What No One Told You about Vitamin-D Supplements
If you are conscious about your health and if you have visited a physician for a routine checkup in the past 4–5 years, chances are you have been:-
· advised to test your vitamin-D levels
· you have been detected with low vitamin-D than normal
It is no secret that a majority of population nowdays is deficient in vitamin-D due to indoors centered lifestyle, use of sunscreen when outdoors and improper diet.
The easiest way of fulfill our daily need of this vitamin, has been Supplements. We have been told it would be impossible to get our daily requirements through food and sun exposure is a tedious and slow process. While this is true, the major problem arises when you are prescribed with vitamin-D superdoses. It is a quick-fix to prescribe very high doses to make up for what our bodies have been lacking. Is it as simple as popping the pills and everything being all-right? Yes for many, No for many.
Here I shed light on the many who have felt the unexpected and unpleasant after-effects or side-effects of vitamin-D supplements. While the internet is inundated with benefits, symptoms, foods related to this vitamin, a little deeper needs to be dug into.
Six years back, when I heard that my aunt was having joint pains and the reason detected was lack of this essential component, I initially teased her and couldn’t understand how one could be low on vitamin-D in temperate north India. We have been increasingly made aware that vitamin-D deficiency is becoming a real problem.
There have been numerous articles and a greater awareness about why vitamin-D is supremely essential for our health. We all know someone in our circle who is deficient in vitamin-D. Rickets might be something we read about in school books but osteoporosis due to insufficient calcium absorption, mood swings due to lack of serotonin and higher chances of diabetes are real and rampant effects of vitamin-D deficiency. And the list does not stop here.
These issues should ideally be addressed with proper diet and exposure to sun. I say ideally because this is easier said than done. If this had been possible in today’s age and times, nearly 40% of US and European population would not have been said to have vitamin-D deficiency.
Hence, doctors and general population turn to supplements. Often they are given in smaller doses or are combined with calcium supplements. Try observing the increasing size and variety of vitamin-D supplement bottles on the OTC counter or shelves of medical shops. They do work wonders at times, hair becomes better than before, you can feel the upbeat and generally the body aches tend to go away.
Caution should however be taken if you have been prescribed with higher or super doses. In general, any dose that is above 1000 I.U. /25μg (1 mcg = 10 μg) is considered on the higher side. A superdose is anything in 10,000s I.U., specifically 40,000 I.U. /1000μg or above.
I reiterate these doses are thought as quick fixes by doctors and now even by individuals. Not sufficient research is done on their impact on individuals. Even medical professionals, especially in developing nations are not much aware of the ill-effects these superdoses can gernar. Not many people go back to doctors to report the problems they face as they may not even realize that it is the supplement that is causing the issue. The symptoms are often considered a sign of healing or body regaining its vitamin-D balance.
This can cause vitamin-D excess or vitamin-D toxicity in body. It is for real. It can take in some case 1 year or more to normalize. That said, it is very easy to avoid.
Recommending doses like 60,000 I.U. once a week has been commonplace in India. Doses of even upto 1,00,000 I.U once a week are prescribed free handedly. It can be argued that once a week doses are like booster shots and the average daily dose it still not too high. This is a misconception. Vitamin-D is fat-soluble and not water-soluble. What does fat-soluble means? This means that if you intake more than the daily recommended dose, the body does not excretes the extra amount not required by the body. In case of vitamin-D it is stored in special cells to put in simple words. If these cells reach their capacity, and there is extra vitamin-D left, it comes in the blood stream. Leading to cause high vitamin-D levels in blood.
The most important use of vitamin-D is helping the body absorb calcium for bone and teeth health. The lack of vitamin-D surely interrupts this function but an overload of vitamin-D causes bone loss, the calcium kind of seeps out of bones into blood. This leads to high calcium levels in blood, which gradually settles on other organs like arteries and kidneys, causing further problems.
This impact of elevated vitamin-D levels in body on bones can lead to several joint pains. I myself experienced severe joint pains like never before, after I was given superdoses last year. At that time,neither my doctors, me or so sources on internet could make the connection. I could only connect the dots a few months back, when after taking recommended superdoses, my close relative - herself a doctor, experienced rashes and excruciating skeletol pain.
In some cases, impact on bone and gum tissue can also be seen for real. More research is required in this direction.
Excessive doses of vitamin-D can cause vitamin-D toxicity though this term is rarely used in general use. This impacts digestive system as well. Many people get constipated other develop upset stomach. It might cause nausea, dizziness or vomiting. Metallic taste in mouth is also not uncommon.
Vitamin-K and vitamin-A have roles to play and their levels should be maintained while taking vitamin-D supplements. How and why are deeper mooting points and beyond our scope.
Finding a solution to the situation is a double whammy — supplements can’t be stopped at times because the vitamin-D deficiency is chronic and needs to be addressed for a better life & the supplements are themselves causing problems. One path is to give daily smaller doses, the other path is to change the medicine to something that suits your system. This is hit and trial process at best. The better path is to try more natural ways, avoid or reduce supplements if you cannot handle them.
There are two natural ways to get your quota of vitamin-D, through sunlight and through our food.
1.Sunexposure or getting sunlight: This one was relatively simpler in olden days. Meeting your daily vitamin-D goals through sunlight is still attainable. A few points to remember are:-
· Early morning sun exposure is most effective. 6am-9 am being best, followed by 9 am-12pm, 4pm-7pm & 7pm- 9pm. Midday 12noon-4pm should be avoided, the rays at this time can be harmful. Always keep sipping water or fresh coconut water, a luxury though, to avoid sunburns or rashes.
· Guess that, all the sunbathers are right; they are showing off but doing the right thing by exposing their backs and stomach areas to sun. Sunexposure of these area lead to maximum observation of sunlight. Keeping in mind, lathering sunscreen nullifies your efforts to capture the goodness of sun. As you move away from this region, the ability of back to absorb sunlight reduces. Maybe that the reason, in many cultures women keep their midriffs exposed. It is indeed true that women need this essential vitamin more than men. It is also true that hands and feet absorb less of Mr.D than midriff region, face absorbs even lesser.
· 20 minutes of proper sun-exposure is better than sitting 3–4 hours in sun. Sunbathing daily or 2–3 times 20 mins minutes each time is better than soaking in sun for hours once in a while. Consistency is the key.
2. Intaking Vitamin-D rich foods: To complicate things further, let me bring into picture the 2 types of vitamin-D — D3 and D2.
· It may come as a surprise to many vegans and vegetarians that vitamin-D3 is animal based. Naturally it is found in fish, eggs and dairy. It is almost impossible to get your daily recommended dosage through milk products alone. D3 is relatively easier to be absorbed by body hence it is the one commonly found in supplements.
· Vitamin-D2 is plant based and is found in leafy greens, peas, almonds etc. Seaweed — actually a plant is a rich source.
· It is possible to charge your food with sun and make it richer in vitamin-D. How difficult is placing water filled glass-bottles in sunlight for a few hours and drinking that water? Sun-charging your water in colored glass bottles is actually a science. Sun-dried tomatoes, dried-fruits and laying out jams, jellies, pickles for days are not old wives’ tales. It is a way to charge your food with goodness of sun and store them for later use.
Thus we see that getting vitamin-D through natural sources is challenging and demands effort but is not impossible. Well, in most places!! In northern hemisphere and places like Chicago or Sweden that don’t enough sun in winters, supplements are needed. The call to action is to be cautious of what type of supplement and how and when you are taking them. This is generally true to any vitamin or essential nutrient supplements you are taking. More importantly, how is your body reacting to it?
You may not always instantly find solutions on internet and for doctors your issues may be unheard of. There is a firm wider belief that vitamin-D supplements have no side effects. Listen to your body. Try to find solutions. Explore different branches or areas of medicine. Do not perform a surgery on yourself or others and always consult a doctor. But be aware.
Allow me to say, health does not comes cheap. It needs time and dedication. Sunlight is one of the best doctors known; make an effort to say hello to it. Take a leap away from unnecessary high doses or regular use of supplements and aspire to know your bodies, only then you can truly know yourself.
Footnote: Feel free to leave your comments, share your experiences or ask for further details. This is general advice and a medical practitioner should be consulted for final course of action. The author is not liable.
Sources: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41430-020-0558-y, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-d-side-effects, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-vitamin-d-is-too-much, combined with research from ayurveda guides