Greg Hall, MD is a physician, author, speaker, inventor, professor, and public health professional. Dr. Hall specializes in urban health and the clinical care of African Americans. He strives to improve the quality of medical care through improved health education and awareness. As an expert in the healthcare of African Americans, Dr. Greg Hall strives for health equity in all patient care.
Potassium doesn’t get enough credit as a very beneficial nutrient to good health and potassium deficiency (low potassium) has been directly related to high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, muscle weakness, fatigue and much more.
Multiple studies have confirmed that African Americans are much more likely to lack potassium and low potassium can be linked to higher blood pressures, diabetes and a number of other health problems that impact the Black community.
As much as high sodium (“salt”) can be a problem, low potassium can also be a problem . . . a big problem. Potassium is an essential mineral that has many functions in your body. For example, it is central to muscle contraction, it maintains healthy nerve function, and regulates water balance in your body. With all of those essential functions, it is a wonder that so many people, including African Americans are low in potassium.
Curiously, low potassium has also been linked as a diabetes risk in African Americans. A large study at John Hopkins found that African Americans with lower potassium levels had a higher risk for diabetes. The author said “”we now know lower serum potassium is an independent risk factor for diabetes and that African-Americans have, on average, lower potassium levels than whites.”
Previous studies have also found that lower potassium was directly linked to higher blood sugar levels. The higher the blood sugar, the higher the risk for diabetes . . . and high blood pressure. Yet another study found that taking a potassium supplement directly lowered the blood pressure of Black patients. Lowering your blood pressure reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke.
The CDC says that increasing your potassium intake can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by lowering blood pressure. Conversely, consuming too little potassium (and too much sodium) can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Foods that are rich in potassium include beans, leafy green vegetables (greens, spinach, etc.), potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, squash, beets, broccoli, and bananas.
It is important to note that salt-substitutes are generally swapping potassium for sodium so using them in moderation can also be a benefit.
Always check with your doctor before changing your potassium intake because people with kidney problems, heart problems, or take certain medications may make things worse if their body has trouble processing the increased potassium. People on dialysis or have poor kidney function, for example, have to be vigilant about not getting too much potassium (as well as protein and sodium), and are frequent prescribed a low potassium diet.
Recent studies have found a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and stroke risk as well as stroke severity. A study just published found that people with the highest vitamin D levels had fewer strokes and if they had a stroke, it was less severe. People with low vitamin D levels had more strokes with more severe symptoms.
As you know, we get most of our vitamin D from the sun, but urban living, colder/cloudy weather, and lactose intolerance (so we can’t drink “Vitamin D Milk”) have all resulted in wide-spread African American vitamin D deficiency.
African Americans Have Low Vitamin D Levels
Four of five African Americans have low levels of vitamin D, and we also have the highest rates of heart attack, stroke, and circulation problems. Risk factors for low vitamin D levels include older age, darker complexion, obesity, and limited sun exposure.
Studies have shown that hemorrhagic stroke patients (those strokes caused by a bleed rather than a blood clot) often suffer from low vitamin D levels. Another study suggested that putting stroke victims on vitamin D helped their recovery somewhat.
Biologically, vitamin D reduces total cholesterol and fat in blood as well as improves inflammation which helps your blood vessels stay healthy.
A Direct Effect Has Not Been Shown
To be clear, there has yet to be a study that showed taking a vitamin D supplement led to fewer strokes. These research studies are only able to find correlations and from these associations, they “suppose” that raising your vitamin D level will lead to better health. Some researchers believe that poor health leads to low vitamin D levels and that is the reason sicker people have low vitamin D.
Vitamin D levels have been positively associated with improved cardiovascular health, especially with reduction of stroke risk. Until the controversy is settled, everyone agrees that leaving a low vitamin D alone is not a reasonable option.
Vitamin D is best increased through natural means . . . sun exposure, a healthy diet, etc. Foods high in vitamin D include salmon, herring/sardines, cod liver oil, tuna, mushrooms, and fortified beverages (milk, orange juice, and cereal).
Good Vitamin D Levels Help in COVID Patients
Another study looked at COVID patients and vitamin D deficiency and found COVD illness directly related to vitamin D level. COVID-19 is greatly associated with increased stroke and heart attacks so having a normal vitamin D level was somewhat protective against severe COVID disease. Obviously the absolute best way to avoid COVID-19 is through getting an approved vaccination.
A new study is showing benefit from taking a multivitamin once a day in slowing the progression of dementia in older individuals. It has long been known that vitamin D deficiency is directly linked to Alzheimer’s Dementia and African Americans have the highest rate of vitamin D deficiency as well as Alzheimer’s Disease and some have called it a “silent epidemic.”
Research suggests that Alzheimer’s disease may be two to three times higher in older African Americans when compared to Whites. Studies also show that the disease progresses much more slowly in African Americans and people with it live significantly longer. These curious facts lead doctors to think that the cause for the mental decline may be different.
Alzheimer’s occurs in African Americans at a comparatively younger age and robs too many older adults of their independence, dignity, and resources. It has been linked to hypertension (high blood pressure), depression, diabetes, smoking, and some genetic factors. In fact, the risk for Alzheimer’s Disease is 44 percent higher if you have a close relative with dementia.
There are also studies that show a higher consumption of fruits and vegetables, taking cholesterol-lowering medicine, and high social engagement may help ward off dementia. A Mayo Clinic article addresses the connection between vitamin deficiency and dementia and given the widespread deficiencies we see in the Black community, there is certainly no harm in taking the right amount of vitamin D.
The article also outlines that the National Institutes of Health recommends adults age 70 and younger need 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily, and adults over age 70 need 800 IU daily. These recommendations are too low for African Americans who need much higher doses to achieve normal vitamin D levels.
People continue to ask me about health issues and why Black Americans’ health is inferior to every other racial or ethnic group. My podcast Better Black Health covers many of these important topics. The environmental dynamics of being Black drives up our blood pressure, increases our risk for cancer, and makes us struggle with our weight and diabetes. The Better Black Health podcast is also on Spreaker and Spotify to allow easy access to this vital information.
Why do African Americans have a greater cancer risk with smoking . . . and why do so many smoke menthol cigarettes? There is a potential genetic reason behind this huge disparity. And stopping smoking was much harder when there was a household partner or family member who still smoked.
Why do Blacks distrust healthcare providers (doctors, NPs, etc.) at such a high rate? How does our history with medical providers drive this dysfunctional relationship?
The first episode looks at a curious case of high blood pressure and the potential causes including alcohol, sleep apnea, and heart disease.
A follow up episode looks at the vitamin needs of African Americans.
African American cancer survivors should make a deliberate effort to stop smoking because cancer recurrence or return was much higher in cancer patients who continued to smoke. In this study done at Wayne State in Detroit, Black patients were more likely to continue to smoke after being diagnosed with cancer and were more likely to continue if their partner continued to smoke.
A longer smoking history and living with a smoker increased the odds of continued smoking after cancer diagnosis. Over all, lung cancer survivors were most likely to quit after diagnosis.
These findings are similar to other ethnic populations and highlight that continued smoking after a cancer diagnosis is both common and highly risky. Stopping smoking must remain a primary priority to patients diagnosed with cancer because by continuing smoking, their risk for the cancer returning and spreading is much higher.
Health care providers like doctors and nurse practitioners should emphasize the importance of both the patient and other house members (wife, husband, adult children, etc.) stopping smoking because their success rates are linked.
There is definitely a science to sleep and why sounds can both improve or interrupt a good night’s sleep. The internet is filled with people who report greatly improved sleep with sound producing devices, long-playing internet videos, and other media. The sound of ocean waves, constant rain, or even a partners’ breathing has been reported to promote a more restful sleep. Curiously, when sleep experts at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine recently pulled together research in the field, they found “the quality of evidence for continuous noise improving sleep was very low.” Their disclaimer added that more research is needed in higher numbers to either fully discredit or completely support the use of “noise” as a clinically beneficial sleep aid.
What are the potential benefits?
There are components of sleep that improve or detract from its quality. By minimizing the onset, and the interruptions in sleep, it is presumed that the duration of the restorative components (REM sleep and non-REM) will improve. Deep sleep, which is the most restorative and a component of non-REM sleep, shortens with age and its reduction has been liked to poor health including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and more. By improving overall sleep duration by reducing interruptions and decreasing the time it takes to go to sleep, it is hoped that a better quality of life ensues.
What type of noise is best to listen to on a sound machine? White noise, pink noise, or any other types.
There is a science behind the various noises and why they may help sleep. White noise is a balanced frequency of sounds that has a higher overall pitch. Because higher pitched sounds are more easily heard by the human ear, a balance of sounds with give an overall higher pitch. Pink noise is proportionately decreased as the pitches increase in an effort to better “balance” what is actually heard. Pink noise therefore has a lower, and some say, more soothing, tone. To takes this concept even further (and more soothing), Brown noise (Brownian noise) decreased the frequency even lower than pink noise. There is no scientifically reported evidence that one noise is better than the others . . . just personal preference.
How does the experience of listening to a sound machine differ from sleeping in silence?
The difference between silence and consistent invariable noise is not as great as some would think. The issues with sleeping in silence is the potential interruptions by sound. The “noises” I have described work to potentially drown out the sound variabilities in life. True silence has no interruptions and is consistent. These various noises work to make urban (or even rural) existence less variable in sound and thus more conducive to uninterrupted sleep.
As descendants from Africa, African Americans were genetically conditioned to best survive in a hot, sunny, mineral rich land. The continent of Africa is known for its fertile land and renowned as the “richest continent in the world” in terms of natural resources. The days are sunny and generally consistent in length throughout the year. Living in a mineral rich land, your body adjusts its absorption of vitamins and minerals according to it’s exposure in the environment. In Africans, their absorption is blunted because the environment is so fertile with sun, nutrients and minerals. When relocated to North America, with its variable daylight, urban dynamics, and processed food and water, African Americans are now displaced from the environment that their system was best designed to thrive.
Low Vitamin D and Increased Health Problems
With vitamin D generally coming from the sun, the shift from Africa to North America was dramatic . . . and so was the drop in vitamin D in Black Americans. Low vitamin D has been linked to more severe COVID illnesses, increased diabetes (type 2), increased prostate cancer, increased colon cancer, worsened asthma, and more. The graph below from a study done at the University of California at Berkeley shows significantly higher vitamin D levels in both men and women in Africa and Jamaica that are consistent with those of white Americans . . . whereas the levels in Chicago Blacks were much lower.
Blacks in America need vitamin D supplementation to offset the significantly decreased vitamin D we get from the diminished sun in North American cities. It is proposed that the added vitamin D will help to offset some of the worsened diseases we see in African Americans.
Africa has also been known to have high zinc reserves. In fact in some mining areas in African, the mineral content of “heavy metals” in the water was too high. From a biological perspective, the people living in these high mineral content areas needed to develop a way of decreasing their absorption of too much minerals, including zinc. In a study done looking at prostate cancer tissue in Black Americans versus whites, researchers found significant fewer zinc absorption (“transport”) channels in the prostates with the more aggressive cancer, and this decreased zinc transport occurred much more often in African Americans than whites. Overall, zinc has the highest concentration in the body in the prostate, and scientists report that the high zinc in the prostate acts to suppress tumor formation. The graph below shows the higher prostate cancer incidence in green as well as the higher mortality (red) by race/ethnicity.
African American men should take zinc daily.
Vitamin C has long been known to benefit a number of health conditions including boosting immunity (your ability to fight infections), slowing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), decreasing gout attacks through lowering uric acid levels, as well as improving lead clearance from the body. Taking vitamin C on a daily basis either in the form of high vitamin C foods or supplements is highly recommended.
Vitamin K promotes blood clotting. While biologists have insisted that vitamin K doesn’t cause “too much clotting” there have been no studies in African Americans to confirm this. Given the lack of vitamin K deficiency in the US, there is no reason for an African American to take added vitamin K.
MD Newsline just featured Sequence Multivitamins on their website as a game-changing approach to nutrition in the Black community.
Sequence Multivitamins for African Americans have increased vitamin D, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, and zinc to compensate for the migration from Africa to North America and the dramatic adjustments that many of our bodies are still making! And it leaves out vitamin K to potentially avoid an increased risk for blood clots.
Which multivitamin should I take? As a physician, I get this question multiple times a day, every day. And the answer would frequently depend on who was asking. Are they younger or older? Male or female? How is their diet? What race are they? What family disease risks exist? All of these issues influence my answer, and the final answer is yes, there is one best multivitamin for African Americans to take: VitaCode’s Sequence Multivitamins.
Sequence Multivitamins were designed to meet the needs of African American men, women, and the unique needs of older adults.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Because my patient practice is 90 percent African American, the vast majority are severely vitamin D deficient. The normal range for vitamin D levels in the blood is 20 to 80 pg/ml. As an example, I am African American and my initial vitamin D level was 9 pg/ml. Most of my patients also have very low vitamin D levels . . . in fact I’m surprised when I see a normal level in a Black patient. In contrast, most of my patients of other races/ethnicities generally have normal vitamin D levels.
Given these stark differences in blood levels of this critical vitamin, the approach to its replacement is also different. The USDA currently recommends 600 international units daily for vitamin D for everyone age 1 to 70 years. Most multivitamins start with the USDA recommendation when designing their content. 600 IU is entirely too low a replacement dose for most African Americans. The amount of vitamin D to take to correct these significant deficiencies is over three times higher. African Americans should take 2000 IU daily.
Vitamin C Deficiency
Other vitamin deficiency patterns exist as well in African Americans. A study conducted at Duke University Medical Center found that “in African Americans, but not whites, lower levels of beta-carotene and vitamin C were significantly associated with early markers implicated in cardiometabolic conditions and cancer.”
Higher vitamin C levels were also protective against lead exposure due to the vitamin’s ability to inhibit the intestinal absorption of lead as well as its ability to promote urinary excretion of lead. Essentially vitamin C acts as a barrier to lead absorption. Environmentalists confirm that urban air, soil, and water tend to hold comparably higher lead levels due to a history of industrial presence in cities and their closeness to neighborhoods mostly populated with African Americans. Increasing the vitamin C content in a multivitamin for an urban population disproportionately exposed to lead is a sound approach to population health.
Vitamin E May Be Bad for You
Interestingly, there are also significant risks and poor health outcomes associated with certain vitamins. Vitamin E supplementation was studied in over 130,000 people and those that took 400 IU (the most common supplement dose) or higher, had an overall higher risk of dying from any cause. Vitamin E supplements were also shown to significantly increase the risk of prostate cancer in healthy men. Given that African Americans have the highest death rate of any racial/ethnic group (including prostate cancer) in the United States, taking a vitamin that potentially increases these already bad outcomes, makes no sense. Unlike most other multivitamins, Sequence Multivitamins has no vitamin E.
Potassium has shown benefits in cardiac rhythm stability, blood pressure control, and electrolyte balance. There has been data that suggests African Americans have lower potassium levels overall which could be related to the increased incidence of diabetes, and helpful in preventing heart or stroke problems. Sequence Multivitamins has added potassium for this purpose.
Chromium has promising data that it positively impacts diabetes control across populations. With African Americans having significantly higher risk for diabetes, adding chromium to the Sequence Multivitamins formula was a plus.
Due to its distinctive ability to neutralize free radicals, lycopene is believed to give measurable protection against cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, and other inflammatory diseases. Evidence suggests that lycopene consumption is associated with decreased risk of various chronic diseases that disproportionately impact African Americans.
As you can see, a good deal of thought and research went into developing the formula for Sequence Multivitamins. Their formulas for men, women, men over 50, and women over 50 means there is a multivitamin best for almost anyone. Health disparities, premature death, and chronic illness has been a way of life for too many African Americans. VitaCode’s Sequence Multivitamins hopes to make a difference . . . making them the single best multivitamin for African Americans.
There are racial disparities in sleep with African Americans having a shorter sleep duration, a harder time falling asleep, and a tendency to wake up more easily after falling asleep. There is also a decreased ability to phase shift African Americans sleep cycles when exposed to jet-lag and shift work situations, and the total duration of the cycle was smaller, a study by Eastman and colleagues at Rush University Medical Center found. Sleep differences in African Americans cause a good deal of suffering.
These researchers surmised that the differences in sleep architecture grew from thousands of years of genetic modifications resulting from, for African Americans, exposure to year-around consistent 12-hour light-dark cycles, versus whites coming for northern regions with significant variability in the day length, dawn, and dusk times.
For example, in Ohio the day length changes from as short as eight hours in the winter to as long as sixteen hours in the summer. Ohioans are constantly adjusting to time shifts. With thousands of years of exposure to time changes, Ohioans would develop an increased ability to tolerate the changes. Closer to the equator (like western Africa), the time doesn’t shift nearly as much. The days are 12 hours long all year and there is no need to have an ability to tolerate time shifts.
Therefore “the shifting circadian periods in non-equatorial regions left a genetically modified increased tolerance for variable light-dark productivity hours.” Put simply, people who genetically come from regions near the equator are less able to adjust to time shifts, daylight savings times, jet lag, or anything else that causes a shift in sunrise and sunset.
Everyone has a “circadian period” which is an innate sleep wake cycle. We also have an ability to shift that cycle somewhat. People whose genes come from northern areas of the earth (Europe, Canada, etc.) have an ability to tolerate shifts in time whereas those of us from Caribbean, African, South American regions have much more difficulty adjusting.
In another study, researchers exposed African Americans and White Americans to a 9 hour delayed light/dark sleep/wake and meal schedule, similar to traveling from Chicago to Japan. Essentially what would take 10 days for full adjustment in White Americans, would take 15 days for African Americans to adjust.
Swing shifts are bad for your health!
The need to adjust to time zone changes is only occasional in most people, and there are methods to make this adjustment smoother, but shift work seen in factory workers, police and fireman, healthcare staff, and other positions place an additional health burden on these workers. Shift working was found to add an additional 40 percent risk of heart disease as compared to non-shift work.
There is also increased weight gain as a result of decreased glucose tolerance from meals consumed in the night. When eating at night, your body tends to store more of the calories rather than burn them. Therefore night workers (who have to eat sometimes) tend to be more overweight. Researchers have also found that shifts workers have worse cholesterol results.
All of this contributes to increased health problems and premature death.
Shift work is more prevalent in the African American community and is also associated with worse health outcomes including:
By incorporating a planned exercise schedule and diet, emphasizing the dangers of smoking (particularly in shift workers), and providing better insight into the social impact of these schedules, can help many shift workers. And the few individuals that continually fail to adjust to shift work may feel better knowing there is a simple explanation for their troubles.