Fiesta! Time to celebrate! I’m done with classes in medical school and just hanging out until graduation on May 16. This includes some much needed sun in Mexico (we leave on Sunday) with my best friend from high school.
When I went home last month to visit my mom, I had a skirt on to honor springtime. She was aghast the pastiness of my white legs. We went on a walk that night and my two stumps were aglow in the moonlight.
While this complaint of lack of sun seems vain, it elucidates the negligible amount of time I’ve spent in the sun in the past three years. Not only have I lived in Cleveland, voted by Forbes to have the worst winter weather in America, but seemingly, for the past two summers, I have done my absolutely hardest rotations during peak summer sun hours. Going into the hospital before the sun’s up and catching only the twilight zone at the end of the day just does not help.
Even though basking in the sun puts people at increased risk for deadly skin cancers, one benefit from our favorite burning ball of gas, besides sanity, is that the skin reacts with sunlight to produce vitamin D. Vitamin D, if you haven’t noticed, is all the rage right now. A quick literature search reveals research blaming vitamin D deficiency for everything from heart disease to diabetes, low birth weight babies, chronic pain, pelvic floor disorders and neurologic deficiencies.
Obviously this is a rapidly growing area of interest, but is the hype real? Even three years ago in my first year of medical school I was taught the vitamin D deficiency was quite rare and remember the lecturer saying that “only some old lady who doesn’t eat anything and is locked up in her bedroom all year” could lack this essential nutrient.
Vitamin D deficiency is actually much more prevalent than once previously thought. When I did an endocrinology rotation all of the fellows who are young and healthy tested their vitamin D blood levels. They were all insufficient. In the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2001-2004 of 6275 nationally represented children from ages 1-21, 9% were deficient and 61% were insufficient . A study of 2500 mothers and infants in urban Boston showed that 58% of infants and 35.8% of mothers were severely deficient . People of darker skin color and colder climates are at the highest risk.
In the next post, I’ll discuss the role of vitamin D in the body, and review some of the literature about the health effects of deficiency. I’m sure you’re wondering how you can boost your own vitamin D levels. Get outside and get some sun. Supplemental tablets (the Institute of Medicine is about to release new dosage guidelines) and foods with vitamin D such as fortified milk products, eggs and fish, are also good sources.
To prepare for my Mexican adventures and to boost all of our vitamin levels with eggs and milk in a sweet way, I tried to make some cinnamon infused flan. I just love anything custardy. In fact, my very first memory wasn’t of my parents or our cats but of custard that our neighbor made. And the donuts we ate at the beach. I’ve been a life-long food lover, and now I want to share it with you.
Well, you see, I wrote this post and had a FLAN FAIL! It looked great until I tried to flip it and it turned into a puddle of soupy caramel egg mush. So, for the next post, I’ll try a new recipe that is guaranteed to succeed. For now, I give you my stages of flan grief.
1. Kumar, J., et al. “Prevalence and Associations of 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Deficiency in US Children: NHANES 2001-2004.” Pediatrics, 2009.
2. Merewood, A., et al. “Widespread vitamin D deficiency in urban Massachusetts newborns and their mothers.” Pediatrics, v. 125 issue 4, 2010, p. 640-7.