The other vitamin C: Are you prescribing it?

As doctors we prescribe a lot for our patients — pain relievers, medications for specific ailments, exercise, or vitamins. However, too often we forget the power of vitamin C: human connection. As a therapist and medical doctor for children and adults with ADHD, I don’t underestimate the power of employing a variety of treatments that treat the patient as a whole; this may include medication, recommendations about diet, exercise and lifestyle changes.

While it’s widely acknowledged that poor diet, lack of movement and loss of sleep can lead to inability to focus and higher anxiety, what’s most often overlooked is that loss of human connection can lead to those same things. As human beings we are also social creatures. Modern society exerts a dangerous paradox upon us: while we are far more connected electronically than ever before in history, we are disconnecting with each other as well as with the many other connections that give meaning to our lives.

Connection, which I call the “other vitamin C,” is as essential for health, success, joy and longevity as ascorbic acid.  Living without enough of it can actually lead to poorer health. Research shows that lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Short of an early death, lack of the other vitamin C causes low-grade depression, lethargy, lack of get-up-and-go and a demoralizing feeling of purposelessness.

Thus, it is imperative that we as medical professionals encourage our patients to make connecting with friends and family a priority as part of their treatment and overall happiness. It is easier to do than one might think.

First, as health care providers, we must help patients set a goal for becoming unplugged. Planning periods of abstinence, in which no electronic device may be turned on, can be useful. This will be difficult at first. Patients should begin with ten minutes twice a day and then increase that time by 10 minutes a week until the goal is reached. Instead of being plugged in, patients should also engage in activities such as exercise — especially outdoors — family dinners, sleeping, praying and meditation.

Commitment to getting a daily dose of vitamin connect through face-to-face conversations is also important. Monitoring progress with a friend, family member, or even a colleague can help patients stay on track. Another easy, fun, and immensely valuable way to get the minimum daily requirement of vitamin connect is to reserve time for family breakfast. It’s a hugely positive way to start the day, giving a charge of energy, enthusiasm.

Today as you make your rounds, ask yourself and your patients: Are you getting enough vitamin C?

Edward Hallowell is a child and adult psychiatrist and can be reached at Dr Hallowell.

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