Vitamin D has seen a recent uptick in research focused on its immune health benefits, fueled by the global pandemic of COVID-19, with resulting showing great promise for this relatively inexpensive ingredient. Consumer usage of vitamin D has also increased during 2020, with U.S. sales expected to hit US$191 million in 2020 compared to $100 million in 2015, according to the Nutrition Business Journal’s 2020 Immune Health Special Report.
However, older science has noted that vitamin D insufficiency is more prevalent among Black (J Nutr. 2006 Apr;136(4):1126-9) and Latinx people (Public Health Nutr. 2015 Feb;18(3):379-91) because those populations synthesize less vitamin D per unit of sun exposure than white individuals.
So, it’s important for the supplement industry to ensure its targeting consumers who could benefit the most from vitamin D supplements. In addition, it’s important for consumers to know their blood vitamin D levels to they better understand the right dose to get them in the 40 to 60 ng/ml range, which according to a recent unpublished study, is the sweet spot for immune health should they contract COVID-19.
To help increase awareness of the importance of vitamin D supplementation about minority populations, The Organic and Natural Health Association launched the “Get On My Level” campaign in partnership with Dr. Ken Redcross, author of “Bond: The 4 Cornerstones of a Lasting and Caring Relationship with Your Doctor.” The campaign highlights the proven health benefits of vitamin D and encourages people in communities most at risk to know their vitamin D level by either asking their doctor or measuring and monitoring their own levels at home using a test kit and vitamin D calculator from Organic & Natural Health research partner, GrassrootsHealth.
In this podcast, Dr. Redcross speaks with Sandy Almendarez, content director, Informa Markets, about the important of vitamin D for minority populations. They cover:
- The need for the medical community to foster and support the patient-doctor relationship.
- How Black and Latinx communities generally view supplements as part of their healthy lifestyles.
- How supplement brands can promote their vitamin D supplement to ethnic minority populations.
Sandy Almendarez, director, content: Hi, and welcome to a Healthy Insider Podcast. I am Sandy, and I'm super excited to be talking to Dr. Redcross today. Dr. Ken Redcross is a board-certified internal medicine physician. He completed his medical training at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. But before I get into his whole bio, I want to welcome you, Dr. Redcross. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Ken Redcross, scientific advisor, Organic and Natural Health Association: Thank you for having me on, Sandy. Hello everybody out there.
Almendarez: We are going to talk about the importance of vitamin D testing and supplements for health and especially for those who are in black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. Dr. Redcross provided care at his first job in Oxnard, California after graduating from medical school in 2001. He then transitioned to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills. On his website, he says he grew tired of having to rush through every patient-packed day, giving each of them only 5 to 7 minutes of his time. He said this felt unfair to his patients and his purpose, so he launched his concierge practice in 2007, which means he visits homes or workplaces. He sees patients at the hospital. He will make wellness calls, connect through social and other traditional media. In 2007, he also established Redcross Communications, where he provides medical education through the media. He's the author of the book “Bond: Four Cornerstones for Lasting and Caring Relationships with Your Doctor,” and he's a scientific advisor for the Organic and Natural Health Trade Association.
Dr. Redcross, why is the doctor-patient relationship so important? And especially for black and other ethnic minority patients?
Dr. Redcross: Oh my gosh, Sandy, that's a great question. We can have a whole show based on that, and I'll tell you this look, my entire passion is, you've already eloquently stated for me, it’s the patient-doctor bond and relationship. It completes me, and I hope it also completes my patients as well. So much has changed in health care. Now, it's really based more on high volume instead of high value, and I think that's what you get when you really have that perfect bond with your patient, which I always say, Sandy, are actually important to have trust, respect, empathy and communication for things that are also important to be able to communicate with different cultures, especially African American and Latino cultures.
Almendarez: Yeah, and sadly I don't even think I have that with my doctors. I'm sure many people don't.
Dr. Redcross: Yeah, it's a challenge. Let me tell you, it's a passion for me. It has been, and as you stated, it took me awhile to get to this point to understand why I didn't feel completed or particularly fulfilled, and it was because health care was changing a bit, and I really felt that patients deserve more. When you see the studies, on average you get about 7.5 minutes with your doctor, but things are even more hairy now that we have the coronavirus and getting to the doctor is a little bit more challenging than even it was before.
Almendarez: Yeah, and I see this even within my own family members that with when you don't have this strong relationship with your doctor, it's easy to just not go. And there is a thinking that Black and other ethnic minority patients have a hard time trusting health care practitioners. Is this true in your experience?
Dr. Redcross: It is, Sandy, and it goes back a long way. I don't know if a lot of you are familiar with the Tuskegee experiment. It was done back in 1930s or ‘40s. But in any case, African Americans weren’t offered treatment for, at that time, it was the watching the natural history of syphilis. In other words, what would happen if you didn't treat it? The problem was, Sandy, during that time, a treatment came up that does manage it, such as penicillin, and it wasn't offered. And therefore, these gentlemen were not offered the treatment. So therefore, that's something that even now gets perpetuated through the African American community. Where there is is a lot of distrust or mistrust of medical treatments, and so forth, which obviously is going to be a big deal, as we're dealing with the coronavirus and potential vaccines going forward, so there's going to be a big effort to really provide some education, but there needs to be even a bigger effort to really make sure that we bridge those gaps and figure out how that trust can be re-earned.
Almendarez: And I'm curious, coming from the supplement industry, if supplements and other natural health products fall in the same line of mistrust, or are they something that are more accepting to Black and ethnic minority communities? I could see it going either way.
Dr. Redcross: Yeah, it’s a great question and, in the African American community, and in Latino community in particular, there's a big push for natural remedies. As I like to say things, things that are closer to the earth. That's why, as we talk today, a little bit about vitamin D. That's why that's really important. You’ve already stated, I train at Columbia Presbyterian here in New York about 20 years ago. But during that time, everyone, I've seen the light, and I have a very holistic, more wellness practice that focuses a little bit on the Eastern side of things, which has worked well for where we're going as a society, especially in these two communities, which prefer to have something a little bit natural. What's more natural than vitamin D when you really think about it?
Almendarez: So, what has research shown? Why is vitamin D so important for immune health specifically, and especially for black and Latino communities?
Dr. Redcross: Let’s think about immune health 101. We know that we have our immune system, and it's two arms of the immune system. And the interesting thing there, Sandy, is that vitamin D is important for both of the arms of the immune system. We can't necessarily say that vitamin D treats the coronavirus; it’s not about that. It's about making sure that our immune system is robust and ready to go when it comes time to being exposed, whether it be to the coronavirus and in being exposed to influenza. There's data coming in literally almost every day. There was even a correlation study, and this study was done in Indonesia, and it was a retrospective study that mentioned that those who had levels that were 19 [ng/ml] or less, there was 100% mortality rate with the coronavirus [unpublished study]. But for those that were over 34 [ng/ml], Sandy, there were zero deaths. So once again, this is a correlation study. Not to say that it treats the coronavirus, but it's important that we get out there.
I want to issue a challenge to everyone. I want you to check your vitamin D level. I want you to know where you are right now because why wouldn't you want to test it? Because we can't test a lot of things for our immune system, Sandy, but we can provide vitamin D and see where we are on that spectrum. And that's incredibly important, especially with flu season on its way.
Almendarez: Can you talk more about that vitamin D testing? How does that process work? Do people have to go to their doctor to get this done?
Dr. Redcross: Well, there's actually two ways, so the typical way, everyone, pre-COVID was you run to your doctor. You say, “I heard this doctor Redcross guy on a podcast. He told me about my vitamin D,” but I have patients who have told me in different parts of the U.S. it's hard to get in to see your doctor. So Luckily, there is a website called the powerofd.org, and the reason why I mentioned thepowerof.org specifically is that they offer an at-home test kit which you can order. When you ordered that test kit, it’s sent home, it's a finger stick. You send it back in, and it's even better because when you go on the powerofd.org they have a calculator so that when you get your levels, you can put them in, and it will send out what level of vitamin D you should also be taking. Now, that magic level that I want everyone out there to test and get the results or between 40 and 60. Those are the levels where you tend to get a lot of the benefits in the study then that's where we want to go.
I've been joking around saying this whole important thing for us to discuss today is to make sure that all of the listeners “get on my level,” and when I say, “my level,” I'm talking about my vitamin D level. I'll tell you mine was 65. I like to keep my in a little bit higher, Sandy, just when the flu season’s coming. But that's my love one. I hope a lot of people engage me and share their levels with me as well.
Almendarez: So my level is 51, just so you know, I still want get it higher. I know it's in the good range, but that Lisa Simpson A plus in me, I want to get to more like 65 to where you are.
Dr. Redcross: Yeah, I'm glad you're there. You're on my level; we want to get more like us. We’re together in this battle.
Almendarez: How often do you recommend people get tested? I imagine it's not just you get tested. once you go to the calculator to find out how much you should take, and then you're done for life.
Dr. Redcross: No, no, not at all. Usually they talked to patients say every six months, and especially before the fall comes. I'm here in in New York, everyone. I'm in the Northeast. There's a couple of challenges with our vitamin D number one. We don't have that beautiful sunshine like you guys have in Phoenix to get a little bit of natural vitamin D. When the winter hits us, we’re inside a lot, and we're also obviously not in the sun, so our levels could run a little lower. Here in New York, I talk a lot about making sure that before the fall comes that we know where those levels are. It's interesting because when the flu season is coming, we're all prepared. But now that we have the coronavirus here, it's almost like a wild card. At this point, we need to make sure that our levels are where they need to be in their robust and ready for that immune system, battle to stay well, right?
Almendarez: Right. You talked about, “Get on Your Level” or the “Get on My “Level,” excuse me, campaign, and people sharing their numbers with you. Do they tweet those to you? Or how do they share their numbers?
Dr. Redcross: Well guys, there's a bunch of ways. Look, I'm all over the Internet. All the social media platforms which is Doctor Ken Redcross so feel free to reach out there. One of the better ways is once again that website powerofd.org. Not only can you get your test kit, we've talked about the calculator, everyone, but you can also go there in the contact section, if I'm not mistaken. And that way you can actually download a template so that you can upload your name into there. And there's even an offer going on where you can put your name in a proverbial hat, a digital hat, and maybe get chosen for the free test kit that's being offered per month, so that's another reason to get on the site. But also, there's just so much great information on vitamin D. And as you can tell, a pretty passionate because I can offer something to my patients. It doesn't require a prescription, guys, and so it's important to know what your vitamin D levels are. Why wouldn't you want to know that?
Almendarez: How can supplement brands get involved in this campaign?
Dr. Redcross: Oh gosh, well, I think there's a couple of different directions to go. Number one: You have to think about, African Americans are about 12 to 13% of the population, and I'm talking on the business side of things. So therefore, you have about 30 to 40,000,000 people in the African American community that can be potential customers that are actually open to alternative ways of healing. But we also have to have the right message. The right message of saying, “Look, we understand some of the history that's been there, and we understand why there is some mistrust when we're coming with the next latest greatest? Do we really care, or we really thinking about you and your family?” Those all the bridges. They really need to be crossed and mended again, and that takes an effort, that takes a little bit of time. That takes the right Messenger, so that takes a lot of things. But, on the business side, there are a lot of opportunities there to make a big difference, not just the big difference in dollars, but a big difference in helping humanity. So there are some big things that we can talk about and really get there, I feel.
Almendarez: Well, thank you so much Dr. Redcross for talking to me today about the importance of vitamin D testing and supplements. I really appreciate it.
Dr. Redcross: Oh, thank you for having me on, Sandy, and everyone, once again take the challenge. Know your vitamin D level.