Updated: Feb 7
Dull skin? Brittle hair? Sloth-like fatigue? Time to check your vitamin levels
You might be wondering why I’m writing about vitamins in the beauty section, but if you’ve answered yes to any of those symptoms, you will neither be feeling nor looking your best. Throw in hormonal changes brought about by hitting midlife and chances are you insides as well as your outsides are in dire need of rescue. Luckily, you’ve come to the right place.
So how do you know if you’re deficient in vitamins? Well, symptoms are generally subtle. You may not recognise them easily, even if they’re having a significant negative effect on your quality of life. Of course, being in the midst of a delightful pandemic isn’t going to do anything for your stress levels, but you may still benefit from a helping hand (and I don’t just mean from wine).
Taking vitamin supplements throughout winter will not just improve your skin, hair and nails but they’ll also help improve your general health.
You might be surprised to learn that vitamin D is actually a hormone. Wait, what? See, when the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays in sunlight hit your skin, your body synthesises vitamin D3, which is converted by the liver and kidneys into the hormone calcitriol (still with me at the back?) so creating the active form of vitamin D. It’s calcitriol that helps you stave off upper respiratory tract infections and stops you getting rickets. Not getting enough of it has been associated with cardiovascular disease, infections and infertility, so it’s quite important and not just if you’re at sea in the 16th century rationed to one worm-infested cracker a day and trying to ward off scurvy at the same time as pirates and sharks.
Morning sunlight is good for your circadian rhythms, but lunchtime is the best time to catch some UBV rays. As far as diet goes (what diet? You and me both) the best dietary sources of vitamin D include eggs, milk, oily fish such as salmon or trout, and mushrooms. That’s edible mushrooms, by the way, not magic mushrooms unless you fancy eight hours with the walls, ceiling and floor closing in on you and imagining that you’re turning into a massive toad followed by a three-day comedown. Make yourself a plate of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon or garlic mushrooms on toast for lunch and you’re mint. If you’re vegan and you’re not taking a vitamin D supplement YOU ARE FULL CRAZY. Do it, please.
Bears don't need supplements - they love a bit of salmon
According to a recent report in medical journal The Lancet, ‘there is a chance that their implementation might also reduce the impact of COVID-19 in populations where vitamin D deficiency is prevalent; there is nothing to lose from their implementation, and potentially much to gain.’ So there you go. Obviously social distancing, wearing mask – that’s over your nose as well as your mouth for those of you who seem to believe that air, mucus and germs don’t come out of your nostrils – and of course, washing your hands 810 times a day will help, too. If the sun is out, grab it while you can – roll up your sleeves and let it penetrate your skin for 20 minutes, even if it’s a bit nippy.
As far as supplements go, I prefer an oral spray to a tablet, not least because of the official line from science which states that ‘oral sprays are an effective method of delivering an active ingredient directly into the bloodstream rather than relying on primary processing by the digestive system’, but because they’re perfect for those with digestive issues or those weird folk who don’t like taking tablets.
As someone with inflammatory bowel disease and no colon – I know, don’t be jealous – I can’t actually digest giant supplements. I’m deficient in just about every decent nutrient going because of my inability to absorb them from my food. I’m also anaemic and have an annual iron infusion to keep me going. Before my GP referred me for one (about 20 years after I should have started on them) I suffered from dizzy spells, the worst lethargy going and also had a tendency to faint quite a lot, one time smacking my head on the side of the bath on the way to the floor and almost killing myself. I came round to find my cat sitting next to me looking somewhat perplexed. Another time I almost fell down from the top of the stairs at a friend’s house but was caught as I tumbled by my husband who was on his way up. So trust me, it’s worth getting yourself checked out if you have a tendency to fall down the stairs or wake up on the bathroom floor for no particular reason.
Maybe Dorothy was just iron-deficient?
So when I saw that Better You made spray versions of essential vitamins, I did a little clap. I loaded up with Vitamin C, Vitamin D and their ingenious Magnesium Oil Body Spray that I apply after my shower. They also have a Magnesium Oil Body Lotion, and I’m also using the Magnesium Flakes in my bath. It’s a brand doing its bit for the planet, too - their entire product range has shifted to ocean recycled or plant-based plastic – all 100% recyclable. There is no palm oil or its derivatives in any of their products, and the majority of the range is vegan.
Let’s take magnesium (literally, please take magnesium) – it’s vital to your overall wellbeing and relaxation. It naturally supports the normal functioning of muscles, assists calcium absorption and promotes healthy functioning of the immune system. It also helps improve rest and recovery by contributing to a reduction in tiredness and fatigue, while balancing electrolytes. It's a busy little bee. If you’re someone who suffers from fibromyalgia, I strongly suggest you start taking a magnesium supplement. It helped reduce my symptoms and certainly improved my sleep patterns. I can’t stop waxing lyrical about the stuff to anyone who’ll listen, mainly in my memoir, Mostly Cloudy With Some Bright Spells. If you haven't read it yet and are wondering what to buy folk who can read for Christmas, DO IT. Anyway, I suffered with leg cramps in the middle of the night that were so bad it felt like rats were running around inside my muscles. Rats! I’d be crawling around the bedroom floor in agony, tears everywhere. Three days of magnesium (alright, and some powerful anti-depressants so that I could actually sleep) and they were but a distant memory. Magic!
Vitamin D deficiency is very common and is linked to an increase in respiratory tract infections like colds, bronchitis and pneumonia. Excessive fatigue and tiredness may be a sign of vitamin D deficiency, and it’s also thought to contribute to bone pain and lower back pain. Depression is also associated with low vitamin D levels and some studies have found that supplementing improves mood. Getting enough vitamin D is also essential for preserving bone mass as you get older. In women, hair loss may be a sign of vitamin D deficiency, although that can also be attributed to perimenopause or menopausal symptoms. Top that with stress, which is why my hair is falling out at an alarming rate. Getting older blows. FACT.
Yeah, not so much
As for vitamin C, it plays a key role in collagen production, a protein abundant in connective tissues like skin, hair, joints, bones and blood vessels. When vitamin C levels are low, a skin condition known as keratosis pilaris can develop. In this condition, bumpy ‘chicken skin’ forms on the back of your upper arms, thighs or buttocks due to a build up of keratin protein inside the pores. Bleuch. Red, bleeding gums are also a common sign of vitamin C deficiency, and severe deficiency can even lead to tooth loss (see more about how to deal with that here). There’s a reason why so many beauty products also contain vitamin C – it’s because it really makes a difference to your skin.
When it comes to diet, blackcurrants are a great source of vitamin C, containing four times the amount of antioxidants as the humble orange, and double the amount of antioxidants as blueberries. Good for you, guys! Try taking these blackcurrant boosters from CurraNZ. Not only do you need extra help because it's winter, but also BECAUSE COVID-19. They'll help bolster the first line of defence against what's known as 'opportunistic infection' - that's colds, viruses and your basic bad-ass bacteria.
Meanwhile, the good news is that red wine has 4% of your RDA of iron, so we can drink to that. Cheers!