By Louanne Saraga Walters
Vitamin C. It's not sexy, it's often overstated and ignored, and when I'm talking about its many functions, it's probably also the least understood vitamin in the roster. Whether you're a self-proclaimed wellness savant, or a medically trained doctor, the common response to Vitamin C is, "And?" Ah. Poor ascorbic acid! Doing so much while being understood so little...
Until now, that is! And, as we get going in this post - for those of you who are like me and love the research, I've included a few studies below to get your noses into some new discoveries about Vitamin C! (I wrote the science-y bits during my MS, but don't worry, I'll explain them!)
FOR MORE THAN SCURVY
We all remember our high school science classes talking about scurvy, that dreaded disease afflicting sailors in the 18th century who didn't have any citrus available for months at a time. No citrus, probably little access to Vitamin C (also known as L-ascorbic acid, ascorbic acid, or AA) and eventually the classic symptoms started showing: capillary and perifollicular hemorrhages - ugh (3), corkscrew hair, bleeding gums, swelling & discoloration of legs and buttocks - double ugh (1,2), and anemia, muscle pain and co-deficiencies of folate and iron absorption - how did they sail??? (3).
For a long time, we thought we had a handle on Scurvy, until symptoms showed up in children suffering from severe cerebral palsy (3), and in refugee populations (2) and in low income populations in the United Kingdom and United States (1,2). And, adults with alcoholism or who smoked in the refugee and low income populations were at much greater risk for developing scurvy (1,2). So what gives??
AN ESSENTIAL VITAMIN
Vitamin C is an essential vitamin. That means our bodies cannot make it. In fact, we're one of a very few species of animals which cannot make our own Vitamin C! (We're joined by guinea pigs and monkeys, which is why scientists often use these two in ascorbic acid experiments.)
And yet, AA has an extremely important role as a reducing agent (6), that is, it adds electrons to other molecules to re-form them into different compounds that serve much needed roles in our health, and mostly at the cellular level. (4,6) This ability to act as a reducing agent makes Vitamin C (or AA) both an antioxidant AND an agent that enhances other nutrients, such as iron. Let's take the antioxidant role first.
AS AN ANTIOXIDANT
Antioxidant: As a water soluble antioxidant, AA acts inside and outside of cells to neutralize Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) radicals and so protect us from ROS’ harmful effects (4). Okay, wait, what?? Here's what that means: Vitamin C is water soluble. That means it can pass through the cell wall via a process called osmosis, and it can work both inside and outside of cells. The actual structure of Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, allows it to pull unpaired electrons from compounds called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) which are basically oxygen molecules that have unpaired electrons. Because oxygen wants to have a fully balanced and paired ring of electrons, an ROS goes on the hunt for electrons and pulls them away from other molecules creating an "oxidized state". (Oxygen robs electrons from other molecules which causes damage, so scientists called it being "oxidized".) And ROS's are to blame for a lot of inflammation! Vitamin C pulls unpaired electrons away from the ROS's, so they become balanced again and not on the hunt to rob electrons elsewhere. Thus Vitamin C is an "antioxidant" - and that's what an antioxidant does!
Where Vitamin C does this is exceptionally important - in the very heart of the energy makers in our cells, the mitochondria. And the mitochondria, which produce ATP (our energy) create a LOT of ROSs!! For you ultra-sciencey peeps, here are a few fun mitochondrial AA facts (6) - stay with me non-sciencey peeps, you'll get it too:
AS A NUTRIENT ENHANCER
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) can help our bodies absorb other nutrients as well. We can see this in how it works with iron. We absorb heme iron (from animals) really efficiently, but nonheme iron (found in plants) is a bit more difficult for our bodies to absorb. (4) No, that doesn't mean we should only eat meat! It means we should eat a variety of fruits and veggies, because all of these awesome nutrients do a variety of functions and they do them best surrounded by each other - but I digress.
When AA (ascorbic acid) is consumed in a meal with iron, it helps us absorb the iron (5) by reducing ferric iron to its ferrous form (4). Huh? That means Vitamin C actually adds a couple of electrons to ferric iron which makes it become ferrous iron, and our bodies absorb that much better and faster. In addition, Vitamin C also becomes a chelating agent - that just means it attaches to the metal compound, the iron - and helps it become absorbed faster in the duodenum, a section of the gut. (5). Iron is just one of many nutrients Vitamin C enhances!!
Vitamin C is about so much more than "not getting scurvy" or "when I have a cold." It's about helping our bodies, and the cells and mitochondria in those cells, provide us with overall health by getting rid of inflammatory agents (those ROS's!) and helping us absorb other nutrients.
1. Bartley, J. (2017). Scurvy in new zealand-a forgotten disease. The New Zealand Medical Journal, 130(1454), 86-87. Retrieved from https://uws.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mdc&AN=28449021&site=ehost-live
2. Ben-Zvi, G., & Tidman, M. J. (2012). Be vigilant for scurvy in high-risk groups. The Practitioner, 256(1755), 23. Retrieved from https://uws.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mdc&AN=23214273&site=ehost-live
3. Gupta, S., Kanojia, R., Jaiman, A., & Sabat, D. (2012). Scurvy: An unusual presentation of cerebral palsy. World Journal of Orthopedics, 3(5), 58-61. doi:10.5312/wjo.v3.i5.58
4. Iqbal, K., Khan, A., & Muzaffar Ali Khan Khattak, M. (2004). In FAO of t. U. (Ed.), Biological significance of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in human health - A review Retrieved from http://docsdrive.com/pdfs/ansinet/pjn/2004/5-13.pdf
5. Lynch, S. R., & Cook, J. D. (1980). Interaction of vitamin C and iron. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 355, 32-44. Retrieved from https://uws.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mdc&AN=6940487&site=ehost-live
6. Mandl, J., Szarka, A., & Bánhegyi, G. (2009). Vitamin C: Update on physiology and pharmacology. British Journal of Pharmacology, 157(7), 1097-1110. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2009.00282.x
This video is an excerpt from the 3+ hour course, "Intestinal Permeability: Causes and Strategies" available at 20% off! Click here for the discount.
In this 6 minute video, Dr. Tarin Forbes talks about the stigma surrounding leaky gut, and why it's vitally important for both doctors and patients to understand what several decades of research now reveal including:
The American Heart Association's warning on coconut oil last year revealed an important - and often missed - truth about nutritional healthcare: there are very few absolute truths in scientific research. The study had some interesting and valid points, and some very questionable conclusions including whether coconut oil is unhealthy. Dr. Josh Axe ("Eat Dirt") is a Functional Medicine practitioner who took a look at this particular study that disturbed the AHA, and broke it down in this post supported by additional research.
Introducing Dr. Georgia Ede! One of my go-to MDs focused on nutrition and brain health, Dr. Ede is a fantastic evidence based guru. Enjoy this article as posted in Psychology Today! And be sure to visit her website DiagnosisDiet.com for brain-feeding fun facts!!
"Psychiatric disorders like depression, bipolar disorder and psychosis are strongly tied to inflammation. Psychiatric medications are not designed to fight inflammation, but did you know there are two changes you can make to your diet that will naturally reduce inflammation in your brain and body? Learn how to heal brain inflammation from the inside out in my article on Psychology Today."
Your Nutrient Personality: Why It's important to Know Your Nutrient Deficiencies even if you eat a healthy diet
Annual wellness checkups give us a much needed current health snapshot. Knowing our potential nutrient deficiencies takes us one step further into maintaining optimum health and preventing disease. How do we do this? Louanne Saraga Walters, Nutritionist Educator and Co-Founder of WellnessME.Life explains in this short video.
By Louanne and Sharon Saraga Walters
Scientific studies are revealing the ways in which exercising gratitude benefits not only our emotional and mental health, but also our physical health. Here are just a few examples of the latest trials being conducted (all from 2017):
1. In a randomized controlled trial, 46 pregnant women participated in an online mindfulness and gratitude program 4 times per week for 3 weeks. The women had significant reductions in waking and evening salivary cortisol levels which were measured at the start, after 1.5 weeks, and at the end of the program period.
2. 192 men and women participated in a 3 month randomized controlled trial in active journaling of gratitude. Participants improved in overall balance (well-being) and had reductions in depression biomarkers.
3. 359 students, faculty and staff participated in a 4 month gratitude program following an on-campus shooting. Participants showed a decrease in posttraumatic stress and an increase in posttraumatic growth.
Do you know what your Gratitude Fitness level is?
Whether we're going through a stressful period, or simply experiencing regular, daily stress, our practice of exercising Gratitude an benefit us in multiple physical pathways, while improving several areas of our lives simultaneously.
The Grati-Fit™ system can help you identify and focus on areas in your life which might need a Gratitude shift, while revealing additional exercises to enhance your current Gratitude practice.
Download and take this short quiz to find out what areas need your Gratitude attention today!
By Louanne Saraga Walters, MS, HNFM
Myth or Medically True?
Leaky gut. Two words that describe a condition that researchers believe may be at the very heart of dozens of diseases and conditions today.
Over the last several decades, studies in human and animal models have positively linked leaky gut to the development of:
Further, studies show leaky gut is directly associated with causing a myriad of conditions that set the stage for disease;
From Naturally Protective to Excessively Harmful
Intestinal permeability is something that happens to all of us as part of our daily biological functioning. It’s a natural process of our immune function allowing our bodies to sense or ‘taste test’ potential antagonists so we can develop a defense against them.
However, when that permeability is too much or that leak happens too often, our immune systems go into a chronic overdrive which can result in overstimulating our defense system causing systemic inflammation - meaning inflammation throughout our bodies.
Decades of research show us leaky gut is not a myth, and intestinal permeability is not an irregularity. But if our gut, our intestines are too permeable, too leaky, that becomes a problem. Some medical professionals prefer to use the more scientifically descriptive terms: increased intestinal permeability, hyper-permeability, or “leaky gut syndrome” to designate the difference between a gastrointestinal system working as it should versus one working overtime as a result of dysfunction.
We are seeing more “increased intestinal permeability” or leaky gut as a “syndrome” today than we were fifty, fifteen or even five years ago linked to greater and greater incidence and prevalence of disease - meaning more people becoming sick and a greater percentage of the population being sick. The World Health Organization reports:
Cardiovascular disease is now the #1 cause of death globally claiming 31% of all deaths. And yet, as the World Health Organization reports, “Most cardiovascular diseases can be prevented by addressing behavioral risk factors” - with unhealthy diet and obesity at the top of the list.
The facts are sobering, and yet we’re seeing these diseases increase year over year. Why? Because we are not really addressing the underlying cause of these diseases - leaky gut.
So what is it, and how do we “get it” ?
Simply put, intestinal permeability is when the lining of our intestines becomes compromised. Our gut lining has a significant job: it’s meant to allow the good things like nutrients and water to pass through into our blood stream while keeping out the bad things like toxins and allergens. It does this with a complex biochemical system within the cells of the wall itself and between the cells which make up the wall that act like gates. But when we consume foods with ingredients our bodies don’t want - trans-fats, antibiotics in conventionally raised animals, pesticides in various fruits, vegetables and grains, certain chemicals or food preservatives, or even repeated small doses of a food we may not even know we are sensitive to, like gluten — all of these act like little missiles against that gut lining, eventually causing cracks in the gut wall and forcing protective gates to stay open. Over time an increasing amount of bad things get through.
Our bodies are amazingly resilient and have a detailed immune response that jumps in to try to handle the leaks. We may find ourselves sniffling and clearing our throats after meals in response to our immune system fighting to remove what got through. This may develop into abdominal cramps and bowel issues, or eventually, disease. What type of disease and when it appears is entirely personal involving three things - our individual genes, our environmental influences, and how far developed our leaky gut is. The stages of these three key factors can manifest into any numbers of diseases as we’ve already seen.
Because we are so individualized, it’s very important to understand both the role our gut plays in our health, and how choices we make can compromise it.
Intestinal Permeability: Causes and Strategies and Leaky Gut: What You Need to Know Now will launch in September!
By Louanne Saraga Walters, MS HNFM
Magnesium. Mg. The 12th element on the periodic table. When I first begin talking with people about magnesium, I generally get confused looks and knitted eye-brows. Why would anyone want to take a supplement containing a substance used as a metal?!
What Does It Do?
As a quick answer, magnesium is arguably one of the most important minerals for our health, as evidenced by the hundreds of now discovered functions it handles (and perhaps hundreds more we simply don’t know about yet). Take a look at this list of duties!
And these are only a few of the functions we know about now!
Magnesium deficiency, meaning the levels of magnesium needed for all of these body functions is simply not enough, can produce serious conditions and lead to disease. Insufficient magnesium can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, stroke, migraine headaches, Alzheimers and more.
How Much Do We Need?
The current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA), the suggested amount for the average healthy individual to consume, is 310-420 milligrams per day. But the average actually consumed is far less, with estimates of greater than 60% of adults in the U.S. underconsuming the RDA. Why? Because depending upon your cultural diet (American, European, Mediterranean, etc), you may not be exposed to enough magnesium containing whole foods.
What Foods Contain Magnesium?
Magnesium is abundant in green leafy vegetables, beans, seeds and some grains. TI compiled this table by pulling foods from an evidenced-based website called World’s Healthiest Foods, which lists the nutrient content of hundreds of foods.
Take a look at these magnesium-rich foods and take a moment to think of how often you might eat from this food group. Once per day? Once per week? Once per month? Even if the answer is once per day, you could be short-changing your body’s magnesium needs!
How Do I Find Out My Magnesium Status?
Because magnesium is stored in bone (49.5%), tissues and organs (49.5%), and blood (1%), a blood test barely touches the surface of a person’s magnesium status, and unless there is a suspected severe deficiency, blood tests are not used. Urinary magnesium levels via a loading test is considered the most accurate and require a dose of magnesium given before the test starts, with urine samples taken for 24 hours to measure output. However, this test is avoided in patient’s with kidney issues. Further, an individual's ability to absorb magnesium can be affected by a number of things including genes, medications, toxins and even other nutrients. So as vital a role as magnesium plays in our bodies, it's also important to have a good gauge of our total daily average magnesium intake.
Using a Diet Record Analysis (DRA) to Discover Magnesium Intake
One good way to estimate your daily average intake of magnesium is a Diet Record Analysis (DRA). This 3 or 4 day analysis requires a detailed tracking of everything you eat and drink, listed by ounce, gram, milligram and teaspoon or tablespoon. Brand names are important. Listing everything is vital to gain a comprehensive and complete look at your nutritional intake in that time frame.
This information is then entered into a software program which asks further questions about age, gender and lifestyle, and a complete listing of nutritional sufficiencies and deficiencies is then produced. (If you do not have a clinic or nutritionist in your area, order your Wellness APEX™ DRA at the introductory rate through August 31, 2018.)
NOTE: It’s advisable to let any nutritionist or healthcare practitioner also know what medications you may be on, as certain medications may also hinder your body’s ability to absorb magnesium (as well as other nutrients).
How Does Magnesium Help Conditions and Diseases?
The research is extensive, but a few tried methods show great success when magnesium is supplemented appropriately with whole foods first (if possible) and recommended/tested supplements:
How Much Should I Take?
Adding magnesium rich whole foods to your diet is the primary goal. As a Nutritionist Educator, I recommend aiming to eat the RDA of any nutrient in whole foods first. For magnesium, that means building a diet of magnesium rich foods to aim for 310 - 420 mg per day. We do also know that that’s not always possible, or certain medications or even other nutrients may deplete our body’s ability to absorb all the magnesium in the foods we eat. So if you’re going to add a magnesium supplement, aim for one that offers 200 mg per capsule or tablet, and seek your doctor’s advice to whether you need to double that amount.
Step one is to be aware of what you’re eating. Are you getting enough magnesium in your average daily consumption? Have you requested a Diet Record Analysis to double check your estimations? For a nutrient as important as magnesium, set the second guessing aside. After all, there’s a reason magnesium is the ninth most abundant element in the Universe!
Mary Webb Walker, Brain Dame and Co-Founder of the Caregiver Sanctuary explains magnesium's role in our brain health. See her bio below.
What does your body have in common with exploding stars, the earth’s crust, fireworks, plants, and seawater?
If you answered “magnesium,” then you already know that this important mineral plays a key role in the universe and throughout our human bodies. But do you know just how critical it is for our brain health? Read on!
The word “magnesium” originates from a place in Greece called Magnesia, named after Magnes, son of Zeus, whose thundering power was no doubt enhanced by plenty of magnesium in his diet.
Today we know that magnesium is crucial in helping over 300 enzymes function properly. We also know that magnesium regulates how brain cells form new connections to keep our brains humming and our memory sharp.
Our brains need help
Alzheimer’s Disease International's Dementia Statistics reports that someone in the world develops dementia every 3 seconds. An estimated 50 million people are living with dementia today. This number is projected to almost double every 20 years. And the scary part of these stats is… only 25% of those with the disease are believed to be diagnosed according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Brain’s Got Talent
Neuroplasticity, a relatively new aha in neuroscience, is a winner in keeping our brains from deteriorating. Often called brain plasticity, it refers to the brain’s ability to rewire itself over a lifetime, changing neurons and the connections between them.
This neuroplasticity portion of Brain’s Got Talent, brought to you in part by magnesium, is considered to be no less than the foundation of learning and memory.
Unfortunately, there are way too few people participating in America’s Got Magnesium. Reports show that anywhere from 50% to 70% of Americans get less than the RDA recommendation. For adults 51+, who are at higher risk for dementia, the RDA is 420 mg for men and 320 mg for women.
Dr. Steven Masley, in his recent book, The Better Brain Solution, details lifestyle choices for improved brain function and highlights nutrients that enhance brain plasticity, including magnesium.
Food to light up your brain
There was a time when Americans got plenty of magnesium in their diet by eating leafy greens, nuts and seeds, cold-water fish, and legumes. Enter Sweet Tooth Nation, food processing, and super-sized fast food. Not only did magnesium intake and absorption take a plunge, but the body started requiring even more to compensate.
There’s no one magic food. It takes a combination to get what you need each day. Use this handy food chart that gives you a clear picture of delicious dietary sources of magnesium.
You’ll see that spinach, dark chocolate, avocados, bananas, almonds, pumpkins seeds, halibut, and black beans are a few of the great choices. There are lots of ways to combine the foods on the chart for yummy meals and snacks. And you have to admit that adding a sprinkling of seeds or grabbing a handful of nuts is pretty easy.
Seed tip: According to Healthline, an ounce (28 grams) of chia seeds provides 30% of the RDA for magnesium. Yes, they’re bland, but you don’t have to grind them and they won’t detract from your salads or anything else begging for a bit of decoration.
Supplements - When food is not enough
Food may not do the trick for some people, due to issues like genetics and absorption. And let’s face it, most of us don’t eat perfectly even when we give it our best shot.
Remember that not all magnesium supplements are created equal. A protein-bound source is best. MIT studies indicate additional benefit from magnesium-L-threonate due to higher bioavailability and brain-magnesium loading ability.
Toward a mightier brain
We Americans want easy solutions, now if not sooner. By viewing cognitive health as an enticing cocktail of positive, enjoyable lifestyle changes rather than pain-in-the patootie repressive rules, we CAN enhance our brains.
While nutrition plays a key role in brain health along with supplements as needed, remember that quality sleep, a healthy gut, meditation and prayer, lots of laughter, and regular exercise are all necessary ingredients for keeping our brains from shrinking and becoming diseased.
Be like a brightly-lit firework, exploding with energy!
Just as magnesium is necessary to light up the sky with pyrotechnics, your brain needs it to light up your memory, cognition and learning ability. Picture a shrunken brain, not firing on all cylinders.
Talk with a functional medicine physician. Know your risk factors. See if you have poor magnesium absorption. Review your eating plan. Find out if you need a supplement. Now picture your brain as fat and happy, mightily igniting all the right neural connections. Your beautiful, neuroplastic brain will thank you.
Mary Webb Walker is a brain health and caregiving consultant, speaker, writer, and former Alzheimer’s family caregiver. She is a founding Brain Dame, co-founder and facilitator of Caregiver Sanctuary memory caregiver support group , and co-founder of Memory Mondays at Great Explorations Children’s Museum.
Mary Webb serves on a task force for Florida Department of Elder Affairs Dementia Care and Cure Initiative, speaks with Florida state legislators on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association, and works with AARP Caregiving. She is also a successful entrepreneur as co-founder of AccentHealth, a healthy lifestyle media network created for medical waiting rooms with Dr. Sanjay Gupta as a host.
Dr. Tarin Forbes reveals why nutrition is at the core of her practice, why she always checks nutrient levels no matter how healthy her patients are, what the top two nutrient deficiencies affect more than 90% of Americans, and what she suggests we do about it!
Living my WellnessME.Life is our quarterly newsletter, compiled of separate blog posts created by Louanne and Sharon Saraga Walters and contributed by esteemed healthcare practitioners, colleagues and friends with a holistic (interrelated, synergistic, systemic) view of wellness.