About three weeks ago I was sitting in my Anatomy and Physiology class listening to a lecture on the endocrine system. My professor, Dr. D., was talking about diabetes and I couldn’t shake a certain sense of guilt and fear that I was headed towards a similar diagnosis. In the year I had been a full-time student, my diet consisted mostly of convenient foods at convenient times with a healthy dose of sugar and salt. Added to that was a mostly sedentary lifestyle with random bouts of activity.
After Dr. D.’s lecture ended, I immediately called my doctor’s office for an appointment. I needed to find out if my poor habits had done any damage to my body. Last week Dr. G. called to tell me that I was not diabetic, but that my Vitamin D count was too low, and my thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level was elevated, which could indicate hyperthyroidism. The latter diagnosis didn’t make sense, as the general effect of hyperthyroidism is that everything speeds up (heart rate, bowel habits, metabolism, etc.) and I was gaining weight, not losing. A follow-up thyroid panel showed that the first test was a false positive, so don’t have to worry about fixing that.
The Vitamin D deficiency, however, does require some attention, albeit only in the form of a supplement and/or increased sun exposure. Vitamin D levels in the blood should be at least 30 and mine is 14. Vitamin D functions to maintain levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood. Without it we cannot absorb calcium. Without calcium absorption, we run the risk of getting osteomalacia, osteopenia, and osteoporosis. Vitamin D is also important for muscle strength and to prevent some cancers (prostate, breast, pancreatic, esophageal, colorectal). If you Google “Vitamin D deficiency,” as I did, you can scare yourself with the myriad of other ailments it can cause.
Now, I’ve spent many years practicing safe-sun and have maintained my pasty-white complexion via copious amounts of sunscreen, so I won’t be getting the majority of my Vitamin D from the sun. I will, however, try to spend 15-20 minutes outside each day (sans sunscreen) between the hours of 7:00 and 10:00 a.m. when the sun’s rays aren’t as strong. In addition, I will be taking 1,000 IU’s of Vitamin D3 for the foreseeable future. I need to make sure, though, that I call my doctor soon to see when he wants to do another blood test to check the levels again. I don’t believe in taking anything to correct a problem and then not test to see if it’s working. What if it’s not enough? What if my counts get too high? Any patient’s relationship with his or her doctor should be a working partnership, not a one-sided dictatorship.
Many Americans are lacking in something called “health literacy,” which is “the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions” (CDC). One of the things I hope to do with my degree in Public Health Education is educate the public on how they can be their own best advocate. There are also many organizations that are currently working with health care professionals to ensure that health care information is presented in an understandable way.
In my own family I’ve tried to explain to those I love that putting a doctor on a pedestal and accepting everything he/she says is not a good way to manage one’s own health. Any doctor who doesn’t like to be questioned or challenged is not someone I want to work with. I respect that they have had extensive schooling, but no doctor knows everything. And if you don’t understand what a doctor is telling you, insist that he finds a way to make you understand or that he find someone else to explain it better. Patients have rights and I encourage you to click here to read about them.
OK, I realize I’ve gone on a bit long with this blog post, so let’s move on to the weight loss part. I had a good week eating and exercising and lost two more pounds. Losing between a ½ and 2 pounds per week is considered healthy, so I’m happy with my progress. See you next week J