Tag: health

The Ultimate Guide to Vitamin D

When you take a hard look at the list of potential benefits vitamin D can provide, you might quickly realize they are really just a perfect example of the powers of genetic expression.

Nearly all of the power that vitamin D wields comes from its ability to influence what is known as the expression of your DNA. This influence over how your genes are expressed comes from the choices you make (or don’t make) in the realms of nutrition, training, and lifestyle. Being protective of your vitamin D status should be near the top of your health priority list – along with getting enough quality sleep, adequate movement, and nutrition as a whole. You might be wondering why vitamin D deserves to be mentioned with three major pillars of health and wellness. To understand vitamin D’s VIP status, it’s best to start with the importance of micronutrients altogether – there are roughly 40 of them on the essentials list. All of which we must get from our diet in order to survive, let alone thrive. After that we can shift the focus of our conversation to vitamin D in particular and highlight some fascinating research that illuminates just how important it is. There will also be some clues on how to determine if you may be at risk for a deficiency, and how to bring your levels up to what is known as the “sweet spot” for long term health.

The importance of micronutrients in general cannot be overemphasized, and vitamin D is one that should be given an even higher priority than most in your nutrition plan.

What Are Micronutrients?

Vitamin D Shots

Collectively, micronutrients are a family of roughly 40 vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and amino acids that we require for stuff in our body to work properly.

Nearly every biochemical process (there are a lot) within us requires some sort of micronutrient to function optimally. We may not feel a deficiency right away, in fact many people live years with suboptimal levels of many micronutrients. Our modern diets tend to be devoid of most micronutrients, although it is possible to get everything you need from whole foods – if you work hard enough at it. Another factor limiting our nutrient intake is the fact that certain classes of micronutrients are more readily absorbed by humans than others.

Vitamins for instance, are divided into water-soluble and fat-soluble varieties. Those that are fat-soluble require fat to be eaten with them in order to be absorbed effectively.

This is just an example of one potential reason why Americans are generally suffering from an insidious depletion of most micronutrients – even if they are getting all their fruits and veggies. For example, in the United States…

  • 70% of the population does not get enough vitamin D.
  • 60% is missing out on adequate levels of vitamin E (a group of compounds that are extremely effective antioxidants).
  • 45% of the population in the US does not get enough magnesium (required for energy production, DNA repair, and so much more).
  • 35% of the population grossly under-consuming vitamin K.
  • 30% of the population is not getting enough vitamin A.

Each of these missing micronutrients has countless roles to play throughout the human body, and when you are not getting enough of one, your body uses whatever you do have for tasks that are required for immediate survival. Long-term tasks such as DNA repair, that will take years to develop into dysfunction, are placed on the back-burner – a phenomenon known as the “triage effect”.

Benefits of Vitamin D

So what is that makes vitamin D so special among this list of these already important building blocks of health we call micronutrients?

Vitamin D is so important, that we’re able to make it from the sun’s UVB rays. Once created from UVB rays, it is converted to what is known as vitamin D3 (if supplementing, you should be getting it already in D3 form). Once in D3 form, it is converted by the liver to 25-hydroxyvitamin D. From there it is converted once more in the kidneys to what is known as the active form or 1,25-hydroxyvitamin D (this is what they test the levels of in your blood). Once in this form, vitamin D is able to do its work all around the body as a steroid hormone. Steroid hormones have the ability to regulate the expression of genes within our DNA – essentially turning them on or off. Flipping this switch results in various downstream effects controlled by that particular gene. 

Another profound effect that inadequate vitamin D levels can have on our body and mind is through production of a key neurotransmitter called serotonin. Vitamin D can be thought of as a rate limiter for serotonin production in the body. It acts as a cofactor for the enzyme known as tryptophan hydroxylase. This enzyme is required for the production of serotonin thus, vitamin D is required for you to produce enough serotonin for normal cognitive function.

Serotonin production isn’t the only function of vitamin D that may convince you to prioritize supplementation to maintain adequate levels within your blood. Vitamin D levels have also been directly correlated with modulation of the aging process.

Vitamin D has been shown to slow shortening of your telomeres, one of our closest markers of actual biological aging. Telomeres are the little caps at the end of strands of DNA which protect it from damage and subsequent mutations. On average, the older we get, the shorter our telomeres become. In one study involving thousands of female twins, those with the lowest levels of vitamin D also had the shortest telomeres. Another important finding of this study was that more is not better with vitamin D. Those in the study that had the highest vitamin D levels (exceeding the suggested range of 40 to 60 ng/ml) also had markedly shorter telomeres. This is why it’s important to fall within the vitamin D  “sweet spot” of 40 to 60 ng/ml. There are countless more reasons why it’s crucial to try and hit this sweet spot for vitamin D – inadequate levels have been linked to

  • Reduced cognitive function
  • Increased inflammation
  • DNA damage
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Lower levels of nerve growth factor
  • Greater risk for all cause mortality. 

Vitamin D Deficiency

You may be asking how you might be able to determine if you are deficient in vitamin D.

Currently, the gold standard of determining if you are deficient in vitamin D is a blood test – preferably done before beginning supplementation to determine your baseline levels. If you do not have access to a blood test, there are a few risk factors that may help you determine if you are susceptible to a D deficiency. Those that are especially at risk of deficiency include overweight individuals (because D is a fat soluble vitamin, it will be absorbed and essentially held hostage by fat cells), as well as the advanced age population (the older we get the less D we are able to make from the sun). Also at risk are people living in more northern latitudes (especially during the winter when sun exposure is limited), and people with a darker complexion (the skin pigment melanin acts as a natural sun block). Once you have determined whether or not you may be deficient, or if you are seeking to optimize your current levels, there are a variety of ways in which you can increase your vitamin D.

How to Get Your Vitamin D Levels Up

Current mainstream recommendations for daily vitamin D intake seem to be extremely low. Research has shown that taking 4,000 IU of vitamin D3 a day was enough to bring deficient individuals up to a level sufficient for normal physiological function. Notice that this number is far above the RDA laid out by the government, so please don’t be shy and go get your levels monitored by a medical professional. When choosing a supplement, opt for the D3 version rather than the D2 version whenever possible. This is because the D2 version is not as easily converted by most people to the active form of vitamin D within the body. Sun exposure is also a fantastic way to raise vitamin D levels within the body – provided you live in a location that receives adequate UVB radiation, and you are exposed to the sun for sufficient amount of time.

Unfortunately there aren’t many foods that have significant amounts of vitamin D other than some fish, algae, mushrooms, and fortified food products. That is why we typically recommend an oral supplement. For those individuals that have difficulty remembering to take vitamins or supplements in general, intramuscular vitamin D3 injections have been shown to significantly raise levels in deficient adults for up to 12 weeks, negating the need for daily supplementation during that time.

Vitamin D is no doubt an especially important micronutrient that has sadly not been given enough attention. At least 70% of the US population could greatly benefit from increasing their vitamin D levels via supplementation or whole food nutrition. Many micronutrient deficiencies can go years without being discovered, don’t let the 1000+ genes regulated by vitamin D be ignored!

Light Exposure and your Health

Healers of all kinds have appreciated the power of light since the beginning of time.

The father of medicine himself, Hippocrates was a great advocate of what is known as heliotherapy, or harnessing the power of the sun to heal ailments or generally improve health. If you doubt the ability light has to impact our health, consider the fact that we are able to create vitamin D from the sun’s rays  (more info on just how important Vitamin D is).

Yet, not many us are aware of the endless list of other effects (good and bad) that we can experience from light exposure – not just from the sun but from all sources. 

Light, Good or Bad?

Not all light is considered equal however.

Some forms of light are restorative and healing, while others are potentially harmful – especially those which we have developed with alongside modern technology. Becoming more aware of the potential pitfalls of unnatural light sources, like how they may be affecting our physiology and our ability to function optimally as human beings, is a prerequisite to developing a plan to manage exposure to them. 

There are a few kinds of light that especially stand out in both research and public awareness.

Red light (of all varieties), and blue light appear to be unique with regards to their ability to impact our health on multiple levels. Understanding these unique forms of light is crucial to harnessing their power, as well as mitigating the damage that blue light can cause. As with many things in the field of health and wellness, there aren’t clear lines of which kind(s) of light are good and which are bad – we must view the evidence from the perspective of scientific research, and temper our subjectively developed opinions with a consideration of ancestral wisdom and experience. It is also important to consider what is practical in our modern lives (as it is nearly impossible to entirely avoid harmful light exposure), and create a plan for reducing the damage it may cause. Understanding how different sources of light in your external environment have the ability to affect your internal environment will allow you to develop a plan to start sleeping better, have more energy, reduce stress, perform better in the gym, and generally live healthier lives more in tune with the natural rhythms our body’s thrive on.

Everyone will respond to light exposure differently, but the major forms we will focus on today have robust evidence to support their general effects on human physiology. 

Blue Light

There is an extremely bright ball of gas at the center of our solar system emitting wavelengths of light throughout the entire spectrum, visible and invisible

This includes the UVB rays that have been vilified somewhat recently (but are also required for the production of vitamin D), blue light which has a stimulatory effect on our brain and body, and the various forms red light which have healing and restorative properties. Concentrations of blue light within the sun’s rays are especially high during times when the sun is highest in the sky (this coincides with when the waking hormone cortisol should be elevated).

We absolutely want to experience blue light exposure from sun, especially during the day in order to help establish and maintain our circadian rhythm, a biological pattern which is essentially at the root of how light can impact our health. Unfortunately, blue light is nearly all we are exposed to now.

Blue light from our smartphones, overhead lighting, laptops, headlights, and almost anything that emits light has the ability to affect our physiology in a fundamental way. Our brains interpret this blue light as a signal that it is daytime, suppressing melatonin production, inhibiting sleep and restorative processes that this hormone and potent antioxidant is responsible for facilitating. By now this fact is relatively common knowledge, but what is likely misunderstood is the severity in which it impacts our health. Suppressing melatonin production within the brain, and therefore disrupting normal sleep patterns has profound implications across the entire body.

Quality sleep is predicated on a rhythmic dance between certain hormones within the body, particularly melatonin and cortisol. These two hormones are fundamentally opposed and having elevated levels of cortisol at inappropriate times can result in an inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or simply a disruption of normal sleep cycles. Although far from the only thing that has the ability to disrupt sleep, exposure to blue light is likely our largest offender currently. Widespread awareness of this fact is demonstrated by the increased use of blue-blocking glasses before bed, as well as a general focus in the wellness community on creating a light-environment conducive to sleep. Discussing how to develop a light-environment to promote restful sleep is another discussion entirely, but for now there is another concern that should be addressed.

Increasingly, there is another equally detrimental effect appearing from chronic, artificial blue-light exposure. Constant blue light exposure appears to accelerate what is known as macular degeneration – essentially deterioration of the eye. This is because we are experiencing blue light at much higher concentrations than ever experienced in the history of human beings. Macular degeneration was once thought to only occur as a result of the normal aging process but unfortunately, children are especially susceptible to this damage and rates of this issue occurring within the younger population are skyrocketing. It is safe to say that light affects us in ways that we do not yet fully comprehend. Another excellent example of the almost mysterious effect light can have on the human body are those caused by red, near infrared, and far infrared light.

Red Light

Red Light Therapy

Red and infrared light (both near and far) have profound effects on the human body. These wavelengths of light are all able to fundamentally impact our cellular function, causing downstream effects across the body (more information on red light therapy). They also do not impact sleep negatively because they do not suppress melatonin production – perhaps due to the fact that red light was most abundant in the sun’s rays during sunrise and sunset.

Overall, red light has predominantly healing properties, when compared to blue light. The same reasons we are exposed to inappropriately high amounts of blue light (e.g. the average American spends 93% of their time indoors), are why we are not exposed to adequate amounts of the various forms of red light. We are seeing the anecdotal evidence of the potential benefits red light therapy pile up while being increasingly corroborated by peer-reviewed research. Luckily, there are a few things that you can do to dramatically improve your light exposure in your home that will have major downstream effects on your health.

Shaping your light environment

Human beings undoubtedly experienced light rhythmically. We did not have overhead lighting or even flashlights until relatively recently – when the sun went down so did we.

Short of exclusively using fire or candle light for illumination in your home, there are quite a few things you can do to limit your exposure to the disruptive blue light that seems ubiquitous in 2020.

  • Because it is likely unrealistic to ask the average person to avoid looking at all screens and devices hours before bed, we suggest that you get yourself a good pair of blue blocking glasses that have been tested to verify their effectiveness. 
  • Make sure to reduce overhead lighting as much as possible for at least a few hours before bed – utilize dimmers, candles, or even a salt lamp instead.
  • During the day, get enough exposure to the sun to anchor your circadian clock in the correct rhythm.
  • Also, consider using a red light therapy device, which are becoming extremely popular due to their ability to provide us with this nourishing and restorative form of light that we are often missing out on.

There are many more reasons to become aware of and begin managing your light exposure, but perhaps most important is its effect on sleep. Getting enough quality sleep is always a top priority for our wellness clients and should be at the foundation of any health and fitness pursuit.

Once you have been in the health and wellness space for long enough, you will begin to notice that many of the tools and strategies developed to improve health are really nothing new. They are, more often than not, designed to replace elements of our ancestral existence that we no longer experience. Sauna, red light exposure, intermittent fasting, and even exercise are all simply replacing aspects of everyday life that are no longer experienced due to modern technological, societal, and cultural advancements. Some things belong at the top of your priorities list if you hope to optimize your body and mind and understanding proper light exposure is one of them.

3 Big Rocks of Health

It is easy to get confused when embarking on a fitness journey. Easy to get lost in the hype surrounding certain supplements, lifting styles, fitness gadgets, and diets. We often lose sight of what really matters. I call them the 3 Big Rocks. We are going to go over what these rocks are but first, let’s go over what they aren’t.

Log onto instagram and you will be flooded with fitness “influencers” ; or more often than not wannabe influencers. Each and every one of them will be competing for your attention to promote their supplements or fitness gear. So why don’t we start there? Supplements, with the exception of Creatine Monohydrate and perhaps Caffeine they are not effective or important for the average gym-goer. Think about where you are in your fitness journey. Say you are at roughly 60% of your potential. Will the 1% increase in performance from that highly expensive supplement even be noticeable? No it will not. However, if you are at the 98 percentile of your potential, it just might. Take a look in the mirror and make an objective decision based on where you truly are.

Effective programming is crucial to the success of any exercise plan. On the same token however, you aren’t going to get your programming from what the latest fitness celebrity is doing. It is imperative you find out what works for you and your physiology.

The 3 Rocks

  • Consistency
  • Effort
  • Adaptability

BIG ROCK #1 Consistency

Applying consistency should be an obvious prerequisite for establishing change in any pursuit. Whatever your goals in fitness are they will take consistency to bring them to life. Our bodies respond and adapt to what we do frequently which, in modern society is often to our detriment. Too often I have clients come to me, in their 30’s or 40’s, wanting to get in shape for the first time. As a trainer it is always difficult to explain to them that the change they want will take time. Consistently being inactive, and generally unhealthy resulted in your body adapting to and manifesting your current physiology. Therefore, changing your body from this state will also take consistency.

Be patient. Trust the process. Enjoy the process. Apply fundamental exercises consistently. It will take time but doing things the right way will result in lasting, sustainable changes. Remember, even a terrible workout program done consistently will beat an excellent program done inconsistently.

BIG ROCK #2 Effort

In order for your body to change, you must apply a stimulus that overloads the bodies current capacities enough for it to recognize the need for adaptation. That overload can potentially be in the form of work required by a muscle to stimulate hypertrophy or strength adaptations, as well as overall metabolic demands when in a hypocaloric state causing adipose tissue to be catabolized for energy requirements. Burning fat or building muscle requires effort. Too often I see individuals in the gym putting in their repetitions without reaching the threshold stimulus for change. If you are not pushing yourself just a little harder each time you come to the gym, changes will be few and far between.

It is important to keep in mind however, pushing yourself harder is not the only requirement in terms of effort. Your effort must be applied appropriately and as mentioned already, consistently. Do not expect that if you just apply extraordinary amounts of work your body will change. Be objective. Push yourself when reaching for goals. Apply yourself and your work strategically. Once you are done, recover.

BIG ROCK #3 Adaptability

While consistency and effort are often forgotten because human beings tend to be adverse to discomfort; adaptability is typically missed out on due to lack of understanding. Maintaining an adaptable state is crucial to the success of any fitness regimen. You can be perfectly consistent with the plan, be working hard in the gym, but if you are not ensuring you are in an adaptable state then most, if not all of your work will be in vain.

Every stress you encounter in life; financial, relationship, lack of proper nutrition, environmental toxins, lack of adequate sleep and many more affect your ability to adapt and recover from your workouts. This is especially important to consider if you are just beginning any type of fitness journey. Your body is not prepared to handle and adapt from the stress of working out 7 days a week like your favorite Instagram celebrity or action movie hero. Apply stress in moderation so you can increase it at a later date. Do the least amount of work now to change your body so that you can always add more. Mitigate all stress you possibly can to ensure that you still have the ability to make positive adaptations to exercise. I would argue that this aspect should be the first thing you consider when choosing a workout plan. If you have an incredibly stressful job, kids that don’t let you sleep, and who knows what other issues causing stress, then you probably shouldn’t be adding another aspect of degradation to your body. Exercise should make you stronger, healthier, and happier. Without reducing as much stress as possible however, it will likely be just another literal and metaphorical weight on your shoulders.

At Ikon, we want you to help you workout for a better life. Too often we see people dreading to exercise. That is why we are working hard to bring health and fitness back together again!

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