The New York Times recently suggested that vitamin D may become the nutrient of the decade.  The CDC estimates that more than half the American population gets too little vitamin D. A study published this month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that fully one-fourth of the population tested in sunny southern Arizona was deficient in this, the sunshine vitamin.

Why are Americans falling short on vitamin D? And what are the health consequences. We talk with a clinician and a researcher about this critical–and often underappreciated–nutrient.

Guests: James E. Dowd, M.D., F.A.C.R., is Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at Michigan State University and the founder and director of both the Arthritis Institute of Michigan and the Michigan Arthritis Research Center. He is the author of The Vitamin D Cure; Five Steps to Heal Your Pain and Improve Your Mood. His Web site is

Michael Holick, Ph.D., M.D., is Professor of Physiology and Biophysics at Boston University School of Medicine, and Director of the Vitamin D, Skin and Bone Research Lab. Since 1987 he has been the Program Director of the General Clinical Research Center. He also directs the Bone Healthcare Clinic and the Biologic Effects of Light Research Center. He is the author of The UV Advantage: The Medical Breakthrough that Shows How to Harness the Power of the Sun for Your Health. The photo is of Dr. Holick. His Web sites are and

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  1. glenn b.

    I too have been in extreme pain now , going on three years. And I too am having no luck finding medical help to treat me. I must be labled too. I have low vita d in me & just started on vitamin d 50,000iu caps. Just about ready for a wheelchair-other issues with the spinal cord. So ya think I would benefit changing?

  2. Upset

    I would like to say that I am surprised by the remark in your file, but I am not! I have almost NO faith in the medical professions these days. I have been fighting a battle for almost 6 years. It first started out as pains in my throat and then slowly I started gaining weight. I had brittle nails, dry hair, tired etc… I stopped hiking, biking, walking and all the activities because I was just tired and gaining weight. Every doctor I went to said it was my weight causing these symptoms, even though I had never been heavy in my life. I even had women doctors tell me it was because I was fat….
    My periods started skipping and about 4 months ago I would get my period for 4 days it would go away for 2 days then back for 3. Then come back every couple of weeks, I wound up having my period for 24 days. It stopped for 4 days and came back again. I finally found a real doctor who got all my prior blood work and realized they didn’t even do the test properly. That they believe this was due to my fat and me being lazy.
    My Vit D level is a 7. My bones ache severely and now my teeth are cracking. I meet with him for the new blood work and will be starting on the Vit D pills and thryoid med and am completely confident that I am in good hands with this doc.

  3. JD

    I am wondering if there is a difference in a prescription of 50,000 Vit. D from the doctor or if I bought Vit D 3 5,000 IU and take 10 of them? Is there a difference in Vit D 3 5000 iu in different store companies such as Swanson’s?

  4. Bonnie

    I have been tired and frequent urinary tract infections and sinus infections. Had a lot of blood tests done and found my Vitamin D to be very low. My Dr. wants me to take prescription vitamin D, not over the counter, but only for 8 days? I am wondering why only 8 days.

  5. E L Niglio

    I heard your program with Dr. Dowd and found myself mentally checking off all the symptoms that related to a Vitamin D Deficiency. I went to my doctor and immediately suggested a test however he said he did not feel that was necessary. I was taken off my Etodolac inflammatory medicine as my creatine levels were extremely high.
    The levels came down but now I am having severe arthritic type pain in my hands and joints. I finally convinced my Doctor to do the Vitamin D test and it turns out my level was 8! He gave me a prescription for Vitamin D and I am already feeling better and the leg cramps are gone!!! Thanks for helping me.

  6. RH

    I am experiencing muscle pain and weakness on my legs, my doctor did a lot of blood test such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases, but everything came out normal. Had MRI done for spinal stenosis that too, is normal. So I started taking VitD after reading about it. The first few days my muscle pain got better, but my legs are still weak. I have been taking about 5000IU a day.
    Now I am starting to feel different sensations on my body, like tingling, fasciculation. Has anybody ever experienced this? Please let me know. I am so scared that this might be something more serious. I will be calling my doctor soon to make an appointment.

  7. Virginia

    A week before this program, my husband had gone to his endocrinologist and the doctor had ordered a test of his vitamin D level. It was lower than the minimum average and was put on 2000 units per day. My husband had previously been told by an ortho dr. that he had a full thickness tear in his rotator cuff, and that was why he had such pain, and limited range of motion, and the only option is surgery. In less than a week and a half on the vitamin D supplement, he has NO pain and FULL range of motion. This is like a miracle! I think we need a 2nd opinion on that surgery!

  8. paulette

    I was fatigue and exhausted all the time,my doctor had me on 1000 milligrams of vitamin d but it did nothing, my endocrinologist gave me 50.000 iu of vitamin d, 1 each day for 6 weeks then 1 weekly. My energy level is to the peek of perfection, I cannot thank this Dr enough. He gave me my strength back to do the things I need to do.

  9. Linda

    What is the link between MS and vit D?

  10. pgm3rdlk

    Someone inquired on the equivalency of vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. The answer indicated both raised the blood level of 25OH vitamin D. That is accurate only because the assays most often used to measure vitamin D can’t distinguish the two forms. That doesn’t mean they are equivalent physiologically. Vitamin D3 is the human form; vitamin D2 is not.

  11. trish

    Vitamin D3 was MY Miracle Drug! I’m a 54yo female who was experiencing severe joint and muscle pain and weakness. Getting up from the couch was torture. Lifting a pan off the stove was downright dangerous due to the muscle weakness. The severity seemed to fluctuate – some days were much worse than others. I was exhausted and depressed. After surfing the Web, I “self diagnosed” my symptoms as MS. (I should mention up to that point, the only medical condition I was being treated for was a stubborn case of plaque psoriasis which responded only slightly to topical prescriptions.)
    My doctor thought perhaps my psoriasis had internalized and was affecting the joints so she referred me to an Arthritis specialist who ordered blood tests and X-rays. At my follow-up visit she indicated all tests came back normal with the exception of my Vitamin D 25-Hydroxy blood test. My level was 12 mL. Doc recommended 1000 mg. daily of OTC vitamin D3. (Nothing fancy – I bought them off the shelf at my local drugstore) The first thing I noticed was my depression began to lift by the end of the first week!
    Within a month I began to regain muscle strength. By 6 wks, NO more lower back, hip or knee pain. AND the psoriasis plaques which covered my legs were all but gone at 8 wks!! Something 2 yrs of prescription creams hadn’t accomplished! A follow-up 3 months later showed my D3 blood level at 38 mL. The goal is to reach 60 mL. I now take 1000 mg 4x per week and 2000 mg. 3x per week.
    I recommend everyone have their vitamin D3 levels checked. I would’ve never guessed that ONE vitamin could have had such a huge impact on my general health. And the “cure” costs me $6.00 a bottle!
    I’m so fortunate to have gone to an MD who was willing to try supplements instead of putting me thru unnecessary, expensive medical tests and potentially harmful prescription drugs.

  12. Maya

    I am in a clinical trial which “discovered” my elevated blood calcium. The doctor there was very concerned and advised me to seek more tests from my endocrinologist. Endocrinologist ordered more tests (24-hour urine test for calcium and PTH). All of them were elevated. Though Vit D was very low: 20. He said I have had elevated blood calcium for more than a year…I ask myself: WHY HADN’T HE DONE SOMETHING about it? Now I am extremely osteoporotic and at high risk for fractures.
    I have had extreme pain in my limbs and muscles for more than two years. Almost all my doctors dismissed it as stress, and prescribed SSRI’s, analgesics, and finally diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Kyrica did not help my intense pain and fatigue. Well, it wasn’t fibromyalgia… it is OSTEOMALACIA due to the tremendous calcium loss from my bones, and the irresponsibility of the endocrinologist to have literally “IGNORED” the elevated blood calcium for almost two years!!!
    There is much more to my medical record than this. I am getting out of my HMO as soon as possible, and have to spend a much higher premium to obtain decent medical care elsewhere….

  13. BLH

    My mother was given the wrong dosage of Vit D by the pharmacy…she was to have 1,000 units a day and the pharmacy made a prescription of 50,000 a day. She took this for 6 months before the doctor and the pharmacy discovered that the pharmacy had been giving her the wrong dosage. Both doctor and pharmacy say, “Nothing to worry about, just quit taking it, it will go out of her system in a few months”. She has been having pains in her head behind her ear, could this be a calcium deposit forming? What should we watch for in her overall health that could signal problems from the overdosage of Vitamin D?

  14. MS

    What caused it in the first place is what I am interested in. I was just diagnosed after a year of chaos. My level was at 7 and one of my doctors said he had never seen anyones that low. He asked me how I felt, and I told him to liken it to being on a boat all day and getting off. I felt that way all day every day.
    Had total thyroidectomy 2 yrs. ago and suspected a parathyroid adenoma but Dr. says to get this D up and see what happens to calcium levels which are holding @ 9.1=9.3 right now. Good for someone who has no thyroid, so I am cautiously waiting to see what happens.Prescribed vitamin D caps. One tab a week for 4 weeks.
    On taking the first yesterday I noticed a dramatic improvement in my eyesight. I keep telling the Dr.s I was going blind and something was wrong with me. Got much worse after a bout with the flu. Then dr. for lung nodules. Histo. They ran bloodwork that showed only elevated chloride.
    I told them I hurt I thought I had gout or something. I even showed one my toe that kept hurting and getting red. I think they thought I was nuts. My teeth were getting massive cavities and I did not feel like I could go to work much longer. As I could not do housework after working all day. They ran x-rays which were negative, and blood work to try to finally find why I hurt in my bones. It literally hurts to place my arm on a table to rest it.
    Thyroid levels norm to slighly hypo for me. I eat a lot of milk products so I do not understand the means as to why this has happened. Just waiting to see if things improve or get worse. Doc says it took a long time to get here so It will take a long time to get over this. I have lost a lot of time.

  15. rebecca

    I’ve had extreme chronic pain in low back, pelvis, hips and legs for nearly 4 years and had to sleep propped up on a love seat . Went to many doctors who said there was nothing wrong with me. Then I found a rheumatologist who checked my vitamin D which was found to be extremely low. I’ve been taking 1,600 IUs a day and have been feeling much better and happier. It’s terrible that one should suffer for so long from this. I think it will take another 6 months to feel close to normal. If in doubt get your D checked!

  16. patrick gregory, d.h.m.

    Is any research comparing vit d levels in U.S. caucasians and African-Americans? What is the possibility that D deficiency may account for the significant disparity in disease rates (cardiovascular, cancer, diabetes) in our African-American population? I am seeking funding for such a study & would like to know if there are current studies underway.

  17. C. F.

    While driving I heard your program. It was excellent.
    I have 2 questions:
    1) I am taking 1000 Vit. D. I would like to have a blood test to see how much I have in my system. Do I have to stop taking it for the test and if the answer is yes, for how many days do I have to stop it?
    2) When I am in the sun, most of the time I get a bad headeache. Why?
    Thank you, Cecilia

  18. Harry Francis

    I am a 74 year old male, in good health; but did experience a scary situation last September.
    Last fall, I became very lazy, fatigued, and mostly just sat around and slept.
    On the 27th Sept., I awoke and got out of bed to very weak leg and arm muscles — wobbly, like drunk, but mentally awake… thought I must have had a stroke. I took two aspirins and called my doctor. Immediately went to his office. Here they found everything OK, except I felt wobbly, etc. My legs were so weak, I had to lift my legs with my arms, to get into and out of the car.
    Next day I recieved my blood analysis… all OK.
    Then on Thursday the nurse called and said that the seperate Vit D test was extremly low… at 19, when normal is between 40 to 100. 19 is extremely critical, and there was a perscription for me at the drug store.
    50,000 Int unit pills of Vit D2. one per week for a month, then monthly for six months.
    On taking thr first pill, I felt better in about 4 hours… but still wobbly.
    I improved slowly, and felt better weekly, but very slow recovery.
    I googled on the web, Vit D Deficiency, and found lots of information, including suggestions that D2 would raise the vit D Blood level, but would also affect the immune system and should not be used. One should use D3 instead.
    I continued the D2 for 4 months, but also added 1000 units of D3, and a multi vit containing 400 units daily.
    Another doctor advised that adding the 1000 units of D3 was proper.
    Prior to starting Vit D treatment, I had experienced leg cramps almost nightly. I would get up and take a couple of calcium, magnesium Rollaids pills, and this seemed to help.
    Since taking the Vit D supplements, I have not experienced any leg cramps.
    I understand that recent research suggests that Vit D3 not only controls the absorption of calcium into the bone structure, but also recycles calcium into and out of the blood system. And, when the calcium comes out of the bones into the blood, it carries a newly discovered hormone that controls the activity of insulin… WOW ! This suggests that lack of Vit D is the cause of Type 2 Diabetes– and imparied insulin activity slowly causes the mitochondria to die off in the muscle tissue… thus weak legs, muscle pain, heart attacks ?????
    Further investigation on my condition included heart echocardiogram, carriod arteries, Stress tests, x-rays, MRI, etc… all showing I was OK, except for the low Vit D levels. I realize there could be something else, but hope not.
    Literature suggests that once sufficient Vit D3 levels are available, the mitochondria slowly revive, but it may take 6 months to a year to fully recover muscle strength….
    I am trying to get back to my previous endurance levels, and strongly feel the cause was deficiency of vit D.
    As an Atomic Veteran, I spent over a year at Eniwetok, 1956-57, exposed to lots of sunshine (high Vit D), and lots of radiation exposure EMF from the Atomic Bombs… One could see the bones in one’s arms when the bombs were set off — 30 miles away. We were positioned on the beach, with our backs to the test, arms on our knees, and head down on our arms… When the blast occured, one could see the bones in one’s arms — like an X-ray picture. I have no known effects, though I was concerned for years; but now I believe my good health was due to the high Vit D levels, as we worked outdoors, shirts off, and got real brown…
    Thanks for the article. And hope you will do more like it.

  19. Shelly Cole

    I talked to my mom this afternoon after your show aired on 3/15/08. She was telling me about your show and the vitamin D deficiency you were speaking of. She said it was like you had done an in depth interview with me as you were going over the symptoms of the lack of the D vitamin. I thought great! Could we FINALLY have stumbled onto my problem? Thus the answer?
    I became suddenly, literally overnight, ill in Feb. of 2000. I woke up one morning and was short of breath. It’s never gone away. As of June 2004 I was put on oxygen 24/7 and placed on permanent disability. Currently, I use 4 L at rest and 6-8 L on exertion. I’m only 45 y/o and had planned on spending the second half of my life doing something other than laying in bed and sleeping all the time attached to a short or long leash, depending if I’m at home or out somewhere, which is very rare! I have no energy to go anywhere.
    I suffer from severe insomnia that no medication corrects be it prescription, over the counter, or natural, ie: meletonin. I may go for days without being able to sleep at all, or I may go days and weeks without doing anything but sleep, sometimes 24 hours a day. At times like that I get up to go potty, get food to go eat in bed, and usually fall back to sleep with my face laying face first in my half eaten plate.
    I have a chronic global pain condition so severe that I’ve had to take major narcotics around the clock along with other pain killing type medications for the last 5, 6, or even 7 years. I can’t even remember anymore. In all I’m on 12 daily medications and have another 12 or 13 that I take on a PRN basis. No one can give me a diagnosis for my lungs beyond interstitial lung disease, but there’s only about 130+ diagnosis’s that fall under that umbrella.
    I have horrible pitting edema in my legs and throughout the rest of my body. I don’t take the lasix for the fluid until I can’t stand it anymore, then it’s not unusual to lose as much as 15 lbs or more in a two day period.
    Though I’ve been treated on a couple of occasions for heart failure, I don’t have a diagnosis for heart failure, I supposedly don’t have it, but yet no one can explain all of the heart failure symptoms that I deal with fairly regularly. My thyroid is subclinically underactive and I have had to be placed on a ventilator on several occasions for my breathing. I’m in the hospital on average as many as 5-6 times a year but never less than 2 to 3 times a year and NEVER for less than a week at a time, and I’m almost always in ICU for 2-3 days when I go in. I’m sure that I’m leaving something out, but I think that you get the gist of it.
    I guess I’m just wondering if you really think that there could be a chance that I could be “cured” by taking vitamin D. I spend almost no time outside and haven’t for years. I’m just not well enough to do anything and I’m just too tired and too heat sensitive and cold sensitive to go and just sit outside. That may sound like a cop out, but it’s sure the truth.
    I hate my life, in that I can’t stand not being a productive member of society. I often wonder, what kind of a legacy am I leaving my children. So far, it doesn’t seem like much of one. I would sure love to hear what some of your thoughts and suggestions might be.
    I know that my diet is nutritionally horrible, mostly because I can’t stand long enough to cook, and I don’t have anyone to help me. I have three children, but the youngest two live about an hour away and the oldest daughter that lives with me has severe scoliosis. She has two curvatures in her back in opposing directions at about 60 degrees a piece. She looks pretty straight but has a very difficult time walking due to a failed Harrington rod placement in July of 98 that left her paralyzed at T-12. They said she’d never walk again. We believed otherwise and 3 months later they wheeled her to the front door of the hospital and she used a walker to walk out to the car. So she walks with a cane and still has balance problems and gets fatigued pretty easily. So we make quite the pair. Plus she’s a full time student at UNC-G. She does what she can to help, but there’s just too much left over that we can’t get to.
    I just want my life back so I can be a mom again, and again be a contributor to the social security pool rather than a drainer of the pool! Sorry for the length, but there’s a lot to tell! Thank you for your time!
    Shelly C. – Greensboro, NC

  20. JPM

    One person asked about the risks of Vitamin D. My father was a Radiologist and I remember him telling the story of a patient with Hypervitaminosis D whose shoulders had become so calcified that he could not move his arm. So as Dr. Holick said this morning in conjunction with sunlight, “moderation in all things.” I suspect that this wouldn’t be a risk to most of the people who listen to this radio program. Based on what I have heard, I think they are much too savvy to get to that state.

  21. Joseph I. Golden, MD

    I have been testing my patients for 25-hydroxy-vitamin D for several months and confirm that many are deficient, and some probably have osteamalacia associated with the symptoms of bone pain and muscle weakness.
    Many pharmacists are not aware of the new information, and some have discouraged my patients buying Vit D supplements at 1000 units, 1 – 2 per day, if they are taking multivits that give only 400 – 800 units per daily dose.
    Much of our vitamin ingredients come from China. With recent reports of toxic contamination of dog food, toys, etc from China, how can we get independent testing of vitamins for potential toxins? I’d appreciate your thoughts on this.

  22. Christoph

    I spent THREE YEARS crippled by a Vitamin D deficiency. I was in constant pain, and for 5 months was homebound and in a wheelchair. I had loss of balance, resulting in falls in which a bone was dislocated. I had neurological and cognitive deficits.
    The deficiency was diagnosed in 2003, shortly after the onset of symptoms. The MDs then proceded to treat me with Vitamin D2, ergocalciferol, which resulted in little/no improvement.
    What has been taught MDs for almost a century is that Vitamin D2 is “the same as” Vitamin D3. Yes, I did have “normal” total Vitamin D levels, but was incapacitated. In mid 2006, many research articles established that Vitamin D2 is NOT equivalent. One researcher made the statement that it is “not appropriate for use in humans.”
    I went against medical advice, stopped the D2, and switched to D3. In 6 weeks, my pain was lessening and my function improving. I am no longer in pain. Treatment with D3 costs me about $8.40 a month.
    The damage done is that for three years of non-improvement, rather than consider if or admit that the treatment was NOT effecting a cure, one doctor, in a falsified medical record entry, stated that I have a “somatoform disorder,” and told me that I “make up illnesses to garner attention from the medical system.” It is clear from any review of my medical records that my symptoms were entirely consistent with an under-treated deficiency, but now I have this label in my record, and am having a very hard time obtaining appropriate medical care.
    The good news is, I am nearly recovered, in many ways. My pain is gone, my balance is returning, and my mind is sharp again. My body is out of condition from 3 years of non-use, and I have had physical damage as a result of medical problems (including an injury) for which I could not receive appropriate medical care because of the somatoform label.
    Please, educate yourselves about the difference between Vitamin D3 (which most mammals make) and Vitamin D2 (made for UV-irradiated fungi).
    One year later, I STILL have D2 in my system.
    Many thanks to for access to information, and to the many fine researchers publishing their findings and papers on the internet.

  23. Marilyn¿

    My primary doc JUST put me on “Calcium+D” for strong bones. I have been diagnosed with osteo-arthritis and going for a bone density test this coming Saturday. The pills are calcium-600mg and vit D-400 I.U. and take one per day. I was also told by my Doc vit D was necessary to allow the calcium to do it’s job.
    I am in much pain in my lower back and my left hand thumb which is also becoming swollen and distorted. I also am losing strength in it! I am a 5’3″, 72 yr old very active female and weigh between 98-100 lbs. on any given day. I have heart problems w/cholesterol (now under control) and a replaced mitral valve (porcine). I would like to know if the above dosage is enough. After listening to your suggested amounts on the radio today, it seems like it should be much more. Also, is the calcium necessary? I am an outdoor person almost year round, and if there is enough sunshine outdoors at the same time I am, I am loving it!
    I always catch the Graedon’s show on Saturday on WNED-AM radio. I am retired from WNED in Buffalo, NY since 1999.
    Thank you in advance for any info you can give me about my questions.

  24. CK

    I am 62 and in good health except I have lower back problems. Last summer I embarked on a long chiropractic assault on the problem. Then to a physical therapist who gave me stretches and exercises to strengthen my core. Things were better, and I could get rid of pain if I stretched my back midday or around 4:00AM. My symptoms start across the top of my left hip in the PM and traveled to the right side in the afternoon then down the rear, leg, back of the knee and into the calf. Very painful at that point. I went to my regular Dr. who ex-rayed my back and showed me my ex-ray showing arthritis and degenerative bone disease between the third and fourth lumbar vertebrae. He feels that my pain is a nerve pinched by muscle spasms. I wake up at night if I am on my back with such a sweat across the back of my pelvis that I can’t slide over without pulling the bottom sheet, but not really hot anywhere else.
    I do get cramps in my hands when I do small controlled activities with them. For that I take potassium and magnesium daily and more when it happens.
    It sounds to me like I need intensive vitamin D therapy. The test couldn’t hurt. What was it? Do you have any other thoughts?

  25. Sandra Bush

    I walk early every morning, often as the sun is rising. Am I getting Vit D at this time of day, or is it best to be under midday sun? Thank you

  26. M.A.

    Before I run out and purchase this (because the symptoms so perfectly match my own), I would like to know the danger of ingesting too much vitamin D.

  27. Jo Sherman

    I have begun to take Vitamin D (200mg) and have found that for the first time in 20 years my fingernails are growing properly. For all that time my nails were thin, split, I could not have nails that looked good EVER! Wow, that is the only thing that I have changed so it must be the Vit. D!

  28. MG

    My 48 yr old daughter was having lots of problems with leg pain, similar to arthritis, only worse. She was checked out by several physicians, finally referred to a specialist. He did several lab tests and found all to be normal except the Vitamin D level. He prescribed 150,000 units per week of a prescription Vit D. She is currently taking the RX and almost immediately began feeling better. The physician says it will take some time for her to build up her Vit. D level. Has anyone else experienced this?

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