Are your Vitamin D Levels Dangerously Low?

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Recently a good friend of mine, who normally has the energy of 10 teenagers, complained to her doctor about feeling exhausted all the time.  He ran some tests and found she had extremely low levels of Vitamin D.  After about a month of treatment, she was as good as new again.  But what if she just chalked up her fatigue to the aging process and not addressed it with her doctor?  And why is Vitamin D so important?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is unfortunately found naturally in very few foods (the flesh of certain kind of fish—salmon, mackerel and tuna).  You can also get very small amounts of Vitamin D in egg yolks, cheese and beef liver.   Since the 1930’s, milk products in the United States have been fortified with Vitamin D to combat rickets, a softening of the bones in children which can lead to fractures and irregularly formed bones.   Luckily, the milk fortification program eliminated the disease in the US but rickets is still a major problem in many developing countries today.  Other foods, such as certain breakfast cereals, orange juice and yogurt are often fortified with Vitamin D as well.

Your body also produces Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, which is why it’s often called “The Sunshine Vitamin”.  This presents a conundrum for us!  We’ve been told to cover up and wear sunscreen all the time.  However, the NIH states, “It has been suggested by some vitamin D researchers that approximately 5-30 minutes of sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. at least twice a week to the face, arms, legs, or back without sunscreen usually leads to sufficient vitamin D synthesis.”   I’m not sure if dermatologists would agree with this since they’re the ones who’ve been telling us to get out of the sun.

So what do we do?  I’ll present the research and let you decide…

Dangerously low levels of Vitamin D have been linked to:

  • Heart Disease. In a study published in June, 2008, subjects with low levels of Vitamin D were 80% more likely to have peripheral artery disease (Arterioscler, Thromb, Vasc Bio–2005; 25-39: 39-46).
  • Depression. Blood levels of Vitamin D have been shown to be 14% lower in depressed individuals (Arch Gen Psychiatry; May 2008).
  • Osteoporosis.  According to Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, 85% of women hospitalized for hip fractures have a Vitamin D deficiency.
  • Back Pain.  In the report, “Vitamin D—A Neglected Analgesic for Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain” 95% of back pain sufferers (who had low Vitamin D levels) reported decreased symptoms after 3 months of supplementation.

Getting Adequate Amounts of Vitamin D has been shown to ward off:

  • Diabetes: In a study of more than 83,000 women over a 20 year period, the ones who took the highest levels of calcium AND Vitamin D had a 33% lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes (The Nurse’s Health Study).
  • Cancer: Higher levels of Vitamin D may cut your risk of certain cancers—particularly, breast,  pancreatic, colon and rectal cancers–and possibly ovarian, kidney and prostate cancer.

Vitamin D may also protect against fatigue, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, dementia, psoriasis, and colds/flu. Vitamin D levels are the lowest in the winter, which coincidentally is the peak season for catching colds and flus.

If that’s not enough to get your attention, low levels of Vitamin D have even been linked to premature death.  A paper published in March 2010, urges the Canadian government to take action against the low levels of Vitamin D found in their residents–which they  associate with a 26% increase in the risk of premature death.

So, while I’m not a doctor, my advice to you is this:  get your Vitamin D levels checked the next time you visit your physician.  She can guide you in the right direction.  Knowing your levels can make a world of difference to your health and the way you feel.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a Vitamin D deficiency, please tell us how it made you feel and what you did to get your levels up to an optimal level.

Know Your Numbers and Smile,

Molly

21 Comments:

  • Julie
    November 16, 2010

    My vitamin D levels were on the low side as were my calcium (something that should be checked along side of the D levels). B12 deficiencies can also lead to exhaustion. If it’s found that you have low calcium and vitamin D levels, a bone scan may also be in order to ensure your bones haven’t suffered from the deficiency.

    • November 16, 2010

      Thanks Julie. It’s pretty scary stuff and often not checked into unless you request it. Thanks for your feedback…we really appreciate it…Molly

  • Joan Meyrowitz
    November 16, 2010

    you need to check the vitamin D3 too. I take D3 capsules-2000 units a day.

    • November 16, 2010

      I take D3 (the only active form of Vitamin D that the body can use) as well–even though I only started taking it when I researched the topic! I began taking the supplements about a month ago and am anxious to see where my Vitamin D levels are now. I will keep you posted! Thanks for the comment… 🙂

  • Biana
    November 16, 2010

    What an amazing article, Molly. I am getting a glass of milk as we speak. What would you recommend for someone with a lactose intolerance? Does Lactose Free Milk have as much vitamin D as regular milk?

    • November 16, 2010

      Hi Biana:

      Lactaid, and other forms of lactose-free milk, also contain Vitamin D–and usually contain a little more Vitamin D (which aides the absorption of calcium) than regular milk. It’s hard to get enough Vitamin D through milk and our diets…which is why spending time in the sun is really important. I even read a study that said taking regular doses of Vitamin D supplements helps protect against sunburn! It’s all very interesting and I know we still have a lot to learn. Keep up the great questions!

  • Jennifer
    November 17, 2010

    Great article. I had a physical last month and mentioned fatigue so my doc ran a blood test. My vitamin d came back low so she recommended 2000 iu a day. No one ever mentioned D3! Im off to read more about it right now!

    • November 18, 2010

      Hi Jennifer: Low levels of Vitamin are a big problem. I’m glad your doctor looked into it and recommended supplementation. Can you imagine living like that for a long time and facing the other health consequences? I hope your energy levels are good now…

  • Michele
    December 17, 2010

    I suffer from backaches, loss of energy, and at times depression. I’m 28 but feel 50 somedays! I live in Upstate NY, where a huge majority of people are affected by Seasonal Affected Disorder in the winter. I know the lack of sunshine is a huge reason for it. In our area we have 9 days a year (on average) that are cloudless days. I’ve never bothered with going to the dr. for it, but I think I should look into a Vit. D and B supplement after reading this!

    • December 19, 2010

      Hi Michele:
      I definitely think you should talk to your doctor about this…and please share the article with friends and family who live near you. Upstate New York is beautiful…but does have long, cloudy winters. Thank you for your comment and please let me know if the supplementation helps you!

  • amy
    January 14, 2011

    good article. I have fibromyalgia, which is not known to alot of people. i have low vit D, have not had my calcium levels checked though.
    i have another blood test next week to check my levels again. i have been told to take vit d tablets, but i cannot afford to buy the ammounts they are telling me to take and alot of the foods that are high in vit d, i dont like. any advice?
    thanks

    • January 15, 2011

      Hi Amy:

      Most Vitamin D tablets are really inexpensive. Look on line and you’ll see a variety of brands that will give you about 3 months of pills for around $5-10. After you next blood test, ask your physician for some recommendations. After taking the supplements for a while, you should notice a marked improvement in how you feel. Good luck!

  • Colleen
    February 17, 2011

    I’ve suffered with relentless back, hip, and leg pain for over 3 years. After getting no relief after 7 months of physical therapy I sought out a 2nd opinion. My new primary physician immediately ran blood screens and a week later I was surprised to find my vitamin D levels were “at the floor” with an 8. He is trying me on 50,000 IU’s a week for the next 6 weeks. His concern is that the levels are so low that vitamin supplements alone may not do much.

    • February 18, 2011

      The good news is that you figured out your Vitamin D levels are low. Now it’s a matter of time until they regulate back to a normal level. I’m happy your doctor is monitoring you closely. Please keep us informed of your progress. Molly

  • Mary-Anne
    September 14, 2012

    Hello all, I’m hoping someone can give me advice, Iv just come from my Dr, she read me my blood test results and said everything is fine accept my Vitamin D levels are dangerously low, she said to take Vitamin D Tablets and I will be on these for the rest of my life, so my question is, Is there a way I can raise my number to a normal level? I asked my Dr that and she said NO, but reading articles tell me other people can, what do you think?

    • September 14, 2012

      A second opinion from another doctor would be wise. Let us know how you respond to the supplements. Good luck!

  • Joanne Glass
    May 30, 2013

    I am 76 yrs. old. Normally, I am quite active. However, I began to feel tired.
    It seemed like everything I tried to accomplish took too much effort. Then I began sitting and watching tv for hours. I attributed it to aging. THEN, I began to feel “not right”. Saw my doctor (actually, the nurse practitioner, as the doctor was not available). He checked my record and found that lab tests from three months earlier had disclosed that my vitamin D level was 11; dangerously low. Prescriptions for THE FIRST WEEK: 50,000 units one day a week followed by 10 mg for six days. For the second week: 50,000 units for one day, followed by 5 mg for following six days. Presently, I take 10 mg per day until my next doctor’s visit (June) I’m feeling much better. OH, the lack of vitamin D seems to have been the cause for constipation. I am REGULAR now.

    • May 31, 2013

      Hi Joanne: Thanks so much for taking the time to tell your story. Physicians are very worried about the rising number of people who have Vitamin D deficiencies. In some places, it is in epidemic proportions.

      Please continue to share your story with others…it’s one that needs to be heard.

      Stay well…and thanks again for your comment. Molly

  • Bethani
    June 4, 2013

    I am 20 years old and was just told i have an extremely dangerously low level of Vitamin D, and they have prescribed me 50,000 units per week for the next 3 months. This explains why I was so tired I could fall asleep standing up, and had such a hard time with energy. I could sleep 18 hours and still be exhausted to barely be out of bed! I have daily headaches, horrid back pains for years, and pains that radiate through my bones all the time. They did not do a bone scan so maybe that should be my next step. I also live in upstate new york and am not allowed to go in the sun for risk of skin cancer because i am so fare skinned. All of these problems I have complained for years and finally i got the right person to look into it and I start my medication today, hoping to feel more my age soon! Been years since i was able to be a teen, and i don’t want to be old yet!

    • June 4, 2013

      Hi Bethani: I am so sorry you are feeling so bad. Hopefully the prescribed dose of Vitamin D will make a big difference. Since you live in upstate New York, I have to ask if they have checked you for Lyme Disease or any other tic bourne disease. With the extreme fatigue you are feeling, I think it’s a good question to pose to your doctor.

      Please let us know how you progress!! Molly

  • sherry
    February 4, 2016

    I too, have very low vitamin d, I am starting 50.000 twice a week! yes tried all the time, don’t feel like doing anything, yet I hate being like this tried and bored! so I’m hoping these pills work!

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