Help wanted: Medical study through the mail


Could supplements you buy over-the-counter help reduce some of the deadliest medical problems we face? Harvard-affiliated researchers are conducting one of the largest studies of its kind to find out, and they want your help. But don’t worry. You don’t have to go anywhere. Everything you need is delivered right to your door.

Found in sunshine, it’s known for strengthening bones.

"There are a lot more people than know it that are deficient in vitamin D," Stacy Bursuk told Ivanhoe.

In salmon, nuts, and seeds -- omega-threes could keep your heart healthy and your mind sharp. Two-time U.S. memory champ Nelson Dellis says they were key in his back-to-back wins.

Now, researchers want to know what happens when vitamin D and omega-three dietary supplements are combined.

Doctor Raj Shah says some studies show vitamin D and-or omega threes may help prevent heart attack, stroke, or cancer.

"We don’t know whether these treatments, omega 3 or vitamin D, really do help prevent these conditions," Dr. Shaw told Ivanhoe.

These pills will help experts figure out benefits and risks. It’s all part of the vital study. Researchers are looking for 20,000 people nationwide to take these supplements every day for five years. Participants get packets by mail once a month.

Study directors are targeting men age 50 and up and women 55 and older and are putting a strong emphasis on African Americans.

"Because there’s some thoughts in the African American community that they’re at more risk for developing things like heart attack, stroke, or cancer, and they tend to have lower vitamin d levels," Shaw said.

The vital study will also look at the effects of vitamin D and omega threes on other health issues including diabetes, high blood pressure, memory loss, depression and macular degeneration. 

VITAMIN D: The major biological function of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorous; it also helps with the absorption of calcium, which is why the vitamin is used to maintain strong bones and decrease fractures. Not having enough vitamin D can lead to certain problems such as rickets and osteomalacia, which are both considered vitamin D deficiency diseases. It is also suggested that vitamin D may provide protection against hypertension, cancer, osteoporosis, and several autoimmune diseases. The most common sources of vitamin D are fortified milk, eggs, fish, cod liver oil, and the sun. The sun significantly contributes to the daily production of vitamin D and only 10 minutes of exposure is thought to be enough to prevent deficiencies. (Source: Mayo Clinic)

OMEGA-3 FATS: The body cannot make omega-3 fats so people must get them through the food they eat. Omega-3s are important because they play an important role in brain function and growth and development. The omega-3 fatty acids are concentrated in the brain and seem to be important for cognitive and behavioral function. An example of their importance is that infants who do not receive enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing nerve and sight problems. Omega-3s may also reduce the risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, certain forms of cancer, osteoporosis, and several other health issues. The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are cold water fish such as salmon and mackerel. (Source: University of Maryland Medical Center)

OTHER SUPER FOODS FOR HEALTH:  Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids are not the only things that can improve various aspects of a person’s health. Here are some other vitamins and minerals important in an individual’s well-being:


  1. Folate – Folate is water-soluble vitamin B that occurs naturally in food. It helps to produce and maintain new cells, which is especially important in periods of rapid cell division and growth such as pregnancy and infancy. Folate can also help prevent changes which can lead to cancer, make normal red blood cells and prevent anemia, and helps maintain normal levels of the amino acid homocysteine. It’s found in leafy green vegetables, fruit, and egg yolk.
  2. Vitamin A, found in dairy products, fish, and meat, is a group of fat-soluble retinoids. The vitamin is important because it supports cell growth and differentiation, playing a critical role in the normal formation and maintenance of the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs. On top of that vitamin A is also critical for vision. (Source: National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements)

* For More Information, Contact:

Karen Graham
Rush University Medical Center
(312) 942-6118


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