A Distinguished Professor and Head of Department of Foods and Nutrition at Purdue University, Dr. Connie Weaver, gave a series of three lectures at the Faculty of Food Sciences and Agriculture last week.
Weaver’s accomplishments were in the area of nutrition research and mineral bioavailability. She has published over 165 original research articles and 116 book chapters. The results of her research on calcium metabolism are being used to set recommendations for calcium for populations around the world. She was appointed to the National Academy of Sciences Food and Nutrition Board Panel to develop new recommendations for requirements for calcium and related minerals.
In her first lecture, Dr. Weaver debated about the need of Vitamin D pill supplements as the sun can account for 99 percent as a source of vitamin D. Dr. Weaver listed sources of vitamin D commonly found in the USA that are still not available in Lebanon, such as fortified milk, fortified juices and fatty fish.
Remarkably, most students of all ages who stay in their classes and people who work indoors are less exposed to the sun, which explains Vitamin D deficiencies among the Lebanese population. Other people at risk are the elderly, dark skinned individuals, people with lactose intolerance, and those living at temperate latitudes.
Vitamin D is important in bone development and growth as it is involved with calcium absorption from the diet. Vitamin D deficiency causes bone pain and muscle weakness. Dr. Weaver pointed out that medical research has associated low vitamin D intake with cardiovascular diseases, asthma in children, cancer, hypertension and diabetes mellitus.
Dr.Weaver also focused on the controversies in the literature about the cutoff that determines whether an individual is Vitamin D deficient or not. A question was raised from the audience as to whether everyone needs to be checked for vitamin D deficiency, or merely wait for clinical symptoms, since it is a very expensive.
Prominent Lebanese Endocrinologist at AUH Ghada ElHajj Fleihan, was also attending the lecture and gave her own point of view of doing these tests. She stated that these tests are not done routinely so they aren’t necessarily a good judgment on the status of the patient. They also don’t give reliable results because of variations. She also suggested that giving supplements during winter won’t harm, as most students do not drink milk and are in their classes from 8 am to 5 pm. And in summer, the supplements can be moderated because of increased exposure to sun.
Dr. Weaver concluded again that most physicians recommend diet adjustments for their patients but she truly believes that the sun is the most important source for vitamin D absorption.
As for the other two lectures, Dr. Weaver discussed several topics including biomarkers developed for use in experimental nutrition and discoveries of the Food Science and Nutrition Interface. As a URB visiting scholar, she also met several graduate and undergraduate students to discuss the Nutrition and Food Sciences program and their concerns at FAFS.