Kudos to you for exploring your options when it comes to staying healthy during cold and flu season. Many people who have tried echinacea, the purple coneflower (and relative of the sunflower) native to the Midwestern region of the United States, swear by it's ability to fight off colds, flu, and other minor infections. And though this supplement has a number of fans, not all of the research findings agree about its effectiveness (more on that in a bit). It’s also wise that you’re asking about dosage amounts and timing. There are a number of dosage recommendations and it’s good to note that echinacea is not safe or appropriate for everyone. Lastly, because nutritional supplements like this one are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it’s worth doing a bit of homework to find a reputable manufacturer for this supplement.
What research has been conducted regarding the medicinal uses of this plant include boosting the immune system, pain relief, and it is also thought to have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antioxidant properties. As far as fighting off the cold or flu virus, not all research findings jive with these claims. Some findings have demonstrated that echinacea can help you feel better faster if taken when you’re sick with either condition. One such meta-analysis of 14 different studies found that folks who used this herb were 58 percent less likely to develop a cold and those who did get one experienced a shorter duration of symptoms (about one to four days total). It’s good to note, however, that some experts have challenged these findings due to the variance in supplement type and dosage as well as weaknesses identified in the analyses. On the other hand, other studies found no effect at all. Needless to say, additional research is needed.
So, in order to try it out for yourself, it’s good to know when and how much to take, right? Echinacea is available in liquid extract, tincture, capsule, tablet, and cream/gel forms. It may also be found in supplements that contain a combination of various herbs meant to boost immunity. It seems that in order to stave off the cold or flu, it’s best to take this supplement about three times a day when you already know you’re sick until you feel better. That being said, it’s best not to take the supplement for this purpose for more than seven to ten days. Doing so will hopefully shorten the duration of either viral infection. However, the dosage depends on what type of echinacea supplement you are using.
Echinacea is generally seen as a safe supplement that results in few side effects. However, it is noted that if you take it as an oral supplement, you may experience some tingling or numbness in your mouth. Additionally, if you’re allergic to plants in the daisy family or have asthma, it’s recommended that you steer clear of it. It’s advised that folks with a liver disorder, an auto-immune disorder (including HIV/AIDS), leukemia, connective tissue disorder, diabetes, or tuberculosis avoid this supplement. Though there’s little evidence to suggest that using echinacea during pregnancy results in any birth defects, it’s generally recommended that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding forgo taking this supplement. There are some noted drug interactions as well, so your best bet is to consult a health care provider if you’re using any medications before picking this up at a store.
Ready to hit the supplement aisle at the market? Not so fast — be on the lookout for products from reputable manufacturers. Because the supplements are not regulated in the U.S., ingredient lists may be deceiving. One independent company, Consumerlab.com, conducted a study of eleven different echinacea products and found that less than half of the products contained the ingredients listed on their labels. Additionally, about ten percent of the products studied didn’t contain any echinacea at all! It's also a good idea to seek out the advice of a health care provider to help you determine if this supplement is safe and beneficial for you to use. For more information on echniacea and other dietary supplements, visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website.
Vitamin A is an essential, fat-soluble vitamin that has many diverse benefits for humans. Vitamin A promotes eyesight and helps us see in the dark; aids in the differentiation of cells of the skin (lining the outside of the body) and mucous membranes (linings inside of the body); helps the body fight off infection and sustain the immune system; and, supports growth and remodeling of bone. In addition, dietary vitamin A, in the form of beta carotene (an antioxidant), may help reduce your risk for certain cancers.
Adequate vitamin A intake is essential to human health. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to night blindness (inability to see in the dark or to recover sight quickly after being exposed to a flash of bright light in the dark) and xerophthalmia (progressive blindness that becomes irreversible if not treated in time with vitamin A).
Vitamin A deficiency can also reduce the health and integrity of skin and other epithelial tissues. The effect on skin can result in dry skin and hyperkeratosis (the development of clumps of skin around hair follicles). The effect on epithelial tissues can negatively affect the digestion and absorption of nutrients and cause infections of major systems and their organs (i.e., gastrointestinal, nervous/muscular, respiratory, and urogenital). In addition, bone growth can stop and normal bone remodeling can become impaired, resulting in anemia and weakened immunity.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin A is measured in retinol equivalents (RE), retinol being the active form of vitamin A. For adult men, the RDA is 900 micrograms of RE per day and for adult women it is 700 micrograms of RE per day.
Despite its benefits, too much Vitamin A can cause toxicity, the effects of which can vary depending on its source. Excessive intake of vitamin A in dietary form is not harmful, but will cause one's skin to turn yellow in color. In contrast, large dose supplements (10 - 15 times the RDA) of vitamin A (as retinol) is harmful, and could result in the development of a fatty liver (hepatomegaly), dry skin, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, headaches, anorexia, and/or possibly increase the risk of birth defects among pregnant women. Symptoms depend upon whether or not vitamin A intake was taken over a long period of time (chronic) or a single excessive dose at one point in time (acute). In general, fat-soluble vitamins should not be consumed in excess of the recommendations because, unlike water-soluble vitamins in which the excess is excreted out of the body, an excess of fat-soluble vitamins will be stored and accumulated in the body.
It is highly recommended that vitamin A be consumed in the diet rather than from supplements. The richest sources of dietary vitamin A are liver, fish liver oils, milk, milk products, butter, and eggs. Liver is an especially rich source because vitamin A is primarily stored in the liver of animals and humans. Vitamin A is also found in a variety of dark green and deep orange fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, butternut squash, turnip greens, bok choy, mustard greens, and romaine lettuce. Beta carotene is the most active carotenoid (the red, orange, and yellow pigments) form of vitamin A. In addition, cooking (but not overcooking) increases the bioavailability of carotenoids in plant foods and absorption of dietary vitamin A is improved when consumed along with some fat in the same meal.
Hope this helps,
May 11, 2015605788
You may want to screw the cap back on that cola! It appears that there is an association between soda consumption and osteoporosis, as well as an association between soda consumption and markers for kidney disease in women who have a low to normal Body Mass Index (BMI). As with most foods and drinks, moderation is key to good health. A little information can go a long way, so keep on reading to learn more about these links.
Studies have shown an association between regular intake of colas that contain phosphoric acid and negative effects on the bone. Researchers hypothesize that a high level of phosphoric acid may lead the body to tap the bones for calcium to neutralize acids. Alternatively, researchers believe that osteoporosis could be a result of diet displacement — that is, heavy soda drinkers may not be drinking enough milk or fortified juices that are good sources of vitamin D and calcium. Just to note, the link between soda and osteoporosis was previously thought to be due to the carbonation in the soda — research has shown this association to be false.
As for kidney function, studies have found that women with low to normal BMIs who drink more than two cans of soda daily have about double the risk of developing albuminuria (the presence of the protein albumin in the urine) relative to those who don't drink that much soda. Albuminuria is a marker for developing early kidney disease. Researchers believe that this effect is more pronounced in low to normal weight women, because obesity already damages the kidneys and the extra damage from soda is likely to be less observable. It is unknown why the same effect is not seen in men. Additionally, studies have shown mixed results on the relationship between soda consumption and the development and recurrence of kidney stones.
In any case, reducing soda consumption can't be a bad thing. Not only are you playing it safe with regards to osteoporosis and kidney function, you're also avoiding a lot of extra calories and damage to your teeth. For tips on cutting down, check out Getting off colas, sodas, pop, fiz...oh, whatever!. Now raise your glass to better health!
May 18, 2012511344
As a general rule, fasting all day on a regular basis is not a good idea, even if you "make up" the skipped calories at night. Although our bodies are remarkable in their ability to adapt to over and under eating at times, they need energy throughout the day to perform at an optimal level.
Paying attention to hunger signals (they are there for a reason!) and being aware of how much food you need to maintain physical and mental energy is healthy. By fasting all day you deny your body nutrients and energy which may lead to headaches, mood swings, feeling tired and dizzy, and even fainting. Your metabolism may also slow down and you could lose muscle mass. Fasting also may make you more likely to binge in the evenings, and you may be more likely to choose unhealthy foods.
You may want to ask yourself why you are skipping meals during the day. Observing religious holidays or special occasions is one reason many people fast from time to time. For most people, our bodies can adapt and function through the occasional fast, whether it is a sun-up to sun-down fast, or extends for a full day (children and people with certain medical conditions may need to forgo even occasional fasting; consult your health care provider if you are uncertain).
If you fast frequently you may want to consider some of your motivations. Are you trying to lose weight? Do you not feel hungry during the day? Are you too busy to eat? If you are trying to lose weight, eating several small meals throughout the day might be a better option. This will provide you with a more constant and consistent source of energy in a form that makes it easier for your body to metabolize and burn calories. Skipping meals is not a healthy approach to weight loss since fasting slows down metabolism and makes people more likely to overeat later. See Will skipping breakfast and lunch lead to weight loss? and Importance of eating breakfast for more information on skipping meals.
You mention eating "whatever you want" at night. Could this be because you feel guilty about eating certain kinds of foods, or about the amount of food you eat? These concerns are issues to think about before you can adopt a more healthful eating plan and positive attitudes toward eating. They may also be a sign of disordered eating, or other issues such as depression. If you're experiencing guilt or are anxious about food, contact a mental health professional who can help you get to the bottom of these feelings and behaviors.
If your question is motivated by the desire to lose or manage your weight, consider making an appointment with a nutritionist or registered dietician who can help you figure out a meal plan that works for you and fits your lifestyle.
Although it's not always easy to change your eating habits, taking care of your health is worth it in the long run.
A busy lifestyle and a rigorous semester may not always allow us to have fresh vegetables on hand. But, there are benefits and drawbacks of fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables. For starters, no matter which way you store it, a vegetable is always going to contain carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other plant chemicals, known as "phytochemicals," all of which are good for us no matter what. You’ll be happy to know that none of these nutrients are completely lost from processing.
While most people feel that fresh veggies are optimal, they may lose nutrients before they even get into your stomach. Raw vegetables lose some vitamins just by sitting around. It could take up to two weeks from the time they've been picked until they reach your plate. By this time, 10 to 50 percent of the less stable nutrients may have disappeared. Still, raw, lightly prepared, or minimally processed veggies (and fruits) often have a higher nutrient value than well-cooked ones. To help preserve the nutrient content of veggies (and fruits) during cooking or other preparation:
- Stick with shorter cooking times and lower temperatures (e.g., avoid deep frying)
- Cook with little or no water to help retain water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C and the B vitamins. For example, steam or microwave rather than boil. To limit exposure to heat when cooking this way, wait until the water is boiling before adding veggies.
- For more information, read Cooking veggies and vitamin loss?
Frozen and canned vegetables are often processed shortly after they are picked, so that nutrient losses would not occur during shipping, on the grocer's shelf, or in your home. Frozen vegetables actually retain a high proportion of their original nutrients. Sometimes, though, they are blanched (dipped in hot water), which preserves color and texture, but may compromise some vitamins. In order to avoid extra calories, salt, and/or fat, choose frozen vegetables without added sauces or cheese. Sodium is often added to canned products. A portion of this may be rinsed off with water, or you can choose the low sodium or no sodium that are often available (check the label!).
Whether fresh, frozen, or canned fits into your lifestyle, select any type that you'll enjoy eating. The number of servings needed in a day varies depending on your age and other factors, however, adults generally need about 2.5 to 3 cups of vegetables and 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit each day. Read Food Guidelines — How much is a serving? in the Go Ask Alice! Nutrition & Physical Activity archive for specific veggie and fruit serving size information. You can also check out Choosemyplate.gov for personalized recommendations.
As a side note, you may think that nutritional supplements are a quick and easy way of getting the nutrients you need in case you don't follow a healthy eating plan. However, a well-balanced diet rich in veggies and fruits can offer you much, much more than these supplements ever could, such as phytochemicals, which could protect against cancer, heart disease, other illnesses, and who knows what else? Beneficial substances such as these are found in vegetables no matter what form they are in.
A calorie is the standard unit for measuring energy released from energy-yielding nutrients, such as fat, protein, and carbohydrate. Fat is an essential nutrient that helps the body transport and absorb fat-soluble vitamins (e.g., A, D, E, and K), among other functions. Whereas proteins and carbohydrates have only four calories of energy per gram, fat has nine. Food labels are federally standardized to help make it easier for the consumer to know what's in a particular food. You can calculate the percentage of calories from fat by looking at the column marked "Percent Daily Value" for total fat and simply add up these percentages. It's recommended that fat make up no more than 30 percent of your daily diet (meaning less than or equal to 30 percent of total calories a day from fat).
Although it is important to watch both calories and fat grams, it's best to focus on the total number of calories consumed, which often seems to be forgotten. With the introduction of low-fat and fat-free versions of many common foods, you'd expect people to lose weight. Instead, many are either staying at the same weight or even gaining weight. Sometimes you can eat more of these foods than their full-fat versions for the same number of calories. However, sometimes low-fat foods contain more sugar than their full-fat cousins, and hence as many calories per serving. Ultimately, if you eat more calories than your body expends, regardless of whether these calories come from fat, protein, or carbohydrates, you will gain weight. Unused energy is converted and stored as excess body fat.
The amount of calories a person needs is based on body weight, age, gender and physical activity level. Generally, 1200 to 1400 calories per day is considered low, and anything above 2400 is considered too much. To find out how many calories you should be getting a day, check out the MyPlate website. This USDA-sponsored site will ask you to input your age, gender, weight, height and physical activity level in order to determine what caloric intake will be right for you. You can also check out Ideal Caloric Intake? in the Go Ask Alice! archives for more information on calorie counting.
Dear Calcium and Iron Maiden,
It seems like you're approaching a supplement regimen with a healthy consideration of various factors like absorption and affects on your system — a great idea! You're right that there are certain foods that can inhibit iron absorption, like the oxalic acid in spinach, phosphates primarily in milk, other dairy products, and egg whites, phytates in beans, and tannins in tea and coffee. While it would take a lot of these foods to seriously impair your ability to absorb iron, you might want to consider going easy on them while trying to boost iron levels.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are many foods that are rich in iron, and it's usually preferable to get your essential nutrients from food rather than supplements. The body has an easier time digesting and absorbing nutrients like iron and calcium in the amounts and forms in which they occur naturally. You can check out Sources of Iron in Alice's Fitness & Nutrition archives for a list of these iron-boosting foods (sneak preview: meat, fish, dark leafy greens, dried beans, and nuts are all healthy iron-rich foods). Another dietary tactic to boost iron absorption is to eat a vitamin C rich food with your iron-rich food or supplement, as vitamin C aids in iron absorption. For example, eating citrus (oranges, grapefruits, lemons) along with your spinach salad will help unlock the iron in spinach. You can also cook your food in cast iron pots and pans to enrich your food with iron.
In terms of your sensitive GI system, the least constipating iron formula is hydrolyzed protein chelate, but again, diet can come into play here. In addition to looking for gentle and non-constipating types of iron supplements, you can also alleviate constipation by drinking plenty of water and by eating fibrous foods like whole grains, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and other foods as unprocessed as you can find them (whole grain bread instead of white, whole grain pasta instead of white, brown rice instead of white). It's a good idea to increase fiber intake slowly — too much too soon can cause gas and bloating. And to underscore again, when increasing fiber it's important to drink even more water than you think you need to make sure all that bulk moves through your system smoothly.
As for calcium, the two most common forms in supplements are calcium citrate and calcium carbonate. Studies show that calcium citrate is the most absorbable supplement form, and may be taken between or with meals. Vitamin D helps to assimilate calcium into bones. When exposed to sufficient sunlight, the human body synthesizes its own vitamin D. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines are great food sources of vitamin D. If you want a D supplement, which might be a good idea for folks who live in northern climates and don't get adequate sun exposure during the winter, or for people who don't eat a lot of fish, look for supplements that contain vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), rather than vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) — vitamin D3 is more potent. You might also want to consider taking a magnesium supplement with your calcium at a ration of two-parts calcium to one part magnesium, as magnesium is needed to fully absorb and utilize calcium.
Finally, see if you can avoid taking your calcium and iron supplements together, as they compete for absorption. It may seem like a lot of juggling of different foods, supplements, and timing of the two, but hopefully this kind of careful consideration and knowledge will boost your iron and calcium levels to new heights.
Farewell, fair Iron (and calcium) Maiden,
Dear Power Me Up,
Sports bars, energy bars, power bars — call them what you like — a variety of these products are available at grocery stores and in vending machines. Marketing for these bars may have you believing that they can work wonders: some purported benefits include burning of fat, buildup of muscle, and improved athletic performance. In terms of nutritional benefits — well, that all depends on what benefits you are looking for.
All energy bars provide energy because energy — in the pure sense of the word — refers to calories. As a matter of fact, energy bars were first developed for endurance athletes who had difficulty taking in enough calories to sustain them during their athletic endeavors. True, they are a quick and convenient form of energy or calories. But will these bars energize you? Probably not. If you haven't eaten in a while and are feeling slightly fatigued, one of these bars may help take away that sluggishness, but so would a slice of whole wheat toast and a cup of skim milk or juice. However, if you're exhausted due to lack of sleep (for example), an energy bar won't give you any more pep.
On the nutrition tip, some energy bars contain over 400 calories (more than in many candy bars) and up to ten grams of fat. For many people, this may be more than they need or want to take in before exercising. Many energy bars do contain added vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other important substances, but they are not meal replacements. They do not contain the natural fibers, phytochemicals, and high quality protein found in less-processed foods. For a fraction of the cost, and just as convenient to eat, consider some other snacking options:
- Granola bars (read the labels, some granola bars have loads of added sugars)
- Carrot sticks
- Skim milk
- Low-fat yogurt
- Whole grain crackers
- Graham crackers
Energy bars aren't a replacement for a healthy lifestyle; it's still important to eat a balanced diet, sleep, manage stress, and be physically active in order to achieve optimum performance. So rather than banking on bars, be a smart consumer: consider your caloric needs, choose to eat a balanced diet, read energy bar labels carefully (check for caloric, fat, and sugar content and think how they fit in with your overall diet), and don't be fooled by all the hype.
More power to ya,
Dear Confused and College Bound,
You are not alone with your concerns. Going to college is a big step in a person's life involving major changes. You and those around you may be living on your own for the first time, making decisions on a buffet of issues, including what to eat.
Eating healthy at college is possible. Many college dining services are offering more healthy choices and are often quite receptive to students' concerns and dietary preferences. But, this is only part of the challenge. In an environment where time, friends, and finances may combine in new ways, having options available only solves some of the puzzle. It's important to experiment with what works best for you. For example, that traditional idea of three square meals a day has been updated with a more contemporary concept of eating five smaller meals spread throughout the day. Steer clear of diets or fads, especially those that drastically limit a particular nutrient. Remember, balance, moderation, and variety win out over trendy and extreme. For some practical tips, navigate through the many options on Choosemyplate.gov. Columbia students can also take advantage of the resources from the get balanced! initiative. Plan ahead when possible so you don't have to rely on vending machines when you're hungry; think of ways to incorporate fruits, vegetables, and whole grains on a daily basis. Eating more of these will fill you up and possibly even enhance your already stellar brain power.
Making time for physical activity is important, too. Most college fitness centers have a variety of movement classes and options. When the weather is right, grab a friend and walk, run, bike, or blade outdoors. If you are Columbia affiliated, you can connect with the CU Move initiative. CU Move encourages members of the Columbia community to engage in active lives that include regular physical activity. The program provides participants with motivation, incentives to be active throughout the year, and event calendars with access to plenty of free and low-cost physical activity options on campus and around NYC.
Now, to address the second part of your question: an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, is less about food, eating, and body weight. It has more to do with mental health, emotional, physical, socio-cultural, and family issues. If this is a particular concern of yours, you might want to take a look at Eating disorders vs. normal eating. Additionally, if you are a Columbia student, you can make an appointment with a health care provider or a registered dietitian to discuss your concerns by contacting Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC).
Give yourself some time to adjust to a new environment and ask for help when you need it. Everything in moderation, even moderation.
Enjoy your time at college,
More than half of our body is made up of water. Our bodies continuously send us signals to drink more water or excrete it in order to maintain homeostasis or internal fluid balance. As a result, a dry mouth or a feeling of thirst lets us know that we are dehydrated and need to replenish our fluids, whereas a feeling of fullness from drinking enough liquids is one of our bodies' ways of telling us to stop drinking. The average person requires a minimum of six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day to sustain a healthy environment in the body. It sounds like you're in the ballpark.
Water plays a vital role in maintaining a variety of body processes, such as:
- Transportation of nutrients
- Maintenance of body temperature
- Movement of metabolic wastes by means of sweat, urine, and feces
- Lubrication of joints
- Giving form to cells
- Serving as a medium for thousands of chemical reactions in our bodies
- Utilization of key nutrients
- Helping the body's immune system
- Reduction of fluid retention
For athletes and other active people, even more water is needed to replenish the water that is lost through perspiration. It is possible to sweat out more than two quarts of fluid per hour. It is generally recommended that for every pound of water lost during exercise (in sweat), an additional two cups of water need to be taken in.
It is possible, but rare in the United States, to consume too much water. Our kidneys are equipped to efficiently process fifteen liters of water a day. That's equivalent to drinking about sixty glasses of water! There is a rare condition called psychogenic polydipsia that causes consumption of an unhealthy amount of water. Abnormal thirst exhibited by people with this illness is based on a psychological disorder rather than on dehydration.
A condition as hyponatremia can also occur. This happens when your body has an increase in water levels, but your body's sodium levels stay the same. It can also happen if the body loses lots of sodium without losing a proportionate amount of water. The excess water flows into your body's cells and causes them to expand. Although most of the body's cells can handle this swelling, the brain cells cannot due to being enclosed in the hard, bony skull. Brain swelling is usually one of the most prominent signs of hyponatremia, along with loss of appetite, restlessness, fatigue, confusion, hallucinations and convulsions after drinking large amounts of water. Usually, your body can handle large fluctuations in water-sodium balance when you drink a lot of water, but kidney problems, taking a diuretic, severe burns or stress due to surgery may put you at risk for this condition.
Acute hyponatremia may occur in marathoners, so it is also important to drink sports drinks along with water during the race or other vigorous and prolonged athletic activity. Sports drinks contain sodium, among other electrolytes, that help keep everything in balance. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above, it is important that you consult with a medical professional immediately. Acute hyponatremia that occurs within 48 hours is considered more dangerous than non-acute, since its immediate onset means that there is more brain swelling. When the onset of hyponatremia is gradual, the brain cells have more time to adjust to the increased water levels and swelling is minimal in comparison.
Water-borne diseases are uncommon in countries with modern water-treatment systems. However if you rely on the tap for your water, be aware that the quality of tap water can vary significantly in certain areas of the world. When you are away from trustworthy sources, and unsure of the water quality, it is best to drink bottled water or boil your tap water to keep water-borne diseases and infections at bay. If clean water just isn't available, then bottled juice or soda may be your safest options for hydration.
Overall water is a great beverage choice because it quenches your thirst without sugars, artificial sweetners, or caffeine. As long as you have a source of clean, fresh water feel free to drink up!