is one of the reasons that it is quite likely that men will suffer some form of menopause and need to ensure that their diet reflects the reduction in this bone and muscle-protecting hormone. It is also possible that, as in women, the sexual hormones also help protect the body against a number of other diseases such as heart disease and cancers.

The testes produce between 4-7 mg of testosterone per day but – like the two female hormones oestrogen and progesterone – this decreases naturally with age. There are rare cases where young boys fail to develop at puberty, causing problems with bone and muscle development and underdeveloped sexual organs. The likely cause is damage to the hypothalamus, pituitary gland or the testes themselves.

How is testosterone produced?

Believe it or not one of the essential components needed to produce all hormones including testosterone is…. The demon cholesterol.

Cholesterol is known as a sterol and is naturally occurring in the human body and like any other substance that is present without human intervention… It has a purpose.

Without it there are certain vital functions in the body that would not happen. There would be no steroidal hormones such as testosterone or Vitamin D (that considers itself a hormone) and is so vital to our immune system and for regulating minerals such as calcium for bone density. Also cortisol the stress hormone that is needed to boost strength and energy in times of crisis.

Essential message network

Cholesterol is part of the communication network within the body and is responsible for relaying messages between cells. Whilst cells within an organ such as the brain will work together to perform a function, there are thousands of interactions a day between the brain and other organs in the body. Without that message being sent effectively to elements of the male reproductive system, those flash and miraculous organs would not function at all. This messaging service applies to all interactions between cells and organs of the body.

Cholesterol is also very important in later life to prevent cataracts and also in reducing the risk of dementia.

For those who read my health posts regularly, you will know that I am totally against the suggestion that all men and women over 50 should be prescribed statins to lower cholesterol levels which are already declining naturally.

Before I go onto to talk more about statins… I must stress that if you are taking this as a prescribed medication you should not suddenly stop taking without a consultation with your doctor. I do however urge you to research yourself and discuss other options.

A change in diet and lifestyle is just as effective at tackling an imbalance in cholesterol and it is my opinion that statins should only be prescribed when absolutely necessary, not as a preventative. The potential side effects of long term use of statins is only now becoming evident including loss of sex drive, reduced bone density, Vitamin D deficiency and therefore reduced immune system function and possibly higher risks of cancer, muscle wastage, liver damage and dementia. There is a great deal of information on the web and here is just one viewpoint. I encourage you to explore various sources.

A bit more about cholesterol

It is important that cholesterol in your body is balanced correctly. The problems arise when one of the components. LDL cholesterol is damaged by being oxidised.

This is where we come in.  Every substance in our bodies is produced through the processing of the food that we ingest. If that does not encourage you to think twice about what you are eating then nothing else will.

I admit that I do use the term lousy cholesterol for low density lipoprotein– because this is the one that can get contaminated and cause health problems. Although when talking about cholesterol we refer to high density lipoprotein and very low density lipoproteins (not usually in substantial amounts) as well, they are all the same molecularly but have different packaging to be transported in the blood stream.

HDL and LDL sub divide into different types of lipoproteins and at the moment more is still to be discovered about this. The LDL is associated with the plaque that forms in the arteries leading to blockages – the smaller the size of the LDL particles the more you are likely to develop coronary disease than if the particles are larger and less dense. There is a theory that if the walls of the arteries are damaged in any way, the smaller and denser particles of the LDL can push their way through that break in the tissue and start clumping together to form the plaque whilst the larger HDL particles would not gain purchase.

In essence then, whilst the LDL cholesterol does have a role in the body there are strong indications that if there is already weakness in the artery it will attract the smaller particles that will then clump forming the harmful plaque leading to coronary disease. There is another problem with LDL cholesterol which is oxidation – this is where the particles react with free radicals, produced through a number of activities including smoking and eating a diet high in white fat as found in processed foods, crisps, pastries and cookies.

Thank you for stopping by and please leave your views in the comments and click a few share buttons.. many thanks Sally

Next time early detection of prostate problems can save your life.

All the Top to Toe posts can be found her :

©sallygeorginacronin – Forget the Viagra, Pass me a Carrot. 2013

Thank you for dropping by and please feel free to share.. thanks Sally

Smorgasbord Health 2017 – Top to Toe – The Skeleton -The progresson of Osteoporosis over 50.

As we get into our middle years and with a reduction in protective hormones a lifetime of inadequate nutrition and weight bearing exercise can lead to a weakened skeleton.  As our bones become less dense we are at risk of fractures and loss of joint flexibility.

Osteoporosis is more prevalent in women than men but affects both.  Last time I covered some of the nutrients needed to ensure dense bones and a strong skeletal structure throughout our lifetime.  I am repeating the nutritional information at the bottom of this post.

Statistics for Osteoporosis

Worldwide, osteoporosis causes more than 8.9 million fractures annually, resulting in an osteoporotic fracture every 3 seconds.

Osteoporosis is estimated to affect 200 million women worldwide – approximately one-tenth of women aged 60, one-fifth of women aged 70, two-fifths of women aged 80 and two-thirds of women aged 90.

Osteoporosis affects an estimated 75 million people in Europe, USA and Japan

For the year 2000, there were an estimated 9 million new osteoporotic fractures, of which 1.6 million were at the hip, 1.7 million were at the forearm and 1.4 million were clinical vertebral fractures. Europe and the Americas accounted for 51% of all these fractures, while most of the remainder occurred in the Western Pacific region and Southeast Asia.

Worldwide, 1 in 3 women over age 50 will experience osteoporotic fractures, as will 1 in 5 men aged over 50.

80%, 75%, 70% and 58% of forearm, humerus, hip and spine fractures, respectively, occur in women. Overall, 61% of osteoporotic fractures occur in women, with a female-to-male ratio of 1.6.

Nearly 75% of hip, spine and distal forearm fractures occur among patients 65 years old or over

A 10% loss of bone mass in the vertebrae can double the risk of vertebral fractures, and similarly, a 10% loss of bone mass in the hip can result in a 2.5 times greater risk of hip fracture

By 2050, the worldwide incidence of hip fracture in men is projected to increase by 310% and 240% in women.

The combined lifetime risk for hip, forearm and vertebral fractures coming to clinical attention is around 40%, equivalent to the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Osteoporosis takes a huge personal and economic toll. In Europe, the disability due to osteoporosis is greater than that caused by cancers (with the exception of lung cancer) and is comparable or greater than that lost to a variety of chronic non-communicable diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and high blood pressure related heart disease

  progression-of-osteoporosisThe progression of osteoporosis.

Unfortunately, as we approach middle age it is not just a few wrinkles and dodgy arteries we have to worry about.  Osteoporosis can develop in both women and men but women are at a higher risk over 50 and are four times more likely to suffer from the disease than men.

Osteoporosis is when the bones in the body thin and begin to develop small holes reducing the density. The bones also become brittle, leading to fractures. Some of these may go undetected as they can be very small. For example, if you suffer from consistent back pain, do not dismiss out of hand, as you could be experiencing very small hairline fractures in your spine. If the condition is not treated or diagnosed, these small compression fractures can cause a vertebra to collapse, a condition that is extremely painful and difficult to treat.

The progress of the disease is subtle. You reach maximum bone density in your 30’s and then your bone strength will slowly decrease naturally. Then add into the mix the reduction of both oestrogen hormones in women over 50 and the decrease in testosterone in men of a similar age, and you have a further loss of density.

Normal bone


Osteoporosis affected bone.

osteoporotic-bone-micrographThere are other risk factors to taken into account.

For both men and women, having a slight body frame and being very slim means that there is less bone to begin with.

Smoking from an early age for a lifetime will put you at higher risk.

Those suffering from certain eating disorders can show decreased bone density in their teens and 20’s due to vitamin and mineral deficiency. (I have seen a 16 year old girl’s x-ray showing the bone density of an 80 year old woman)!

There can be a family history of osteoporosis, if not mother then look to grandmothers.

If you have a history of repeated fractures then it may be that you have brittle bones and you will need to be additionally careful and under medical supervision as you move into middle age.

If you already suffer from rheumatoid arthritis you could be at a higher risk of osteoporosis.

Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to thinning of the bones.

If you have stopped exercising – especially weight bearing exercise that strengthens the bones such as walking regularly.

Last but not least is eating too restricted diet.  As we get older our appetites decrease naturally, we tend to reduce our weight bearing exercise, do not spend time outside in the sun obtaining Vitamin D, and we listen to nutritional advice which tells us to drop full fat dairy, cheese and butter from our diets!!

Diagnosis of Osteoporosis.

I believe that every woman over 55 and men over 65 should have a bone density test to discover where their bone health actually is following the reduction of the two hormones involved. The doctor will also take into account your medical history – particularly if you have had a number of fractures in the past. You should also have a urine and blood test to rule out any other reasons for bone loss and the blood test will show the levels of both oestrogen and testosterone.

A reminder of the nutrients needed to build and maintain healthy bone if you missed the first post.

As I have already mentioned in a previous blog there are certain nutrients that are essential for bone health and I gave brief notes about them. Today I am going to go into one of the most important vitamins for bone health and that is vitamin D. Also, a vitamin that gets little press but that also plays an important role in our bone health and that is Vitamin K.

There is increasing concern that vitamin D (that incidentally thinks it is a hormone) is becoming deficient, particularly in children as we see a rise in the cases of rickets.

Once you have read the notes on this vital nutrient, you can identify if perhaps you are missing it in your diet or lifestyle, and if your family might be at risk.

Vitamin D

If ever there was a reason to get out and lie or walk in the sun for 40 minutes in the mornings, getting your daily recommended dose of Vitamin D is it. In fact, 3 hours in sunlight, spread over a week, in moderate climates, without using any sunblock is sufficient to boost your levels of what is known as the sunshine vitamin. However, you may need less, or more, depending on latitude, time of day and air pollution.

It is not advisable to lie out in the heat of summer in Spain, for example, for 3 hours without protection but you will still receive beneficial amounts through sunblock of under factor-8. Most of what we require on a daily basis is produced in the skin by the action of sunlight and many of us who suffer from depression through the dark winter months are actually missing around 75% of our required daily dose of 1000 IU.

There are a number of diseases that result from a deficiency of Vitamin D and over the years, since it was identified in cod liver oil, there has been increasing research into its role in the body.

In Victorian times children with rickets or bow-legs were a common sight. You rarely see this in developed countries today, although in Southern Asia there is still a problem. In adults the condition is called osteomalacia (soft bones) and it is estimated that millions of people who suffer from unexplained bone and muscle pain actually have this condition. There has been an increase in recent years in the incidence of rickets in the western world and some of this is down to the decrease in outside activity for our children.

More of them are kept inside for safety reasons, many no longer walk to school, go outside at playtime, have football or other team sports encouraged. They sit in front of the television or computer instead of playing in the street and when they do go in the sun they are plastered in factor 30 and above.

They also have too much fizzy pop in their diets and the chemicals in these are not bone friendly. We have gone away from the free school milk and there is too much sugar in our diets which is acidic and leeches mineral from the bones.

How is Vitamin D involved in our bones?

Our bones are living tissue that grows and regenerates throughout our lifetime. It is not static and old bone is removed and replaced with new bone continuously, a process that requires that the essential elements of bone to be available from our diet and from chemical reactions in the body.

There are four main components in bone that are needed to ensure it is strong and able to repair itself on a daily basis.

  • Minerals – Calcium, Magnesium and Phosphorus.
  • Matrix – Collagen fibres (gristle)
  • Osteoclasts – Bone removing cells
  • Osteoblasts – Bone producing cells.

If you ever made papier-mâché sculptures at school you will have used a chicken-wire framework, first of all, to establish the shape that you wanted. Over this you would have laid your strips of wet paper and allowed them to harden. The bone making process is very similar.

A network of collagen fibres forms the base and they are then overlaid with minerals. The strength of the finished bone is dependent on the amount of mineralisation that takes place. Osteoclasts will remove old bone when needed and this results in a need to produce new collagen matrix to attract new minerals for the repair process.

Vitamin D is essential to ensure that sufficient calcium and phosphorus is attracted to the new matrix and that strong new bone is produced. It begins its work in the intestines where your food is processed and assists in the absorption of calcium. If you are deficient in Vitamin D the bone becomes calcium depleted (osteomalacia) increasing your risk of fractures.

Unfortunately, if you are deficient in this vitamin more bone is discarded than replaced leading to soft and malformed bones.

Rickets, for example, is the result of soft and insufficient bone material in the legs allowing them to bend and stunting their growth. In adults the disease is called osteomalacia and because the symptoms are usually related to unspecific muscle and bone pain it can remain undiagnosed for years. This leads to chronic pain and the truth is that therapeutic doses of vitamin D may be the only treatment necessary.

Food Sources and supplementation.

vit d 2

Apart from sunshine, vitamin D can be obtained from a small range of foods including egg yolk, fish oil and liver. A glass of milk contains only 100 IU of the vitamin. It can be tough from just food sources to reach 1000 IU per day of the vitamin so getting out into the daylight on a daily basis is important. Certainly, I have found that taking good quality fish oil capsules over the years has been of benefit to me. There are supplements that you can take and if this is recommended it is usually in the form of calcium and D3 together to aid absorption. There is a new D3 spray for children, but I do advise that you ask a qualified practitioner or your doctor before you use.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is of particular interest to women in relation to osteoporosis risk because one of the causes of heavy periods is a deficiency of this vitamin. And if this has been a regular occurrence during fertile years, this deficiency could lead to early thinning of the bones.

There are two forms of the vitamin that the body can utilise. The first is K1 (phylloquinone), which is from plant sources and the other is K2 (menaquinone) which is produced by bacteria in our own intestines. This is where many of us get into trouble because we are not eating sufficient raw and unprocessed foods for health and additionally many of us suffer from bacterial imbalances in the gut so do not produce sufficient from that source either.

The vitamin is fat-soluble and is stored in the liver. Studies indicate that approximately 50% of the stores come from our diet and the balance from bacteria in the intestines. We need healthy bile production for efficient absorption of Vitamin K and our lymphatic system circulates it throughout the body.

Apart from helping reduce excessive bleeding during menstruation it is also used therapeutically for the prevention of internal bleeding and haemorrhages, including emergency treatment for overdoses of blood thinners such as Warfarin.

Blood clotting is a critical function in the body that solidifies blood to prevent us from bleeding to death from external or internal injuries. Vitamin K is essential for the production of a protein called prothrombin and other factors involved in the blood-clotting function and is therefore necessary to prevent haemorrhages.

Also, interestingly, Vitamin K activates other enzymes that decrease the clotting ability so it assumes the role of regulator within the blood stream. An example of this might occur if a clot forms within a blood vessel that could block the flow, and needs to be dispersed.

As the vitamin works within the body it changes from function to function according to the various interactions with enzymes and at one stage it acts as an antioxidant preventing oxidative damage to cells. There may also be a role for the vitamin in cancer prevention as it is believed it may stimulate rogue cells to self-destruct.

Bone Health and Vitamin K

The vitamin has also been the subject of a great deal of research in recent years as scientists discovered that it played a significant role in liver function, energy production in the nervous system, and in preventing bone loss as we age by assisting the absorption of calcium.

Vitamin K is needed to activate osteocalcin, the protein that anchors calcium into the bone, building and repairing the structure. A deficiency in the vitamin can therefore lead to brittle bones and osteoporosis.

Food sources for Vitamin K

vitamin K

It is very easy to obtain sufficient Vitamin K through diet and you will find that good sources are: Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli and cabbage, asparagus, Avocado, Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Green beans, Green Tea, Carrots, Eggs, Liver, Potatoes and Tomatoes.

Although the vitamin is fairly resilient it is better to eat plant sources either raw or lightly steamed to obtain the maximum benefits. Freezing reduces the amount of the vitamin so you need to eat a little extra of frozen vegetables than fresh.

Final note is on exercise. Whilst it is preferable that your exercise is taken outside in the fresh air and sunshine, it is obvious that during the winter months this is not always a pleasurable option. Dancing, yoga, aerobics, jogging, walking and light weight training are all good forms of inside activity. Find the combination that works for you. There is also a plus to even 30 minutes exercise per day. It will keep your weight down and also stimulate your appetite. This will enable you to continue to consume sufficient foods containing the essential nutrients you need for bone health.


Please feel free to comment or share.. Thanks for dropping by Sally


Smorgasbord Health 2017 – Top to Toe – The Incredible structure that keeps us upright.

Smorgasbord Health 2017

Unless we break a bone or crack one, we tend to take our skeleton for granted.  As we get older we can also experience problems within the structure particularly in the joints that limit our mobility and provide an excuse for not doing quite as much exercise as we should!

However, it is never too late to help your bones as our diet and our exercise levels do have an impact on the regeneration of this essential framework.

I am going to give an overview today on our skeleton and then follow that up with a closer look at the essential nutrients needed in the formation and maintenance of our bones and the precious marrow that is held inside them.  This marrow is essential for our immune system and overall health.  Arthritis in its various forms is likely to affect most of us as we grow older and I will cover the three most common – Osteo-Arthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Gout during the series. The other area that is an increasingly more prevalent problem for the elderly is osteoporosis.

The Skeleton.

We often marvel at the magnificent structures that have been built over the last few thousands of years. The pyramids remain a mystery and their complexity and their resilience to time and man’s destructive influences overawe us.

Instead of being overawed we tend to take for granted our own support structure which is actually as marvellous and as complex as any building or edifice from the ancient or civilised worlds. Buildings are in the main fixed, with the rare exception of a revolving door or floor.

Our bodies on the other hand not only have to be structurally sound but also have to move, requiring intricate and sophisticated engineering systems to maximise strength and mobility.

Every bone in our body, and there approximately 200 of them, is a particular shape because it has a specific role to play. Where flexibility is required, cartilage takes over from bone but it is the joints and ligaments that provide us with our unique ability to stand upright and move with such grace and flexibility

Obviously the skeleton provides an essential framework for our outer layer as well as supporting us as we move through life. But our bones have some vital functions that also are essential to our health and survival.

At birth we have far more bones in our body despite our small size; around 350 which over the years will fuse together into larger units. A baby’s skull has tiny bones with gaps between called fontanelles. This allows the skull to be molded sufficiently to pass through the birth canal without damage to the mother or the baby’s brain.

Not only does a baby have more bones than an adult but more cartilage, which is more flexible. As the baby grows this cartilage will harden into bone and the process continues well into a person’s late teens.

Bones lengthen in the arms and legs at each end at the growth plate, which is made up of cartilage. This cartilage slowly hardens and becomes bone and when no more cartilage is left in late teens or early 20’s, growth stops.

From a nutritional point of view these years of bone growth, fusion of the skeleton and hardening of the bones themselves is critical. Poor diet from birth into early teens can have a dramatic effect on bone health in middle age resulting in Osteo-arthritis and osteoporosis.

Bone health is not just associated with our structural skeleton because underneath this tough and solid outer layer is the soft and vital marrow where all our blood cells are produced that keep us alive. You will find more details in blood health in an upcoming series of posts.

What do we need to keep our bones healthy?

Calcium helps bone to develop. When we make new bone tissue the body first puts down a framework of a protein called collagen. Calcium from the blood then infuses the framework and when the calcium crystals have filled the entire structure the collagen and the calcium form the strength and flexibility of the bone. In a reverse process when we do not get sufficient calcium from our food or fluids, calcium is borrowed from existing bones, which of course weakens them. As calcium is not just used to manufacture bone but also to assist in neural communication and heart and lung functions, demand has to be met by taking in sufficient through diet to prevent further bone density loss.

Bone health needs to be dealt with by age group. Obviously babies, children and adolescents have a different requirement for calcium as they are in such a rapid growth phase. There are some recommendations for calcium daily requirements but because of the complex mechanism of bone development calcium is not the only requirement. Vitamin D is essential for the process as is weight bearing exercise.  Other nutrients such as Vitamin K also play a role which I will cover later in the series.

Children’s’ bodies are an eating machine that is highly efficient in taking what it requires from food and metabolising it into the required components for health. There has been a great deal of research in the last few years into the role of dairy products as a source of calcium for bone health leading to some concerns that excess dairy provided calcium may lead to accelerated bone loss rather than the reverse. However, dairy products still feature high on the list of food sources for this crucial mineral and whatever the results of current research, there is no doubt that bone health requires Calcium and Vitamin D combined with weight bearing exercise.

Best food sources of calcium

The average requirement for a child is as follows:

  • · 1 to 3 years – 500mg per day
  • · 4 to 8 years – 800mg per day
  • · 9 to 18 years – 1,300mg per day

As adults between the age of 19 and 50 we need 1,000mg per day but after 50 we need slightly more and should be taking in at least 1,200mg per day from nutritional sources. Recent research is indicating that it may be harmful to take in large doses of supplemental calcium.

All these food sources will provide 300mg of calcium and it is important to obtain the mineral from as varied a source as possible so that you obtain not just the calcium, but the different nutritional benefits of the individual foods.

  • · Dairy products. Milk 250ml, Yoghurt 175ml, Cheese including low fat varieties 50gm.
  • · Fish products. Canned Salmon with bones 213gm, Canned sardines with bones 213gm.
  • · These products provide 150mg of calcium per serving.
  • · Fruit and vegetables. Oranges x 3, Figs x 6, Baked beans ½ can, Broccoli 250gm, Brussel sprouts x 10 large. Spinach 250gm.
  • · There is also calcium in seeds and nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts and sesame seeds and in fortified drinks like orange juice.

The role of Vitamin D in bone health

The importance of this Vitamin that actually thinks it is a hormone, cannot be overstressed.  It is becoming increasingly evident that this vitamin is showing signs of being deficient in many children’s diet and lifestyle resulting in far more cases of rickets or soft bones.  It is essential for so many functions within the body but is difficult to source especially in the winter months and from limited foods within the diet.


Vitamin D enables calcium to leave the intestine and enter the bloodstream. It also works in the kidneys to help reabsorb calcium which might otherwise be excreted in urine.

One of the problems regarding this particular vitamin is that the best way to produce Vitamin D in the body is to get out in the sunshine, unprotected for 30 to 45 minutes 5 times a week. Exposing your hands, arms and face in this way is usually enough to satisfy the body’s requirement. In this day and age of fears about skin cancer, people are either wearing heavy sunscreens or not exposing their skins at all to sunlight. Also, as we age we become less able to utilise sun to make our Vitamin D. As we reach adulthood we tend to play outside far less than children and this limits our exposure to sunlight. Failing exposure to sunlight then we need to take in sufficient Vitamin D through our diet and this means including free-range eggs, salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, cod liver oil.

The last part of the bone health equation is weight bearing exercise

Apart from ensuring that we take in the right ingredients for the production of bone we also need to stimulate bone to continue growing and strengthening.

We all need frequent, weight bearing exercise. Bone is a living tissue and it constantly changes density, gaining and losing strength according to how often it is used. The old saying that I keep repeating ‘use it or lose it’ applies to our bones as well as most other parts of our body. Exercise stimulates calcium absorption in bone and bone also responds to an increase of blood flow during activity. This ensures that not only calcium but other vital nutrients are also absorbed.

The types of exercise that we take part in tends to differ at various ages but are no less important to bone health. Children, particularly during their incredible growth rate, need to not only take in the nutrients but also actively stimulate their bones into normal growth. Bones can also store calcium for later use during exercise, which makes it even more important. Walking and playing team sports, hiking, tennis, dance and martial arts are all good examples of weight bearing exercises suitable for children but certain activities need to be supervised to make sure that children are not exercising beyond their body’s capabilities. Bones are still not fully formed and joints are vulnerable to damage.

Other weight bearing exercises suitable for adults include walking, dancing, jogging, aerobics but these exercises will only benefit the bones being used and in this case it is the legs. To fully benefit the bones in the rest of the body we need to also take part in resistance exercise which uses muscular strength to improve muscle mass and strengthen bones.

The action of pulling on bone by the muscle actually stimulates it to grow so weight lifting and floor exercises such as push-ups will be very effective. Again these types of exercise should be supervised to maximise the benefits.

Our bones are hidden from view and we invariably only know we have a problem when we suffer a fracture. A couple of external indicators might give you a clue to your skeletal health and that is your teeth and nails. If they are strong and in good condition this should indicate that your bones will also be receiving sufficient calcium and Vitamin D.

As we get older a bone density test is a good idea, particularly for women who are going through the menopause and in the years following this natural process. Early detection of a problem will enable you to deal with the problem by making either some dietary changes or working the appropriate exercise into your lifestyle.

More on our bone health and the diseases we can impact by diet and lifestyle changes next time.

Smorgasbord Health – Vitamin of the week – Vitamin D – Immune Sytem and Bone Health

smorgasbord health

I was a sunshine baby – I spent a good part of the first twelve years of my life in Ceylon as it was called before, Malta and South Africa travelling with our father who was in the Royal Navy. I was brown most of time and in those days you might have got a bit of baby lotion on your skin after sun and we did wear hats, but there were no over the counter sun blocks as such.

At various other times in my life I have lived in sunnier climates including in Spain and I can definitely notice the difference in my health, energy levels and mental well being when I have shorter winters and more sunshine in my life. This includes much improved joint pain, general aches and pains and immune system.

When I lived in Ireland for five years back in the late 1990s, I noticed a difference in my general well-being during the winter months in particular and I began to supplement with vitamin B3 which helped. Something I did not have to do when living in the sun rich climate of Spain.  That certainly proved to me the importance of the vitamin and I do make sure that apart from including the foods that do contain a small amount of the nutrient I get outside as much as possible.

In my blogs on cholesterol – I mentioned that Vitamin D thinks its a hormone – and our bodies have a different process to obtain and utilise it that is partly digestive but primarily through our exposure to the sun.

Vitamin D is necessary for our bone health (aches and pains), immune system (frequent infections), arthritis (joint pain) hormonal fluctuations (SAD is more prevalent in women).

Most people think if they are taking in Calcium that they will be keeping their bones healthy but in fact Vitamin D is vital in this process.

To illustrate how important Vitamin D is to our skeleton here is a brief overview of how it works.

Our bones are living tissue that grows and regenerates throughout our lifetime. It is not static and old bone is removed and replaced with new bone continuously, a process that requires the essential elements of bone to be available from our diet and from chemical reactions in the body. There are four main components that are needed on a daily basis.
Minerals – calcium, magnesium and phosphorus – Matrix – collagen fibres (gristle) – Osteoclasts – bone removing cells and Osteoblasts– bone producing cells.

If you have ever made paper mache sculptures at school you will used a chicken wire framework first of all to establish the shape that you wanted and then overlaid your strips of wet paper and allowed them to harden. The bone making process is very similar.

A network of collagen fibres forms the base and it is then overlaid with the minerals. The strength of the finished bone is dependent on the amount of mineralisation that takes place. Osteoclasts will remove old bone when needed and this results in a need to produce new collagen matrix to attract new minerals for the repair process.

Vitamin D’s role is essential to ensure that sufficient calcium and phosphorus is attracted to the new matrix and that the new bone is strong. If you are deficient in this vitamin more bone is discarded than replaced leading to soft and malformed bones.

There is a worrying increase in the numbers of children being diagnosed with this condition which is called rickets which is why recently the health service has suggested giving all children of 5 and upwards Vitamin D supplementation.

That is because most of our children are no longer exposed to sunlight which is the most efficient way for our bodies to produce the essential Vitamin D it needs. Consider these accumulative factors – less PE at school – increased traffic so no more playing in the streets, more apartment living without gardens, fear of child abuse and abductions so children are kept inside, more television, video games and computer time, both parents working so the children are kept after school or inside and finally when out in the rare holiday sun, children are covered in factor 40. Anything over factor 8 and our skin cannot absorb enough sunshine to produce vitamin D.

The last thing I am suggesting is that you go and lie in the midday sun for three hours and burn to a crisp but during the summer months getting 45 minutes of sunshine on your arms and chest and face with a light factor, either early to mid morning or late afternoon should be sufficient for most people.

There are also dietary sources of Vitamin D – We need at least 10ug per day and we can get this if we eat eggs and oily fish regularly during the week as part of a balanced diet. You can also take cod liver oil capsules and as I mentioned at the beginning of the post; Vitamin D is one of the few supplements that I will take through the winter months.

For the other components involved in bone health; make sure you are obtaining calcium from dairy products, oily fish such as sardines and salmon, including canned salmon, green leafy vegetables such as spinach and if vegetarian, tofu.


Magnesium is found in dairy products, fish, meat, seafood, apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, whole grain cereals and dark green vegetables.


Phosphorus can be found in the proteins in your diet such as poultry and whole grains.


We as adults have a responsibility to ensure the health of our children and however difficult that may be in this modern day and age giving them a safe environment to play and exercise in the sunshine has to be a priority for us all. Combined with a healthy, natural and unprocessed diet with far less sugars and these children will not run the risk of having bowed legs due to rickets.

©sallycronin Just Food For Health 2007

Please feel free to share this post via your own blog..Thanks for dropping by.  Sally

Vitamin D – More research links deficiency to MS, Cardiovascular and Brain function.

Those of you who regularly read my posts will know that although I believe in a varied and balanced diet, I am very vocal about one vitamin in particular.  Vitamin D is emerging as one of the most important nutrients for our health and research is beginning to link a deficiency of the nutrient to many diseases.

A deficiency is being linked to neurological conditions such as MS, cardiovascular disease and brain degeneration.

I subscribe to Dr. Mercola’s daily posts and this arrived this morning.  I think you will find interesting reading.

You will find more about Vitamin D in this post on bone health. How to obtain safely from sunshine and where to find in food.