Health news you can use

February 24, 2012

Cancer, Health, Heart disease

Do you know your vitamin D score?

by Dr. Alan Christianson — 

New research shows that calcium supplementation raised heart attack risk by 20 percent to 30 percent; also, should you use folate or folic acid (the synthetic form)?


As long as we have known about heart disease, we have also known that cardiovascular plaque is calcified. Over the years, this has led many to ask: “If calcification hurts my heart, does that mean I should not take calcium?” It now appears that such concerns may have merit.

In a meta-analysis of 11 clinical trials, totaling about 12,000 patients, calcium supplementation raised heart-attack risk by 20 percent to 30 percent, according to Ian Reid, M.D., of New Zealand’s University of Auckland. In the studies, participants took at least 500 mg of calcium without vitamin D.

The rapid rise of blood calcium with calcium supplements can be the trigger for vascular damage. Editorials with the article also presented data showing that the bone-protecting benefits of calcium appear minimal in recent studies. It has been speculated, however, that food-based calcium absorbs more slowly.

What should be done? Dietary calcium comes from dairy foods. Other foods contain some calcium, but much less than dairy. Calcium-fortified foods, such as orange juice, soy and rice milk, also assimilate slowly and may be good options for those who are dairy-intolerant.

You may know your cholesterol or blood pressure, but do you know your vitamin D score? It is probably more important. Get tested and take enough to be in the optimal range of 55 to 80.

Folic acid

The B vitamin, folate, is important for preventing neural-tube defects in infants and, as such, has been used to fortify grains since 1990. Over this time, these types of birth defects have been reduced by 19 percent.

Yet for non-pregnant women (and men), the addition of folate may not be a good thing. The form of folate added to grains is folic acid, the synthetic form of folate. Since the 1950s, it has been known that in the test tube, folic acid fuels the growth of many cancerous cells, especially colon cancer cells. In fact, most chemotherapy drugs work by blocking folic acid.

Since fortification with folic acid was implemented, it appears that colon cancer has risen by 15,000 cases per year, even after factoring in improvements in screening. Other studies have suggested links between folic acid and lung and prostate cancers.

What to do?

Folic acid is added to processed grains, which includes white flour, instant oatmeal and white rice. This is just one more reason to avoid processed grains and exclusively eat whole grains.

Paradoxically, folate from foods is important and likely lowers the risk of many of the same cancers for which folic acid raises the risk. Good sources include leafy greens, lentils, beans and citrus fruits.

When the liver processes natural folate, it is converted into a compound called 5 methyltetrahydrafolate (MTHF). Many professional supplement manufacturers are switching to MTHF in their B vitamin and multivitamin supplements since this form does not raise health risks.


Alan Christianson, N.M.D., has been practicing in Scottsdale, Ariz., for over 14 years. He is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Thyroid Disease. He practices at Integrative Health, along with Drs. Ann Lovick and Phil Wazny. 480-657-0003 or

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 30, Number 1, Feb/Mar 2011.

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