The Importance of Vitamin D in the Low Oxalate Diet

Mr. Sun, oh how I miss you!

Recently, both I and one other person on the Trying Low Oxalates group ran into the same problem at about the same time – low vitamin D levels. Now, I don’t know where she lives, but if she lives in the northern latitudes, then my guess is that it is no coincidence that I observed such timing.

Low Vitamin D Symptoms

As you probably know, Vitamin D is made naturally by our skin when we get out in the sunlight. But after the sun retreats to the south, and our days turn chillier, we get a lot less D via this natural method. I grew up in Florida, where I never, ever had to worry about this problem. So adapting myself to this wintertime scarcity of sunshine is a very new skillset for me. And one I didn’t even have to worry about until I developed an oxalate problem. In fact, when I first started having the many symptoms of oxalate toxicity, a vitamin D deficiency was the only thing my MD could find wrong with me! I knew there had to be more to it, but at the same time I had no idea just how many body systems could be affected by a D deficiency. Let me elaborate.

When my Vitamin D levels drop, the symptoms I notice, at least at first, are all linked to low serum calcium levels. Sometimes it starts with numbness around my mouth. This is a dead giveaway, because low calcium is the only thing that gives me this symptom. More often, though, I start to get cold, which can, of course, be caused by many more issues. And while this might begin with cold hands and feet, shortly thereafter I get cold all over. When I know for sure it’s low calcium is when I realize it’s not the kind of cold that you can get rid of by putting on more clothes, or even turning up the thermostat. I have literally shivered for hours on end under four layers of blankets with a heating pad on my skin, back before I realized what was ailing me.

Next, my neck and back muscles begin to get achy, then crampy, then go into full-on spasm. This results in headaches, and lots of back and neck pain. No fun at all. In addition, my sinuses often get into the act. Sometimes I’ll get non-stop post-nasal drip for days on end (but no fever or other signs that it’s an actual cold). I chalk this up to oxalates draining from my sinuses, as I’m not the only low oxalate dieter who’s observed this phenomenon. My sinuses will also become super-sensitive to cold air – so much so that I have to breathe through a washcloth soaked in warm water in order to avoid getting a migraine! Of course, other things will set off migraines at this point too, such as artificial food colorings. I’ve just developed the habit of avoiding these at all times, because dang! Do those migraines hurt!

I’ll also wind up insomniac. A deficiency of either calcium or Vitamin d can cause this, as they’re both required for the production of melatonin (as is vitamin B6, another substance gobbled up in the body’s process of defending itself from oxalates). And the fact that my back and neck muscles are spasming makes it even harder to sleep. Needless to say, even if I do sleep, it’s not restful. I spent several weeks last winter sleeping no more than two hours per night. Not. Fun.

Those are all pretty standard calcium deficiency symptoms. If you ignore those, however, it gets worse, and we go into the symptoms directly caused by a lack of Vitamin D. For example, did you know that Vitamin D is necessary to allow the body to allow proper excretion of Phosphorus? It’s true. It’s a long and convoluted chain of events, but essentially if you don’t have sufficient Vitamin D on board, your kidneys won’t excrete enough phosphorus from your system. And as a dialysis patient will tell you, too much phosphorus in your system leads to some pretty nasty muscle spasms!

It took me all last winter to noodle this stuff out, and I’m still kicking myself for not realizing more quickly that low Vitamin D was at the root of my problems. Of course, since we’re told pretty much from birth that you have to cover up or wear sunscreen whenever you’re in the sun (thus diminishing Vitamin D production by 95%), and that the only thing Vitamin D affects is calcium absorption, it’s no wonder that I was in the dark about the importance of this vitamin. I finally got smart enough to grab a copy of The Vitamin D Solution (click here to check prices), which helped me understand that D plays a role in immunity, inflammation, and many more essential physiological processes.

Of course, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it at the time. I was trying – I was sunning myself as often as I could stand to get outside (which during the winter isn’t very effective anyway, but I was desperate!), I was taking the amounts of Vitamin D recommended by the book, and eating as low-phosphorus a diet as I could manage. I was still miserable. Why? Oxalates.

Why Vitamin D is Even More Important to Low Oxalate Dieters

As you know, Vitamin D is at the root of the body’s ability to absorb calcium. And while its functions go way beyond that, the simple fact is this: if you don’t have enough Vitamin D to absorb the necessary calcium, you won’t have enough to do much of anything else. Because I had allowed my D levels to get so low (at one point, when I was feeling bad, but before the worst hit, they tested at 18), when my body finally decided to start dumping (detoxing) oxalates, I was in trouble.

One of the best ways we in the low oxalate community know of to mop up oxalate as its released from cells, is to take plenty of calcium and magnesium. These chelate (bind) the oxalate, and allow the kidneys and intestines to usher it out of the body. We learned this from the simple fact that this is how the body itself deals with oxalate – even when it has to steal calcium from bones to do it! The body really has to want to rid itself of this toxin called oxalate for it to go to such lengths. But I digress.

Point here being, if your Vitamin D status is low, and then your body suddenly decides to dump oxalates…you’re going to be hurting. And don’t think that just because your symptoms aren’t the same as what I described above, that this isn’t your problem. It seems each of us have our own ways of reacting to a dump. A better plan would be to ensure that your Vitamin D status remains as high as possible at all times, so that when a dump does happen, it doesn’t force your body to steal from the bones in order to acquire the necessary calcium. Of course, supplementing magnesium as much as possible also helps – both transdermally and orally, as bowel tolerance allows.

The Happy Ending?

Since I learned such a hard lesson last year, you would think that my Vitamin D would be all topped up at the end of summer, right? Wrong. I got lax about laying out in the sun – I find it boring, to be honest. And since I had laid out quite a bit at the beginning of the spring & summer, and D is a fat-soluble vitamin, I figured I had plenty stored away. Again, wrong. Thanks to my amazing ability to continually dump oxalates, by mid-November I was already feeling the muscle cramps and headaches of low calcium.

Lucky for me, my area had some freakishly sunny and warm weather during that time period, so I was able to augment my supplementation with a little sunshine. But now that it’s cold and gray all the time, supplements are my lifeline. I am taking plenty of Vitamin D, I’m taking more calcium, and I’ve raised my magnesium intake as well. The benefit of the D should be obvious. Raising my calcium intake gives my body more to work with when the D shows up ready to work. And the magnesium helps with both the direct binding of oxalates and keeping the bowels moving (constipation is one side effect of high vitamin D supplementation). Is it a perfect solution? No way. But it’s a heck of a lot better than spending the winter confined to my bed, freezing to death, and knowing my bones are slowly eroding!

I suspect oxalates can pillage even the deepest stores of Vitamin D, so don’t think that just because you’ve never tested low, that you’re immune. Please don’t make my mistake. If you are new to the low oxalate diet, make sure you supplement plenty of D, and get out in the sun a lot all summer. I would even go so far as to suggest only lowering your oxalates to medium (60-100mg/day) if you’re starting this diet during the winter. The last thing you want is for your body to start to heave a sigh of relief, begin a huge detox cycle, and then wind up in serious medical distress due to hypocalcemia.

14 Responses to The Importance of Vitamin D in the Low Oxalate Diet

  1. Joanna Deacon says:

    Hi,

    Your blog on the oxalate issue is compelling. I wonder if I can trouble you with a question. I read somewhere that Calcium with meals should be taken with/without vit. D in addition, and between meals, the vit. D should be taken with/without.

    I can’t remember which way around it goes, nor can I quite figure out why. Presumably, if the calcium is intended to ‘flush’ the oxalates out, vit. D won’t help because the calcium will be promptly absorbed. Or something along those lines……?

    Many thanks to you,

    Rgds,
    Joanna

    • admin says:

      Hi Joanna,

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply. I have to periodically go through my spam filter to find the messages that it mistakenly filed wrong!

      There has been much discussion on the TLO group about Vitamin D, calcium, and how to time them. The most common recommendation is to take the calcium you’re hoping will bind with oxalates WITHOUT vitamin D. that would be the calcium you take with or just before meals.

      The calcium you take for bone building is what you want to take WITH Vitamin D. Most take this between meals, or at bedtime or upon rising.

      Hope this helps!
      Michelle

  2. Rachel says:

    Find this all so relevant to my situation. I’ve been on the gaps diet now for 2 years for reoccurring UTIs and low kidney function. I realised oxalates were an issue for me and cut out the biggies early on. I’m now refocusing on oxalates as I feel they are my big issue.
    I recently stopped eating dairy as it gave my achy painful shoulders and neck, weight gain and I am much better now.
    I have tested deficient in vit d but when i tried to supplement back when i was eating dairy with liquid d3 form I had an exacerbation in neck and shoulder ache.
    When i have tried Mg spray before i woke with leg cramps and had aching in the kidney area.
    Is the answer I’m missing calcium? And should not be supplementing any of these 3 things alone.? Should I be taking mg supplements at all with lower kidney function? I have calcium citrate and mg citrate on order.
    Having read ‘The Magnesium Miracle’ I am conscious of getting the correct ratio of Ca:Mg I’m guessing regular testing might be a gd idea.
    I will post these questions on the yahoo group too but I thought I would ask you as you seem to know a lot about it.
    We are set to move to the south of France in the summer. I feel I’m bumping along my vit d low trying to hold on till I can get some sunshine.
    Glad I’ve found your site, some really useful stuff!
    Can you tell me what vit d supplement you take please?
    Thanks
    Rach

    • admin says:

      Hi Rach!

      First off, thank you for your kind words on my site! I’m so glad to know it is helping people. :)

      My main concern for you is that you mention you have lower kidney function. I would recommend against any supplementation, especially with Magnesium, unless you are working very closely with your doctor. I’m not sure what tests s/he would order, or how often, but I’m sure there are important things you should be keeping an eye on in that situation.

      I hear you on the aches and pains caused by dairy! I have also been struggling with my own D levels for several years now. I’m still looking for an underlying cause (I’m sure it goes deeper than oxalates, as I’ve been LOD for almost 2.5 years, and while it has helped immensely, I still have many more issues that have not yet resolved), but it seems that my body WANTS my D low for whatever reason.

      I have taken just about every dosage of Vitamin D there is, from the old RDA of 400IU, to the 50,000IU prescription strength that my doctor got me started with. The easiest to take were the drops (Carlson brand, at 4000IU per drop and Nature’s Answer brand, at 2000IU per drop), though nowadays most vitamin D supplements are pretty small softgels, which I find very easy to swallow. I’ve also taken loads of brands, and pretty much all of them have worked for me. I like the Carlson drops mentioned above because the carrier oil is coconut oil. With the Nature’s Answer brand, I did receive one batch in which the carrier oil (olive oil) was rancid. :(

      Here again, the Vitamin D supplementation is something you’ll want to consult with your doctor about. I don’t know if vitamin D can mess with sub par kidneys or not (or if it has some secondary effects which might), but your doc will know.

      I wish you the best of luck with your health journey, and I hope you enjoy being a part of the Trying Low Oxalates group!

      -Michelle

  3. Rach says:

    Thanks very much for your reply Michelle.
    Doctor wise I think I’m on my own here. I live in the UK and my regular GP tests my creatinine levels (I think) every year to keep an eye on it. They advised me to take statins (apart from the long list of reasons why I would not take statins I’m also of child bearing age – the dr seemed to have no knowledge of the profound effects statins can have to the foetus) and I’m afraid my confidence levels with mainstream medicine took a further nose dive.
    I have been consulting with a private GP who is also a GAPS practitioner. He is very open to nutrition as a way to heal the body. But knows very little about oxalates and I think is a little skeptical. High oxalate food will have me getting up to peeing in the night and give me irritated feeling in my bladder. It’s like a switch I can turn off and on so I know oxalates are a big piece in the puzzle. My GAPS dr has suggested not to rule out it could just be high food sensitivity and an irritable bladder. He also originally suggested high dose Mg which I declined. Again with vit D he has left it up to me to decide whether to wait for the French sun or try to supplement, he has commented my level is pretty low. 23.6nmol/L (I think you need to half this value to get to the unit used in the US so yes very low)
    I used Healthy Origins D3 drops in olive oil before I might try one with MCT oil carrier. Interesting you say your body seems to want D3 low. I definitely think the body knows a lot better than we do – I wonder if down regulating some of the body’s internal systems as a safety mechanism?
    The low phosphorus diet is interesting as a lot of the foods high in phosphorus are the ones I now seem more sensitive too – like dairy and liver and fermented cod liver oil. I think lack of calcium could be an issue for me but wouldn’t want to take it without Mg for fear of the calcium ending up in my arteries.
    Thank you though, you have definitely given me a new avenue to explore.
    Rach

  4. Kathy says:

    I am so confused. I was supplementing with calcium and then Vit D because my D was so low and I wasn’t absorbing the calcium and had beginning stages of Osteopenia. Then my Dr. told me to up the D even more. I was also eating a lot of veggies, fruits, nuts and chocolate. I then developed a huge kidney stone and was told by my urologist to stop the supplements after the uteroscopy to remove the stone. I also completed two 24 hr urine tests and was told to take a multivitamin and get 800 mg of calcium a day through my diet while eating low sodium, low protein and only 50mg oxalates a day. I don’t eat dairy so the calcium has been a challenge. But I originally was taking Vit D to help my calcium absorption. I started this 11 days ago and have various feeling good/bad swings. I attribute this to the “dumping”.

    I’ve been reading all there is about supplements and now wonder if I shouldn’t be taking my Vitamin D again. I started to take a Vitamin “B-Complex 50″ (Bluebonnet) and feel OK.

    I am confused as to what I should be doing. My Urologist says to ignore the Vit D for now (OK to get sun but don’t supplement) and didn’t mention anything about taking any B vitamins? We retest the urine in 6 months.

    On another note: how long does oxalate dumping last?

    • admin says:

      Kathy,

      You’ve covered a lot of ground here, and I’m not sure where to start with my questions. Bear one thing in mind though: I’m not a doctor!

      My first question is: what was your kidney stone comprised of? If it was a calcium oxalate stone, then I might be able to offer some useful insight. If it was another type of stone, I am admittedly ignorant. If your doctor didn’t have it tested, shame on them. From what I understand, you can’t begin to know what to do for kidney stones if you don’t know their type. About the only universal recommendation seems to be “drink more water.”

      Also, what urine tests were run?

      As for how long oxalate dumping lasts…the jury is out on that one! It seems to depend on a lot of things, such as how strictly you adhere to the diet, how low you go with your oxalate intake, and so on. Generally, though, most people seem to dump for about a week at a time, and will have many dumps in the beginning. This tapers off over time, as the excess stores are eliminated, so that you dump much less often or even not at all after a year or three on the diet.

  5. Jayne says:

    Can you tell me what kind of calcium and vitamin D you are taking?

    • admin says:

      Hi Jayne!

      Currently (while it lasts!) I’m getting my vitamin D from the sun. Once that option goes away, I usually get the 5,000 or 10,000IU versions from Sam’s Club, as they’re very inexpensive, and last me a long time.

      For calcium, I almost exclusively use NOW’s Pure Calcium Citrate powder. If I happen onto an especially great sale on someone else’s cal citrate (or occasionally cal lactate), I might nab it, but I really like the powder. The dose is infinitely variable, and it’s pure, so no worries about developing reactivity to additives.

      -Michelle

  6. Lily says:

    Just wanted to quickly say that any vulvodynia sufferers really need to not take Vitamin D supplements and instead get their D from food/sun. Vitamin D can cause severe pain in vulvodynia patients. Salmon is a good food for Vitamin D. As to anything outside of vulvodynia I can’t say but I’d say if someone with vulvodynia is supplementing with D and suddenly feels worse stop taking it and try to get D from food/sun. Great site here, I will sign up to get the latest oxalate information. Any information on oxalate has been a long time coming

  7. Lily says:

    Oh and as to why supplemental Vitamin D causes pain in vulvodynia sufferers and getting it from food/sun doesn’t, I don’t really understand I only know it’s worth keeping in mind. Wishing pain free days to all!

    • Michelle Fields says:

      Hi Lily,

      Thanks for mentioning that! I was not aware of the Vitamin D/Vulvodynia connection.

      Agreed on the oxalate information…hence the reason I created this site!

      Kind regards,
      Michelle

  8. mary says:

    Hi
    I may be coming out of left field here, but re your Vitamin D travails and trying to figure it – would you have also considered the newer-ish information about the interplay between vit D and K2 … and then how it also goes on to affecting calcium.
    I know little (to repeat here) but Mercola had a good article and some links in the past year or two. Seems the vit K2 needs to be there for the D to do its job(s) … and that there are also more effective types of the K2, re its sources.
    Just a thought.
    - Mary

    • Michelle Fields says:

      Hi Mary,

      Thank you for mentioning Vitamin K! For those who haven’t read up on this, many have hypothesized that without K2, Vitamin D can cause calcium deposits in the tissues, or even the blood vessels, rather than where we really want it to go (the bones). This makes sense, and there’s always more to learn about the interplay of all of our vitamins and nutrients. I think the Mercola article to which you refer can be found here, and as always contains lots of good info.

      As for me personally, as I am slowly puzzling out my various health issues and their causes, I figure out more and more about why my body seems to want or not want certain nutrients. In the case of Vitamin D, it seems that many folks with mast cell disorders (what the doc and I now think I have) struggle to keep their vitamin D up. So while taking K2 may help me (it’s actually included in some of the supps that I’ve taken over the years), it looks like Vitamin D is something I’ll probably always have to supplement. There are definitely worse things to have to take!

      Take care,
      Michelle

Leave a Reply

*

Spam Protection by WP-SpamFree