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July 2008 Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource Highlights Vitamin D, Savvy Use of Sunscreen and Gastrointestinal Upset and Celiac Disease

ROCHESTER, Minn., July 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Here are highlights from the July issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource. You may cite this publication as often as you wish. Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource attribution is required. Reprinting is allowed for a fee. Include the following subscription information as your editorial policies permit: Visit or call toll-free for subscription information, 800-876-8633, extension 9PK1.

Vitamin D -- Builds Bones and Much More

Researchers identifying new health benefits

Vitamin D is essential to strong bones. Inadequate vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis, a brittle bone disease.

Recently, researchers have found that vitamin D may help reduce the risk of other diseases. The July issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource reports some new findings and guidelines on how much vitamin D is enough.

Fall prevention: With age, decreasing muscle strength can increase the risk of falls and bone fractures. Several studies have found that vitamin D supplements may benefit muscle strength and balance, helping older adults stay steadier on their feet.

Cancer prevention: Observational research indicates that low levels of vitamin D increase the risk of some cancers -- including those of the breast, colon, rectum, ovary, kidney, lung and uterus. Although unclear why, vitamin D in adequate amounts appears to help regulate cellular growth, potentially preventing cells from becoming cancerous.

Chronic pain prevention: Vitamin D deficiency is increasingly recognized as an important cause of muscle pain and weakness.

Protection against autoimmune diseases: Evidence is mounting that vitamin D may offer protection from type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis by reducing inflammation and strengthening the immune system. In one study, researchers found a 40 percent lower risk of multiple sclerosis in women who supplemented their diet each day with at least 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D.

Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease: Some research indicates that lower vitamin D levels are associated with a number of factors that affect cardiovascular health, including coronary artery calcification and, possibly, congestive heart failure.

So, how much vitamin D is enough? Recommendations from medical groups vary, but a daily intake in the range of 800 to 1,000 IU is likely to benefit most adults. The body produces vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet rays, but many people need a supplement to reach recommended levels. Many multivitamins contain vitamin D. This nutrient also can be purchased alone or combined with calcium.

Savvy Use of Sunscreen Reduces the Risk of Getting Too Much Summer Sun

Sunning in the summer feels oh-so-good. But ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) light damage the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer. Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma. UV exposure -- even when no sunburn occurs -- increases the risk of cancer.

Savvy use of sunscreen reduces the risk of damage from the sun's harmful rays. Apply about a palmful (1 ounce) of a water-resistant sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher to your arms, legs, neck and face 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours, or more often if you're swimming or sweating.

According to the July issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource, when selecting a sunscreen, consider:

Forms: Options include lotions, creams, ointments, gels, wipes, wax sticks, sprays, lip balm and cosmetics. Choose the form that you'll use most often.

Types: Physical sunscreens form an opaque film that reflects or scatters UV light before it can penetrate the skin. Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays before they can cause damage. Most newer sunscreens combine several different active ingredients to protect against both UVA and UVB radiation. Look for oxybezone, sulisobenzone, avobenzone (Parsol 1789) or ecamsule in the ingredients. For those reluctant to use chemical sunscreens, physical sunscreens that combine zinc oxide and titanium dioxide offer broad protection.

Protection: All sunscreens are labeled with a sun protection factor that measures the amount of UVB protection. A higher number means more protection. In the future, sunscreen labels will include a star rating, indicating the amount of UVA protection in addition to the SPF number. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. Broad-spectrum products protect against both types of rays.

It's Important to Know if Frequent Gastrointestinal Upset is Celiac Disease

Frequent gastrointestinal upset can indicate celiac disease, which affects about one in 100 people. But only about one-tenth of those cases have been diagnosed, because celiac disease can present itself in many ways.

Joseph Murray, M.D., a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist, recommends that people who regularly experience gastrointestinal upset consider a test for celiac disease. In an interview for the July issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource, he discusses celiac disease, its symptoms, treatment and why a diagnosis is important.

Celiac disease, a digestive condition, is triggered by gluten, a protein found in breads, pasta and other foods containing wheat, barley and rye. When those who have celiac disease consume gluten, an immune reaction in the small intestine damages the lining of the intestine. That damage can interfere with digestion and the ability to absorb nutrients. Symptoms can include diarrhea, bloating, gas and weight loss.

The disease is often mistaken for other disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn's disease. Nutritional deficiency caused by celiac disease can lead to anemia, premature osteoporosis, nervous system problems, some cancers and dementia. Celiac disease also can manifest as unexplained infertility, or children who fail to grow.

Usually, a gluten-free diet effectively treats celiac disease. Most people feel better within days or weeks after discontinuing gluten. Dr. Murray emphasizes that a test to confirm celiac disease is important before eliminating gluten from the diet. A diet change preceding a diagnostic test can result in a false-negative reading.

Once diagnosed, patients should work with an experienced dietitian to develop a nutritionally sound diet. While nutritional absorption will improve dramatically, many gluten-free foods aren't fortified with vitamins. Vitamins or calcium/vitamin D supplements often are recommended.

Eliminating gluten from the diet can be challenging. An increasing number of packaged foods, however, are gluten free. And many foods have no gluten, such as meat, poultry, fish, most dairy products, fruit, vegetables and rice.

Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource is published monthly to help women enjoy healthier, more productive lives. Revenue from subscriptions is used to support medical research at Mayo Clinic. To subscribe, please call 800-876-8633, extension 9PK1, or visit

SOURCE Mayo Clinic
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