Apparently, it’s now the end of summer. Well, that’s what the meteorological calendar says but I don’t think that hot yellow ball in the cloudless blue sky that’s currently enveloping me in a warm embrace, has been told. Not that I’m complaining, I have absolutely loved this summer and I feel quite smug that this year, I didn’t need a holiday abroad. I don’t want it to end yet.
One of the reasons I’ve loved it so much is because it made me feel so well. When I started this blog, just after I left the BBC, I was in the midst of a constant run of chest infections. I put it down to stress at first as I was working quite hard in the weeks before my departure and then I thought it must be the prolonged bitterly cold winter (it was still snowing in April, if you remember) and then I thought suddenly stopping work and doing nothing had a part to play. For literally weeks, I couldn’t stop coughing up all sorts of gunge and I had a constant temperature and on some days I was too exhausted to get out of bed. I thought for a while there was something seriously wrong with me.
I had a number of tests including one for lung function which came out low but that’s really only to be expected given that I eat far more than I need to and did NO exercise at all! Apart from that though, bloods all came back normal and my chest x-ray was clear.
Matters were not helped by the fact that my doctor has gone off to fight Boris Johnson at the GLA, leaving a stream of locums in his place, all of whom just kept fobbing me off with antibiotics, until the day I went in and started crying with frustration. The lovely LADY doctor there actually took me seriously. She thought the dark circles under my eyes might be an indication of a lack of Vitamin D. She checked my levels and found them to be crashingly low. The average should apparently be 50 nmol/L and mine were….13! That, ladies and gentlemen is a Vitamin D deficiency.
I’m not a special case though. It seems it is very common in the UK with an estimated 70-80 % of the population being insufficient, often bordering on deficient.
The reasons are many – to get enough vitamin D you need to expose your skin to sunlight regularly and we don’t get much sun in the UK. Even when we do, skin cancer research means that people are wary of sitting out in the sun for too long. Fair skinned people apparently only need 15 minutes a day to get the vitamin D they need People like me though, with very dark skin need around 1hr 15 mins a day, as the sun needs to get through the extra melanin in the skin which offers protection from UV penetration
OK, here’s the science bit. When your skin is exposed to the sun, it produces vitamin D and sends it to your liver. Your gut also sends over any vitamin D derived from food or supplements. From here, it gets a little complicated but basically it’s sent all over your body ready to perform its duties. Simplistic yes, but all I know is that without enough of that vitamin D, your body can’t perform at its best.
The link between vitamin D and strong healthy bones has of course, been known for many years but recent research is now showing that vitamin D may also be important in preventing and treating a number of serious health problems associated with the heart, general muscle and joint aches and the immune system which helps to fight infections. That lovely doctor told me that she had recently read that vitamin D is useful in preventing respiratory tract infections but she warned me that not all doctors agree with recent findings and she was right. The doctors I have seen since she moved on have played it down, only agreeing that my low levels may have been the reason for my extreme tiredness. My neighbour is an esteemed doctor and he too thinks the resurgence in vitamin D interest is a bit of a bandwagon that too many people are jumping on. Actually, that may not be exactly what he said, but it’s what I heard in between all the medical jargon!
The thing is, I have now done quite a bit of reading on vitamin D and it just all makes sense to me. I know looking on the internet when you are a neurotic middle aged woman and not medically trained is a dangerous thing to do. In the past, my Google investigations have turned a bit of an eye twitch into the onset of Bell’s Palsy, mild palpitations from running up the stairs into atrial fibrillation, slight tummy ache into possible bowel cancer and even my simple bunion into a sign of chronic gout.
However, it can’t just be coincidence that almost as soon as the sun first appeared in June, I started to feel better. I mean, before antibiotics were invented, sufferers of tuberculosis were sent to sanatoriums on the south coast for rest, recuperation, and a healthy dose of sunshine. And their recovery must have been down to the higher levels of vitamin D they achieved by taking in more sun.
My treatment has consisted of a huge dose of vitamin D injected into my bum, followed by daily supplements and most mornings sitting or lying under the open windows in the roof of my bedroom, getting loads of sun. It has turned me very dark but I feel so good. I haven’t coughed once and suddenly I have lots of energy so that now, I can’t wait, and in fact almost crave, a good power walk round our local park each day.
All these studies that promote vitamin D as a possible wonder drug that can prevent infections are epidemiological in nature, and therefore cannot be used to categorically conclude that is the case. And I’m prepared to concede that there are any number of studies out there that can confirm whatever anyone wants to believe. I’ll bet there is one that says eating crusts do in fact give you curly hair when I know for a fact that even though I eat them all the time it hasn’t worked on my straighter than straight hair – not even a kink.
But it’s about what works for each one of us and the fact is, it may be psychological, but I feel so much better since taking vitamin D and will be taking it everywhere with me from now on.
Right! I have some medically prescribed sunbathing to do and after that, who’s coming for a walk?