Vitamin D Deficiency is Associated with Stroke Risk in African Americans

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.

Sequence Multivitamins for African Americans have a science-based formula to best replace deficiencies in the Black community. Go to SequenceVitamin.com for more information on the multivitamin that is best for you.

Multivitamins May Help African Americans Avoid Alzheimer’s Dementia

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.

Sequence Multivitamins for African Americans contains a much higher amount of vitamin D more closely aligned with what the Black community needs. Sequence also replaces deficiencies in vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and zinc that are widespread in the Black community.  Go to SequenceVitamin.com or purchase the multivitamin for men over 50 at Amazon or the women over 50 on Amazon here.

Better Black Health Podcast

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.

In future episodes we will look at diabetes, obesity, STD’s, bias, and whole lot more as it relates to African American health and ways to Better Black Health. This podcast is proudly sponsored by the National Institute for African American Health. Check out our podcast HERE

Continued Smoking After Cancer Raises Recurrence Risk

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.

More Sleep Apnea in African Americans

Sleep Apnea is more common in African Americans

More Sleep Apnea in African AmericansA recent study confirmed there is more sleep apnea in African Americans than in Whites. Sleep apnea (also call Obstructive Sleep Apnea / “OSA”) is a condition where people repeatedly stop breathing while they sleep.  The outcome is a very poor sleep cycle and interrupted sleep.  The lost sleep leads to daytime sleepiness, fatigue, poor concentration, poor energy, increased high blood pressure, heart disease, poor digestion and metabolism, and more.

Scientists found significantly increased sleep apnea patterns, more snoring, more obesity, and poor global functioning in African Americans.  The same study also showed decreased formally diagnosed sleep apnea in African Americans despite the disproportional increased occurrence.

African Americans have a poorer sleep quality overall associated with worse insomnia levels and the highest levels for excessive daytime sleepiness. That increased fatigue and sleepiness can cause difficulty at work, trouble watching movies without falling asleep, difficulty with drowsiness while driving, and so on.

With prolonged loss of sleep, high blood pressure results and with that the increased risk for stroke, heart attack, and sudden death from abnormal heart rhythms.

But CPAP fixes this.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure CPAP therapy reduces daytime sleepiness, improves depression and quality of life, and reduces deaths.  Overall only about half of people with sleep apnea and a CPAP machine use it.  But in African Americans the use of this life-saving treatment is even worse.  Black Americans were over 5 times more likely to not use their CPAP machine than White Americans.

Because modern CPAP machines can monitor (and transmit data) about usage and sleep efficiency, researchers were able to determine that African Americans that used the CPAP machine still averaged one hour less of nightly sleep.

Sleep Apnea in African Americans

Like many health problems, African Americans show significant improvement in CPAP usage when they understand how it works . . . and why it works.  A large study found that only about a quarter (26%) of African Americans were using their CPAP machine at 2 weeks compared to almost half  (47%) of Whites.  They also found that adjusting for income, demographics, and other diseases had no impact on its use.

The finding that African Americans with more severe sleep apnea were 3 times more likely to use CPAP than those with mild or moderate sleep apnea possibly is due to subjectively perceived effectiveness.  In focus groups, African American patients said that even with the inconveniences of CPAP, they would use the device if they thought of it as helpful.  

The study also failed to show a correlation between socioeconomic status in African Americans and CPAP usage . . . there was no difference between wealthier and more educated African Americans and poorer less educated African Americas in terms of who took advantage of the benefits of the CPAP machine.  All were poor.

What makes African Americans avoid CPAP therapy?

The only thing that increased use of CPAP therapy in African Americans was having more severe sleep apnea.  The more severe the episodes of not breathing, the higher the use of the CPAP machine.  In mild and moderate sleep apnea, the patients may not trust their doctor enough to take their advice . . . this could explain the disparity.

I find that my patients prefer a Tap Pap CPAP mask that only goes into the nostrils and is held in place by your upper teeth.

Sleep Apnea in African Americans

This “mask” allows more sleeping on your side and is far more comfortable.  Wearing the CPAP at night and getting a restful nights’ sleep is essential for health.  People are shocked to hear that their heart is enlarged and may be barely functioning, or that their blood pressure is high, all due to poor sleep . . . and the simple use of CPAP therapy can potentially reverse it!

Don’t take a good night’s sleep for granted, it can literally shorten your life.  And ask your sleeping partner about snoring and gaps in breathing.  You could easily have sleep apnea.

Salt Sensitivity and Your Health

Salt Sensitivity and Your Health

Salt sensitivity is defined as significant changes in blood pressure in response to salt in a diet.  75 percent of all African American patients with high blood pressure are salt sensitive compared to 50 percent across all races with hypertension.  The vast majority of African American patients with hypertension are salt sensitive and their salt use needs to be discussed and investigated.

Studies have consistently found salt sensitivity increases with age, and is more common in people that are overweight, have a history of “heart problems,” and have serious kidney problems . . . all of which are increased in African Americans.

Studies have additionally found that salt-sensitivity alone is associated with increased death, even in salt-sensitive people who don’t have high blood pressure.

Many foods found in African American homes are high in salt including:

  • Canned Soup
  • Vegetable Juices
  • Bouillon cubes
  • Gravies
  • Soy Sauce
  • Olives
  • Pickles
  • Canned Vegetables
  • Barbecue Sauce
  • Ketchup & Mustard
  • Ready-to-Eat Breakfast Cereal
  • Bread & Rolls
  • Pancakes & Waffles
  • Pizza
  • Processed Nuts
  • Chinese Restaurant Fast Food
  • Spaghetti Sause
  • Cold Cuts
  • Cheese
  • Bacon
  • Hot Dogs & Sausages
  • Salad Dressings & Marinades
  • Smoked meats
  • Ham
  • Raw Chicken Breasts (they are frequently injected with a high sodium flavoring solution)
  • Store-bought Baked Goods

Researchers have also found that being overweight make salt-sensitivity worse.

The increased salt sensitivity is also made worse by having a low potassium.  A study from Columbia University in New York showed “salt sensitivity in Blacks may be worsened by dietary deficiencies in potassium or a need for increased potassium requirements compared with whites.”

What can I do to fix this?

A modest reduction in salt intake (half normal consumption: 5 to 6 grams) for a month has been shown to make significant and sustained reductions in blood pressure.  In fact, African Americans showed the most pronounced blood pressure reductions in response to salt restriction with a drop of 8 mm Hg systolic (the first number in a blood pressure reading) over 4 mm Hg diastolic (the second number in a blood pressure reading) averaged across as array of studies.  Imagine what a bigger salt restriction would do?

The lower blood pressure readings in African Americans after dietary salt restriction is significant and can be maintained over time. Try these Lays Potato Chips with half the salt rather than the regular.

Take the time to look for lower sodium alternatives for seasonings and use other seasonings like garlic power, onion powder, and cayenne & black peppers. 

If you are hesitant to start a medication to bring down your mildly elevated blood pressure, spend some time looking at how much salt is in your diet, and then try to decrease this by half.