Vitamin D for dummies

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Elizabeth Newman, McKnight's Senior Editor
Elizabeth Newman, McKnight's Senior Editor
It's not a secret that employees who work in healthcare, whether they are medical journalists or nurses, don't always earn gold stars when it comes to managing their own health.

Witness the nurses clustering in a “butt hut” outside a facility, an administrator taking a cavalier approach to his or her diet, or saleswomen wearing sole-killing heels at a conference.

So it will come as no surprise to you that my attitude toward having a very low Vitamin D level — for the past five years — was “meh.” Two different physicians said, “this is a problem,” and I thought, “is it really?”

Because why would I trust someone with a medical degree, and several lab tests that said my level of Vitamin D was far outside of normal? I started taking a Vitamin D supplement, but only when Venus was in retrograde and I hadn't misplaced the supplement bottle — in other words, not often. I didn't even consider a Vitamin D deficiency an issue when I moved to Chicago, which is not exactly known for its many months of frolic-in-the sun weather.

It was a plethora of studies, many related to long-term care, that convinced me to change my tune. Low vitamin D levels may increase the risk of type 1 diabetes, according to a Harvard School of Public Health published March 1 American Journal of Epidemiology. Vitamin D plays a role in preventing tooth decay, according to the University of Washington. Scientists know there's an association between vitamin D and longevity, although more research is needed to understand why. Low vitamin D levels also are associated with everything related to cancer, allergies, and mental illness. There have been several studies lately related to pregnancy and Vitamin D, including one that says pregnant women with higher levels of Vitamin D appear less likely to develop multiple sclerosis.

“Okay, fine,” I said recently to my doctor, in the tone of a petulant teenager, as is my want. “But I'm taking these supplements already and they don't work. And I'm exhausted. I think I have a thyroid problem.”

“That's because you are taking one, sporadically” she said patiently. “You need to be taking four, every day. And you're tired because your Vitamin D levels are low.”

She may have also said more, but I don't know because I had stopped listening.

I have now been taking the proper amount of Vitamin D supplements everyday for a month. Once again feel like my energetic slightly surly self, apart from the fact that Daylight Savings Time and I have not yet come to an understanding.

Vitamin D may not be for you, or you may have some other easily fixed health issue you are ignoring. My advice: sometimes it's helpful to actually listen to the doctor.

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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.

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