Just a couple days ago, I posted a story on Instagram asking what you guys thought about dietary supplements, if you wanted to learn more about them or hear about my personal experiences with them. My inbox was flooded shortly thereafter! What I found surprising was how uniformly positive the feedback was: I heard from so many of you who had taken supplements, are currently taking supplements, or who are considering taking supplements, and everyone wanted to know more.

Up until six months ago, the mere mention of dietary supplements would have sent me running in the other direction: I rejected every cooperation request from supplements companies (and believe me, there were many!), and never would have thought to take supplements on my own. “I eat a healthy and balanced diet,” I thought to myself. “I don’t need powders or tablets, let alone syringes or infusions!”

Photo: Franzi Schädel

NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES – WHY I DECIDED TO HAVE MY VALUES TAKEN

Once a week, I meet with a personal trainer. The sessions start at 8:00 a.m. While I don’t find it difficult to get up early in spring and summer, it’s been quite a different story in autumn and winter over the past few years. No matter how long I slept, if I’d just come back from vacation or worked for several days without a break – I often felt totally lifeless in the morning (and also during the day).

From time to time, I brought this up with my trainer (and also expressed my utmost respect for him, since he was meeting his first clients at 6:00 a.m. while I was struggling to get to our sessions on time!). At the beginning of the year, when my complaints of weakness and exhaustion continued – even though I wasn’t under much stress and had been getting enough sleep – my trainer suggested I get my blood values checked out. So I did.

THE RESULTS OF MY BLOOD TEST

A few days after having my blood taken, I had another appointment with my doctor, who showed me the results and explained them to me. I didn’t expect to have any nutrient deficiencies, but my trainer was right, and I was diagnosed with three deficiencies: vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iron.

  • Vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in animal products: meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. I can’t remember exactly when I stopped eating meat, but I think I was around 12 – that is, almost 18 years ago. I’d always believed, however, that B12 deficiencies were most likely to affect vegans, since the sole vegan sources of B12 – apart from food supplements – are fermented foods and the algae chlorella, both of which contain only tiny amounts of B12. Vegetarians can meet their B12 needs with eggs and dairy products, but because I don’t eat eggs that often and the only dairy I really eat is cheese, it wasn’t really working for me, either.

    Possible symptoms of B12 deficiency are exhaustion, fatigue, and concentration problems, but it’s worth noting that because a B12 deficiency is serious and can also lead to irreversible damage to the nervous system, vegetarians (and especially vegans) must be aware of it. My doctor prescribed me tablets, but since those didn’t seem to be working (over the past few months I’ve had four blood tests to check it the values had improved), she advised me to get vitamin injections for a few weeks, which was no big deal and totally worked. My B12 levels are back in the target range, but I’m going to keep an eye on them and continue supplementing indefinitely.

  • Vitamin D deficiency is very widespread, especially during the darker months (which is when I was diagnosed, actually). Vitamin D isn’t called the “sunshine vitamin” for nothing: our body produces it when we’re exposed to sunlight, and if we aren’t getting much sun, there’s a chance we’ll run low on vitamin D.

    I don’t need to kid myself: during the winter, I leave the house when it’s still dark out and by the time I leave the office to go home, it’s dark again. Even during the day here in Hamburg, it’s still pretty dark – so the changes of getting enough sun in the winter are pretty much null. Possible symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include fatigue, concentration and performance problems, mood swings, headaches, and dizziness.

  • Iron: I’d never have thought that I might have an iron deficiency – yet symptoms like fatigue, exhaustion, and poor concentration also point to it (other possible signs include hair loss and brittle nails). My doctor prescribed me iron tablets, but even with those it will probably take a while to get my iron back into the ideal range. I’m currently considering getting an iron infusion to speed things along.

As you can see, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iron deficiencies all have the same two major symptoms: fatigue and exhaustion.

WHY TAKE DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS?

When I got the results, my first thought (and the first thing I said to my doctor) was, “No problem, I’ll just change my diet!” But my doctor quickly convinced me that it made sense to first bring all of my values into the “ideal range” by using supplements.

Since then, I’ve managed to get my vitamin B12 and vitamin D levels back in order, but I’m still working on my iron levels. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as I thought it would be to get it from food. I make sure I eat enough iron-rich foods – and to eat them with vitamin C, which improves iron absorption – but the changes haven’t come about quite yet. 

AND WHY THIS POST?

Why am I sharing this (rather personal) information with you? Because I’d never thought to have had bloodwork done on my own: I assumed that my healthy and balanced diet would give me all the nutrients I needed. Over the past few months, I’ve been discussing this topic quite a bit and then posted the Instagram story. Many of you shared that you also take supplements, sometimes for the same reasons that I do.

I’d love to hear more about your experiences and your interest in this topic!   

Note: Please refrain from mentioning any particular brands you use or recommend – comments with any sort of advertisement, promotion, or endorsement will be deleted!

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