Thursday, June 30, 2011

Are you Cognitively Impaired or Vitamin Deficient?

By Irene A. Masiello
Certified: Holistic Counselor, Adult Educator & Stress Management Consultant

My book, Paradise Costs, A Victim’s Daughter Fights Back against Elder Abuse, is a chronicle of my father’s deterioration into the abyss of severe cognitive impairment. This was the consequence of Alzheimer’s and resulted in his subsequent abuse and exploitation by neighbors in Walterboro, South Carolina.

Dad’s tragic decline took years. It was heartbreaking to see a robust and vibrant man once captivated by his love for animals and nature become apathetic, depressed and withdrawn.

Writing Paradise Costs took ten years to complete. It was a stressful marathon filled with agonizing memories, requiring intense focus while processing deep sorrow. Most of my time was spent indoors in front of my computer. I’ve attributed some health issues to the stress and, recently, I was diagnosed as a possible diabetic.

Over the course of this past year, I developed severe and crippling pain in my shoulder, rib cage, chest and foot. I felt weak and exhausted all the time no matter how much rest I got. I was unable to concentrate, was unsteady on my feet and unable to make decisions. I felt overwhelmed and anxious over slight matters and somewhat immobilized.

My internist, a wonderful man (and a consultant for Paradise Costs), was looking towards a diagnosis of diabetes, especially, since my Dad was insulin dependent. However, under his supervision, I went on a crash diet and lost over 20 lbs. Fortunately, he diagnosed me as glucose intolerant rather than diabetic.

My glucose numbers were not extremely high. But, rather, they jumped around with great sensitivity to what time I ate, how I slept, the amount of pain I had, stress, etc. The numbers did not follow a pattern and, ultimately, were low enough for my internist to conclude that I needed no medication for diabetes but rather very careful monitoring of carbohydrate and glucose consumption. Exercise was advised but that was tough for me because I was feeling so weak.

Because of a blood issue I have and my hematologist’s orders, I had stopped taking a multi-vitamin years ago. Though I recently asked her again about vitamins, she was adamant. My body is making too many red blood cells and its thought that vitamins would stimulate my bone marrow to produce even more of them.

However, with this new diagnosis of glucose intolerance limiting what I could eat, some vague yet alarming red flags were swirling around my head and I was struggling with them. While somewhat immobilized and beleaguered, I started to wonder if I could be properly nourished since I could not eat fruit, drink a glass of orange juice, have a white potato, etc. How could I consume enough vitamins and minerals to stay healthy now?

I started thinking about the trace minerals I was doing without. I wondered about Vitamin C and my immune system because it seemed that all this pain had started around Christmas last year when I came down with a fever and stayed sick for months. During this time, the symptoms mentioned earlier seemed to be getting worse.

I was struggling to string this together but really, cognitively, I was not sure I was the person I once was. I justified it saying, “Well, none of us are who we used to be.” A couple of my friends seemed to be saying the same things, too, and feeling somewhat like me. More justification came with our saying “we’re all aging.”

Then one friend reported that he had been diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency. Once a gal pal was diagnosed with the same shortly after, I hit the Internet running. What I saw online horrified me for I was described perfectly in the pages of symptoms of vitamin D deficiency. It explained so much. I called my internist who said, “Most people are D deficient so you probably will be too. We’ll check.”

He was shocked at the result and stated he never saw a vitamin D level so low. The normal range of vitamin D in the blood is 30-74. Mine was NINE! The Net said this level of vitamin D deficiency is dangerous.

Vitamin D deficiency is a contributing factor in diabetes and glucose intolerance. It’s thought to help safe guard us against breast, bladder and colon cancer. Deficiency of vitamin D causes body pain, weakness, cognitive impairment, confusion, brittle bones, exhaustion, more.

Vitamin D’s presence in the blood stream regulates the absorption of calcium (a lack of calcium causes osteoporosis, etc.) in the body and my doctor told me my calcium number was high.

The Net says calcium cannot be absorbed without vitamin D and that any slight deviance from the normal calcium range could change someone’s personality both emotionally and cognitively. It pointed out that magnesium was critical to the absorption of both vitamin D and calcium as well.

After only three and a-half weeks of vitamin D therapy, the pain I wrestled with for months was reduced by about 60%. The confusion and lethargy lifted somewhat, I felt more cognitively aware and I started to return to who I was. My glucose numbers came down, too. Finally, I was well enough to start walking without feeling faint.

On an outing with a childhood friend, I remarked, “Imagine what could have happened to me had I fallen and broken a hip, landed in a nursing home, and lost ability to make cogent decisions for myself all because of a vitamin deficiency.”

It’s too easy to look at the changes in oneself and dismiss them as simple aging. It’s more difficult to stay informed and active in the information loop. As we age, our nutritional needs change and, certainly, anyone who is bedridden or a shut-in needs more careful medical supervision and monitoring.

Your physician’s assistance and support is critical. Doctors know a lot but they don’t know everything and, usually, they’re the first ones to admit it. Certainly, mine did.

Our healthcare system has dramatically reduced the quality of medical care. Doctors spend too much of their very valuable time complying with insurance company mandates and doing paperwork rather than practicing the art and science of medicine which they love and have dedicated their lives to.

We, as patients, must remain pro-active and do our homework in partnering with our doctors. With the state of our health care system in shambles and it failing us all, both doctors and patients need to work together as a team.

Please find an informed advocate to help you navigate the system, if possible, and, remember, nutrition is a science. Please discuss your nutritional needs with your physician and ask him or her about consulting with a nutritionist. Many insurance companies will pay for this care.

Question….do you get 15 minutes of sunlight every single day? If not, please ask your doctor for the blood test as soon as possible for you may be vitamin D deficient.

Irene A. Masiello is the author of Paradise Costs, A Victim’s Daughter Fights Back against Elder Abuse,, afterword by Bennett Blum, MD,, and proprietor of Kayla Grace Designs affordable handmade jewelry especially created for baby-boomers see: PLEASE NOTE: The above article is not a replacement for the care of your licensed healthcare professional. Please consult your physician for all your healthcare needs. © Copyright, June 2011, Irene A. Masiello, All rights reserved. Do not reprint without permission of the author. Reach her at

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