Tag Archives: Health

Looking Back to Move Forward: A narrative essay of KNES 433

In the first class of KNES 433 (Title: Physical Activity and Health), a course in the Exercise and Health Physiology route, Dr. Doyle-Baker asked us, “What are you going to die from?” This question took me by surprise as I’d never really considered my own death and dying before. During the next four months, this class changed my outlook on a number of areas in my life. Course material required me to examine my family tree for disease history, understand my blood lipid profile, take a reflective look at my dietary habits, and be honest with myself about different lifestyle choices I was making. All of this information meant that I had to stop and think about what I was doing for my health and wellbeing. As the saying goes, if you don’t make time for health now, you’ll make time for illness later. I had never fully considered how all the aspects of my life fully intertwined and contributed to the person that I was at that moment.

These reflections culminated in the Personal Health Report (PHR). For me, this paper was the cherry on top of an amazing university experience. At the University of Calgary, and specifically the faculty of Kinesiology (http://www.ucalgary.ca/knes/), there is a strong focus on integration between different disciplines. The PHR required me to synthesize all that I had learned over the last four years into one clear, concise paper where I could draw a conclusion about my health status.

We learned that the first step towards making a change is becoming aware of what is going on. Too often, I rush through each day without really stopping to think. I took this course in the last semester of my degree and was able to identify some negative habits and troubleshoot so that I could create solutions that would work for me as I left my cozy university bubble. One of the main things that I identified was my grocery shopping habits. I don’t own a car, which can make grocery shopping a struggle, especially in the winter. For example, I went one semester without grocery shopping for six weeks! While I could get food on campus, this food was definitely of a lesser quality, which would negatively impact my future health if these habits continued over time. I had been aware that this was a problem but I had never set about finding a solution. Since completing this report, I now try to go grocery shopping every 7-10 days, and for the most part I am successful. My diet has improved and I feel healthier and have more energy!

Moving Forward…

I believe that the PHR helped me develop as a kinesiologist. The course required that I review my family history and, because of this, I had many conversations with my family about what I was working on. The family tree of medical history definitely opened up the dialogue between myself and my parents. I am the only one in my family with this kind of the background; everyone else is an engineer or in a related field. This meant that I got a lot of practice explaining things in layman’s terms, which is something I now have to do every day for work.

LV ringette
Lauren Voss is a recent University of Calgary graduate from the Faculty of Kinesiology.

Shortly after graduation, I started working in the Culos-Reed Health and Wellness Lab and for the lifestyle management program, TrymGym. Both of these jobs require me to have a solid understanding of the effect different lifestyle factors have on physiological and psychological outcomes. Without taking KNES 433 and completing the PHR, I would definitely be at a disadvantage in both of these settings. One of my favourite parts of my job with TrymGym is seeing the participants have similar realizations and making changes like I did during and after KNES 433.

So what am I going to die from? After completing KNES 433, I can tell you that the odds favour Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease. However, I am confident that I have gained skills in the realms of food and health literacy that will allow me to make positive decisions, ultimately decreasing my risk of disease and leading to an enhanced quality of life.


Vitamin D what is its Link to Cancer?

By: Andrew Stewart                                                                                          Published 07/29/13

There has been a lot of buzz in the news recently talking about Vitamin D and Cancer prevention. With the exception of daily recommended allowances, this is the most controversial area relating to Vitamin D.

Vitamin D Researchers and the Media

When health research is passed on to the general public it is often reduced down – it is a challenge for anyone to reduce 10 years of work into a succinct newspaper article or 2 minute news clip. This coupled with the “publish or perish” mentality in academia results in the production of news that while not necessarily untrue is greatly exaggerated. To help clarify, I’ll start by giving a brief summary on the general progression researchers take from theory to scientific fact.

science_by_herryc-d4gp9xuDue to the nature of medical research and the progress we have made regarding ethics researchers generally have to start on a small scale and work their way up the scientific totem-pole. Long gone are the days of the Dr. Frankensteins who perform questionable experiments in their attic. When medical research pertaining to humans is done in a new area it is the researcher’s responsibility to prove (within reason) that what they are attempting to do won’t have unforeseen effects that endanger the people they are trying to help.

As a result, much work is done on clumps of cells from various donor species or on animal models that we recognize (through additional research) to be similar in some particular way to the human body. The work done in this area is termed “pre-clinical”. It is often a much easier, cheaper, and safer to study something. This however often comes at the cost of application – not everything that is true on a small scale is true in the real world.

The jump from pre-clinical testing to clinical testing in humans can be a rather large one. There is no guarantee that what worked before will work in humans. The human body is amazingly complex with many variables that can get in the way.

In the case of Vitamin D it appears that promising results in the lab do not always result in medical breakthroughs in humans. In 2011 a researcher by the name of Simone Mocellin collected a large body of scientific literature and dissected it to see if different researchers around the world were in agreement regarding the effects of Vitamin D on Cancer. The conclusion that was drawn was that “overall a relationship between vitamin D and cancer does exist, although its strength appears to weaken as we move from the preclinical to the clinical ground” (Mocellin 2011).

Below I have broken down what I have found researchers are generally saying about Vitamin D and different types of Cancer.

Prostate Cancer

Upon writing this article, it would appear that the majority of the work done regarding the relationship between the circulating levels of Vitamin D in your blood and the risk of developing prostate cancer has lead to the conclusion that low levels of Vitamin D either do not lead to an increased risk of developing prostate cancer (2011 Mocellin, 2009 Yin et al, 2010 Gandini et al.). I found this agreement across three different meta-analyses which lend a significant amount of support to this conclusion.

Breast Cancer

Similar to the case of Prostate Cancer, low circulation levels of Vitamin D in the blood currently do not appear to increase the risk of developing Breast Cancer (Gandini 2011, Chen 2010). Within the literature studied by Mocellin, there was one exception which indicated that increased risk of Breast cancer occurred with lower levels of Vitamin D. I tried to find a copy of this paper (Yin 2010) to take a look at it to see what they said but was unsuccessful – it does appear that their opinion is in the minority.

Colorectal Cancer

Now so far it appears that researchers haven’t come up with much regarding Vitamin D and Cancer, I did however save the best for last. When researchers have studied Colorectal cancer they found that increased levels of Vitamin D does result in a reduction in Cancer risk! (Gorham 2007, Yin 2009, Gandini 2010)

It is commonly accepted that diet and nutrition plays a large role in protecting ourselves from the risk of developing Colorectal cancer.

stay_healthy_by_forshaka-d52ctqyCurrently it appears that keeping up your levels of Vitamin D does as well. This finding reinforces the requirement of a healthy and balanced diet for the maintenance of long term health.

Well, I believe that this concludes our month on Vitamin D. I hope these posts have contributed to your knowledge on the subject and hopefully addressed some of the controversy that exists on the topic. If you are looking for more in depth information on the topic feel free to peruse the works cited, the researcher papers I have referenced all come from reputable journals with rigorous peer-review processes.


Mocellin, S. (2011). Vitamin D and cancer: Deciphering the truth. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) – Reviews on Cancer, 1816(2), 172-178. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbcan.2011.07.001

Yin, L., Raum, E., Haug, U., Arndt, V., & Brenner, H. (2009). Meta-analysis of longitudinal studies: Serum vitamin D and prostate cancer risk. Cancer Epidemiology, 33(6), 435-445. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.canep.2009.10.014

Gandini, S., Boniol, M., Haukka, J., Byrnes, G., Cox, B., Sneyd, M. J., . . . Autier, P. (2011). Meta-analysis of observational studies of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and colorectal, breast and prostate cancer and colorectal adenoma. International Journal of Cancer, 128(6), 1414-1424. doi: 10.1002/ijc.25439

Chen, P., Hu, P., Xie, D., Qin, Y., Wang, F., & Wang, H. (2010). Meta-analysis of vitamin D, calcium and the prevention of       breast cancer. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, 121(2), 469-477. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2004.045260

Gorham, E. D., Garland, C. F., Garland, F. C., Grant, W. B., Mohr, S. B., Lipkin, M., . . . Holick, M. F. (2007). Optimal Vitamin D Status for Colorectal Cancer Prevention: A Quantitative Meta Analysis. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 32(3), 210-216. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2006.11.004

Image: Science” by herryC (©2011-2013)

Image: “Stay healthy” by Naivaan (©2012-2013)

Vitamin D – What it does for Your Body

By: Andrew Stewart                                                                                              Published 07/26/13

Hopefully after reading my last post you have some background on Vitamin D (If you’re still confused check out the links I included at the bottom of that post).

I think the next logical area I will cover is what researchers generally accept that Vitamin D does for you.

Like I mentioned earlier, Vitamin D does a ton of work within our bodies so this post is just going to scratch the surface.

Vitamin D, Calcium, and Phosphorus

femur_by_monorok-d5f7npeUnder “normal operating conditions” Vitamin D increases the efficiency of the small intestine. Contrary to popular belief, the intestines actually are extremely important for getting the nutrients out of our food – more so than the stomach. Anyway, Vitamin D allows us to get more Calcium and Phosphorus from the food we eat and into our bloodstream (DeLuca 1988). Both Calcium and Phosphorus are essential in our bodies for a multitude of biological processes which contribute to its normal growth, development, and maintenance.

Increasing levels of Phosphorus and Calcium in our blood helps the body build and maintain stronger bones. If you are at risk for osteoporosis or perhaps have recently broken a bone getting adequate levels of Vitamin D in your diet can help you increase bone mass/healing. The majority of the research published in this area is in agreement – low levels of Vitamin D have been observed to result in a slightly increased risk of bone fracture (Scragg 2011).

Vitamin D and Muscles?

While most people associate Vitamin D with bone, did you know that it also acts on your muscles? Without going too in depth into skeletal muscle physiology Vitamin D helps move Calcium into muscle cells.

Once Calcium gets moved to the right area in your muscle cells it interacts with the small contractile proteins which work together to develop force in your muscles (via a process called the Cross-Bridge Cycle). Lower levels of Calcium in muscles reduce your ability to contract them which contributes to the feeling of fatigue (2002 Pfeifer et al.). While muscle weakness after a workout doesn’t necessarily mean that your Vitamin D is low, it may contribute in part to that long term fatigue experienced during those dark winter months.

Vitamin D Enemy of Bacteria

The final aspect of Vitamin D I will look at today is that of an Immune Booster within our bodies. The role of Vitamin D in the immune system was first considered after the discovery of Vitamin D receptors in many different types of immune cells within the human body. It now appears tMacrophage_by_dclaudiobhat Vitamin D induces anti-mycobacterial activity in certain immune cells that make up the first line of defense in our bodies against foreign invaders.

Currently, it looks like Vitamin D modifies gene regulation causing a plethora of changes in these cells. The result is the production of strong bacteria eating macrophages (bacterial eating/killing cells) that are better at their job. Vitamin D allows the body to create cells that are both more effective at killing bacteria and are able to kill more bacteria before they run out of juice (2010 Baeke). When it comes to your immune system you definitely want it in tip top shape!

Now, in the media there has been quite a lot of buzz regarding Vitamin D and Cancer – I am saving this for last and will dedicate a whole post to the issue. You can look forward to this post within the next day or two. In the meantime, you can check out some of the literature I have cited below to get an in-depth view of the way Vitamin D works in our bodies.


Baeke, F., Takiishi, T., Korf, H., Gysemans, C., & Mathieu, C. (2010). Vitamin D: modulator of the immune system. Current Opinion in Pharmacology, 10(4), 482-496. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.coph.2010.04.001

DeLuca, H. F. (1988). The vitamin D story: a collaborative effort of basic science and clinical medicine. The FASEB Journal, 2(3), 224-236.

Pfeifer, M., Begerow, B., & Minne, H. W. (2002). Vitamin D and Muscle Function. Osteoporosis International, 13(3), 187-194. doi: 10.1007/s001980200012

Scragg, R. (2011). Vitamin D and public health: an overview of recent research on common diseases and mortality in adulthood. Public health nutrition, 14(9), 1515-1532.

Image: “Study of structure with pencil” by *monorok (©2012-2013)

Image: “Macrophage” dclaudiob (©2008-2013)