The Importance of Vitamin D

I haven’t posted for a few days because I have been in miserable pain for about three days now and have had trouble sleeping because of it. So my usual ability to string together coherent, and at times, aesthetically pleasing sentences has been at an all-time low.

However, I finally got to see my doctor and found out the results of the huge array of blood tests she ordered about three weeks ago.

It turns out that my glucose tolerance is great, my liver is fine, kidneys are fine, I have elevated HDL cholesterol (which seems to be a genetic predisposition) and my B12 levels are great. (All those whole grains and leafy greens.) The thyroid seems to be fine, gallbladder is great, and all of that.

There were two troubling abnormal levels. One was my sedimentation rate was slightly elevated, indicating that there was inflammation somewhere in my body (as my doctor said, “The fact that you are in constant pain tells us that!) and the other was my vitamin D level. It was very low. Incredibly low, in fact, indicating a severe vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D is necessary for proper muscle functioning, cell growth and division, and endocrine and brain function.

Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include muscle pain, spasms and cramps, extreme fatigue, depression, mood swings, brain fogginess and disrupted sleep.

Oh, wow. The exact symptoms that I have.

As Mr. Spock would say, “Fascinating.”

So, I am on a once a week high-dose vitamin D supplement. Dr. Ford, who quite eloquently noted that I could probably sit outside naked all day and not make up the deficiency as fast as I would need to, said that I should start to feel better within a couple of weeks. If the pain does not reduce and my sleep does not improve by then, I am supposed to call her. We will continue the supplementation, but we will also look into trying to help me sleep better.

Can I say how much I love my doctor? She’s very careful, sensible and sharp–she was way ahead of me when it comes to checking out all of my symptoms and trying to get to the bottom of them. She seems to think that I may have fibromyalgia, especially considering the fact that two family members are similarly diagnosed, but she doesn’t want to make that diagnosis–which is not a clinical one–there is no test to definitively give that diagnosis–until she has carefully checked and rejected all other possible diagnoses. It is still possible that I have fibro which is being exacerbated by low levels of vitamin D, but it is just as likely that it is the deficiency itself which is causing the symptoms. So, she is careful and judicious in her treatment and she is very respectful of the fact that while I am getting really tired of being in pain and weary all the time, she also knows I don’t want to just lightly start taking drugs to try and fix every symptom all at once.

I guess we are a good fit with each other.

Now, let’s talk about vitamin D again–interestingly, it was a longtime reader here at Tigers & Strawberries who sent me email telling me about the effects of a deficiency. Maureen–I don’t think I ever emailed you back and thanked you, but thank you–though I never got a chance to tell my doctor to test my vitamin D levels because she was already on the case and had ordered the test along with every other test in the world! She is a sharp one–up on the latest research and all!

And she told me the same things that Maureen told me–that vitamin D deficiency causes the exact symptoms from which I suffer. So, thank you again, Maureen!

I will close this post with an appeal to my readers. If you suffer from chronic pain and fatigue, please ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels. You may be deficient, and if you are, it is easily enough corrected. A lot of research is currently ongoing which points to the importance of vitamin D in the proper functioning of our bodies and many of these studies have shown that a great many Americans have low levels of vitamin D in their bloodstreams. The long term effects of such a deficiency can be severe and serious–elevated cholesterol levels leading to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and osteoporosis among other nasty conditions and diseases.

I wonder why so many folks seem to be suffering from vitamin D deficiency. It could be that The American Cancer Society has succeeded all too well in their message to use sunscreen in order to avoid melanoma, or it could be that Americans have become sedentary house-dwellers who rarely go outside. Or it could be both.

Or, it could be diet-related–folks may not be eating many eggs for fear of high cholesterol, or fatty fish for fear of mercury poisoning, or milk because of a fear of fat.

It is puzzling, though.

Anyway, we will see what happens. I will report back on how I feel here after two weeks of mega dosing on prescription-strength vitamin D. In the meantime, I will keep eating my leafy greens, eggs and go back to drinking milk while I am at it, and will endeavor to be out in the sun as much as someone as pale as I am can be safely. (A tip for those of us who are very pale–sunscreen free sunning is safer in the morning and evening hours–when the sun is at its peak between the hours of 11 am and 2 pm, please cover up or wear sunscreen or go inside.)

17 Comments

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  1. I hope you’re taking Vit D3, instead of ordinary Vit D, and in gel cap form. See what cardiologist Dr. Davis has noticed with his patients taking the different Vit D forms:
    What vitamin D form?, and Vitamin D must be oil-based.

    Comment by Shreela — May 21, 2009 #

  2. Barbara, I hope this takes care of many of your symptoms. I know that when bloodwork comes back as good as yours did it’s sometimes a mixed blessing — nothing severe, nothing obvious, but darn it I still have symptoms. I hope that the D supplementation makes a big difference for you.

    I really should get my levels checked. Another internet friend of mine mentioned this over a year ago but I still haven’t done it.

    Comment by Kristi — May 21, 2009 #

  3. Yes, Shreela–my doctor is a great one. She prescribed oil-based gelcaps of vitamin D3.

    She’s really cool.

    Kristi–you are right–it is a mixed blessing, but at least my doctor knows damned good and well that there is something wrong. Some docs would look at the bloodwork and be sure I was a hypochondriac or something. Nope, Dr. Ford is awesome. I love her to death.

    Comment by Barbara — May 21, 2009 #

  4. Hey, at least you can now tell people that you’ve got the rickets…

    Heh. Sorry.

    Comment by Elizabeth — May 21, 2009 #

  5. Wow – that’s totally weird! But good it’s not diabetes or something chronic. Last year I was severely anemic related to another health issue, and once I started the high-power prescription iron I started to feel a bit better (boy was I relieved) – here’s hoping your dosage does the trick, and soon. I am wishing you healing and strength and hope you feel better soon.

    Comment by Diane — May 21, 2009 #

  6. Congratulations on your progress towards a full diagnosis. I just want to offer one minor correction. Eating grains and leafy greens would not help prevent a vitamin B12 deficiency. It would prevent a folate deficiency, and B12 does work with folate to get its job done. However, B12 itself is only available through animal products, fortified foods, some nutritional yeast, or dietary supplements. (There is some debate about additional sources of B12, so if anyone is worried about a deficiency, they should do additional research).

    Comment by Holey — May 21, 2009 #

  7. Glad you’re taking Vit. D3 Barbara! I take 2,000 IUs everyday. When I was recovering from surgery in march/april I was taking 4,000 IUs and a ton of B vitamins–all good for muscle repair! Vitamin D3 is perhaps one of the largest nutritional deficiencies in the world right now.

    Comment by Roxanne — May 21, 2009 #

  8. That’s an interesting result – I also wonder what causes these types of nutritional deficiencies, and am a bit uncomfortable with the fact that doctors can’t tell us why we have them, only that we do have them. I recently discovered that I have incredibly low B12 levels (only found in animal products), and was told that I could eat all of the meat/dairy/fish in the world and it wouldn’t bring my levels back to normal. Now I’m on a monthly B12 injection to fix the problem, even though nobody can tell me what caused it in the first place! My symptoms have improved, though, so hopefully yours will, too!

    Comment by Mia — May 22, 2009 #

  9. Barbara, so glad to hear that your doctor has found the probable cause – I hope the treatment starts working fast as those symptoms sound like killers.

    I’m constantly forgetting to put the sun cream on my boys and comforting myself that at least I know they will get their vitamin D. And now I’m even more glad! (Though I really do need to remember around the middle of the day…)

    Comment by Meg — May 22, 2009 #

  10. Hi Barbara (another longtime reader here, but a quiet one :P ),

    As someone else with a Vitamin D deficiency (my level is actually 17, pretty horrendously low) and probable fibromyalgia, I too was put on the megadose D boosters. My weekly dose, for 8 weeks, was 50,000 IU. However, I just wanted you to be aware there are side effects to that huge dose. Apparently I’m one of the rare ones that even got them. Basically, I ended up with severe constant nausea, migraines, and most notably, bone pain on top of my usual muscle pain. My rheumatologist had thought that, like with most other people(or so he said), the Vitamin D booster would be my cure-all, and I’d feel better in as soon as 2 weeks. I couldn’t even make it through 5 weeks of that huge dose. I should mention I’m a pretty petite person, so maybe it was just too much for my system. But it’s interesting to note that the toxic dose of Vitamin D is actually 70,000 IU. Which isn’t so far off from what I, and other people, are being given.

    A better option for me turned out to be taking 1000 IU of D3 (better absorption) daily, and making sure I get sunlight. The D still hasn’t been a fix for my symptoms (identical to yours, and and even more besides), but at least my levels are hopefully rising. Don’t forget to take calcium daily along with your D3, but not at the same time, as the absorption won’t occur properly. I’d also recommend that you have your doc check your ANA (Anti-Nuclear-Antibody) levels, if they haven’t already. They’re a marker for autoimmune disease, especially lupus. I’m a strange case, in that I’m negative for all forms of lupus, but I have the ANA levels of someone in an active lupus flare (320:0).

    Now that I’ve written a novel…

    I wish you luck and healing with your medical issues :) Please try to continue with Tigers and Strawberries! It’s my favorite blog, PERIOD. I’ve learned so much from you :) I check every day.

    Comment by Lili — May 22, 2009 #

  11. Thank goodness you have a doctor to check. Mine was just attributing everything to my thyroid and I was having horrible deep bone pain for years. I had to figure it out on my own, and I’m doing so much better now.

    Apparently, I’ve had a severe vit. D deficiency for a long time, due to a side effect of medication and a solar allergy. Thanks for your information, Sheela – I just recently changed Vit D types and was wondering why I was having pain again. ugh… it’s powdery pills, and not the gel cap oil I was taking.

    If you get the oil you’ll be feeling so much better soon.

    Comment by Jehannamama — May 22, 2009 #

  12. Barbara, thanks for telling. Hope you get well soon. Please take care.

    Comment by Franklen — May 23, 2009 #

  13. I’m sorry to hear about your illness but know that it must be a relief to finally know the cause and be able to start resolving it.
    Thank you as well for sharing the details – I suffer from chronic pain too, sometimes, though at the moment it’s all good. I get several weeks or months of pain and then it just goes again, who knows why. I shall remember to have the Vit D checked next time I get blood tests done.

    Comment by kavey — May 25, 2009 #

  14. Thank you for posting this. I hope that you will be feeling better very soon. After reading about the symptoms you have been experiencing, it sounded a lot like how my husband has been feeling. He has increased his vitamin D intake through supplements and diet, and has actually felt quite a bit better. We had no idea what had been causing him to feel poorly, but thanks to you and your wise doctor, we may have an answer.

    Comment by Kara — May 25, 2009 #

  15. I too have chronic pain, fatigue, sleep problems. but in addition, I have put on an unhealthy amount of weight. nearly impossible to get any kind of excersize if your fatigued and hurting :-(
    Anyway, in Feb. had some bloodwork done and my Vit D lvl was 5! yes five. I did the eight week course of 50,000 IU weekly, plus an additional 2,000/day, making my weekly total of 64,000. had blood work done again and it only raised to 9.
    My doctor’s only answer is to go through the course again.

    Comment by Cheryl — May 26, 2009 #

  16. After reading this post and feeling a strong empathetic intuition I starting taking a large dosage of Vitamin D3 daily. After about a month I was feeling well enough to actually go see my ND, who ordered the blood test for Vit D and several other things. Our results were very very similar. Everything for me was fine except Vit D (19 after 4 weeks of taking 2000IU of supplements!) and calcium. I’m now taking 8000IUs a day as well as additional calcium, and we’ll be retesting in a month.

    Thank you for sharing your story. It was the spark that lead me to the knowledge that I’ve needed to pull myself out the a painful hole I’ve been living in for 18 months.

    You’re one of my heroes! :)

    Comment by starrrie — June 23, 2009 #

  17. Barbara, after all these years I’d love to know what happened. I have an elevated ANA and very low vitamin d. My rheumatologist told about the ANA. my Primary doctor is the one that discovered my low d. I have a couple of issues. it’s like a big puzzle but somethings are coming together.

    Comment by Rhonda — August 16, 2012 #

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