Vitamin D

| Niels ter Meer

We are not getting outside enough, to the extent that it’s detrimental to our physical health, thinks student columnist Niels ter Meer. He thinks so because he has suffered the consequences.


Over the last while, you might have noticed that my life has been rather disappointing lately. Being so exhausted, forcing me to redefine what nominal means to me (which I’m still learning to accept). But recently, also due to circumstances, it has gotten so bad that it couldn’t just be me being lazy. I had had enough, relented, and called my GP.

A week later there I was, sitting in her office with my barely contained depression. After venting my problems, she asked whether I ever had my blood tested — to which the answer was no. Out went the order, and the Monday after my blood was taken at the hospital. Glossing over even more kinks of the Dutch healthcare system (arranging all this wasn’t easy), the results came in after a long wait of almost three weeks: physically perfectly healthy but for a massive vitamin D deficiency.

For those unaware, vitamin D — apparently also known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ due to it being produced in one’s skin under exposure of UV-B light — is a fat soluble vitamin relevant for bone growth and maintenance, immune function, and kidney and muscle function. Symptoms of its deficiency are, for example, (lower) back pain, and ‘fatigue and malaise’. Aha.

So, given the vitamin’s nickname, when my GP asked whether I went outside between the hours of 11 and 15, I wasn’t particularly surprised. But I also wondered ‘when could I even?’ More than half of that time consists of lectures, and you’d be lucky when both the skies are clear of clouds, and your breaks are clear of meetings. If I personally am lucky, I cycle to campus between those hours, after oversleeping due to that very fatigue the deficiency may have caused. But if you are working or studying full time, you get on your bike before 9, and leave after 17 — worst case, given everyone’s workload, being cooped up inside for most of that time.

Funnily enough, vitamin D deficiency is not the only physical ailment caused by not touching enough grass. Apparently, myopia (no, not the variety study associations suffer from sometimes) is caused by a lack of sun exposure in youth. Whereas older generations tended to spend more time outside, their children were made to study indoors more and more. Here too, a cohort cooped up from dusk til dawn, suffering the physical consequences.

In my case, the vitamin D deficiency can be resolved by taking some prescribed supplements, hopefully helping ameliorate other problems in the process. But I think these speak to a larger problem. In our pursuit of yet more and more knowledge, we condemn ourselves to easily preventable yet impactful physical ailments. We need to go outside more, but often we don’t. So who wants to go on a walk with me?

Stay tuned

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.