Today I want to talk about nutrition and supplements to help the caregiver
achieve the best possible health.
Now, it would be lovely if we all were eating exactly what we were supposed to be eating, but that’s not a reality for many caregivers. Issues such as budget, time, and even availability to sit down and eat a meal in one sitting can often be challenging for the unpaid family caregiver.
So often I find that caregivers are looking for a magic pill to help them feel more energetic, less anxious, sleep better, and overall have a better quality of life. I wish there was such a pill, but the reality is there is not.
One thing we can look at though is our body’s deficiency in certain vitamins. According to the centers for disease control, US Americans are lacking most commonly in vitamin D, vitamin B12 or folate, and calcium.
Now it’s very important before we begin this discussion to remind all of you that trying to self-diagnose and self-treat a vitamin deficiency can be very dangerous especially if you have pre-existing health conditions, or are taking certain medications.
I will always encourage you to take all of your over-the-counter medications as well as any supplements to your health care check-ups to ensure that there are not too many of one vitamin and not enough of another vitamin. It’s also important for your provider to know if there are any interactions with anything you are taking.
So let’s start with vitamin D since it is the most common vitamin deficiency in US Americans. Some of the signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include:
- hair loss
Some of the foods that are high in vitamin D if you want to go the food route include foods like:
- Beef Liver
I know these are not always people’s favorites!
Spending time outside in the sunlight is also a good way to get vitamin D, it’s actually the best way. But for those of us who live in colder climates, like the Midwest, even though we are spending time outside in the winter, most of our body area is covered, making it more difficult for us to absorb vitamin D.
VITAMIN B12 Or FOLATE
The next vitamin deficiency I’d like to talk about is vitamin B12 or folate, this is often known as vitamin deficiency anemia. The signs and symptoms may include:
- extreme fatigue
- shortness of breath
- heart palpitations
Some of the foods that are rich in vitamin B12 are full late include:
- brussel sprouts
- leafy greens
- kidney beans
Lastly, let’s talk about calcium because it is an important one. For those who may have a calcium deficiency you may find you have:
- muscle aches
- muscle cramps
- muscle spasms
- pain in your limbs
- numbness and tingling in your arms legs fingers toes or mouth
- dry skin
- abnormal heart rhythm
Foods that are high in calcium include:
- winter squash
One thing I would like to note with calcium, I do not recommend that you supplement this without speaking to your healthcare provider because it has been noted that calcium supplements are possibly linked to coronary calcification. This has not been found in foods high in calcium, but rather in supplements of calcium. So if you have a family history of heart disease or have heart disease yourself, I would urge you to please consult with your primary care provider before starting a supplement. Again this was not noted in food-only supplements.
So if you find yourself being a tired caregiver with any of these symptoms including the ones listed above, I would strongly recommend that you call or email your primary care provider and ask for the following lab work to be completed to find out if you are actually deficient in these vitamins.
The lab work I would encourage you to ask for is:
- complete metabolic panel or CMP
- vitamin D level
- vitamin B12 level
- magnesium level.
Again I urge you to not self-diagnose or self-treat anything without speaking to your primary care provider. I know that there are a lot of at-home vitamin deficiency tests, but again I would encourage you to make sure that you’re working with some kind of a qualified provider to ensure that you are not doubling up on some kind of vitamin or mineral supplement. Often some supplements, like “stress tabs” will include vitamin B derivatives, so if you are taking another B vitamin and something called a stress tab, you may be overdoing it in the vitamin B arena.
The last thing I want to make sure we cover today is that if you are taking any nutritional supplements or vitamins, ensure that before you have lab work you check with your provider to see if you need to stop taking them. Often certain supplements can throw off your lab results, which could lead to a misdiagnosis of certain health issues. Some of the supplements that can interfere with lab results include:
- vitamin B (niacin or riboflavin)
- St. John’s Wort
- vitamin C
So always let your provider know what you are taking and ask if you need to stop them before you have any lab work done.
I know the world of health and nutrition can be confusing, but I would encourage you to do your own research, have an open dialog with your healthcare provider, and make sure that any symptoms that you are having find out the root cause before you just take a prescription for something that might be easily fixed with a little nutritional help.
As always caregivers thank you for all you do. You are rock stars!