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Optimum Performance: Coming to the Saints’ defense with vitamin D |

We all know the Saints’ colors are black and gold.

Based on just two weeks into the 2013 NFL season, we may need to look at changing the colors, at least on defense, to black and blue.

The Saints are hurting with injuries to several key players, including nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley, ends Tyrunn Walker, Tom Johnson and Glenn Foster, linebackers Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Victor Butler and Martez Wilson and cornerback Patrick Robinson. Safety Isa Abdul-Quddus has ankle pain and a few players are questionable for Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals, including safety Roman Harper, guard Jahri Evans and running back Mark Ingram.

Sick Bay on Airline Drive has to be a crowded place in this season.

With that said, I cannot stand by and let the Saints endure more injury hardship. To the rescue, I bring vitamin D. Stop laughing.

Once thought of only as a fat soluble (stored in human body fat) vitamin capable of enhancing calcium absorption for children and adults, vitamin D has now emerged, based on research from the human genome project, as having a positive effect on more than 200 bodily processes.

The Saints may want to follow the lead of the New York Giants, as reported in 2011 on “Researchers testing the vitamin D levels of 89 professional football players from the New York Giants National Football League team in the spring of 2010 found that 27 players (30.3 percent) had deficient total 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels (below 20 ng/mL) and as many as 45 players (50.6 percent) had levels consistent with vitamin D insufficiency (between 20 and 31.9 ng/mL). Only 17 players (19.1%) had values within normal limits (above 32 ng/mL).”

Lead author of the study, Michael K. Shindle, an orthopaedic surgeon in Berkeley Heights, N.J., said, “In addition, all players sustaining injuries that caused them to miss at least one practice or game had vitamin D levels that were significantly lower than players without muscle injury.

“Among the 18 percent of players who sustained a muscle injury in the previous season all had statistically significant lower vitamin D levels, compared with those without muscle injury. There were no other statistically significant differences between those who did and did not sustain the injuries.”

The Giants’ test group consisted of 31 white players and 58 black players. African-Americans tend to have lower vitamin D levels than whites in the general population. The mean vitamin D level in white players was 30.3 ng/mL; among black players, the mean level was 20.4 ng/mL. “Up to 93 percent of African-American players had abnormal vitamin D levels, compared with 31 percent of white players,” Shindle said.

Speaking first hand within my sports performance and lifestyle management program at East Jefferson General Hospital, we have checked the vitamin D status of athletes and non-athletes for many years. Our results are consistent with those reported in the Giants’ study.

Vitamin D deficiency appears to be epidemic in our population, particularly north of Atlanta and beyond during the winter months, when sun exposure (one way to get adequate vitamin D) is limited.

The Giants are not the first pro team to recognize the importance of checking vitamin D levels to reduce injury and help even prevent colds and the flu illnesses.

In May 2010, the Vitamin D Council said on its website, “the Chicago Blackhawk (NHL) team physicians began diagnosing and treating vitamin D deficiency in all Blackhawk players about 18 months ago. Apparently, most players are on 5,000 IU (internal units) per day. After many losing seasons, last year the Blackhawks came out of nowhere to get to the Western conference finals (2010). This year (2011), they are playing even better.”

According Dr. John Cannell, “improved athletic performance is only one of the benefits for the Blackhawk players. The other is a reduction in the number and severity of colds and flu and a reduction in the number and severity of repetitive use injuries.”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) define the vitamin D daily requirement, depending on age, to be between 400 and 800 international units. But, many medical experts think the range for adults may be too low without first testing to determine an individual’s vitamin D status.

Few foods contain vitamin D. The flesh of fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, according to the NIH, are among the best sources, along with fish liver oils. Many food products such as milk, yogurt and orange juice are fortified with vitamin D.

According to Leonard Kancher, Medical Director of the Center for Longevity and Wellness in Metairie, “it certainly seems plausible that normalizing vitamin D levels in already high performing athletes would improve their performance even more, if it did nothing more than to improve their muscle strength and their pulmonary function. A byproduct of these improvements could be less injuries to these athletes due to a higher performance state.”

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald played last week in the win over the Lions despite an injured hamstring, but he was unable to finish the game. As a result, he sat out of practice this week and his status is uncertain against the Saints. Arizona starting running back Rashard Mendenhall is nursing a toe injury, and tight end Rob Housler will sit out Sunday because of an ankle injury. Linebackers Kevin Minter and Lorenzo Alexander did not practice this week and their availability is unknown.

In days past athletic trainers would pass out salt tablets to the players during hot, humid practices. Right now, I hope they have plenty of vitamin D on hand — of course, after proper testing and medical recommendations.

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