I went to see my doctor last week for a regular annual check-up. I know I see a doctor everyday when I look in the mirror, but I still need to see a “real” doctor once in a while. Someone who will assess my health objectively and truthfully tells me if there’s something wrong.
I don’t have any medical condition nor am I on any prescription medications. I am not having any symptoms either. Besides, I am doing my best to live healthily – I eat reasonably and I exercise regularly. In other words, I try to practice what I preach.
Yet despite of the things I can control, there are things I cannot. The track record of men in my family is dismal. My father died at the age of 50, my paternal grandfather not much older than that, and my maternal grandfather did not even reach 40. That’s the genetics I have to contend with. Therefore I need to be proactive.
After my doctor examined me thoroughly, including the dreaded digital exam up you know where, he commended me for staying healthy. All is well, or so I thought.
He also requested a number of blood tests which a couple of days later, he sent me the results. All of them were good, except for one.
My vitamin D level is low. What?! How? Why?
Vitamin D is most well-known as essential for strong bones, but research have found the importance of vitamin D in protecting against a host of health problems as well, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, autoimmune diseases, infections, and even cognitive disorders. Cognitive function? Is that why I am getting forgetful?
Major symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include bone pain and muscle weakness. I have none of those. However, for many people, the symptoms are subtle.
What may be the cause of vitamin D deficiency? It can occur for a number of reasons.
If you follow a strict vegan diet, you may be predisposed for this, because most of the natural sources of food with vitamin D are animal-based, like fish, egg yolks, liver(ew!) and milk. I am not a vegan nor a strict vegetarian, but I admit we eat mostly plant-based food at home. Once in a while I splurge on hamburgers, especially if I’m tired from my call. I am not a fan of milk though.
However even if you’re a strict vegan, you can still get plenty of vitamin D if you have enough exposure to the sun. Our body makes vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight. The rays of the sun, specifically the ultraviolet-B (UV-B) convert a chemical (7-dehydrocholesterol) in our skin, into vitamin D. If you live in northern latitude where UV-B rays are filtered from atmosphere, specially in the winter, then you may need longer sun exposure.
I admit, I am guilty of not much sun exposure. It’s not that I shun the sun for fear of getting dark. On the contrary, I don’t agree with many Filipinos trying so hard to be fair-skinned by avoiding the sun and using whitening products. Why can’t we be comfortable in our own skin?
I don’t get enough sunshine just because I spent most of my days indoors due to my long work hours. Even if I do run outside, I usually do it early in the morning just enough to see the sun peeking in the horizon. Plus if it is cold, I use running gears that mostly cover my body, long sleeves and all, to keep me warm, so not much skin are exposed to the sun.
Another predisposition for lack of vitamin D is if you’re dark-skinned, which I am. The pigment melanin reduces the skin’s ability to make vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure. Some studies show that older adults with darker skin are at high risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Other predispositions for vitamin D deficiency are people with kidney disease as their kidney is less able to convert vitamin D to its active form, and people with digestive tract disorder that affect their intestine’s ability to absorb the vitamin from their food. I don’t think I have either of those.
So my doctor then prescribed me a hefty dose of vitamin D pill to be taken every week. But I wish he prescribed me something else instead, which I believe is what I really need.
This is what I will prescribe myself: morning walk on a beach and enjoy the tropical sun once a week.
If only I could.
(*shadow selfie photo taken at a beach in Palawan, Philippines)