By Guest Blogger Emily Allison-Francis

Sadly, there were two major athletic tragedies in the news recently having to do with young soccer players who collapsed on the pitch during games. First, 23-year-old Fabrice Muamba, a mid-fielder for England’s Premier team Bolton, suffered a heart attack on March 17 in the middle of a game against Tottenham. Medics were rushed into action as they pumped his chest for six minutes before he was rushed to a hospital.

Then last Thursday, D. Venkatesh, 27, of the Bangalore Mars from the All India Football Federation entered a game in the 73rd minute as a substitute and collapsed towards the end of the game from what doctors have deemed “Sudden Death Syndrome.”

Unfortunately, these incidents happen from time to time in athletic sports where performers push themselves to their physical limits, especially to dark-skin athletes. Are dark-skin athletes more predisposed to such tragedies? Are there certain steps that can be taken to prevent such tragedies?

About two weeks ago, Fabrice Muamba, only 23-years-old, suffered a nearly fatal heart attack while playing soccer in England, and Venkatesh, 27, died while playing in India.

These are not the only dark-skinned athletes who have collapsed during athletic games in recent years. In fact, heart attacks among dark-skinned athletes are unfortunately quite common. Studies have found that many dark-skinned athletes are critically deficient in vitamin D and that this could be a major contributing factor to the high incidence rates of heart attacks among dark-skinned athletes.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a heart problem that often causes sudden death in people under 35, is often caused from deficiencies of vitamin D, magnesium and calcium.  Athletes should therefore keep their vitamin D, magnesium and calcium levels optimized in order to prevent HCM, one of the most common causes of sudden cardiac death in athletes.

HCM causes heart muscles to tighten, preventing the heart from pumping blood efficiently, so that the heart has to work harder to pump blood to the athlete’s body.  I discuss this issue in greater detail in my book, Correcting The Vitamin D Deficiency Epidemic: Strategies to Fight Diseases and Prolong Life for Black People.

The book examines the adverse health effects of vitamin D deficiency in dark-skinned people. It also discusses how vitamin D helps athletes maintain their winning edge.

Scientists recommend that athletes take 5,000 IU to 6,000 IU of vitamin D each day in order to keep their vitamin D levels optimized. Magnesium and calcium are two of the cofactors of vitamin D, and magnesium deficiency has also found to be very common in athletes.

Athletes sweat heavily during athletic activities and profuse sweating during such intense physical activities excretes magnesium. This often leads to depletion of magnesium stores in the body. To make matters worse, typical diets do not usually supply enough magnesium. The RDA for magnesium is considered to be much too low to prevent athletes from experiencing health complications. Nutrition scientists recommend that adults take 450 to 700 mg of magnesium per day. Athletes may need to take magnesium supplements.

Athletes also excrete great amounts of zinc during strenuous exercise activities.  This predisposes them to zinc deficiency. Zinc is a mineral which is important for the production of enzymes, optimal oxygen uptake, efficient respiratory activity, and satisfactory inflammatory control. Athletes who do not eat enough foods containing zinc may need to take zinc supplements. Calcium deficiency is not as prevalent because it is easier to meet calcium needs from foods such as dark leafy greens, sardines, milk and cheese.

In my book, I point out that athletes who are deficient in vitamin D are predisposed to many adverse health conditions. Vitamin D allows the cells of the body to use magnesium, calcium and other nutrients to help development of healthy heart muscles and to strengthen the immune system. Vitamin D helps to maintain strong flexible heart muscles, control inflammation, and protect the body against some of the potentially harmful effects of excessive physical exertion.

Studies have found that higher rates of vitamin D deficiency are linked to winter months and people with darker skin pigmentation. Note that the dark-skinned athletes named above suffered episodes of heart failure during the months with very limited sunshine. Dark skin is less efficient than light pigmented skin at producing vitamin D from the sun, even during summer time.

People with vitamin D deficiency tend to get sick around winter time when the vitamin D producing UVB rays from the sun are less intense. Studies have found that disease of the blood vessels and the heart increase by about 50 percent during winter. Melanin prevents adequate production of vitamin D even during periods of plentiful sunlight. One can therefore imagine that dark-skinned people may experience greater than 50 percent increase in diseases of the blood vessels and heart during winter time. This may help to explain the higher incidence of heart and asthmatic attacks in black athletes, especially during the winter months.

Emily Allison-Francis is a nutritionist, educator, and author of Correcting the Vitamin D Deficiency Epidemic: Strategies to Fight Diseases and Prolong Life for Black People. She is a leading advocate of vitamin D supplementation to help combat chronic diseases which disproportionately affect dark-skinned people worldwide.

If you would like to learn more information on the importance of vitamin D for optimizing health and other useful natural health strategies, visit www.healthieryounutrition.com.

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Dr. Veronica Anderson is an MD, Functional Medicine practitioner, Homeopath. and Medical Intuitive. As a national speaker and designer of the Functional Fix and Rejuvenation Journey programs, she helps people who feel like their doctors have failed them. She advocates science-based natural, holistic, and complementary treatments to address the root cause of disease. Dr. Veronica is a highly-sought guest on national television and syndicated radio and hosts her own radio show, Wellness for the REAL World, on FOX Sports 920 AM “the Jersey” on Mondays at 7:00 pm ET.

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