What's the Deal with Vitamin D?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 1:00 PM comments (0)

fall sunshine

Vitamin D is a hot topic, both in the news and often in the examination room.  So what’s the deal with vitamin D? Vitamin D is not truly a vitamin but a hormone that’s created by cells when skin is exposed to sunlight. It can help lower one’s risk of heart disease and cancer and promotes healthy bone growth. Unfortunately, nearly two-thirds of Americans are not only running low on this important vitamin but might even be deficient. 

As the days get shorter and we march ever closer to another Chicago-area winter, Curtis Mann, MD, Family Medicine, shares four good reasons to check your vitamin D levels and four ways to improve them: 

(Click on the image to listen to Dr. Mann discusss the importance of vitamin D on NorthShore Health & Wellness.)

Why Is It Important? 

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. If there is a deficiency of vitamin D and thus also a deficiency of calcium, the body will take calcium from its bones, weakening them and leaving them vulnerable to fractures. For kids and teens, it’s vital to bone growth and strength. In adults, vitamin D can help prevent osteomalacia, osteoporosis, bone pain and muscle weakness. 

Vitamin D improves energy level and mood. Vitamin D is a key component in brain development. Deficiencies have been linked to low energy and depressive symptoms. It can also help combat the symptoms of seasonal affect disorder (S.A.D.). 

Vitamin D could improve your health now and later. In studies, vitamin D has been shown to boost the immune system, leaving it in better shape to fight off infections. Studies have also found a positive correlation between sufficient vitamin D levels and lower incidences of cancer—colon, breast, prostate—and heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and potentially more.

Vitamin D may improve athletic performance. A recent study published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health and Fitness Journal concluded that low levels of vitamin D compromise fitness and energy levels. Athletes with higher levels of vitamin D were shown to perform at a higher level. 

How to Improve Levels:

  1. Sunlight is the best source. Don’t break out aluminum foil tri-fold and start tanning but it doesn’t hurt to get a little bit of sunshine each day. This is especially important for those in climates like ours, where there isn’t a lot of yearlong sunshine. 
  2. Take a supplement. A supplement can help restore levels that might be low due to limited exposure to sunshine. 
  3. Amend your diet. Fatty fish, including tuna, salmon, trout and mackerel, are high in vitamin D, as are egg yolks and cheeses. Some breakfast cereals are even fortified with vitamin D, so check labels.  
  4. Buy fortified dairy. Milk and even orange juice now come in fortified vitamin D varieties. Consider making the switch, especially in winter. 

Have you had your vitamin D levels checked?

 

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Flu Season: Protecting Your Family from the Bug

Thursday, October 24, 2013 9:00 AM comments (0)

flu seasonEvery flu season is different but there’s one thing you can count on: there will be one.  Flu season in the U.S. can begin as early as October and continue into late May. Perhaps you’ve already noticed an uptick in coughing and sneezing on the train, in the office or at school, but it’s not too late to take action and keep your family happy and healthy throughout flu season. 

Curtis Mann, MD, Family Medicine at NorthShore, shares some top tips for keeping the flu from catching up with you and the rest of your family this season:

  • Vaccinate! The annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect against and prevent the spread of  the flu. Everyone over the age of six months can and should be vaccinated against the flu each year, especially children under five and people over 65 because they are at high risk for serious flu-related complications.
  • Wash your hands. You, but especially your hands, come into contact with millions of germs and bacteria every single day. You can pick them up from surfaces, computer keyboards and the shake of a hand. Regular handwashing is one of the very best ways to avoid spreading illness and getting sick. Washing your hands frequently throughout the day can’t get rid of everything but it prevents the build-up of germs. It only takes a little water, some soap and the ABCs—don’t stop washing until you get to Z.
  • Remember your devices. One of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs, especially during flu season, is to keep surfaces clean. Countertops and door handles are obvious hotspots but when was the last time you disinfected your phone or tablet? Phones and tablets go everywhere you go, but unlike hands, they aren’t washed after every trip to the bathroom and then they spend the majority of their time near your hands, nose and mouth. Studies show that phones and tablets are likely to carry many of the same contaminants in the same numbers as the door handle of a bathroom.  Wipe down the screens and bodies of your gadgets regularly with a non-alcohol based cleaner. 
  • Be healthy to stay healthy. The key to avoiding illness is stay healthy on a day-to-day basis. Make sure you are getting adequate sleep, stay active with exercise, make sure you are managing your stress levels and eat a healthy, well-balanced diet whenever possible. 
  • See your doctor. If you think you were exposed to someone with the flu, anti-viral drugs, which are 70-90% effective, can help prevent you from developing the flu. 
  • And a friendly reminder. You can't get the flu from the flu shot or nasal spray, so vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate!

Do you make sure to get the flu vaccine every year? 

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How to Make the Most of Your Annual Visit

Friday, September 06, 2013 2:22 PM comments (0)

annual visit“How are you feeling?” is probably one of the first questions your doctor will ask during your annual visit. If you haven’t needed to see your doctor between physicals, your answer will most likely be, “Fine.” It won't be until later that you remember all the miscellaneous symptoms, heath issues, and aches and pains from the last year. 

Don’t miss another opportunity to maximize your time with your doctor. By planning and preparing beforehand, you ensure that you’ll remember to ask the correct questions during the limited time you have with your primary care physician.  

Curtis Mann, MD, Family Medicine at NorthShore, offers some tips on how to make the most of your time with your doctor:

  • Make a list of symptoms. Prepare a list of the aches, pains, symptoms and changes in your health that might have caused concern at some point between your annual visits. Prioritize your list of symptoms so that you can be sure to address those that are the most concerning. You might not be able to go over everything at your annual visit but you’ll be able to touch on everything during future visits. 
  • Have a list of important questions prepared. When pressed for time, questions that were high priority might get lost in the shuffle. Prepare a list of questions you want answered in advance and use it to jog your memory during your appointment.
  • Make another list of prescriptions and medications. Your list should include everything, from prescriptions to vitamins and supplements. You want to ensure you are giving your doctor your full health story. 
  • Come prepared to answer your doctor’s questions. This isn’t your first visit to a doctor, so come prepared to answer the basic topics: family health history, health concerns, etc. This will leave you more time to ask any specific questions you might have. 
  • Dress for the occasion. You might not have much face-to-face time with your doctor, so don’t wear clothing that requires lots of time to get on and off. To save even more time, ask to change into a gown before your doctor enters the room.
  • Write down what your doctor tells you. You’ll probably cover a lot of ground in very little time. Your doctor will write your prescriptions but lifestyle recommendations might be told to you. Write down recommendations your doctor makes so you can remember to follow them in the year between visits. 
  • Ask about a follow-up visit. If there are issues you have not addressed during your annual exam, ask your doctor about a follow-up visit before leaving the office.
  • Review printed materials after your visit. Don’t wait to read the materials your doctor provides, whether they are printed for you or provided through NorthShoreConnect. Are the medications listed correctly? Are your listed health issues up to date? This is where the teamwork between physician and patient can maximize healthcare outcomes.

Do you have a yearly physical? How do you make the most of your annual visit?

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