Most vitamin supplements have taken a beating in the press over the past few years. That’s because so many studies of vitamin pills to prevent cancer or heart disease have come up short.

As a result of the negative news, some doctors discourage patients from taking big doses of separate vitamins. They recommend eating a well-balanced diet with nothing more than a multi-vitamin for nutritional insurance.

The one exception is vitamin D. It is becoming a shining star in the nutritional universe.

For decades doctors thought that vitamin D deficiency was a thing of the past. They rarely saw rickets in children. This bone deformity is brought on by a severe lack of vitamin D during development. Fortification of foods such as milk and breakfast cereal made rickets rare.

When most people think of vitamin D bones come to mind. Research over the past several years has shown, however, that this nutrient affects many other organs in the body. Scientists have found associations between low vitamin D levels and a variety of chronic conditions including arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and depression. People with insufficient vitamin D also seem more susceptible to respiratory tract infections such as influenza (Epidemiology and Infection, Dec. 2006).

Many other studies have found that when people get adequate amounts of vitamin D they have a lower risk of developing cancer of the colon, breast, ovaries or prostate (American Journal of Public Health, Feb. 2006).

Despite its glowing reputation, the number of Americans who are deficient in this nutrient is increasing at an alarming rate. A recent analysis reveals that approximately three out of every four adults is low in vitamin D. That’s up dramatically over the last decade (Archives of Internal Medicine, March 23, 2009).

The investigators hypothesize that this negative trend may be due in part to more time spent inside working on computers, playing video games or watching TV. Even people who go outside have become more conscientious about covering up and using high SPF sunscreen, which prevents the formation of vitamin D by the skin. The researchers also suggest that current recommendations (200 to 600 IU daily) for vitamin D supplementation are inadequate.

There may be another reason why many people should be getting more vitamin D. Millions of Americans take statin-type cholesterol-lowering medications like Crestor, Lipitor or Zocor. These drugs can cause muscle pain and weakness. Preliminary studies suggest that people who have inadequate vitamin D levels may be more susceptible to such muscle problems (Translational Research, Jan. 2009).

One woman suffered severe muscle pain while on a statin until she was diagnosed with insufficient vitamin D. Once her vitamin D level was normalized, her muscle pain disappeared.

With so many people low in this critical nutrient, doctors should be testing their patients for vitamin D levels. Those found to be low should be getting more time in the sun or taking vitamin D supplements to bring vitamin D levels into the optimal range. This simple approach could alleviate a lot of suffering.

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  1. jaclyn
    new york
    Reply

    I was tested and D was 31. Doctor told me to take 5000 per day, drops with vitamin K. I started feeling light headed, stomach upset ,metal taste, and fatigue. All symptoms of too much D. I had to read on the internet that when taking large doses of D it can affect magnesium. People think supplements are safe since they are OTC. I have always preferred natural treatment, but these can have side effects too.

  2. max
    Reply

    I was put on a 50000iu dose weekly. I have had increased ringing in my ears. My health provider, ear doctor, nor pharmacist know why nor if it could cause long or short time damage. Does anyone have an answer?

  3. AD
    Reply

    My father was told he had low levels of Vit D and suggested to take vit. D. He began reading all the articles and internet about Vit D and how it can resolve/help many diseases including lowering blood sugar and help with cholesterol lowering drugs. He began taking mega doses of Vit. D.
    Result: He ended up almost in a coma, severe myopathy [muscle pain]. His Calcium level in ER was 17.5. They ruled out hyperparathyroid and multiple myeloma…the only thing left was to decide he was VIT D toxic. This was treated and he was in hospital 5 days at which time he was able to walk and is almost back to normal.

  4. J. N.
    Reply

    I feel that the statin drug lowered the intestines ability to absorb the Vitamin D, caused dizziness (vertigo), falling from muscle weakness. I was taking Vitamin D supplements with no change. I stopped the statin drug and within days my muscle weakness and dizziness decreased. A new blood test was taken four weeks later and my vitamin D status was normal.

  5. Doug M.
    Reply

    Could my low level of Vitamin D cause me to have peripheral neuropathy or make it worse, or have anything to do with my burning feet?
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: IT MIGHT. AN ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN ENDOCRINOLOGIST (NOV/DEC 2007) ASKS,
    IS VITAMIN D INSUFFICIENCY ASSOCIATED WITH PERIPHERAL NEUROPATHY?
    HERE’S THE ABSTRACT:
    Abstract
    The effects of vitamin D on calcium and phosphate metabolism and bone formation are well studied. For many years, it was thought that the importance of vitamin D was confined to these roles, and the study of this hormone’s activity in other tissues was neglected. In recent years, however, there has been a renewed interest among researchers in identifying other target organs for vitamin D, such as the central nervous system. Increasingly, it appears that vitamin D plays a role in nerve growth and maintenance and may have important pharmaceutical applications for treatment of neurodegenerative conditions. This review focuses on our growing understanding of the biology of vitamin D in the brain and the potential pathophysiologic and therapeutic relationships that exist between vitamin D and neuronal dysfunction.

  6. L.E.J.
    Reply

    I just had my physical and found out that I am low on vitamin d again. I have been low before. Took 50,000 units 2x week (prescription). This time he wants me to take vitamin d3 – 2,000 per day in addition to the 800 I already take. I have been having weak and painful muscles. Hopefully they will get better after I bring my level back up. What is the normal vitamin d level? My level was 27ng/ml.
    L>E>J>
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: YOU WILL WANT YOUR LEVEL ABOVE 30, PREFERABLY CLOSER TO 50.

  7. Lib
    Reply

    I never saw an answer to the question about the normal level of Vitamin D.
    I take 1000 IU D3 each day in addition to multivitamins and I drink milk. I would like to know what my level should be. Thanks.

  8. F R Taylor
    Reply

    My sister and I both notice the ringing in our ears has become intense since we have been taking products with vitamin D3. When on D not D3 the ringing goes away. What is going on with D3?
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: THANKS FOR YOUR REPORT. WE HAVE NOT HEARD OF THIS REACTION BEFORE.

  9. Marilyn
    Reply

    I become low in vitamin d about every two years, I do not have breast cancer, what is going on?

  10. gk
    Reply

    After taking Drisdol 50,000 IU once a week for four weeks I am having pain as if I have over used my muscles. My Vitamin D level was at 15 before I started taking the supplement. Could taking this much at one time have caused the muscle aches? All my other blood tests were good.

  11. A.W.
    Reply

    After hearing your show on Vitamin D I began to think about the muscle aches I’d been experiencing for a few months. They were a lot like the pain you feel a day or two after exercising, but I wasn’t exercising that much. After a few days of taking a Vitamin D supplement, the aches disappeared.

  12. LPL
    Reply

    I read something somewhere about a correlation between low vitamin D and bone pain. I had been having what I called ‘phantom’ pains in my bones, ever since I had my children in my 20s. I went to my nurse practitioner last year and asked her to check my level (which she says she was going to do anyway, this was becoming a priority for her). She then began to explain that you cannot raise you vitamin D level by just taking an OTC supplement. To raise the level, you have to take mega-doses, so I went on 50,000 units once a week for eight weeks. My level is now normal, and I take one 400 IU tablet a day. The bone pain I have suffered for years is virtually gone.

  13. John B.
    Reply

    DG, I do not have the data at my fingertips, but the consensus seems to be that D3 is the preferred form of vitamin D to take.
    As always, check with your medical advisor first.

  14. jjg
    Reply

    In reference to a reader’s question about “what is the difference between vitamin D and D3” where can I find the answer to this question? I assumed it was a question and answer response.
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: VITAMIN D2 IS FROM PLANT SOURCES, WHILE VITAMIN D3 IS FROM ANIMAL SOURCES. THERE IS SOME DEBATE AMONG EXPERTS WHETHER THEY ARE BOTH EQUALLY GOOD AS SUPPLEMENTS, OR WHETHER VITAMIN D3 MIGHT BE A BIT MORE EFFECTIVE FOR TREATING VITAMIN DEFICIENCY.

  15. KDS
    Reply

    I also had low Vit D levels and began taking supplements with very good results. So good in fact that my levels were at 200 plus. They are now in the 50 range. I felt great but my doctor was very alarmed. He never gave me a straight answer as to what adverse side effects are from too high vit D levels. Can you tell me what they might be?
    Thank you !!
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: VITAMIN D OVERDOSE CAN RESULT IN HEADACHE, WEAKNESS, NAUSEA OR OTHER DIGESTIVE PROBLEMS, LOSS OF APPETITE, METALLIC TASTE, MUSCLE OR JOINT PAIN, EXCESSIVE CALCIUM IN THE BLOOD, OR KIDNEY DAMAGE.

  16. D.G.
    Reply

    Please explain the difference between Vitamin D and D-3. Thanks, D.G.

  17. Stuart L.
    Reply

    Quite often, when food supplements (not drugs) are discussed, people mention their medical doctors in the same breath. eg., “My doctor told me to take 1000IU of vitamin D daily.” I have been involved in the field of nutrition for 50 years, and I have often heard that MDs learn very little about nutrition in medical school. If that is true, why is the advice given to patients to check with their doctor first, before taking one supplement or another?

  18. Rose R.
    Reply

    After chemotherapy and hormone blockers for breast cancer I was in remission. The treatment for my breast cancer had been successful, but I was always in pain. Some days I could hardly get out of bed, much less function at all. After a blood test showed a very low level of vitamin D. my Doctor prescribed 50,000 units of vitamin D once a week for 4 months. In about 3 weeks time my leg pain was gone and I feel 100% better. I now take only 1000 units a day with no side effects. My mild depression has lifted and it is a new world for the whole family. They no longer have to hear me complain about my pain.

  19. Ruby C.
    Reply

    My husband and I were both recommended to take one Vitamin D3 1000 IU supplement. I find that it has helped with the minimal depression that my antidepressants never quite kicked. Our doctor is great and he recommended one a day.

  20. Brenda
    Reply

    What is the recommended daily dose? I take a Vitamin D supplement that is 1000 IU and I take 2 a day. Planning to cut back to 1 a day once I am able to be outside more as the pollen count and outside temperature improves. Is that too much?

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