The powerful vitamin A and what happens in vitamin deficiency

Dear Dr. Mo: You’ve mentioned that Squash is rich in vitamin A but cautioned not to take too much of it. How can vitamins hurt us? Specifically, why is vitamin A important and how can it be harmful? What’s happening in vitamins deficiency?

Squash and pumpkins are awesome sources of vitamin A

Squash and pumpkins are awesome sources of vitamin A

Dear reader: Vitamin A has many vital functions and people associate it with good vision and this is certainly true. This vitamin along with vitamins D,E and K is not water soluble, which means they are not easily removed from our body and can hang on for a long time in our fat tissue, being fat-soluble. That’s why too much of it will stick around and cause problems. Apart from good vision, here are a few other equally significant roles of vitamin A in normal, deficient and excess situation:

1. It is a cofactor for a hormone called PTH (Parathyroid hormone) and this means that without it the hormone cannot function properly. PTH is necessary for Calcium balance in our body – this means that PTH controls the levels of Calcium in our blood; it affects the strength and health of our bones, the absorption of Calcium from our gut etc. Except for bone health, Calcium is also very important in cellular functioning and without it (or with too much of it) many of our vital processes stop or become excessive (for example, muscle contractions including heart, secretion of hormones like for instance insulin etc..).
Contrary to deficiency, vitamin A excess will cause PTH to work too much and increase levels of Calcium at the expense of our bones; too much Calcium will cause problems with muscle contractions known as tetanic contractions, our heart will not beat properly, kidneys may develop stones, Calcium will leak out into urine and the entire system will be thrown off balance.

2. It’s necessary for production of the fluid that cushions and maintains our brain and spinal cord called Cerebro-Spinal Fluid (CSF) – in vitamin A deficiency the CSF production is low but the body doesn’t know it; on the flip side of it, if vitamin A is in excess, too much CSF will cause dangerous increase in pressure in the skull which manifests itself with strong headaches and optic nerve swelling and can lead if left untreated to blindness and/or even death via something called brain herniation.

3. It’s crucial in maturation of cells such as the ones in hair, skin and eyes or linings of our organs like the lungs or intestines. So if for example a child is recovering from Measles, a doctor may give some vitamin A to speed up the regeneration of the child’s worn away cells in the lungs. We also give vitamin A to transform one exceptionally lethal type of Leukemia called PML (Pro-Myeloblastic Leukemia) into one less lethal called AML to help patients live longer with the disease. Vitamin A is used in Dermatology to manage some diseases etc. Continue reading

Health benefits of Melons

Dear Dr. Mo: I loved your posts on Squash and I have a question about Melons – I love Melons and I was wondering about possible health benefits I can incur from that fruit?

Refreshing and healthy!

Refreshing and healthy!

Dear reader: Melons are related to Squash and comparable to it in their health benefits. Let me list a few important ones:

Blood pressure control

Eating melons can help control blood pressure as they contain potassium and potassium lessens the effects sodium has in elevating blood pressure; cutting back on dietary salt is also important in maintaining a healthy blood pressure level.

Vitamins

Melon is a fine source of vitamin B6 which helps maintain our body’s metabolism and some recent data shows that this vitamin reduces inflammation, oxidative stress and helps regulate metabolic disturbances including obesity and diabetes.

Just like carrots for example, melons too owe their bright colour to vitamin A — one cup has about 40 percent of our daily needs. Vitamin A is important for vision and bone growth.

Another vitamin found in plentiful supply in Melons is vitamin C and this one is crucial for collagen formation to maintain your cartilage, bones, gums, skin etc. Vitamin C won’t do us much good when we catch a cold, just so you know, that’s a (pharmaceutical) myth. Continue reading

Tired legs? Try these 5 dietary tweaks to help your tired legs

Legs could be windows into health - if they're tired, you need a recharge

Legs could be windows into health – if they’re tired, you need a recharge

Dear Dr. Mo: My legs feel tired relatively often and I’d like to know if there is something I can do about it? Should I be worried?

Dear reader: The feeling of tiredness in legs is a relatively common complaint and the reasons for this feeling could be different. If the feeling is more than just tiredness and it extends into pain and cramps, swelling, numbness and other more severe symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately as these could signal a more serious underlying condition.

That said, check out my earlier post on the Tired legs in the morning and the possible causes as well as several things you can do about it.

Use a healthy diet in your favour to get rid of tiredness in your legs and in some instances even pain (but like I said, for pain, always see your doctor first and discuss your options, including your diet).

Include foods that are rich in calcium, fiber, proteins and vitamin E in your diet as well as foods that will clean up your blood vessels  and regulate your blood pressure. These ingredients will maintain your health and specifically improve the strength and fitness of your legs.

What exactly do I mean? Here are 5 important points that you can use in your diet to improve the health of your legs and reduce the feeling of tiredness:

1. Try these 4 foods to keep you blood vessels clean from cholesterol plaques – healthy blood vessels also mean good blood supply to your legs, and well fed legs are fit and recover quickly from walking, running, jumping or just simply standing.

2. For blood pressure regulation try Beets, which can help to regulate mild hypertension (high normal and even stage 1)

3. Eat weekly some Butternut Squash and spinach for a healthy dose of fiber, vitamins A, E, C and B

And fiber is a necessity in any healthy diet, for good digestion and a healthy weight.  Continue reading

6 amazing health benefits of Butternut Squash

"The apple of Gods" according to American natives

“The apple of Gods” according to American natives

Dear readers: I’d like to share with you 6 amazing health benefits of Butternut Squash, my latest discovery on my quest for delicious healthy foods. It didn’t seem appealing or eye catching and I remember my grandpa used to dry it up to make a ladle out of it but I’ve never tried it until recently. So, here is my list:

Benefit 1 – Vitamin A and Beta carotene:

Squash is literally loaded with vitamin A – 1 cup of cooked squash has over 400% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) – Vitamin A is important for our vision, bone health, cell function, reproduction and the immune system. ~One note here: Vitamin A is not water soluble, which means that its excess it is not easily removed from our body so do not overindulge in this treat – perhaps not more than once a week.

The squash’s orange color means it is high in beta carotene, an antioxidant relevant for vision health and possible reduction of breast cancer risk.

Benefit 2 – Fiber:

Squash is a very good source of fiber – one cup of cooked or baked squash has almost 7 g of fiber! Fiber is important for healthy digestion, cholesterol regulation and weight management.

Benefit 3 – Potassium:

It has more potassium than a banana with over 550 mg and potassium is important for the heart health and it participates in fluid and mineral regulation. Continue reading

5 very good reasons to love Zucchini

Green powerhouse

Green powerhouse

Dear Dr. Mo: My wife loves zucchini. I am not a big fan but she insists that zucchinis are healthy without stating any specific health benefit. Are zucchini really that healthy? 

Dear reader: Zucchini are indeed very good for your health. They help you control and manage your weight and its vitamins and minerals boost your immune system, health of your heart, skin, eyes and lungs.

One cup of boiled zucchini (according to the USDA), contains as little as 27 calories but it also has 2 g of fiber, which is pretty good!

Here are 5 very specific health benefits and good reasons to have zucchini in your diet (give this list to your wife so that she can have some concrete facts the next time she intuitively advocates for this healthy veggie): Continue reading

Avocado, the super fruit

Dear Dr. Mo: I’ve been eating a lot of Avocados lately (not really sure whether they are fruit or vegetable) – are these any good for my health or is it just a

The only trick is to know when it's ripe enough to eat

The only trick is to know when it’s ripe enough to eat

quirky addition to a salad?

Dear reader: Avocados are very interesting and old food originating from South and Central America – they are fruit, not a vegetable.

My baby girl loves to eat them, which is great because Avocados are extremely healthy.

Personally, I will never learn to immediately tell a difference in my head between Avocados and Mangos, as for some strange reason my mind confuses these two words and no amount of mental effort will ever help; of course I always know an Avocado when I see one. Continue reading

On prebiotics and probiotics – what labels won’t tell you

Dear Dr. Mo: I would like to know more about prebiotics and probiotics, especially in treating specific conditions – I found it difficult to find information on their applications and effects different strains of probiotics may have.

Probiotics can be found in yogurts

Probiotics can be found in yogurts

Dear reader: In response to your interesting question about use and effectiveness of probiotics, I’ve been browsing the dairy sections (containing yogurts, kefirs and alike) of some popular supermarkets here in Vancouver, BC to actually see what are the health claims the manufacturers (are allowed to) put on their probiotic-containing products.

To my surprise I was unable to find any concrete or revealing claim, which would help a person (patient or clinician for that matter) decide which product to choose and whether or not this particular probiotic product is a right choice for a potential medical condition. Most claimed to support or improve a body function but not to treat a condition/disease. Continue reading

Multivitamins – yes or no?

Dear Dr. Mo: How useful are multivitamin supplements and when should you take them? I tend to take them during the winter when I think I might be more likely to catch a cold from my students…

Dear reader:First of all, try to eat a healthy diet – this goes without saying. A multivitamin daily dose does provide some help against nutritional deficiencies but cannot and should not replace the natural way we take in vitamins – through a healthy and balanced diet. This diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy oils, nuts and low in red meat and unhealthy fats.  For those people who manage to eat a healthy diet like that, a multivitamin may have little or no benefit.

Healthy diet removes the need for multivitamins

I realize however that many people don’t manage to eat such balanced and healthy diets for a variety of different reasons, some economic, some behavioral, some social etc.  In such cases, as well as in cases like yours (prophylactic), a simple message is this: a daily multivitamin is a good insurance policy for your nutrition!

Taking a daily multivitamin and perhaps some extra vitamin D is an inexpensive way for you to fill in some of the nutritional gaps and make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need to stay healthy.

There are even added health benefits to such habits – Folic acid found in most multivitamins helps prevent neural tube deficits in newborns if women take it before they become pregnant and during pregnancy; this acid also lowers risk for breast and colon cancer and heart disease. Continue reading

Low-carb foods – is low-carb healthy?

Dear Dr. Mo: I’m considering a low-carb diet. I’m thinking to cut my calories in order to support my weight-loss plan. Is it a good idea and what are some low-carb foods to start with?

Dear reader:Eating a low carb diet as a way to lose weight may sound attractive but it may also backfire as such dieting could drive our body into an energy conserving mode. In this mode, the body stores more fat for a rainy day than it normally would – this is because we provide insufficient amount of calories over a longer period of time and in anticipation of yet another calorie-poor meal, our metabolic engine slows down and conserves energy more and more.

Veggies are a great source of nutrients while being low-carb.

What this actually means is that over time, eating a low carb/low calorie diet may turn out to bring more fat during intermission when ou are not on a diet and even during the diet itself. Read about counting your calories as a tool to plan your weight loss.

Still, low-carb food could be useful to control your blood sugar and to support your weight loss but only in combination with other foods with complex carbs, protein, fiber etc. What I’m saying is that a balanced diet is more efficient and certainly healthier than any extreme diet in which some nutrients are almost completely eliminated – i.e. low carb diets.

Here are a few well-known and smart low-carb choices I’d use every day in combination with other healthy foods to maintain a healthy diet and attain and maintain a healthy weight: Continue reading

Fiber-rich foods – your allies in healthy weight loss

Dear Dr. Mo: I wish to lose some weight and I know fiber is important part of a good weight-loss plan. My diet so far has not been very healthy and I am trying to improve it. Which foods do you suggest as a good source of fiber?

Dear reader: Nutritional super foods, rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other health preserving compounds are all around us. And yet, we succumb to advertising and our own cravings for sugars, greasy junk food and the simple fact that fast food is easier to acquire, it’s more readily available and in truth, it is often cheaper.

Colorful salads are a sure shot when it comes to fiber-rich food

The first step is to become aware of these things and understand that in the 21st century, eating healthy presents a real challenge and asks for will power.

The magic word in today’s healthy diet which attains and maintains a healthy weight and good shape is, planning.

I say that in any weight loss plan, a strategic goal has to be Attain and Maintain.

To Attain and Maintain, you need proper tools, one of which is dietary fiber.
Fiber absolutely has to be on your daily menu – it not only helps in weight loss by keeping you fuller for longer and by regulating your bowel movement, it helps regulate cholesterol levels and ratios in the blood, preventing both weight gain and heart disease, Type 2 diabetes etc.

To help in your planning, here are some fiber-rich (super)foods you could include in your everyday meals: Continue reading

The All-Mighty Green Tea

 

Dear readers: Green tea has become one of the most widely consumed beverages on the planet, second only to water and its medicinal and health-protective properties have been known to its consumers for many centuries both externally in a paste form to treat rheumatism and internally as a ‘purifying’ soup.

One of my tea sets

I prefer Japanese teas, which are milder and more delicate than Chinese – the one in the photo is Ryokucha Midori

The Emperor Shen Nung, father of Chinese medicine and farming, wrote in his Medical Book that “tea relieves tiredness, strengthens the will, delights the soul and enlivens the sight.

Shen’s remarks had not been unfounded and modern science proves green tea’s potent medical properties.
Green tea as well as all other teas: black, white, red or dark come from a single Tea plant – Camelia Sinensis, a cultivated bush with evergreen leaves, which grows in hot and humid climates of Asia, Africa and South America. Camelia Sinensis itself originates from China, probably around the border of North Vietnam. Continue reading