Are you in the dark?

Vitamin.  Those keen etymologists among you might notice the Latin stem there:  vita as in life. Vitamins are vital and I want to shed some light on an issue that is becoming widespread and severely affecting people’s lives.

I must admit, until six weeks ago, I too was in the dark.  I didn’t understand the vital nature of vitamins.  Sure I knew they were important and, taking a multivitamin every so often when I remembered to, I thought I had it sussed.  But I was wrong.

Six weeks ago I reached breaking point.  For me, that means admitting I’m not well.  Just before Easter I’d managed the 40 mile (2hr) drive to work only to be quite literally escorted off the premises because I could barely walk, yet still figured I was okay to be in work.  My head of department, head of key stage and head of year all took charge to get me home.  Feeling a little woozy by this point, I decided not to attempt the drive home but to go and spend the day at my mum’s.

I ended up being there for a week.

So you see, for me to admit I’m not well, I really do need to be very ill.  And I felt very ill indeed.  I, who would do everything I could to be in work (including moving in with my grandma for two months so I could get a ride to work every day when I broke my foot), went to the doctors.  Not only this, but I went in the full knowledge that my GP would, as usual, declare I was suffering from exhaustion and try to sign me off for a fortnight and, rather than refuse and walk indignantly from his surgery as usual, I was going to say okay.  I dragged myself through that long Wednesday, forcing myself through every moment of every lesson and meeting and I was able to only because of the knowledge of what would happen in the doctor’s surgery that night.  Once again, dear reader, I was wrong.

You might notice there’s a bit of a theme developing here.

My usual bumbling GP (who quite often called on his wife [also a GP] for a second opinion and who once told me I wasn’t ill because I was 20 years old) wasn’t there.  He and his wife had just left for their summer holiday and wouldn’t be back until the end of the following month.  Instead, I was faced with a locum who managed to translate my weepy words to decide that it was ludicrous I’d never been tested for about a million things before and ordered a complete work up of my bloods to take place urgently.

The next day I admitted defeat and begged to be sent home, resolved to sign myself off if need be because I couldn’t go on any longer.

On Monday I had the blood tests and on Thursday of that week, I received a call from the Drs surgery to tell me to go to the Dr the very next day, it didn’t matter which Dr I saw as long as I got there as soon as I could.  Naturally I panicked and decided I must be dying, or that mole under my arm that shows four of the five signs of cancer that I was meant to get checked every three months and hadn’t had finally turned vicious and decided to kill me, or that (heaven help me) I was succumbing to a similar degenerative disorder such as that my mother suffers from.

I’m not dying.

What I am, is seriously deficient in vitamin D.

“Well I’ll have to think of something to tell work because I certainly can’t tell them that!”  I cried, indignant and ashamed.

“Why not?” asked my mum, who’d come with me to hear what I was dying of.

“Because it’s pathetic.”

Actually, reader, it’s not pathetic: my attitude was.  As DH pointed out, vitamins are vital, and I was underestimating their importance and power and impact, much to my detriment.  The absolute minimum number of units you should have of vitamin D in your bloodstream is 70.  Mine was 35.  I was weak, fatigued, emotional, snappy and my joints ached, among other things.  My gums had also started bleeding again.

A Little on Vitamin D

Vitamin D is the only vitamin that we cannot get from our diets.  It is called the sunshine vitamin because we get it from sunlight.  It is also fat soluble so can be found in fortified cheeses, some oily fish, and fortified breakfast cereals.  Soya milk is also pretty good for it but more on that later.

Vitamin D is a bugger to get hold of but it is also a bugger to be deficient in as it’s directly linked to our ability to absorb calcium among other things.  It is also the vitamin you’re most likely to be deficient in.

Doctors are increasingly prescribing supplements of Vitamin D to breastfeeding mothers, as babies are so protected from the sun that they just can’t absorb it and are therefore deficient, increasing their chance of rickets and osteo conditions.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve discovered that a lot of teachers suffer from a Vitamin D deficiency.  This is easy to explain as they spend most of their time in a classroom.  In winter, we go to work in the dark, don’t manage to get out at lunchtime, and come home in the dark.  That’s fairly normal for most workers I know, but we also have weekend work and usually spend those two days of “freedom” metaphorically chained to our desks with a looming pile of marking before us.  Therefore our chances of getting any sunlight whatsoever is greatly impaired.  I should imagine the same is true of Lawyers and other professions which rely on a lot of out of hours extra work.  People working night shifts are also likely to be deficient, as are babies and those people who spend a lot of their time covered up be it for H&S reasons or religious choices. My typical day at school includes at least three arguments about whether or not the blinds in my classroom should be open or closed.  I maintain open is much better but the children (teenagers) insist on them being shut within five minutes of entering the classroom.  It’s alright for them, they get to go outside for a bit each day, but I’m trapped in a dark classroom all day as class after class come in and immediately draw the blinds.

My deficiency is so extreme that the Dr actually told me to stop wearing sunblock (but to be sensible:  I’m not about to lie scantily clad in the back garden in the middle of the day with no sunscreen on) as my need for vitamin D outweighed the increased chance of skin cancer.  Please note, I am NOT advocating the abandonment of sunscreen.  I was advised to by my Dr and my levels are being monitored closely.  In addition, I would put it on if I felt I needed it and I wouldn’t go out unprotected when the sun was at its strongest.

Ensuring you have Vitamin D

  • Try to get out for at least fifteen minutes a day.  It doesn’t have to be scorching sunshine, just get out and get some daylight.
  • Pay attention to your diet:  breakfast cereals are often fortified with Vitamin D now, as is soya milk and some popular cheese brands such as the stringy one.
  • Look for multivitamins that contain vitamin D.
  • DON’T OVERDO IT:  overexposure to sunlight, even on a cloudy day, can result in burns which increase your chance of skin cancer.  Don’t take unnecessary risks.  Be sensible.
  • DON’T OVERDO IT #2: the toxicity level for Vitamin D is 10,000 to 40,000 units.  My Dr has prescribed a solution of 50,000 units a week but that is being closely monitored.

I hope this post has been useful and I have helped you to come out of the dark.





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