My doctor said that my vitamin D level is low. Is that really bad?

It’s well established that Vitamin D is important in the regulation of the body’s calcium levels and bone development.  If people don’t get enough, they are at risk of diseases like rickets and osteoporosis.  But researchers have more recently discovered that vitamin D receptors are found on almost all tissues of the body.  This has caused a “boom” in vitamin D research; scientists are investigating its role in everything from heart disease and diabetes to depression, cancer and the common cold. 

You get Vitamin D in two ways: by consuming it in foods or supplements, and by making it in your skin when sunlight hits it.  Vitamin D doesn’t occur naturally in a lot of foods – unless you’re a really big fan of cod liver oil or mackerel, you wouldn’t get nearly enough – so many foods are fortified with it.  Almost all of the milk sold in the U.S. is fortified with Vitamin D, as are many cereals, juices and yogurts. 

This time of year in Columbus ain’t exactly the most Vitamin D friendly environment – the sun seems to head south for the winter – so it’s not unusual for people around here to have a low Vitamin D level.  But what does that really mean?  How low is too low?  And does having a low Vitamin D level increase your risk for depression, high blood pressure, the flu?  We don’t know for sure.  There’s even a lot of debate going on right now about whether or not the current cut off for a “normal” Vitamin D level is too high and that a lot of people are being told they have a deficiency when they really don’t. 

That being said, people build up the majority of their bone density during their twenties so it wouldn’t hurt to take a daily adult multi-vitamin containing around 600 IU of Vitamin D to help prevent osteoporosis later in life.  It’s also a good idea to get some regular sunlight exposure whenever you can; even if it’s cold, it’ll turn on your skin’s Vitamin D factory.  But don’t overdo it – taking too much (over 4000 IU) can cause damage to the heart, blood vessels and kidneys.  And excessive uv radiation exposure can damage your skin and put you at risk for really bad things.   

The National Institutes of Health has a great site about Vitamin D supplements, and the Mayo Clinic also provides a lot of good information.  And of course, you can always make an appointment to see us if you’re worried about your Vitamin D level.   

John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

87 thoughts on “My doctor said that my vitamin D level is low. Is that really bad?

  1. I am 40 and am at 8 vitamin d deficiencyand felt like hell with all sort of neck back head joint pain. Can any body tell me what u felt after 3 moths of taking vitamin supplement d did u feel better. All these pain went away or still existing. Because I have started my first dose

  2. I noticed a huge change in first week of intense treatment (I was 4.2 & 45). It was the standard 50,000 for first 6 weeks. I’m now supposed to take 4,000/day (I frequently take 6,000 instead 🙄). My pain was in lower back & right arm. Arm pain gone first week, back pain more stubborn.

  3. BTW, last checked, mine was only at 35 — after a year of treatment. I’m backing down to prescribed doses. I hope this is what helps you feel better!

  4. I am 29 yrs and my vit d3 is 3 . I m suffering from hevy back pain ,neck pain & legs. I cant walk properly. My Vit b12 also deficient. So wt i can do? Please help me.

    • What does your doctor recommend?

      I know that most resources say that 15 minutes of being in the sun can provide you with your daily dose of vitamin D, but that is not always the case. If you live in northern states, as I do, you could spend all day out in the sun in your shirt sleeves and shorts, November through March (yes you would be very cold) and you would not get any or very limited vitamin D. This is due to the angle of the sun and our shortened days.

      And if its summer and you’re coated with sunscreen to prevent sun burn – which of course you should do, then you’re not getting any vitamin D either. I recommend following the instructions given you by your doctor, trying to get out in the sun every day for 15 minutes without sunscreen, looking for foods that contain vitamin D, and avoiding foods such as sodas and fast food which would deplete your vitamin stores.

      And of course, follow the advice of your doctor. If you do not currently have a doctor, then definitely schedule an appointment and start seeing one.

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