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.