Who Should You Trust?

"Trust, but verify."

That's a phrase former President Ronald Reagan made famous during the Cold War. And it's one I regularly use with my team of researchers and analysts.

I believe in questioning... especially when readers are questioning topics in Health & Wealth Bulletin. My team and I spend our days researching everything you read from us, but I still advocate for spending your own time doing your own research.

I'm always happy delving deeper into topics, explaining how we came up with our conclusions, and pointing you to the research.

We're here to give you the information to make better decisions for yourself. We don't sell pills.

But plenty of companies claiming to want to improve your health (with the "scientific" studies to go along with their claims) are really just trying to sell you the latest fad diet or supplement.

So consider today's Q&A a lesson in trust...

Q: It was with some interest that I read your short answer about Vitamin D. You seem not to be very well informed on this topic.

Please go to [website] for the research information that you assert does not exist. In fact, it does, and you will be doing your readers a favor by sharing current research data instead of telling them that Vitamin D supplementation is useless.

And, please, issue a correction in your bulletin so that your readers can address the Vitamin D deficiency that they currently have unless they are already doing something to alleviate it. The vast majority of U. S. residents have a Vitamin D level well below the recommended minimum of 40 ng/ml. – G.H.

A: I laugh a little when readers accuse us of shoddy research. Yes, our response in last week's Q&A was curt. But for good reason... People are taking far too much vitamin D in supplement form without any evidence that it helps.

Here's what we do know: First, we use quality, evidence-based research and recommendations. One of the best sources is the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), the agency that advises the U.S. government on preventative medical measures. Its current guideline rules against testing for vitamin D deficiency.

According to the USPSTF, there's no concrete evidence that suggests people without deficiency symptoms should take a vitamin D deficiency test... tests that the website you linked just happens to sell.

Research shows that getting large doses of vitamin D through a supplement can be dangerous, even deadly. That's because vitamin D is fat-soluble – take too much, and it builds up over time in your fatty tissue, leading to serious health problems... like kidney failure.

Look, you do need vitamin D. It helps your body function properly. But with rare exceptions, you can get all you need by spending time in the sun. That's the absolute best form of vitamin D, the kind your body can use most effectively.

If you live in a very cloudy environment or an area with dangerously high levels of air pollution, you could consider taking a supplement. But only take the lower doses or take just one a week. You shouldn't take more than about 600-800 IU a day.

The site that you linked to wants you to take up to 4,000 IU a day. And many supplements contain 5,000-10,000 IU in each pill. Those are dangerous levels, especially over long periods of time.

Finally, we encourage our readers to find evidence-based medical research. And be wary of sites that appear to be dedicated to health but make their money by selling you test kits and supplements.

Q: I am a subscriber and enjoy receiving the bulletins. Is there anything preventing me from sharing it with others even though they may not have a subscription?

My motivation for this request comes from the bulletin discussing fish oil supplements. I am on a nutrition and exercise program that promotes the use of fish oil supplements. This program appears to be science based too. I would like to share the bulletin with them for review. Please advise. Thank you. – G.R.

A: Feel free to share our Health & Wealth Bulletin issues with as wide an audience as you wish.

Make sure you review our issue on fish oil supplements – "Throw Away the 'Snake Oil' Once and for All." And, while we don't know the program you're using, beware of anyone advocating supplements... especially if they're selling them.

Q: What about fermented soy products? Are they as harmful as regular soy products? – T.L.W.

A: Some folks tout fermented soy products as having fewer plant-based estrogens called isoflavones.

The problem is... it's not really true.

Fermentation increases the "bioavailability" of isoflavones. Essentially that means the two main isoflavones, genistein and daidzein, break apart from the sugars in the food and change in structure. Our bodies more easily absorb these resulting forms.

So although we might see a drop in the original forms of the isoflavones, we can't ignore the new forms that the fermentation process creates. What's more, it also depends on the type of food. A 2011 study out of Spain saw drops in isoflavones in fermented soy, but also reported higher levels of these "changed" forms. Researchers saw these higher levels in miso (fermented soybean paste), tempeh (fried fermented soybeans), and natto (boiled soybeans left to ferment), but not in soy sauce.

Another danger out there... your thyroid. Although this risk is limited to a small group of folks with thyroid problems, you should understand the issue. Isoflavones from soy interfere with our thyroid hormone.

Basically, isoflavones need the same enzyme to work as our thyroids need to make natural hormones. This isn't much of a problem unless you don't get enough iodine or you take thyroid medication (and in that case, you should chat with your doctor about how long to wait after medicating to eat soy).

Q: In addition to the discounts and deals you mentioned in the July 3 [Health & Wealth Bulletin] on hearing aids, veterans can get hearing aids totally free from the [Department of Veterans Affairs]. I am a priority 6 in the VA system (meaning I don't qualify for much without paying for it) and got a pair of $6,000 hearing aids for nothing except the $50 appointment co-pay. The VA also provides batteries, a hearing aid dryer, and the desiccant bricks for it, for free whenever I need them. – T.T.

A: We had lots of readers send in this tip, so thanks to everyone who wrote in. The VA is a good resource for veterans, but remember, it can take a while to get things through the VA, so plan accordingly.

Have we said something to upset you? Keep sending your criticisms and suggestions to [email protected].

The news is full of doom and gloom these days, especially with preparations underway for a possible bioterrorism attack of smallpox. That's why this week, we're sharing five tips from Dr. Eifrig's crisis-preparation book, The Doctor's Protocol Field Manual. Research writer Amanda Cuocci shares what you need to have on hand should a crisis or disaster strike. Click below to watch...

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
July 20, 2018