Question to an expert: Why spring beriberi is a myth

By | September 22, 2021

ANSWERS TO MOST OF THE QUESTIONS THAT HAVE ARE EXCITING TO USwe are all used to searching online. In this series of articles, we ask just such questions – burning, unexpected or common – to professionals in a variety of fields.

Fatigue, drowsiness, dull complexion at the end of winter and early spring are often associated with seasonal vitamin deficiency and try to treat with fruit juices, smoothies or pharmacy vitamin complexes. But do we really have vitamin deficiency? Do I need to treat it and how to improve my well-being in the spring? We asked these questions to a specialist.

Vyacheslav Babin

medical director and chief physician of the Rassvet clinic, general practitioner, Ph.D.

One of the most popular health myths is associated with the so-called spring vitamin deficiency. Allegedly, over the winter, a person develops a vitamin deficiency, as a result of which fatigue accumulates by the spring, working capacity decreases, skin color changes, and constant drowsiness appears. But is it? Vitamins are organic substances that play an important role in a wide variety of processes. It is important that vitamins (or the substances from which they are formed) are regularly supplied with food: some of them are not synthesized in the body, and some components are required for synthesis, which can only be obtained from the outside.

In fact, vitamin deficiency itself is much less common than the myth of its existence, even in developing countries. Much more often there is hypervitaminosis, that is, an excess of vitamins. Earlier in winter, the intake of vitamins in the body really decreased: in principle, there were fewer products and meat, vegetables and fruits were less likely to get on the tables (or did not appear at all). There are no such seasonal changes these days – and many people can eat the above all year round. The days when the main vegetables in the winter were potatoes and preserves in cans are over. Massive shortage of some vitamins is sometimes marked only in countries with a low standard of living, for example, in the refugee camps is common thiamine deficiency (vitamin B1) and vitamin C. It should be understood that the need for vitamins is much less need, for example, essential fatty acids (omega -3 and omega-6) and amino acids. Deficiency of some vitamins is possible only with general depletion.

Of course, vitamin deficiencies still occur, but the change of seasons has nothing to do with it. Hard diets, starvation, alcohol abuse can lead to them. Some bowel diseases or bowel surgery can interfere with the absorption of vitamins and other substances. Uncontrolled medication and smoking are also causes of vitamin imbalance. At the same time, for the development of a deficiency of water-soluble vitamins, several weeks or months of dietary restrictions are required. At the same time, the lack of fat-soluble vitamins and vitamin B12 develops no earlier than a year later – serious reserves of it are stored in the body. There are some congenital diseases associated with the inability to synthesize vitamins from food components, but they are detected in early childhood.

The need for vitamins is much less than the need
for essential fatty acids and amino acids

A special case is vitamin D. It is produced by the body when the sun’s rays hit the skin, and it also accumulates naturally in some foods: fish, fish oil, egg yolks, beef liver. Vitamin D is essential for maintaining the “strength” of bones because it aids in the absorption of calcium from food. In adults and especially the elderly, a lack of this vitamin can lead to bone loss and fractures. This is especially true for women after menopause – they have an increased risk of osteoporosis. Unfortunately, it will not be possible to “accumulate” a year’s supply of vitamin D in a couple of weeks on the beach, especially since sunscreens prevent this – and you cannot refuse them. If you are not “eating” enough vitamin D, your doctor may prescribe an extra vitamin D supplement with calcium. It is the only vitamin shown to many people.

Often, vitamin deficiency is attributed to skin problems that occur in winter and early spring. In fact, the main reason for such phenomena is the suboptimal indoor microclimate (high temperature and low humidity) in combination with dry and cold outdoor air. This leads to a decrease in the production of sebum and, as a result, to a decrease in the protective properties of the skin, loss of elasticity, deterioration of complexion. It is important to maintain optimal temperature and humidity with a humidifier and use suitable moisturizers.

As for multivitamins, taking them as a preventive measure is completely optional. In addition, hypervitaminosis threatens with serious side effects. Thus, an overdose of vitamin A can be dangerous for the liver and bone tissue; Vitamin C, which is most commonly used, in large doses leads to impaired absorption of vitamin B12 and increases the concentration of estrogen-containing drugs in the blood in those who take them. Before taking vitamins, you need to prove their deficiency – this can only be done by a doctor. The main thing in the prevention of vitamin deficiency is a balanced diet without strict restrictions.

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