NOTE: I am not a doctor and you should never take any supplements without first consulting your doctor.
If you get outside a lot, or drink milk regularly, you probably don’t think much about Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a crucial vitamin whose main purpose is to help your body use calcium to build strong bones. Lack of Vitamin D can cause a whole host of problems, many of which aren’t obviously related to the source of the problem. In fact, symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency can be mistaken for a thousand other problems.
In the summer of 2009, I was around 275 lbs. The Hubs and I were both unemployed, but we were newlyweds, and we had my Dad nearby for support, both emotional and financial. Things were okay, not great, but okay. But it was summertime, and I was depressed. Not normal, I’m-having-a-rough-time-right-now-but-things-will-get-better depressed, but more serious, lay-on-the-couch-in-tears-staring-into-space depressed. I’d had depression before, when someone very close to me had died, and this was far worse. I’d known that I was susceptible to feeling down on rainy days, and that I felt better on sunny days. But it was summer, warm, wonderful, sunshiny summer! So why did I feel so lousy?
On top of the depressions, I had other symptoms. I ached, physically. It started with my shoulder, my left shoulder. It ached for seemingly no reason. The next day would roll by and the pain would be in my left elbow. Then my left wrist. I wasn’t sure if I’d injured myself or not. It started to worry me. But one day, the aches moved. To my other arm. That really freaked me out. I sucked it up and went to the doctor. The depression concerned him, but the migrating pain concerned him more. He asked that I have a full blood test done. And what that revealed was surprising. My Vitamin D level was 11. Well, 11 what? Turns out, it’s 11 ng/ml (or nanograms per milliliter).
This may seem like an arbitrary number: it certainly seemed like that to me. But my doctor said that research into Vitamin D’s importance was being re-evaluated. Previously, a level of 32 ng/ml was considered sufficient for the body to properly utilize calcium, but when I was suffering from deficiency, doctors were about to raise the level to 45 ng/ml. A quick bit of research while writing this entry revealed that the desired level is now 50 ng/ml. So I had a FIFTH of the desired Vitamin D in my system. It was causing my depression and my bone pain, and if I’d let it go much further, I could get rickets. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with the following:
- Muscle Weakness
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- Cognitive impairment in older adults
- Severe asthma in children
So what causes this deficiency? Diet is one of the causes. If you’re a vegan, or have a milk allergy, you might not be getting enough dietary vitamin D, because most of the natural sources of vitamin D are animal based: fish and fish oils, fortified milk, egg yolks, cheese and beef liver. You also may not be getting enough sun exposure. Those with darker skin have a harder time absorbing the sun’s rays, and sun exposure helps our bodies naturally produce vitamin D. That’s why a deficiency may have stronger symptoms in winter, when the sun rises late and sets early. You could be older: as we age, our kidneys are less capable of converting vitamin D to its active form. Digestive issues are also a problem: if you have Crohn’s disease, celiac or cystic fibrosis, your intestines may not be able to adequately absorb vitamin D. Lastly, obesity can be a cause. Fat cells can pull vitamin D from the blood, inhibiting its release into the circulatory system. Those with a Body Mass Index over 30 can have low blood vitamin D.
The best thing to do if you suspect you have low Vitamin D levels is to make an appointment with your doctor to have a blood test. If your blood test results show low Vitamin D, your doctor may prescribe you high dosage Vitamin D pills. I was given a 12-week regimen of 50,000 IUs a week, and let me tell you, after the second pill, I felt almost normal again. Since the prescription ran out, my doctor has had me taking 5,000 IUs a day. And to be honest, even with that, I still get the winter blues. So I invested in light therapy for the winter months. I use what’s called a HappyLight: a natural light spectrum lamp you can use first thing in my morning for 20-30 minutes to help your body produce Vitamin D naturally. It really improves my mood in the winter months, and I find I don’t need it in the summer at all.
Vitamin D deficiency can cause a LOT of very serious problems, but the good news is that if you catch it, it’s easy to fix. (My prescription Vitamin D cost less than $10, and over the counter Vitamin D is less than $10 for 250 pills.) Remember, your health is more than your weight!