Dear Surly Amy,
I don’t take vitamins. Given my fortunate resources, I aim to get needed nutrients from my diet; plus sketchy regulation, paired with the cesspit of horseshit claims made by the supplement industry,
tuns me off. The catch: a while back I moved to night shift, and my body went to hell. My hair is dull, breaks, and falls out. All my nails broke off. My skin is dry and itchy, so is my nose, I’m getting gray hairs for the first time in my life, etc. I figure the best fix is to sleep like a normal human being, but that’s not an option. I figure eating healthy would help, but after a 10-15 hour shift I am more likely to reach for a frozen pizza than cook something healthy. And all the advice I hear is “vitamins!” So, given that I live as a vampire and fail at eating well, would supplementation help? More important, where do I go for science-based advice re: supplement usage? My google-fu fails in the face of the sheer volume of woo out there. Help?
First I have to start off by saying, I am not a doctor. You should go see a doctor. A real one. One with MD by their name. Seriously. Go.
Now, on to my take of the situation.
My guess is that you are not adjusting well to the night shift. Very few people do. I have witnessed this with my own eyes a few times. I worked the graveyard shift in my younger years and my husband is an editor for television and he often picks up the night shift which is usually 6pm to 5am give or take a few hours on either side. It’s really rough on him and he is used to it. In fact, he often opts for the night shifts. Working nights can wreck you because you never really get enough sleep. Your body’s circadian rhythm doesn’t ever seem to sync up with sleeping when it’s daylight no matter how many trash bags you tape to your windows to try and block out the rays.
The other problem with the nightshift is you usually do need some sunlight to get a proper amount of vitamin D. So this is where some of that go get your vitamins might actually be relevant. Problem is, you really should go to a doctor to get a blood test to see what your vitamin D levels are. It’s very common to have low levels of vitamin D these days even for those of us on the day shift but you don’t want to accidentally megadose on any vitamin, especially vitamin D because it is a fat soluble vitamin. Your body stores the excess fat soluble vitamins instead of peeing them out and so you can quickly get a toxic amount if you are not careful. Other fat soluble vitamins are vitamins A, E and K. So while you may indeed be deficient in vitamin D, as my husband was, from lack of sunlight you really want to be sure of it before you start taking supplements. You need to get a blood test to find out and you need to go to a doctor to do that. Your doctor will tell you what dose and how often to take it if you are indeed deficient.
As for finding reputable information on vitamins and supplements, my favorite website for looking up this type of information is Science Based Medicine. I can’t sing the praises of that site enough. It is fantastic.
Other than that, my advice is to search for whatever you are looking for + the word “science”. It is not a fail-proof system but you are more likely to find information from a science blog or reputable source if you include the word science in your search criteria. You can also try the same combination but google the word “skeptic” along with your search word and then compare results of the science versus skeptic searches. It’s no joke that if you search for anything vitamin related without filtering you will end up with mostly pages full of nonsense trying to sell you an idea or a product you don’t need.
Another great site to find reliable information is to search on Pub Med. Pub Med has links to all the recent published medical studies and the not so recent ones too.
The moral is, I highly recommend you go see a doctor to check your vitamin levels and I hope you get the rest and nutrition you need!
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