Category Archives: health

Low Vitamin D Levels Linked to Increased Risk of Type 1 Diabetes


Results of a recent study of military service members show that low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of developing Type 1 diabetes (juvenile onset diabetes). The spokesman for the study, Cedric Garland PhD,  explained that healthy people with vitamin D levels over 60 nmol/L

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Low Vitamin D Linked to Obesity and High Triglycerides


Understanding of the various ways vitamin D effects the body is growing rapidly. Originally this vitamin was thought to only effect calcium in the blood and bone but recent research shows it possesses important influences on the immune system and cancer development. A study just published in Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism June 2012 now shows that this same vitamin can possibly influence metabolism. A common disorder of metabolism known as Syndrome X or the Metabolic Syndrome is characterized by high triglycerides and low good cholesterol (HDL), abdominal obesity, along with elevated blood pressure and blood sugar. The researchers discovered those with vitamin D levels between 16 and 20 were 75% more likely to develop the Metabolic Syndrome within 5 years than those with vitamin D levels above 34 (levels below 30 are considered low).

Whether low vitamin D is the cause of the Metabolic Syndrome is unclear. Vitamin D prevents fat cells from reproducing, helps the natural process of triglyceride breakdown and helps regulate blood sugar by making insulin work more efficiently. Without enough vitamin D the fat cells could multiply faster, triglyceride levels accumulate and blood sugar rise as is seen in Metabolic Syndrome.

As I have explained in previous posts at metabolism.com, vitamin D is also related to development of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and obesity in Type 2 Diabetes which could be considered a more advanced form of Metabolic Syndrome.

Doctors’ efforts to monitor vitamin D levels are being hindered by new regulations by Medicare and private insurance carriers to deny payment for vitamin D screening. Lately, a number of my patients’ vitamin D tests were denied by insurance carriers with patients being charged over $200 per test because it was not “indicated”.

Recommendations for vitamin D supplementation are debated. When skin is exposed to sunlight it manufactures vitamin D so there is thought that people who get sun exposure should not need vitamin D supplement but that is not borne out in reality. Previously the recommended daily allowance (RDA) was 400 units per day an amount which has been increased slightly for the elderly. Some experts recommend 1000 unit daily or more. In my practice I generally recommend starting at 1000 units and then rechecking 25 hydroxy vitamin D levels a few months later. Some individuals require 4000 unit or more daily to achieve vitamin D levels over 30. When purchasing vitamin D the D3 form appears to be converted in the body more rapidly than the D2 variety. High priced brands of vitamin D, in my opinion, are a waste of money.

Gary Pepper, M.D.
Editor-in-Chief, Metabolism.com

Why Emotions Trigger Food Cravings


The old saying, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” implies there is a deep connection between emotions and eating. My guess is  no one is really surprised by this idea. Both men and woman can identify ways in which their mood and appetite are intertwined and it is no mere quirk of man’s personality that this is true.

Evolution tells us that we were born to eat. The earliest creatures in the world’s history were simple eating machines. Their bodies consisted of an entrance for food, a digestive tract and an exit for refuse. In order to become more efficient at getting food creatures developed a system to locate food and to move toward it. This system is known as a nervous system. The first creature to have this ability is the worm. Eventually the nervous system controlling the digestive system (enteric nervous system) began to sprout nodes which were early brains.  As time went on and the brain became better developed it split off from the nervous system that controlled the digestive tract. Everything that followed in evolution, has served the purpose of developing  increasingly efficient brains (central nervous system) for acquiring the fuel of life.

Another example of how deeply connected the gut and brain are, is to look at the development of the fetus. When a human fetus is still just a lump of jelly, the digestive  and nervous systems are one structure. Soon this organ splits into two, one to become our gastrointestinal tract and the other the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). Even though they become physically separated the chemical signals used by the gut and nervous system remain virtually identical. These chemicals comprise the groups known as neurotransmitters and hormones.

The same chemicals in the digestive tract that cause the intestines to twist and convulse (peristalsis), in the brain stimulate the emotion of anxiety. This explains why people get “butterflies” in the stomach or diarrhea when they are nervous.  The brain chemicals involved in depression can cause constipation.  The syndrome of irritable bowel disease (IBS) with its cycles of diarrhea and constipation is thought to be a reflection of an emotional rollercoaster.  The chemical relationship between mood and appetite is even more complex but no less real. One of the most common side effect of mood altering drugs is increased appetite and weight gain. Just ask anyone who has been on an anti-depressant drug such as Prozac, Zoloft or Abilify.  The chemical in marihuana that gets people high is famous for triggering the eating binge called “the munchies”.

Appetite suppressant drugs often have effects on mood and can be the source of major side effects. One new generation of appetite suppressants being developed, Acomplia, failed to be approved by the FDA because it caused severe depression and suicidal thinking.

In the next part of this series we will look at ways we can influence the brain to control our appetite.

Infertility to Acne: Treatment and Prevention of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Part 2


Worried about pregnancyIn part one of this series we looked at the cause of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and the many complications it causes. Weight gain, acne, excess hair growth on the face and body,  high cholesterol and high blood sugar due to insulin resistance are among the problems associated with PCOS.  One particular area of concern for PCOS sufferers is infertility due to lack of ovulation. PCOS is the cause of anovulatory infertility in  3 out of 4 cases. Before the acceptance of medical therapy for infertility due to PCOS  a surgical approach referred to as a wedge resection of the ovary was performed which allowed patients with PCOS to ovulate and conceive normally. Low success rates with this procedure, complications of surgery and improved medical therapies have all resulted in the end of this type of treatment in most situations.  At present, treatment of infertility associated with PCOS generally consists of using a drug to combat insulin resistance known as metformin often in combination with the fertility drug clomid, which has a high rate of success.

Treatment of the excess hair growth associated with PCOS often consists of using the drug spironalactone and the use of birth control pills. Spironalactone is a very interesting drug used for decades as a salt depleting diuretic but also has an effect to block the action of the male hormone testosterone. The action of spironalactone to block testosterone was discovered when it was noticed that men using this diuretic developed tender nipples and breast enlargement (gynecomastia). Oral contraceptive agents are also useful to combat hirsutism because these agents also cause reduce testosterone levels by putting the ovary in a dormant “resting” state.  Cosmetic procedures are always another option to treat unwanted hair growth. Laser hair removal appears to be replacing the older modality of electrolysis for this purpose.

Can PCOS be cured? Once PCOS develops it can be controlled but not cured unless the ovaries are removed. At menopause  PCOS-related problems diminish as the ovary stops making sex hormones including testosterone which is one of the culprits during the reproductive years. A recent study published this year in the journal Pediatric Endocrinology showed that using metformin treatment in pre-adolescent girls thought to be at risk for PCOS reduces the risk and/or the severity of PCOS in later years. It may do this by blocking fat accumulation in the abdomen and liver which seems to set off the insulin resistance. Metformin is not FDA approved for this purpose and as a generic drug there is little profit potential in developing this treatment. I expect it will be many years before preventive therapy for PCOS will come before the FDA for approval .

This information is strictly for educational purposes. Due to high risk of toxicity of medical therapy in young women who can potentially become fertile under treatment for PCOS, no drug should be taken without the close supervision of a physician. The reader agrees to the Terms of Service of this website, metabolism.com

Getting the Right Amount of Sleep Helps Prevent Diabetes


One aspect of lifestyle that is often overlooked is time spent sleeping. Getting adequate sleep is often sacrificed due to the demands of job and family. In the Sleep Heart Health Study over 1400 men and women were surveyed about their sleep habits and its relationship to diabetes and prediabetes. It was found that sleeping less than 6 hours per night was associated with increased risk of having diabetes. Interestingly, in those sleeping more than 9 hours per night there was an increased risk of diabetes and prediabetes.The authors of the study recommend trying to get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep per night to minimize the chances of developing blood sugar problems. To learn more about ways of preventing diabetes see pages 90 to 98 in my ebook “Metabolism.com”

Maintaining ideal body weight with diet and exercise is also crucial for avoiding diabetes and prediabetes.In overweight adults for each2.2 pounds(1 kilogram) gained per year the risk of developing diabetes increases about 50% over the next ten years. By losing 2.2 pounds per year the risk of developing diabetes is reduced about33% for the next 10 years (J Epidemiol Community Health. 2000; 54(8):596-602).

Speak to your healthcare professional to find out if you are at risk for developing diabetes and to learn ways you can avoid it.

Gary Pepper M.D.

Editor-in-Chief, Metabolism.com

The terms of service for metabolism.com apply to this and all posts; https://www.metabolism.com/2008/09/06/terms-conditions-service-agreement/

Novartis Blood Pressure Medication Runs into Trouble


Novartis Blood Pressure Medication Runs into Trouble
by Gary Pepper, M.D.
Editor, Metabolism.com

In 2007 a new type of blood pressure lowering medication was brought to market by Novartis Pharmaceutical Company. This medication by the brand name Tekturna (aliskiran) works by blocking hormones that make up a circuit from the kidney to the blood vessels know as the RAAS system. This mechanism is distinct from all other blood pressure lowering medications available. By working via a completely novel pathway to lower blood pressure doctors were given another potent weapon in the war on high blood pressure. A second medication, Valturna, which combines an established blood pressure medication with Tekturna, was released by Novartis to the public in 2009. These drugs have been extremely popular due to their effectiveness and apparent freedom from serious side effects.
A warning about this class of drug was issued by Novartis, 2 weeks ago when it was forced to end the Altitude drug study due to apparent unforeseen complications in patients using Tekturna and Valturna. The study found a small but significant increase in stroke in diabetics with renal disease who were using these drugs. Although the group of patients in the Altitude study are up to 12 times more likely to develop stroke or heart attack under normal circumstances, Novartis had no choice but to end the study and issue a warning to the health care community about limiting the use of these drugs.

In my own practice I have found Tekturna and Valturna to be extremely effective and well tolerated. A survey of my colleagues revealed the same findings. Diabetes and high blood pressure very commonly occur together and national guidelines stress the need for excellent blood pressure control for diabetics to help prevent heart, kidney and eye complications of this disease. For doctors treating diabetics who recognize these patients as particularly high risk, having to significantly cut back or eliminate the use of Tekturna and Valturna is creating major concerns. Within the past week I have had to counsel numerous individuals about these issues and the solution is far from easy. For instance, one man with diabetes and early kidney disease and heart disease, with borderline high blood pressure despite using 4 different types of blood pressure medication including Tekturna has to decide with me, which is the greatest risk, going off the medication resulting in a rise in his blood pressure or continuing a drug which may pose a risk of its own.

These discussions are going on in doctor’s offices throughout the country with no good solution in sight. The only certainty is a flood of ads by lawyers which begin, “Have you ever been on Tekturna or Valturna….”.