I have had a long aversion to vitamin supplements. There have been a few exceptions with other sorts of nutritional supplements. For instance, probiotics after a round of antibiotics, extra iron when I was pregnant and post-partum. For the past few years, I have been downing a concentrated turmeric elixir because there is some research that turmeric MAY reduce inflammation and hence reduce the risk of dementia. I am very keen on avoiding dementia!
But taking VITAMINS? No way! In my opinion, supplements just make for very expensive urine! You can get all the vitamins and minerals you need with a healthy, balanced diet.
Apparently not always, as I discovered.
Whoosh – Foosh!
Late last year, I fell on my outstretched arm when I was doing some volunteer work with the SES. The tree branch I was trying to move snapped sending me backward down a hill. Thankfully, I was wearing my helmet and although I struck my head on the pavement, no damage was done there.
The cinematic slow-motion fall took forever. “Don’t break anything at this age you old chook! That’s the start of the end!” I yelled to myself. Embarrassed and feeling like a real old lady, I jumped up proclaiming “I’m ok, all good!” to my colleagues.
At first, the injuries seemed superficial; a grazed hand and a sore bum. After an hour or so I could no longer deny the fact that every time I moved my arm it hurt. A lot. My team leader dropped me at the ER of our local hospital and I sat and waited.
The X-ray came back clear with no break but the radiographer said I should get a follow-up CT scan because breaks in wrist bones are very hard to see. The CT scan also showed no break. My GP diagnosed it as a FOOSH injury. (Falling onto an outstretched hand!). It needed strapping, rest and time and that was it.
A cascade of tests
The CT scan did show that there was a possibility of osteopenia – the precursor to osteoporosis. My GP sent me for a bone density scan and blood tests. Those results showed that my bone density was fine but that I had low levels of Vitamin D and B12. He suggested I take supplements and boost my calcium intake with extra dairy.
Vitamin D and aging.
Vitamin D deficiency? How? I spend way too much time in the sun!
As well as ingesting Vitamin D from foods, your body makes it when your skin is exposed to UV radiation. In turn, Vitamin D plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy skeleton because it is necessary for calcium absorption. As you age the pathways for Vitamin D synthesis slow down and calcium absorption decreases.
Next, you end up with a decrease in your skeletal density, then osteoporosis, then breaks, then nursing homes and then death! That’s how I see it anyway!
Vitamin D supplements are cheap and easy to come by. But stick to the recommended dose! More is definitely not better when it comes to fat-soluble vitamins. (namely A, D, E, and K.) Remember those polar bear eating Arctic explorers?
Role of Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays a number of roles in the body apart from the maintenance of your skeleton including,
- Maintaining a good immune function
- Supporting a healthy nervous system including brain function
- Regulating insulin
- Regulating gene expression
Vitamin D levels are affected by our changing lifestyle. Staying in the shade and using sunscreen reduces our risk of skin cancer but it also reduces opportunities to make Vitamin D. Avoiding the sun altogether may lead to a serious Vitamin D deficiency. However, before you go out in the hot sun, slathering on the coconut oil as you go, note that you only need a little bit of sun! According to the Australian Cancer Council, you only need a few minutes, a few times a week in summer and just a little longer in winter. Using low-fat milk products could also contribute to dietary deficiencies of Vitamin D.
Vitamin B12 is absorbed in the stomach after some preliminary chemical restructuring. Your stomach manufactures an intrinsic factor that binds to B12 allowing it to be absorbed further down the intestinal tract. Of course, the ability to produce this intrinsic factor decreases as you age!
Vitamin B12 has many roles in your body including,
- Blood formation and prevention of several forms of anemia
- DNA synthesis
- Nerve function
Sources of Vitamin B12
Active sources of Vitamin B12 are only found in animal sources (or supplements). There is some Vitamin B12 in various mushrooms and nutritional yeast. But, these sources behave differently in the body and are not reliable.
Vitamin B12 and climate change?
Reducing your consumption of animal products is cited as one of the key ways individuals can reduce their climate impact. This is especially true for those foods produced by intensive farming methods. Getting enough Vitamin B12 can therefore present a tricky compromise if you want to live a sustainable/ethical lifestyle. If you are a vegan, vegetarian or one of the increasing number of flexitarians, you probably need a B12 supplement.
This makes me wonder if humans are meant to be strict vegans. If veganism was our true state we would have evolved to deal with B12 in a different way. On the other hand, I do think we need to reduce our consumption of meat from an environmental point of view. I eat eggs and dairy but have cut my meat consumption to once or twice a month. My next step is to ensure this meat is from a sustainable and ethical source.
There’s no point fighting it! I am getting older. I want to stay healthy. My body is not able to do everything it used to and it needs some help. I’ll still rely on my healthy diet to give me a very strong foundation but from now on my morning routine includes taking the supplements and the turmeric potion. For the next few weeks, I am also experimenting with magnesium, AND because I took a dose of antibiotics 4 weeks ago the capsule is a probiotic! OMG, I’m positively rattling!
BTW: The bruise on my bum was SPECTACULAR! All the colours of the rainbow and covering the whole cheek!