The Nation's Health + vitamin D

Unique vitamin D observations

It seems not a single day passes that I don’t learn something new about this unique hormone (mis)named “vitamin D.”

From its humble beginnings recognized only as the factor responsible for bone maturation (with deficiency leading to childhood rickets), vitamin D now commands a recognized role in almost every conceivable aspect of health and disease.

Among the unique observations I’ve made over the past several years, having corrected vitamin D in well over 1000 people:

--Ankylosing spondylitis—This fairly rare genetic disease programs a peculiar solidification of the spinal column that leads to disabling restriction of spinal mobility, accompanied by incapacitating pain. A physician came to my office after reading my Life Extension summary of vitamin D’s cardiovascular benefits, After reading it, he put himself on vitamin D 10,000 units per day and verified “therapeutic” levels with a blood test. He came to my office (he requested a consultation) and proudly showed me his near-normal spine flexibility that, until approximately 2 months earlier, had left him rigid and unable to even tie his shoes. He also reported that the chronic pain that had left him completely dependent on anti-inflammatory agents and narcotics was nearly entirely gone.

--Aortic valve disease—The list of people with either aortic valve stenosis (stiffness) or insufficiency (leakiness) that develops later in life (not congenitally deformed or bicuspid aortic valves) continues to grow. Not everyone responds, but some of the cases I’ve seen have been nothing short of miraculous. One man had severe aortic valve insufficiency (severe leakiness). After one year of vitamin D, 8000 units per day that yielded a blood level of 67 ng/ml, the insufficiency was down to a minimal level. Before vitamin D, I had never witnessed “spontaneous” reversal of aortic valve disease before.

--Chest pain—Not the chest pain of heart disease, but a chronic gnawing, toothache-like pain in the sternum that is relieved within days of initiating vitamin D. I don’t know precisely why this happens, but I speculate that, with vitamin D deficiency, there is disordered calcium metabolism, and perhaps the sternal pain represents cellular (osteoclastic) activity that is eroding sternal calcium for the purpose of maintaining blood calcium, since intestinal absorption of calcium is poor. Replace vitamin D and the abnormal calcium uptake ceases. Just my guess.

--Relief from claustrophobia—This one has me stumped. But one man’s vivid description of his previously terrifying experiences in elevators and other enclosed spaces, now entirely gone raises some fascinating questions. For instance, how much psychological disease is nothing more than the expression of disordered metabolism from vitamin D deficiency?

--Immunity from viral infections--I first learned of this association from Dr. John Cannell of the Vitamin D Council ( Dr. Cannell recounts his experience with the 2006 flu epidemic in the hospital in northern California, where he is a psychiatrist charged with the health of 200 inpatients held in closed wards. While the flu spread like wildfire to the patients in all the other wards, the 200 patients in Dr. Cannell’s ward failed to contract a single episode of flu while taking 2000 units of vitamin D per day.

I was a little skeptical at first, having been disappointed by the failure of several nutritional agents like zinc, vitamin C (perhaps, at best, a minimal effect). Now, three years into my vitamin D experience, I am absolutely convinced that Dr. Cannells’ early observation was correct: Vitamin D enhances immunity enormously. Not only have I personally not had a virus in several years, the majority of my staff and patients have been happily free of viral infections. There have been a few, to be sure. But the usual winters of hacking, coughing, and sneezing in the office have become largely a memory. It is a rare person who comes to the office with viral symptoms.

With new lessons being learned every day, it is inevitable that other fascinating new vitamin D observations have yet to be made.

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