Can Vitamin D Keep the Doctor Away?

Can Vitamin D Keep the Doctor Away?

Written by Kathy Lynch, PharmD – Women’s International Pharmacy


Vitamin DVitamin D is well-known for its role in the regulation of calcium balance and bone health. Within the last ten years, an enormous amount of research has focused on additional benefits. Observational studies report that low vitamin D levels may increase the risk of TB, HIV, Hepatitis C, respiratory tract, and other infections.

The vast majority of human cells have vitamin D receptors. It is particularly essential for optimal immune system function. Vitamin D stimulates cells that fight against bacterial, fungal, and viral infections while creating an inhospitable environment for microbial growth.

Not only does vitamin D support a healthy immune system, it helps control an overactive immune response by suppressing cells that cause excessive inflammation. If you suffer from multiple infections or inflammatory symptoms, checking your vitamin D level might be just what the doctor ordered.

Can Vitamin D Keep the Doctor Away?2018-04-03T17:26:22-05:00

Vitamin K2 – A Missing Link in the Western Diet?

Vitamin K2 – A Missing Link in the Western Diet?

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP – Women’s International Pharmacy

In 1925 an enterprising dentist, Dr. Weston Price, and his wife began traveling the world and documenting their observations of healthy, remote populations. They observed significant changes in tooth arrangement and mouth and facial structure when people of various cultures strayed from their traditional diet and adopted the Western diet. Traditional diets varied greatly, but all consisted of animal protein and fat in the form of fish, fowl, land animals, eggs, milk and milk products, reptiles, and/or insects. The Western diet introduced processed foods, sugar, and grains. Narrowed mouths, crowded teeth, thin faces, and smaller arches appeared in children whose parents adopted the Western diet. Dr. Price suspected that something specific was missing from the Western diet. He called this mysterious factor Activator X. He demonstrated that Activator X was prevalent in the meat and milk products of animals that grazed on green grasses. He even showed that these facial and dental abnormalities could be reversed in the next generation if Activator X was replaced in the diet. Finally, in 2006, Dr. Price’s Activator X was identified to be vitamin K2.

Confusion With the K’s
There are a number of types of vitamin K, but only two natural forms: vitamin K1 and vitamin K2. Vitamin K1 is present in leafy, green vegetables and is most identified with blood clotting. The drug, Coumadin, works to prevent blood from clotting by inhibiting the action of vitamin K1. The effects of excessive Coumadin may be reversed by administering vitamin K1.

Vitamin K2 exists in a number of distinct active forms. The two most commonly seen are designated as MK-4 and MK-7. MK-4 is present in the organs, milk, eggs and cheese of grass-fed animals. MK-7 is most abundant in a bacterial ferment of soy beans called natto. It is also present in lesser amounts in other fermented foods. Vitamin K2 does not appear to share Vitamin K1’s association with blood clotting.

A Calcium Paradox
Nutritional biochemistry is complicated. In order to learn how various vitamins and minerals work in the body, we often look at the function of one single nutrient at a time. However, when we do this, we fail to understand how nutrients work together. For example, we know that bones need calcium, but supplementing with calcium alone is unlikely to strengthen one’s bones. We need to consider how a number of nutrients work together to contribute to bone health. Each of the fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K, works together synergistically. Vitamin D facilitates calcium absorption into the blood stream. Vitamin K2 converts vitamin D into its active form and also activates the hormone osteocalcin to direct the calcium to the bone. A deficiency of any one of these vitamins may cause malfunctions in the body. Specifically, a deficiency of vitamin K2 may cause calcium to be stored in other tissues rather than being directed to the bone. If calcium settles in the arteries, it can lead to atherosclerosis. Calcium may also cause problems by settling in the joints and in soft tissues like the breasts.

The French Paradox Solved?
Many find it surprising that the French eat a lot of cholesterol and saturated fat and have low rates of death from coronary heart disease (CHD). Some think it’s an ingredient in red wine that keeps them healthy. Perhaps these saturated fats laden with vitamin K2 are the protective factor.

Vitamin K2 in All Parts of the Body

  • Heart Disease: One of the most powerful tools against calcification of the blood vessels is a vitamin K2 activated protein.
  • Osteoporosis: Vitamin K2 activated osteocalcin directs calcium to the bones.
  • Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome: Vitamin K2 improves insulin sensitivity thus potentially stalling progression to metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
  • Wrinkles and Tissue Laxity: May be due to a vitamin K2 deficiency causing misplaced calcium in the skin and tissues.
  • Varicose Veins: May be due to a vitamin K2 deficiency causing calcium to deposit in the veins.
  • Arthritis: Joint damage may reflect a vitamin K2 deficiency.
  • Dental Health: Vitamin K2 may be useful in treating and preventing dental cavities.
  • Pregnancy: Adequate vitamin K2 promotes the healthy development of fetal teeth and facial structure. Also, labor may be easier when vitamin K2 levels are adequate.
  • Cancer: Vitamin K2 promotes cell differentiation and may protect against metastasis.
  • Nervous System: Vitamin K2 plays a role in nervous system protection, myelin development, and signal transduction.

Vitamin K2 and Hormones
Vitamin K2 has an important relationship with estrogen and bone health. Estrogen and bone density both decline during menopause and postmenopausal women are often markedly deficient in vitamin K2. Bone health may be improved in postmenopausal women by restoring adequate vitamin K2 levels as vitamin K2 acts in the bone loss pathway in a number of areas specific to the loss caused by low estrogen levels. Vitamin K2 also plays a role in estrogen metabolism itself. Additionally, testosterone levels and sperm production may be improved by osteocalcin, the hormone activated by vitamin K2.

It is remarkable that it took decades from Dr. Weston Price’s careful observations and characterization of Activator X to finally identify vitamin K2 and a number of its myriad functions. We are still not sure of the appropriate supplement dose to use or the amount of vitamin K2 rich foods to eat. Tests are being devised to help evaluate our vitamin K2 status. In the near future, we will be able to measure vitamin K2 levels as readily as we test for vitamin D now. Research has only scratched the surface of the potential of this fascinating vitamin!

Vitamin K2 – A Missing Link in the Western Diet?2018-04-05T11:10:21-05:00

Lead Toxicity and Disease

Lead Toxicity and Disease

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP – Women’s International Pharmacy

As soon as Dr. Joseph Hickey of Hilton Head, South Carolina begins to speak, you feel fortunate, because you are hearing from the kind of physician who has become a rarity. He is a “people person,” tender and compassionate, as well as a scientist and scholar. Hickey is a keen observer of life who uses his skills to help patients and inspire other physicians and practitioners to look a little deeper.

Recently, I participated in a discussion with Dr. Hickey about the health issues caused by lead, mercury, and cadmium. He neatly linked up obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and atrial fibrillation to an underlying toxicity caused by heavy metals. Hickey offers specific warnings about lead. Lead tends to be sequestered in the bone, replacing calcium; it stores there for decades, releasing slowly.

Then he began to speak about toxemia of pregnancy. The blood pressure is extremely high and blood vessels are constricted, leading to an inability to get blood to the fetus. Both the baby’s and the mother’s lives are threatened. Few in the medical industry try to understand how this is happening. The term “idiopathic” is frequently used, indicating that they have no idea what the underlying cause may be.

Dr. Hickey proposes that we look to lead toxicity as the underlying cause of toxemia of pregnancy. Lead has been identified as a cause of hypertension. Lead blocks the production of nitric oxide (NO), which serves to relax our blood vessels. During pregnancy, the fetus depends on the calcium in the bones of the mother to start to form its own skeleton. As the mother’s bones are breaking down, the lead is now displaced and free to attach to other organs. In the case of hypertension, the vascular blood system is affected.

In general, we know about this tendency for bone structure to weaken in the pregnant female. As evidence of this, many find themselves with new dental problems during pregnancy. But we didn’t know the consequences of releasing stored lead.

Magnesium is often used for toxemia of pregnancy because it is able to produce a relaxation of the blood vessels. Dr. Hickey warns that the treatment is temporary because the underlying lead toxicity problem is not resolved simply by using magnesium.

At this point in the discussion, I shared some observations about all the menopausal women who start to lose their bone mass and become increasingly osteoporotic. Dr. Hickey responded that bioidentical hormone supplementation can play a huge role here. When women take steps to keep their declining hormone levels up, they are able to forestall the breakdown of bone. But, when bones do break down, the lead will not only cause many of the so-called “age-related” illnesses already mentioned above; lead can also be absorbed into the brain, becoming the underlying cause of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

In fact, Dr. Hickey went on, whenever the bone structure is interfered with, lead can be released and cause its damage. Declined mental functioning, a well-known aftermath of open heart surgery to perform bypasses, has been blamed on low oxygen from diminished blood flow during the surgery. Dr. Hickey feels it is more likely to be the lead released from cutting the sternum bone. Consider then the consequences of such surgical procedures as hip and knee replacements or dental implants.

Lead vs. Gadolinium

Let’s detour for a moment to discuss another bone-loving metal called gadolinium. This metal is used routinely in the contrast medium during MRI procedures. MRIs provide excellent pictures of the internal organs; however, it is now observed that gadolinium does not entirely leave the body after the procedure. Like lead, this metal stores in bones, only to be released to cause further damage as bones are damaged.

Unlike lead, gadolinium produces its own symptoms, such as skin disorders and runaway production of fibroblast cells, leading to thickening such as the disease scleroderma. Women who are concerned about or being treated for breast cancer, for example, may be exposed to multiple MRI scans and should be aware of the increasing amounts of gadolinium that may be stored in their bodies. General awareness of this potential is not yet widely recognized by the medical community.

Testing for Lead Toxicity

Where did the lead come from? Most of us are aware that both paints and gasoline used to be lead-based. Fortunately, society has moved away from these major sources of lead toxicity. Nonetheless, lead stores in the bones for decades, so many of us now reaching menopause will have significant levels.

How do we find out how much lead we have? Dr. Hickey said that a test using an X-ray of shin bones has been developed and will define how much lead has accumulated. This test is only available on a limited basis. In his office, he uses a measure of heavy metals in the urine both before and after giving a chelating agent to his patient, monitoring the increased amounts released into the urine by the chelator. Chelation, or a sequestering and elimination of heavy metals, can help diminish our body stores.

An even simpler way to determine if lead is an issue, Dr. Hickey says, is to measure the waist-to-hip circumference. If the waist measurement is larger, this is an indicator of metabolic syndrome and an indicator that lead is an issue. Another big clue is increasing blood pressures.

What can we do? Some doctors specialize in treating heavy metals and they can be found at these organizations:

As mentioned above, protecting the bones by keeping hormones at normal levels will not “get the lead out,” but it can keep the lead sequestered as a precaution. Staying well-nourished with good food and/or supplementation will stop the lead from insinuating into the metabolic processes. Dr. Hickey says to rejoice in expensive urine from supplementation; it is a sure sign that you are protecting yourself.

Lead Toxicity and Disease2018-04-02T16:39:12-05:00

Book Review – The Calcium Lie by Robert Thompson, MD

Book Review – The Calcium Lie: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know Could Kill You by Robert Thompson, MD and Kathleen Barnes

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP – Women’s International Pharmacy

Dr. Robert Thompson believes that ever since refrigerators were invented and we stopped salting our food, we have become an increasingly mineral-deficient population. Aggravating this further is the near dogma of The Calcium Lie (as he calls it), which insists that we must supplement calcium to maintain healthy bones. This idea, he believes, is fostered by the dairy industry.

The truth is that bones are made of minerals. In addition to calcium, Dr. Thompson lists potassium, magnesium, manganese, silica, iron, zinc, selenium, boron, phosphorus, sulfur, chromium, and trace minerals as components of bone. The trouble with supplementing only calcium leads to relative deficiencies in the other minerals needed for healthy bones. The potential resulting excess in calcium leads to chronic health disorders such as plaque in the arteries, kidney stones, gall stones, bone spurs, osteoarthritis, hypertension, thyroid hormone resistance, obesity, and diabetes.

According to Dr. Thompson, the excess calcium leads to a “cascade” that goes something like this:

The kidneys need extra magnesium to cope with the calcium, so the magnesium needed for good adrenal function is diverted.

  • This also causes excess excretion of sodium and potassium, and leaves the intracellular sodium and potassium depleted
  • Without the sodium and potassium to produce hydrochloric acid for digestion, the breakdown of protein to amino acids is impaired
  • This leads to total metabolic impairment

High calcium levels also lead to increased tissue resistance to thyroid. In other words, even though blood tests for thyroid hormones may be normal, symptoms of low thyroid function may still occur because the hormone is not able to get into the cells to achieve activity. Dr. Thompson says that this can be diagnosed by low basal temperatures and testing for an elevated ratio of calcium to potassium using a hair mineral analysis. He claims that the higher the ratio, the more resistant the cells are to thyroid hormones.

Dr. Thompson’s six-step formula for a return to health, including good bone health:

  • Drink and bathe in pure water.
  • Take only ionized sea salt minerals.
  • Use only whole food vitamins.
  • Eat nuts, seeds and cold water fish for essential fatty acids.
  • Eat high-quality protein, organic if possible, minimizing dairy products.
  • Get enough essential monosaccharides by eating a spoonful of maple syrup daily, or from eating honey, fresh fruits, berries, sweet potatoes, parsnips, beets and onions.

It is intriguing that such a common health recommendation as calcium supplementation could possibly backfire by having such a dramatic impact on thyroid activity. This is particularly concerning because the thyroid hormones affect the whole metabolic system, potentially causing other hormones to also become unbalanced. Perhaps it is time to reevaluate our thinking about this and other long-held beliefs, especially when they affect hormone balance.

Book Review – The Calcium Lie by Robert Thompson, MD2017-12-14T15:25:21-05:00

Hormones in Your Fingernails

Hormones in Your Fingernails

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP – Women’s International Pharmacy

A study published by Fay Marnock, et al., suggested using fingernails to measure hormone status. As a nail’s matrix builds up with keratin, hormones passively diffuse into the nail from capillaries in the blood. The authors suggested measuring DHEA and cortisol in the nail to gauge hormone status over a prolonged period. This could have advantages over tests using serum, saliva, and urine, which reflect only a point in time or only a single day’s hormone level.

Aside from the possibility of actually measuring hormones, the appearance of your fingernails reveals a lot of information about your overall health. For example, one of the symptoms of osteoporosis is brittle fingernails. A clinical trial is currently comparing nail structure with bone integrity over the course of chemotherapy treatment.  The investigators are also comparing the nails of individuals who have had a bone fracture with those who have not.

Just like hair, fingernails are mostly composed of a protein called keratin. However, not all fingernails are alike.  A study by Dittman, et al., showed that not only is there a gender difference–women have more sulfur and less nitrogen in their nails than men–but that carbon levels in fingernails increase with age in both sexes.

First and foremost, healthy nails require an adequate supply of nutrients. However, Dr. Jonathan Wright notes that adequate supplies of stomach acid are equally important to nail health because of its role in the absorption of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and minerals. So, in addition to eating enough of the right nutrients, the state of your digestive health will determine whether or not the nutrients are actually absorbed and usable. Dr. Wright also checks for testosterone levels because it is also needed for protein (i.e., keratin) synthesis.

Dr. Thierry Hertoghe observes that vertical lines on fingernails are typical of a growth hormone deficiency. Some believe that this may also be a sign of nutrient deficiency.

A hallmark of menopause can be dry, brittle nails can. Healthy fingernails must be hydrated. Since estrogens are responsible for keeping water in body tissues, lowered estrogen levels contribute to less healthy fingernails. Dehydration is also a common problem with aging, which helps explain why the elderly often have fingernails that look dull and yellow.

Dry, brittle nails are also a sign of hypothyroidism. With low thyroid function, circulation to the extremities is impaired, which means that the nutrients in the blood may not get all the way to the fingernails. The nail bed can also become very pale because of poor circulation.

The parathyroid glands, located in the neck near the thyroid gland, regulate calcium and vitamin D. If the glands are not producing enough parathyroid hormone, brittle nails may result. Calcium and vitamin D must be supplemented to restore nail health.

Those little white spots that appear on your fingernails may originate from stress. The white spot indicates a drop in zinc caused by a stressful event. Since a fingernail takes about six months to grow, you can even estimate the time of the stressful incident. Dr. Carl Pfeiffer noted that about 30% of schizophrenia patients had these spots. He then treated them with zinc and B6 (because B6 will be ineffective without enough zinc) and had very favorable responses.

Hormones certainly play a role in maintaining healthy nails, and the tidbits mentioned here just scratch the surface of what can be gleaned from looking closely at your fingernails. The shape, colorings, pitting, lines, thickness and splitting can all be clues to the state of your body’s health. If you have concerns about your fingernails, be sure to discuss them with your healthcare practitioner. Fungal infections and psoriasis can be a direct cause of a diseased nail.

Additional Resources:
Hormones in Your Fingernails2018-04-09T14:47:30-05:00