As I hinted at in my post about canceling the May 2014 Virtual Vegan Potluck, the past couple of years have been rough on my physical (and emotional) self and everything was crying out to me to Take A Break (already!). I thought I’d share a little bit more about all of that since it may strike a chord with some of you – especially those of you who are juggling a myriad of stress-inducing projects, jobs, kids, pop-up crises, the never-ending demands of social media, etc. And that’s just about every one of us.
A year ago after my sort-of annual physical, I got a call from the nurse telling me that my vitamin D was low and that she wanted to put me on a 12-week regimen of vitamin D3: doses of 50,000 iu (international units) once per week. Sounded like a lot to me, but I did a little digging around and found out that this was a pretty typical prescription for someone with low D. So I picked up a couple of bottles of tablets and dutifully took a whole pile of the little pink pills every Friday.
About four weeks into it, I woke up each morning feeling nauseated, dizzy, and light-headed. This unpleasantness stayed with me until mid-morning and then I’d forget about it until the next morning when I once again woke as if I’d partied into the wee hours and was suffering the consequences. I thought maybe I had an allergy or a touch of the flu. But after a while, it got to be too much to ignore so I started analyzing what had changed in my lifestyle. Ah, yes! Those little pink pills! Vitamin D. Megadoses of it. A quick trip to the Internet revealed that my symptoms were consistent with vitamin D toxicity (which may actually have been that I wasn’t taking vitamin K along with the D…). I immediately stopped taking the supplements and soon thereafter, I felt like a my old self in the mornings. Unfortunately, I also found out that the brand (Twinlab) of vitamin D3 I was taking was not vegan. The pills contained lanolin. Read on:
Cholecalciferol is produced industrially for use in vitamin supplements and to fortify foods by the ultraviolet irradiation of 7-dehydrocholesterol extracted from lanolin found in sheep’s wool. Paraphrasing a more detailed explanation, cholesterol is extracted from wool grease and wool wax alcohols obtained from the cleaning of wool after shearing.
Ugh. I should’ve done my research before buying the product, but I alas, didn’t. I’m now the wiser.
So – I went cold turkey on vitamin D until just a few weeks ago when yet again, I was sidelined by another workout-related injury. Well before my low D diagnosis, I began suffering one muscle injury after another, some of them curbing my running and strength-training considerably; a rotator cuff injury kept me out of the gym and off of my rowing machine for a full year. I attributed all of these problems to either carelessness on my part or (sigh) getting older and not being able to bounce back the way I once had. Just as I’d get into a good workout groove, I’d stumble over another minor but annoying injury that would prevent me from doing everything I wanted to do.
And then it got worse. One day about six weeks ago, I noticed pain in my left (ahem) butt cheek. The pain wasn’t relatable to my workout or running and it wasn’t too bad; I figured it would heal itself within a couple of days. Wrong. Three days later that little pain had radiated out and down to my calf. Certain movements – like bending, twisting, lying down, standing up, and especially sitting – caused searing jolts. I could feel my calf muscle go numb and tingle with every step. I got on the internet and researched the $@!* out of my symptoms. Everything pointed towards sciatica. But then I also read that back pain and sciatica are often…psychosomatic and caused by repressing trauma or stress. In order to eliminate the pain I needed to shed the mental demons that I was unwittingly carrying around.
After my own brand of Primal Scream Therapy did nothing to relieve the symptoms, I considered sciatica again and opted for science. An MRI revealed disintegrating and bulging discs in my spine. Sounds dire, but I also learned that just about anyone over the age of 20 is walking around with these “symptoms,” blissfully ignorant of their seemingly defective spine. It wasn’t deep-rooted, repressed angst and it wasn’t my spine – but the pain was real and it wasn’t going away; something else was going on. Rather than blame my mind or my advancing age, I wondered if being D-deficient could be the answer to my muscle woes. I learned that a lack of vitamin D is linked with muscle pain and strains. Why didn’t my doctor tell me this a year ago??
Despite my deep-rooted skepticism about taking D (and supplements in general), I decided to go back on it. Now I take a low dose of (vegan) vitamin D3 once per week, along with a B12. I added daily curcumin (to reduce inflammation), tincture of white willow bark (used temporarily for pain relief), and a multivitamin (to supply vitamin K, calcium, and magnesium that work in concert with vitamin D).
Oh, and the answer to why my tush was causing me problems? An injured gluteus medius. Ha! Not my spine or my mind at all! And the cure? Weekly sessions with a dry needle therapist. Bless this woman’s heart for sticking a long, thin needle deep into the glute and jiggling it around until she hits the sweet spot, also known as a trigger point. It’s been a slow process and I’m not 100% yet, but count me among the cheerleaders for this amazing and little known (at least in Oklahoma) therapy. P.S. it is not to be confused with acupuncture…
If you’re vegan (and even if you’re not – apparently most of us are deficient) and you haven’t had your vitamin D level tested, you may want to ask your doctor to take a blood sample. You also might want to let yourself get a little sun exposure every day – and consider taking a low dose of a high-quality supplement. Vitamin D goes beyond muscle health. Low vitamin D levels have been linked with certain types of cancer, depression, heart disease, and weight gain.
I take 2 Nature’s Plus Source of Life Garden D3 capsules each weekday (skipping Saturday and Sunday). Another option is Vitashine which comes in either pill or spray form. For more on how to get the amount of vitamin D you need, read this article from the Vitamin Council. I’ll let you know if vitamin D prevents further muscle problems!
Some trigger point resources: