Q: How can I recognize if I have a vitamin D deficiency?
A:The most accurate measure of vitamin D in the body is a blood test called the 25 (OH) test, also known as the 25-hydroxy test. However, there are certainly symptoms that are strong indicators of deficiency, such as aching bones or muscle pain. Bone pain can be the result of osteomalacia, a condition that can result from a lack of vitamin D and is marked by softening of the bones, generally caused by impaired mineralization.
A recent study showed that 93 percent of people 10 to 65 years of age who were admitted to a hospital emergency room with muscle aches and bone pain and who had a wide variety of diagnoses—including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and depression—were deficient in vitamin D.1
A second study confirmed a strong correlation between low 25 (OH) D levels in the blood with higher rates and longer duration of generalized bone and muscle aches and pains. Other important predictors of low 25 (OH) D levels are sex (females are more prone to deficiency than males), body mass index (the heavier you are, the more likely you are to be deficient), lack of sun exposure, living at a higher latitude, and, in women, having children.2
A simple test of using moderate force to press the thumb on the sternum or anterior tibia can be a good indicator—if it elicits bone pain, you may want to be checked out.3
Q: What causes liver spots, and how do I get rid of them?
A: Liver or "age spots" are freckle-like discolorations that vary in size and usually appear on the face, hands, shoulders and arms—areas most exposed to the sun. Age spots develop when melanin—a skin pigment that gives the skin its color and protects the skin from ultraviolet light—clumps together or is produced in higher concentrations than normal. UV light accelerates the production of melanin. Most often, it takes years of sun exposure for these dark spots to occur. In addition to sun exposure, simply growing older can cause the extra production of melanin and subsequent age spots (hence the name). Genetics also plays a role in how susceptible you are to them.
Various pharmaceuticals, laser therapy, cryotherapy, dermabrasion and chemical peels are typically used to remove the spots. Because age spots have been linked to free-radical damage to skin cells, antioxidant vitamins and minerals might help—at least with protection if not diminishment of existing spots. Some studies suggest they do. One recent study tested three groups to see if carotenoid combinations would have an effect on skin health and aging. Group 1 received a mixture of lycopene (3 mg a day), lutein (3 mg a day), beta-carotene (4.8 mg a day), alpha-tocopherol (10 mg a day) and selenium (75 mcg a day). Group 2 was supplemented with a mixture of lycopene (6 mg a day), beta-carotene (4.8 mg a day), alpha-tocopherol (10 mg a day) and selenium (75 mcg a day). Group 3 was the placebo control. A significant protection of skin density and thickness and an improvement in roughness and scaling were found in those people given the antioxidants compared with no changes for any of the parameters in the placebo group.4 This was only a 12-week study, but it does seem that modest antioxidant supplementation might help prevent liver spots.
Q: I've heard that celery seed extract may work as a mosquito repellent. Dare I hope this is true?
A: It may be. Celery seed is the dried fruit of Apium graveolens, which is related, but not identical, to the vegetable celery plant. There have been a couple of studies on the crude seed extract as a mosquito repellent. In one study it showed repellency and provided protection time for 3.5 hours when applied at a concentration of 250 mg per ml, and it did not cause any reaction to the skin. 5 Another study showed similar results.6 Using a tincture applied topically may therefore provide some protection. In storage, celery seed was found to retain its repellency for at least two months, although significant reductions in its repellency were observed (in terms of shortened complete-protection times) after three months, whatever the temperature of storage (-20 degrees C, 4 degrees C or room temperature).5
However, one word of warning: Celery can cause contact dermatitis, and allergic reactions have also been documented.7 If you are not allergic to celery, it would be unlikely you'd be allergic to celery seed.
1. Holick MF. Vitamin D deficiency. N Engl J Med 2007;357(3):266-81.
2. Erkal MZ, et al. High prevalence of vitamin D deficiency, secondary hyperparathyroidism and generalized bone pain in Turkish immigrants in Germany: identification of risk factors. Osteoporos Int 2006;17(8):1133-40.
3. Plotnikoff GA, Quigley JM. Prevalence of severe hypovitaminosis D in patients with persistent, nonspecific musculoskeletal pain. Mayo Clin Proc 2003;78(12):1463-70.
4. Heinrich U, et al. Antioxidant supplements improve parameters related to skin structure in humans. Skin Pharmacol Physiol 2006;19(4):224-31.
5. Tuetun B, et al. Mosquito repellency of the seeds of celery (Apium graveolens L.). Ann Trop Med Parasitol 2004;98(4):407-17.
6. Choochote W, et al. Potential of crude seed extract of celery, Apium graveolens L., against the mosquito Aedes aegypti (L.) (Diptera: Culicidae). J Vector Ecol 2004;29(2):340-6.
7. Bauer L, et al. IgE cross-reactivity between birch pollen, mugwort pollen and celery is due to at least three distinct cross-reacting allergens: immunoblot investigation of the birch-mugwort-celery syndrome. Clin Exp Allergy 1996;26(10):1161-70.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 11/p. 44