Let me backtrack. I live in the Northeast, where Mother Nature has placed a near-permanent cumulus cloud overhead filled with rain, snow and misery. Im no meteorologist, but that statement is generally true. The sun rarely shines here. Its depressing.
A few weeks prior to the doctor visit in mid-February, I began feeling a little bit depressed and a little less driven in bed. I had chalked up the gloominess to the winter blues and would not have visited the doctor about it, but I already had an annual physical scheduled. And because of a recent quarrel with my wife over the non-aesthetic benefits of tanning, I asked my doctor to check out my vitamin D levels as part of the routine blood test thats usually conducted to check cholesterol.
So the culprit for my winter ills is, I believe*, a lack of vitamin D, which is called the sunshine vitamin because humans produce it in response to sunlight. Among many other things, vitamin D deficiency is associated with depression and is common among cancer victims (there are two forms of D; D3 comes from meats, dairy, fish plus your own skin). Hey now! On the flip side, adequate levels correspond with improved mental energy and higher testosterone levels, and may lower the risk of heart disease.
The doctor called me with the results a few days after my exam. Yes, about the sunshine vitamin. My level checked in at a meager 17 nanograms per milliliter, which translates to "Man, you need some more f*cking vitamin D!"
But seriously, thats well below where anyone or any guy should register. Dr. Michael Holick of Boston University, a leading expert on vitamin D, told the New York Times in 2010, We want everyone to be above 30 nanograms per milliliter, but currently in the United States, Caucasians average 18 to 22 nanograms and African-Americans average 13 to 15 nanograms.
I wondered how I became part of Club Deficient, which doesnt even make me unique: A recent study showed that nearly half of Americans are part of the tribe. But I was surprised to learn the results because I drink a ton of milk (a great source of vitamin D!) and eat mounds of vitamin-rich yogurt because it requires no preparation and tastes good enough.
At least I used to be a milk and yogurt monster. My doc told me at a previous visit to drastically cut down on the milk and yogurt I consume because both pack a surprising amount of sugar. Its lovely how one problem begets another, eh?
But before I delve too deep into the mythology of vitamin D deficiency, treatments and symptoms, go check out some of the causes and some more reasons why youll be well-served to get your blood tested for it and make sure youre at a healthy level.
As for me, the doctor said I should take a supplement and offered some foods that would help me on my way, including fish, eggs and cereal. I bought store-brand chewable tablets that taste like chocolate. Not bad, and the bottle cost only $4.99.
Ive also made sure to get out more during the workday to catch whatever rays the Northeast offers this time of year. Lack of vitamin D is not exclusively a winter problem, by the way — many people subsist on diets low in D and work the kind of hours year-round that prevent them from basking in the sun during the week, let alone stepping outside.
Now Ill confess here that Im the type of person who can enter the Web-MD labyrinth with a shooting pain in the leg and exit with self-diagnoses including bacterial meningitis, hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) and sickle-cell anemia. But, this time, I dealt in the realm of real, and I believe my treatment regimen has helped lift the winter blues cloud in favor of a more upbeat me.
My name pretty much requires that.
* I cant say with certainty that vitamin D deficiency contributed to or caused these ailments, but 1) a blood test showed I was vitamin D deficient and 2) research indicates that depression and low testosterone levels are associated with vitamin D deficiency.