Vitamin D appears to have given my mum a whole new lease of life

2 or 3 weeks back, I was having a conversation with my 79-year-old mother regarding her mobility. She is, ordinarily, a bit of a force of nature, with abundant energy and still fending entirely for herself (with the help of my father) in all aspects of her life. In recent years, though, she has found that she ‘seizes up’ if she has been immobile for a while. This can make it difficult for her to, say, get up the stairs at the end of the evening or get out of the car after a long-ish car journey.

She’s 79, so maybe we should expect this sort of thing. But I wondered if, possibly, she was low in vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency can cause generalized aches and pains. Plus, low levels of vitamin D have been linked with reduced mobility in the elderly [1]. This evidence, however, is ‘epidemiological’ in nature, and does not prove vitamin D deficiency causes immobility. It might be that those who are immobile go out less and are less likely to make adequate vitamin D through sunlight exposure.

But the other thought I had running around in my head as we spoke is that I know my mother has never been a fan of the sun. Despite being brought up on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean sea, my mother has never taken to the sun and, as long as I can remember, has done her best to keep out of it (I, on the other hand, am at the other end of the spectrum).

So, we decided to get her vitamin D levels checked, and they came back as 28 nmol/l (11.2 ng/ml). Bear in mind, now, that I personally like levels to be at around the 125 nmol/l (50 ng/ml) mark. Also, we’re at a time of year here in the UK when vitamin D levels are likely to drift slowly downwards for some time.

My mother started on vitamin D right away. I suggested a dose of 20,000 IU per day to ‘get her going’. About 10 days later I got a text sent by my father telling me that my mother was feeling much better. Speaking to her later, she told me that she was feeling much ‘lighter’ and was in much less discomfort. The ‘seizing up’ had eased off considerably. Realising she’s left her handbag unstairs is no longer a drama for her, either.

Of course it’s entirely possible that my mother’s experience was entirely a placebo response. If it was (and we will never know) then she doesn’t care (and neither do I). However, one thing that counts against this was the fact that the improvement in her symptoms was quite delayed (she took 10 days to feel confident enough to report genuine improvement).

I suspect if we looked we would see a sea of vitamin D deficiency in the elderly, particularly those who are largely housebound or residing in institutions. You could see how this might set up a vicious cycle, perhaps, of worsening vitamin D deficiency and immobility. It also got me wondering if the winter months might present a particularly challenge to some people as declining vitamin D translate into more aches and pains. I think there’s a general assumption that the winter can affect these symptoms through changes in temperature and perhaps humidity. But might the real problem for some people be rooting in a lack of vitamin D-generating light?

References:

1. Houston DK, et al. Low 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Predicts the Onset of Mobility Limitation and Disability in Community-Dwelling Older Adults: The Health ABC Study. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2012 May 9. [Epub ahead of print]

23 Responses to Vitamin D appears to have given my mum a whole new lease of life

  1. Chris 14 December 2012 at 8:49 pm #

    This very topical, as I am sure you know.

    The Chief Medical Officers and the NHS mandarins have been trying to raise concern for vitamin D status as a health issue over at least the year.

    And today saw broadcast of press releases etc raising concern over vitamin d deficiency in the young.

    Link to Guardian story on this here.

  2. Jo 15 December 2012 at 12:05 am #

    I’m very interested in this. I’m seizing up the way you describe and I’m only 50. I live in New Zealand and don’t avoid the sun (I have light tanning marks on my skin), so for me I don’t that is a problem. I’ve tried taking green lipped mussel extract which has eased my persistent back pain signficantly, but I’m still stiffening up all over when I am inactive. I eat well by your standards, go to a gym and walk a lot. I’d be interested to hear more.

  3. Sam 15 December 2012 at 12:21 pm #

    That is fantastic news either way… Could you ask her to take it in the morning, synchronous with the rising sun, it has been reported (anecdotal) that, that really makes a difference to sleep patterns and overall well being.
    Thanks for all you do..

  4. Helen 15 December 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    For about 15 years I have taken a daily menopace multivitamin and mineral tablet with 5ug vit D included. The side panel suggests this is 100% recommended dail level. Is it adviseable to take any more in the winter? How does one check one’s levels? I am 65, have a lot of arthritis stiffness, back, shoulders, hands, knees, ankle and now jaw for which doctor wants to givbe me a major antidepressant. I am not depressed. I went to doctor about ear ache.

  5. david manovitch 15 December 2012 at 6:24 pm #

    So far so good. maybe check her serum calcium at some point? We certainly are sun-starved in this dark satanic land, especially here in Yorkshire. I loved living in sunny Northland NZ.

  6. Catherine 16 December 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    I am sure there is widespread Vitamin D deficiency especially in northern parts of the UK and that it is needed for a multitude of bodily functions including muscular control, nerve transmission and bone density. But I worry about jumping on the “vitamin D bandwagon”; as with calcium – more is not better – and I believe many people are in calcium overload with its all attendant dangers. I’m assuming the 20,000 i.u. is just a “loading dose” and that it will be tailored down soon to about 800 i.u. per day – can’t find any source which recommends more than this so would appreciate some guidance here. As with calcium, would it not be better to correct magnesium levels first, and make sure all the other minerals and trace elements are in balance? If taking vit D, should we ensure sufficient K2 and magnesium from diet or supplement? Have found one of many studies which appears to be saying the three go together.
    J Orthop Sci. 2000;5(6):546-51.
    Effect of combined administration of vitamin D3 and vitamin K2 on bone mineral density of the lumbar spine in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis.
    Iwamoto J, Takeda T, Ichimura S.

  7. Joy 16 December 2012 at 9:07 pm #

    Sounds like great news but the trouble is, I read that nearly all the Vitamin supplements we buy are rubbish as they aren’t “whole food supplements” and are therefore only part of the entire complex, e.g. ascorbic acid isn’t vitamin C – it’s a small part of the vitamin C complex. What’s your take on this?

  8. smgj 17 December 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    You can sign for a simple finger prick test here http://www.grassrootshealth.net/. They have an international offer. I live in Norway, am a member of grassrootshealth and get tested by them twice a year. My MD also order tests and I took them at the same time once. The results were comparable.

  9. Rosita 18 December 2012 at 1:31 am #

    I’m 70, fit and healthy and I get seized up after sitting. This is helped by going on a very low calorie, non-carb diet. However I’d like to try the high Vit D. Where does one get high doses of Vit D and how long do you keep taking it at 20,000 iu a day. The standard shops and suppliers only offer 1000iu and they call that super-strength. There must be a point when you can just top it up? And maybe take less in the summer?

  10. Penny 18 December 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    What does IU and ug mean? I would be interested to buy vitamin D over the counter, or don’t you recommend this? I’d like to stay away from doctor’s surgeries as much as possible, as I’ve given up my statins and blood pressure tablets and feel much better as a result! I don’t really fancy dealing with the GPs reaction to my decision to stop taking these and to start on vitamin D.

  11. Tracey G 18 December 2012 at 10:20 pm #

    Helen – the response from your dr (wanting to give you anti-depressants when you saw him for an earache) is pretty much what happened to me! In my case went with chronic earache, my dr told me to lose weight.

  12. Helen 21 December 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    ug = microgram, (the u is actually has a tail like a p on it) IU = international units according to the box of menopace. I filled out the questionaire for http://www.grassrootshealth.net/ but decided not to go ahead with the $130 approx cost per year. Will not be taking the anti-depressants. Shows though, if this is used to deaden nerve endings in arthritis what is it doing being prescribed without extreme care, ie other than a last resort, to those with depression. How long do the nerve endings take – on average – of being deadened before they disintegrate ?

  13. Hoosierville 26 December 2012 at 9:13 pm #

    People. There is this thing called the Google. Use it. It is not a vitamin. It is a vital
    preprohormone that has huge effects on metabolism and immune function. The medical communtiy is just beginning to understand its effects on various organ systems throughout the body-from epidemiological studies to its actions at the cellular level. You have over 2,000 vitamin D receptors in your body. We have been living in a solar deficienty dark age for way too long.

    800 iu is considered a deficient dose. 5,000 iu is now considered daily maintenance. An excellent website for info on Vitamin D is the Vitamin D Council’s Web site http://www.vitamindcouncil.org

    Grassroots Health as mentioned above is an excellent web site too.

  14. Mariettaa Huffman 26 December 2012 at 10:56 pm #

    I was just diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency. I am 67 and have had radio active iodine done to my thyroid 20 years ago. Had not been feeling well for awhile and was referred to an endo doctor. Checked my thyroid with an ultra sound and everything there was fine, just needing a adjustment on the meds side. But my vitamin D level was 16. Yikes. Anyway he put me on prescription vitamin d3. Am taking 30,000 units a day 3 times a week for 10 weeks. After I finish that I am to take the highest I can get over the counter. I am feeling so much better. I don’t hurt half as much as I did previously.

  15. Frederica Huxley 26 December 2012 at 11:13 pm #

    Helen – you my wish to get your test from http://www.vitamindtest.org.uk/
    My husband and I have been part of the grassroots program for nearly 3 years, and I would recommend it highly because we became part of their 5 year global research project as well as learning how to raise our levels to between 50-70 iu. Penny, look on amazon.co.uk for higher potency vitamin D capsules at a reasonable cost. Please always buy D3 and not D2, and ensure that they are not stuffed with extraneous fillers, etc.

  16. Theresa La Barbera 27 December 2012 at 5:00 am #

    Hi, I am a female 74 years old and have a vitamin D deficiency as well as a high calcium count. I live in the USA and spend winters in Florida and summers in New York. Therefore I get lots of sun light all year long. I have read many articles that stated after the age of 70 the skin is not capable of converting rays to vitamin D. Also my Endocrinologist says when you are deficient in vitamin D the body draws it from the bones and hence takes the calcium with it, causing a high level of calcium in the blood.

  17. Tiffany 27 December 2012 at 7:13 am #

    WOW! So many thyroid symptoms mentioned above! I am hypothyroid…and vit D deficient, AND B12 deficient and I live in sunny So. California! Careful with D3, as that can store in the body and should really be warranted to take it and monitored. D2 excretes much easier, which is why it is mainly RX’d by physicians. I take 2000iu a day and have terrible pain when I forget for a day. Centrifuge coconut oil, raw, is amazing for not only for hypothyroidism, but joint pain as well. For hypothyroid patients, be sure that your supplement is clean with NO soy…Jarrow 1000iu is a good, clean supplement with only the addition of olive oil.

  18. Ron Carmichael 28 December 2012 at 3:49 am #

    Dear Tiffany: Your information on vitamin D2 is incorrect to the point of causing others to do the wrong thing. D2 is NOT to be promoted. It is less effective than D3. It is TOXIC more easily than D3. Recent studies show that it actually gives you lower levels than D3. There is NO good reason to take D2. It is prescription because it is an artificially-constructed chemical that is more toxic than the secohormone your body makes from UV sun rays (D3). BTW – if you are a light skinned individual sitting by the pool in a swim suit in July in Austin, TX at high noon, you MAKE at least 5,000 iu of D3 in as little as 15 minutes.
    Hope this helps you to reassess….

  19. Tiffany 28 December 2012 at 8:22 pm #

    Dear Ron…by no means was I supporting D2. I apologize if I made it sound that way. I take D3…and almost deleted my post because I forgot to mention that! I was merely pointing out that D3 needs to be monitored BECAUSE it stores and WHY Dr’s RX it. And by the way…I am light skinned, spend ALOT of time outside in sunny southern california and was critically Vit D deficient…there is more to it than the sun. PS…nothing that I said about D2 was incorrect by the way…

  20. Wilson 29 December 2012 at 1:08 am #

    Theresa it sounds like you may have a parathyroid problem. Check out parathyroid.com website

  21. Eddie 29 January 2013 at 12:41 am #

    Hi all,
    for years I’ve sufferd with winter blues, feeling depresed, lethargic and moody. not wanting to go out and having a dark cloud over me!! also I kept feeling unwell, this would start from october and last till april….I’m 56 and reasonably healthy, and then I bought a light-box, OMG what a difference, I now feel like i do in the summer! the lack of vitamin D in the body
    has a major affect on your well being…..

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