After a long period of listening to endless complaints of headaches and stomach aches that I incorrectly attributed to my son’s problems with school — school phobia was the term they were using back then — one afternoon, he started seizing. Rushed to the emergency room, he continued to seize, despite intravenous anti-convulsive medications.
Many tests later, all the doctors knew was his brain was swollen and he had a low-grade fever. There was no evidence of viral or bacterial meningitis or encephalitis to account for the swelling. There was nothing in any of the blood work to indicate an infection.
One day, I was visiting him in the hospital. By then he’d been there a few weeks and I was despairing of getting any answers. They were doing daily spinal taps on him to lower the pressure in his brain and he got hysterical every time they approached him with that needle. I could hardly blame the kid. Spinal taps are miserable and painful. One is bad. Daily is horrible.
While I was trying to think of something cheery to say, I noticed that the soles of his feet were kind of orange. So were the palms of his hands. It looked like he’d been eating cheetos or something like that with yellow dye in it. I mentioned it to the nurse. She looked at it and wrinkled her brow.
“It looks like jaundice,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said, “But only on his palms and soles. That’s a bit weird don’t you think?”
She agreed it was odd and said she’d mention it to the doctor.
The following day, the doctor rushed into the room and said, with his voice full of urgency, “Does he take vitamins?”
“Vitamins. Regular multi vitamins.”
“Yeah, when he was home visiting his father this summer, he brought back a bottle of one-a-day multi vitamins with him. He’s been taking one a day. Nothing unusual.”
“Bring them in,” the doctor ordered. “The whole bottle, label and all.”
And I did. It turned out that my son cannot metabolize vitamin A. Instead of being processed in a normal way and passing out of his body, it accumulates and would have killed him eventually. He had more than 1 million percent more vitamin A in his system than normal and there was no quick way to detoxify him.
Time was going to have to take care of it. Over a period of years, if he was careful to avoid vitamins and foods high in vitamin A, eventually his levels would recede to normal, but he would never be able to eat orange and red vegetables, margarine and other foods that are pumped full of Vitamin A, spinach, liver or other organ meats.
Vitamin A-osis is not unknown. Arctic explorers died of it after eating polar bear liver which contains staggeringly high levels of Vitamin A. It is also known to be a somewhat rare genetic anomaly. It happens. No reason.
When I brought my son home from the hospital as a tiny baby, I was give vitamin A & D drops to give him. He loved carrots and used to take them as snack with his lunch. He had never been given vitamin pills on any regular basis. We had an English pediatrician and unlike American doctors, most European doctors don’t recommend taking vitamins unless there’s a known vitamin deficiency of some kind.
It turns out that the official FDA “standard dose” of 5,000 units per day of vitamin A is lethal for my son. All of that ADHD stuff was actually vitamin A poisoning from which he had been a chronic low-level sufferer for his entire life. It had left him with permanent damage. Who do you blame?
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Last March, I wound up in the hospital because my blood sodium level was so low, I was supposed to be unable to function. I felt fine, but the tests were adamant. I had a problem.
They never found the cause and it was diagnosed as idiopathic, which means “Who knows?” in doctor speak. I had been suffering for most of my life from heat intolerance resulting in heat stroke, violent leg and foot cramps and other peculiar symptoms. After raising my sodium levels, all those symptoms went away.
I have apparently been suffering from not enough salt in my diet … and in my blood … my whole life, but it wasn’t bad enough to raise the alarm bells. What had changed? I started doing what I was told to do: drink more liquids. Drink more fruit juice. And my low sodium went from marginal and periodically problematic to dangerously low.
What does my son’s near dying of Vitamin A poisoning after he started taking multi-vitamins — and my medical crises caused by increasing my fluid intake — have in common? Both of us did what is “the common wisdom” recommended by millions of doctors, health columnists and diet gurus all across America.
And in both cases, it almost killed us.
The truth is that we are not all the same. What is “enough” or “just right” for you, might kill me. Or my son. We are not produced on production lines to a rigid specification. The reason I mention this at all was — as usual — a thing on Facebook. There’s an argument in progress about whether or not the currently trendy very low sodium diets are not necessarily such a good thing.
People are getting all hot and bothered about it because salt is regarded today the way caffeine was a few years ago. It’s the evil in our food. It turns out that caffeine is pretty harmless to most people, even those with high blood pressure and it’s an important component in waking up our digestive systems so they do what the are supposed to do, especially among older people. If you’ve been in a hospital lately, they eagerly ply you with more coffee than you could possibly want (maybe it would help if the coffee weren’t so awful?) because constipation is a big problem in hospitals.
So today, it’s salt that’s the big no-no. I remember when eggs were good for you. Then, they were bad for you. Then good for you after which I stopped following the food scare of the day on the news, so now, I have no idea how they are regarded. I just eat eggs when I feel like it. I feel I should tell you that the idea of an egg-white omelet makes me want to heave. Yuk.
I believe that fads in diets are inherently dangerous. Food fads are dangerous because they are unnatural and unbalanced. They don’t take into consideration that we are all made different, that we are each unique.
Eat. Enjoy. Don’t eat stuff that’s obviously bad for you. Nobody needs or should eat red meat every day. The current obsession with bacon is unhealthy and disgusting. Commonsense and moderation should be able to inform us when a choice is stupid, but apparently not so much.
Everyone is worried about salt while they scarf down double bacon cheeseburgers? Doesn’t that strike you as bizarre? Do you really need a nutritionist to tell you that extremely rich, fatty foods are unhealthy? Or that eating or drinking anything to excess is not a healthy longterm diet choice? Are we really that clueless?
Eat sensibly. Enjoy life. Have fun. Stop taking handfuls of vitamins you don’t need. Try to get some exercise when you can. Don’t spend all of your time at the computer or in front of the TV … unless that’s what makes you happy. In which case, have a good time!
Because that’s what life is all about. If you aren’t enjoying the life you are living, do something different.
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