Did you know that Vitamin D deficiency is common among African-Americans? And did you know that this deficiency causes greater susceptibility to illnesses that are more ubiquitous in African-American than among other ethnic groups?
I didn’t know any of this until I began learning about Emily Allison-Francis, who’s written a book on Vitamin D deficiency and why it’s so very important for people, specifically African-Americans, to get enough of it.
Her book, which I urge you to order a copy of is called Correcting The Vitamin D Deficiency Epidemic: Strategies to Fight Disease and Prolong Life for Black People, and it’s available on Amazon.com.
I had the pleasure of catching up with the author recently and found her incredibly knowledgeable and inspiring.
Before we get to the book, I’d love our readers to learn a bit about you, personally. When I was researching you I was struck by your extensive educational background– a BS from Tuskegee Institute, a Master’s Degree in Nutrition Science from Hunter College in New York, another Master’s Degree in Library Science from Queens College and a Post Graduate diploma in Education from The University of the West Indies in Jamaica. To what do you attribute your seemingly insatiable desire to learn?
Emily Allison-Francis: I have loved learning since my early years and this love of learning was kept alive with motivation from my parents, and very high teacher expectation throughout my pre-college years. As children we were always told that education was our only ticket to a productive life.
Your book Correcting The Vitamin D Deficiency Epidemic: Strategies to Fight Diseases and Prolong Life for Black People recently became available on Amazon and in select bookstores. What was the impetus for the book?
Emily Allison-Francis: While working as a librarian at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College, I helped students with research assignments by searching various databases. A good number of these students were pursuing science or nursing degrees. As I assisted them with their research assignments I was alarmed at data showing the disproportionate rate at which blacks suffered from major chronic diseases. I also found studies that showed how crucial vitamin D is to good health and that many blacks are critically deficient in vitamin D. With this information I connected the dots and saw the link between vitamin D deficiency and chronic disease in blacks.
Did Vitamin D Deficiency directly affect you or anyone in your family or community?
Emily Allison-Francis: Many of my family members and friends have suffered and died from vitamin D related illnesses. I believe that, had the information in my book been available in our communities, greater numbers of people might have relieved their suffering and extended their lives by taking vitamin D supplements. Nonetheless, I have been told some encouraging stories about how vitamin D has been helping people improve their health. Some of these stories are in the book.One 70 year-old lady who suffered excruciating muscle and bone pain over her entire body for years explained that she now never misses a day of Vitamin D supplements, because vitamin D helped her pain to disappear.
One man explains that vitamin D from several hours per day sun exposure, for about 3 weeks, healed his anxiety problem. His anxiety problem disappeared and he stopped taking anxiety medication.
A lady says that she had severe pains in her legs and walked with a limp. After taking vitamin D supplements for about a month, she could dance in high-heeled shoes.
Another lady who suffered from diabetes experienced more healthy glucose levels after optimizing her vitamin D levels, and was able to reduce her diabetes medication after taking vitamin D. Now she never goes without vitamin D.
Who is most at risk for developing this deficiency and why?
Emily Allison-Francis:Vitamin D deficiency is a global epidemic. More than 50 per cent of the global population is at risk for developing vitamin D deficiency and dark-skinned people are at great risk. A recent US national survey taken over a 10 year period showed that 97 per cent of blacks were deficient in vitamin D. Subgroups within the black population are at even greater risks. Some of the black subgroups that are in greatest danger include the elderly, and shut-ins and institutionalized persons such as hospitalized and incarcerated blacks. The book deals with these groups.
Are black women more at risk than black men? If so, why? Some articles written about your work emphasize the importance of proper Vitamin D levels in pregnant women. Why is this? What are the risks of low Vitamin D for the developing fetus? And what benefits can one expect to reap if she is sure to maintain optimum levels during pregnancy?
Emily Allison-Francis:The risk may be considered to be greater in young black women because they pass on their vitamin D deficiency to their children, and vitamin D deficiency has profound influence on development during the early years and on one’s risk of developing diseases later in life. A recently published study conducted by the Telethon Institute for Children Health Research, in Australia, links poor language development in children to vitamin D deficiency, and this can be connected to the function of vitamin D in brain development. Studies show that vitamin D plays very important roles in the coding of genes (DNA) for early brain development at conception, during the 9-months in utero and during the early years of life, including the teenage years. The book deals with the pervasive deficiency of vitamin D in young black women and the great health risks that their unborn and young children face as a result of this deficiency.
What are some common symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency?
Emily Allison-Francis: Some of the most common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are aches and pains all over the body, bone pain and muscle weakness. The pain may be worse when the deficiency is severe. People may not even be aware that they are deficient in vitamin D, but usually find out about the deficiency after experiencing serious health problems. The book indicates many of the chronic diseases, such as cancer, that are related to vitamin D deficiency.
Which illnesses that are prevalent in people of African descent do you believe are linked to Vitamin D Deficiency?
Emily Allison-Francis: Cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, arthritis, asthma, autism and pregnancy-related complications are some of the many chronic diseases that disproportionately affect people of African descent, and these diseases are all related to vitamin D deficiency.
In addition to lack of Vitamin D, in these health concerns, how influential are other causes, such as diet, environment, and lifestyle choices?
Emily Allison-Francis: Vitamin D works with healthy diets to reduce inflammation, and lower disease rates. Your environment and lifestyle may contribute to ill-health and in the book I explain how factors such as processed foods, unhealthy environment and sedentary habits can lead to diseases. Vitamin D works better with its nutrient cofactors and some of these cofactors are magnesium, calcium, vitamin K2, and zinc. Sections of the book discuss these cofactors of vitamin D in addition to the importance of exercise, and tips for selecting and preparing healthy foods.
Do you recommend regular testing for Vitamin D deficiency? If so, how often?
Emily Allison-Francis: Blacks are very deficient in vitamin D and recent studies show that vitamin D deficiency has a negative impact on survival. One study of 10 thousand people, average age 58 years, done over a 5 year period and published in American Journal of Cardiology, November 10, 2011, shows that vitamin D deficiency may triple your chance of dying earlier. Vitamin D supplementation was highly associated with better survival in patients with documented deficiency, according to this study. You should therefore start taking vitamin D supplements right away and make sure to have your vitamin D level tested, about every six months. The book gives dosage recommendations for different age groups and disease conditions.
What about Vitamin D levels in growing children? How important is that, and what are the risks to children when levels fall too low?
Emily Allison-Francis: Children’s vitamin D blood level should also be kept optimized because vitamin D deficiency has been shown to have significant impact on their chance of developing diseases. Studies show that black children have greater vitamin deficiency than white children, and the incidence of many vitamin D deficiency related diseases is also greater in black children. Many babies have been dying from pediatric cardiomyopathy, a vitamin D deficiency related disease, and children with low vitamin D levels have greater risk of getting asthma, rickets, cavities, depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). The US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health reports that African Americans have 2.4 times the infant mortality rate as non-Hispanic whites, and that black babies are four times as likely to die as infants due to complications related to low birth weight as compared to non-Hispanic white infants. Vitamin D deficiency in mothers often leads to babies being born with low birth weight, and African American mothers, have substantially higher rates of low-birth weight babies than white women in the United States.
Is regular sun exposure the best way to get sufficient Vitamin D?
Emily Allison-Francis: Regular sun exposure is certainly the best way of getting sufficient vitamin D. However, very few people get their bodies exposed to enough sunlight. Dark-skinned people should not rely on the sun to provide them with their vitamin D needs. When compared to light pigmented people, dark-skinned people typically require far more sun exposure to get enough vitamin D from the sun. For example, a light-pigmented person exposed to the sun for about 10-15 minutes will be able to produce enough vitamin D that the body requires for one day. In stark contrast, a dark pigmented person standing in the same spot will need ten times more sun exposure to produce the same amount of vitamin D. Blacks should therefore take vitamin D supplements because of limited sun exposure.
What are the best parts of the body to expose to sunlight when available? And what about the risk of skin cancer? Is there a safe, healthy way to get the sun we need, while also being sure not to over expose the skin?
Emily Allison-Francis: Any area of the body may produce vitamin D from sunlight. The greater the area of your skin exposed the greater the amount of vitamin D that will be produced. Skin types with greater amounts of melanin have higher degrees of sun block and better protection from harmful UV rays that may lead to skin cancer. Some recent reports show that the skin cancer warning might have been too drastic, even for light pigmented people who are more prone to being harmed by excessive sun exposure. Evidence indicates that moderate sun exposure may actually decrease your risk of getting skin cancer.
What are the best food sources of Vitamin D?
Emily Allison-Francis: Taking vitamin D supplements may be the best way to ensure that you get adequate vitamin D, because foods are not considered to be adequate sources of vitamin D. Fortified milk, drinks and cereals, dairy products, eggs and fish are some of the foods that contain small amounts of vitamin D but you should not depend on food sources to meet your vitamin D needs.
Is there a diet plan you can suggest? For example, give us a recommendation for one day’s breakfast, lunch and dinner that will be healthy and help us build our levels of Vitamin D.
Emily Allison-Francis: Vitamin D works better when the body has adequate amounts of certain nutrients. These nutrients called cofactors of vitamin D include magnesium, calcium, vitamin K2, zinc and boron. The book discusses the functions of vitamin D cofactors and the amounts that your body needs each day. We are advised to take these cofactors, especially magnesium, in supplement form because the regular American diet consists of processed foods, and eating the way we typically do in America makes our bodies very deficient in magnesium and other essential nutrients.
Americans are getting increasingly concerned about the foods they eat and this has been causing an upsurge in the sale of whole and organic foods. Organic foods contain greater amounts of the co-factors of vitamin D. The best way to supply your body with essential nutrients is to eat a diet containing a variety of foods. An example of a diet containing ample amounts of magnesium, calcium, vitamin K2, zinc, boron and other health enhancing nutrients would be:
Breakfast – cheese omelet, whole grain bread or cooked oatmeal, fresh fruit
Lunch – baked chicken, steamed kale, fresh raw vegetable salad
Dinner – peppered steak, wild rice pilaf, steamed collard greens, watermelon refresher drink.
More recipes can be found in the book.
Which supplements do recommend?
Emily Allison-Francis: I discussed the functions of some important supplements in the book and explained that the standard American diet consists of foods that have lost a high percentage of nutrients due to processing. Some of these nutrients are vitamin B12, vitamin C, Omega3, Magnesium, Calcium, Coenzyme Q10 and Probiotics. And, of course, vitamin D supplements because foods are not good sources of vitamin D and we do not get enough sun exposure.
When we’ve reached optimum levels, is there a way that we’ll know this? Will we feel different? Or look different? If so, in what ways?
Emily Allison-Francis: Many of the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, including the ones described above, disappear when your body reaches an optimum level. Some people report that after taking vitamin D for a few months symptoms of anxiety disappear, depressive feeling fades away, and body aches and pains cease. Some women have also reported relief from pre-menstrual symptoms such as bloating. If you are critically deficient in vitamin D it can take several months for your levels to optimize and for you to begin noticing improvement. Also, if you have a chronic condition, it will take some time for you to begin noticing the effects of increased vitamin D in your body.
Describe the person who you feel will benefit most from the information in your book.
Emily Allison-Francis: Studies involving people from varied racial and ethnic backgrounds were reviewed for the book. The information in this book should therefore be beneficial to everyone. However, the book obviously focuses on dark-skinned people because this group has the highest incidence of vitamin D related diseases and deaths from these diseases.
There is a mention of concern for the elderly and the incarcerated who don’t get enough Vitamin D. There’s a chapter in the book on that. Do you have any recommendations for how we, as a society, can mitigate this? For example, is this something that should be addressed via legislation? Is it up to the individual and his or her family? What are some ways we can raise awareness to advocate for these two neglected groups?
Emily Allison-Francis: It would be best for the family members of elderly, hospitalized and incarcerated people to begin agitating, through their local politicians, to have the vitamin D needs of these groups addressed. It may however take too long to wait for legislation. People should therefore request that they be permitted to bring supplements of vitamin D for their institutionalized elderly, hospitalized relatives, and incarcerated family members.
Will you be doing public speaking engagements to educate people about Vitamin D and its importance? If someone wishes to contact you to speak, how can they do that?
Emily Allison-Francis: I have been doing nutrition education seminars and speaking with various groups of people – in churches, public gardens and other venues. At these seminars, I not only deal with vitamin D. I also help people to understand that processed foods can be very unhealthy and whole foods should be used for preparing nourishing meals. Two chapters of the book deal with anti-inflammatory foods and recipes, and one chapter deals with exercise. I may be contacted through my website, and my public relations agents Javier Sanabria and Hasan Trosclair of Clout Media.
Do you have a website? Can we follow you and facebook and/or Twitter?
My website address is www.healthieryounutrition.com and you can follow me on Facebook and on Twitter @EAllisonFrancis
Now that you’ve completed this book, are there new books in the works?
Emily Allison-Francis: Not right now. For now I am concentrating on getting information out to help to address the disproportionate illness and mortality rates that blacks have been suffering from.
What other health issues are you passionate about?
Emily Allison-Francis: I am passionate about the dramatic and dangerous increase in obesity rates especially among our youths.
Mrs. Francis currently works with the New York City Department of Education as a high school librarian. She has taught biology, earth science, food and nutrition, and library research to high school students in New York City. She also worked as a reference librarian and adjunct professor at Medgar Evers College, CUNY for several years
For more information on the importance of vitamin D for optimizing health and other useful natural health strategies, visit www.healthieryounutrition.com. The book, Correcting the Vitamin D Deficiency Epidemic can be purchased on Amazon.com and at outlets listed at the website above.