Nutrition Column – Women’s Health, Weight Maintenance, Vitamin D Deficiency Under Discussion at Smith Conference

What are the risks and benefits of estrogen for post-menopausal women? Does a baby aspirin a day help keep the heart doctor away? Should you always wear sunscreen when out-of-doors? Can GMOs help address world hunger? And why is it so hard to keep weight off after weight loss? These are just some of the questions that will be addressed at this year’s Lillian Fountain Smith Conference for Nutrition Educators to be held June 15 and 16 in Fort Collins.

Many women stopped taking estrogen pills when two large research trials failed to show that estrogen was protective against heart disease and in fact increased the risk of cardiovascular disease in some women. Wendy Kohrt, professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, thinks this reaction may have been short-sighted. She will discuss the role of estrogen in helping regulate body composition, insulin action and the development of type 2 diabetes in post-menopausal women. Dr. Kohrt also will talk about potential interactions between estrogen and exercise on these outcomes.

Research trials with men have shown that taking a baby aspirin a day can reduce the risk of heart attack in men. Does low-dose aspirin have the same effect on women? Julie Buring, professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, will discuss findings from The Women’s Health Study related to the role of low dose aspirin and vitamin E in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer. It turns out that women respond differently than men to low-dose aspirin. In a 10-year trial with nearly 40,000 women, those who took low-dose aspirin every other day had a slightly lower rate of heart attack but significantly lower risk of stroke compared to those who took the placebo. These results and others related to vitamin E and cancer will be discussed.

Is there a down-side to the push to always wear sunscreen? Michael Holick, professor of Endocrinology at Boston University, thinks there is. He will discuss the hypothesis that an unrecognized worldwide epidemic of vitamin D deficiency is contributing to the development of many chronic diseases, including type 1 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and several types of cancer. Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Our most common sources are cod liver oil, oily fishes like salmon, mackerel and sardines, and fortified foods like vitamin D-fortified milk. Sunlight supplies most of our vitamin D requirements through the production of vitamin D3 in the skin. Dr. Holick, author of The UV Advantage, will talk about how glass and sunscreens block the UV light needed for the production of vitamin D in the skin.

Other topics that will be discussed at the conference include the role of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in addressing world hunger and current issues with body weight regulation. The session on body weight issues will address such topics as the role of nature vs. nurture in the obesity epidemic, why it’s so hard to keep weight off after weight loss and practical approaches to modifying food intake.

The two-day Smith Conference is sponsored by the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Colorado State University. The conference will be held at the Fort Collins Marriott Hotel and is open to the public. Registration is $95 for both days; $50 for one day.  

For more information, contact Pam Blue at (970) 491-7435 or check out the conference Web site at  

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by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension