Sunday, April 26, 2020

Playing Nutritionist

I went to a pharmacy in Damai a few days ago to buy vitamin C supplements, and I ended up having an interesting debate, albeit a short one, with the pharmacist. To be honest, I haven't been taking vitamin C supplements until very recently, and even  then I'm not doing it diligently. I would miss a day or two, and sometimes longer, before suddenly remembering to take them again. I'm just not really serious about vitamin C. 

There was an assortment of different brands and different means of consumption, i.e. some are taken in the form of tablets; others are taken after having been diluted in water and to be consumed as a drink. There are also many different dosages, some are tablets containing a mere 250mg each, whereas others may contain as high as 1500mg each. I wanted the 250mg tablets, i.e. one of the lowest. But the pharmacist was recommending the 1000mg tablets. She said the body needs it.

My wife has been taking vitamin C for the longest. Somebody must've convinced her many years ago that taking vitamin C is absolutely necessary. I suspect it must've been one of those so-called "direct-selling" folks playing doctors or nutritionists. I can still remember when my mother-in-law was still alive, my wife made her take vitamin C supplements too; and each tablet, if I'm not mistaken, had 1500mg of vitamin C in it. I did not know this until one day when I wanted to buy something from the pharmacy, and she told me to buy some vitamin C for her mom. I was surprised to know the dosage. She explained to me that the digestive system of old folks may not be as efficient as young people; she may not get sufficient vitamin C from her diet. Hence the 1500mg vitamin C supplements.

Now I'm not a nutritionist, but I know a little bit about vitamins. There are many different recommendations for what is deemed as the amount of vitamin C required by the body each day, from as low as 40mg (National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad) to as high as 110mg (European Food Safety Authority). You may have noticed that that's way lesser than the 1000mg recommended by the pharmacist; and the 1500mg taken by my late mother-in-law. Since I have plenty of vegetables and fruits in my diet, I did not think that I'm not consuming sufficient vitamin C for my daily requirement. Furthermore, I've also noticed that vitamin C is also present in some of my sports supplements. I'm also drinking Ribena almost daily for my sports activities, and I reckon that I'm getting at least 100mg from Ribena alone.

However, I've noticed that many people, especially from "direct selling" companies, would use the excuse that even if people consume a lot of foods which are sources of vitamin C in their diets, they may not necessarily be able to absorb it into their system. That's why they must take vitamin C supplements. And of course their supplements are the best compared to others because theirs are much more easily absorbed by the body. This is also the same excuse they'd frequently use for any other vitamins or substances required by the body.

I'm a very simple-minded fellow. If indeed my body is unable to absorb sufficient vitamin C from my diet, then I reckon there will be symptoms of deficiency such as bleeding gums or slow-healing wounds, or some other signs which would give rise to negative effects on my health. But if there are no such symptoms of deficiency, then that must mean the body is still getting enough. I'm not trying to play nutritionist here, I'm just applying a bit of simple logic and common sense. Therefore, no amount of persuasion from the pharmacist will make me take 1000mg of vitamin C supplements on a daily basis.

I suspect many of my readers are vitamin C supplements consumers. Before you start bombarding me, let me just say that this post is not intended to ridicule you. If you want to consume 1500mg vitamin C daily, by all means, pray continue. I'm just explaining why I'm not doing it.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Ineffective Order

Malaysia has been under the Movement Control Order (MCO) since 18 March. The Order was originally to have been implemented up to 31 March, but it has since been extended up to 14 April. However, many Malaysians are now predicting that it will be extended up to at least the end of April, if not beyond that. If it is indeed extended, it shows that the MCO has not been very effective against the Covid-19.

Now the biggest problem with the Covid-19, apart from having no vaccine, is that there is an estimated incubation period of about 14 days after infection, within which the infected person may unknowingly infect others around him, even though he's not showing any symptoms of the disease. Beyond that, those other people may also do the same to others, thus the chain of infections continues.

The whole idea of the MCO is to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic by forcing, to a certain extent, people to stay at home, so that when people are isolated from each other, there is little chance for the virus to spread from infected people to others. At the same time, testing could be conducted on suspected cases, such as when people have a history of being in close contact with known infected people, or if they are showing symptoms of the disease. If the tests are found to be positive, then they can be quarantined, thus preventing the virus from spreading. In theory, that seems like a sound strategy. But in Malaysia, so far it doesn't seem to be working very well, if at all.

I don't proclaim myself to be an expert in crisis management. But whenever I'm faced with a problem—any type of problem, not necessarily just dealing with the Covid-19—especially if it's a new problem to me, I, too, may end up trying to solve it with a trial-and-error approach. It's always the same; I'd start with a theory and then formulate a specific step-by-step strategy in implementing that theory. If I failed to get the desired result, then logically it means that that theory is unsound. Or if I'm still convinced that it's a good theory, then it must mean that there are weaknesses in its implementation. In either case, one thing should be glaringly obvious—if an approach doesn't work once, repeating that same approach over and over again will most probably result in failure again and again. I'm thinking, extending the MCO again and again will not beat the Covid-19. 

A friend shared the story of her son. He was in close contact with someone who was eventually found to have been infected with Covid-19. A few days later, he developed some of the symptoms of the disease. He then got himself tested, and while waiting for the result, decided to self-quarantine at home. The result eventually came back positive. But what's really disturbing was that it took NINE (9) DAYS to get the result. Between the time that he actually got infected up to the time when the symptoms manifested, he could have infected others around him. Some people develop no symptom whatsoever and may proceed to infect others.

I think 9 days to get the results for the Covid-19 tests is just too pathetically long. I wonder if that's how long it takes for all the Covid-19 tests throughout Malaysia, or is that just for Sabah? We need to solve this problem first. There are also many other people who were in close contact with infected people, but refusing to come forward to be tested for the disease. And let's not forget that there are still some people who are not heeding the MCO. If just a small percentage of them are positive of the disease, that's good enough to destroy the MCO strategy to fight Covid-19. The chain has not in fact been broken, and extending the MCO is bound to be in vain.

The authority should seriously find ways to achieve fast testing and quick results so that positive cases could be isolated faster; shore up enforcement of the MCO by hunting those who've been in close contact with infected people, and imposing heavier punishments upon those who're not heeding the MCO. All these should be dealt with first for the MCO to be effective.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Value of a Challenge

The Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia is quite an eye opener for most of us. Though not exactly amounting to a house arrest, it's in fact very close to one. It takes a bit of effort to adapt to the lifestyle of being confined at home, though in this case we're still allowed to go out for food supplies and essential items. I'm not sure if I'd ever get used to spending so much time in my home.

People have been asking me on several occasions in the past, why I'd run the marathons, race the Ironman and the swimathon, and the likes. My answer has always been the same—because I'm blessed with a reasonably healthy body, and I'd like to do what I can do with it while I still can. For there are people out there who were born without limbs or confined to a wheelchair; they're probably longing to be able to run the marathons. There is almost no limit to the lust for freedom. One of these days, I will be too old to run marathons or race the Ironman; perhaps I, too, will be spending my days sitting in a wheelchair, in a diaper. But if ever that time comes, there is no regrets, for I have lived my life to the fullest; I have achieved what I challenged myself to achieve. And if I failed to achieve what I set out to accomplish, then that's fine too. Sometimes in life the value of the challenge is in the journey, and less of the final destination.

The MCO is especially tough for people who're used to the active lifestyle; those spending a good amount of time outdoors indulging in sporting activities such as running, swimming and cycling. Unless if one has a personal gym at home, it takes some imagination and creativity to keep active while confined at home. Although I don't have a gym, I do have a bike trainer, and I've been making good use of it regularly throughout the MCO. I also do a bit of skipping, jog around my compound (which is horrifyingly boring and mentally very challenging) and some other light exercises like stretching.

Notwithstanding the above, however, I have no immediate plans to run 263km in my house. A friend told me this morning that someone in Malaysia ran that distance in about 36 hours in his house to prove that "it's possible for runners to stay active from the safety of their homes during the MCO, even if it might not be as efficient as running outdoors."

Running 263km is undoubtedly an amazing feat, perhaps not just physically, but especially mentally. I'm an idiot when it comes to pursuing big sporting challenges in life, but I would never run that distance in my house—even if I'm physically or mentally able to do it—to prove that runners can stay active from the safety of their homes. That particular challenge is just not appealing to me; and therefore there is no value to me. If I want to prove a point about keeping active at home, then I'd run or bike say an hour or two. That is proof enough, because the vast majority of runners hardly ever run much longer than that anyway. "Keeping active", to them, means an hour or two, not 36 hours.

Please don't get it wrong though. I said running 263km in the house is of no value to me, but that doesn't mean it has no value to the runner who did it. It is an amazing achievement and he has earned my admiration and praise.

I suppose different runners aspire for different challenges. What's valuable to me may be very different from what's valuable to other runners. The most important thing now is to heed the MCO, but still keep physically active at home. It needs not be an hour or 36 hours. Perhaps exercise a minimum 30 minutes a day on average—"minimum" being the keyword—to remain healthy and sane during the MCO.