Supplements: A Hate-Love Story (and How Needles Saved My Arse)

Supplements

Hate:
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.

Love:
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:

31 thoughts on “Supplements: A Hate-Love Story (and How Needles Saved My Arse)

  1. Marfigs

    It’s really pants when you take something diligently and then it turns out it isn’t vegan! I’m glad you found a solution that works – sometimes it’s hellish balancing all one’s nutritional needs and still coming short on some vitals such as Vit D and all that. I’m rather naughty when it comes to supplements so I’ve bought a sachet that has most of the dire necessities – turns out my sudden grey hair over the past two years coincides rather dramatically with my veganism and is because I didn’t take a B12 supplement (til now!) Whoops. :p

    Reply
    1. An Unrefined Vegan Post author

      Really?! Now that is interesting – – because I’ve noticed gray hairs appearing and I’ve been wondering about it. Yes, I’m getting older…but it seems a bit early to me. Maybe my regular doses of B12 will reverse the process ;-).

      Reply
      1. Marfigs

        I’ve been reading up different sources so I hope it’s not a lot of hogwash because it would explain a lot! I’m 28 and have the hair colour of a 60 year old. :p B12 deficiency is linked with anything from greying hair to brittle nails, tiredness, numb appendages…in fact it’s rather crazy that one can ignore symptoms and just assume a lot of it has to do with age or daily circumstance (super guilty of that!), but I guess no-one likes to go to the doctor 😉

      2. An Unrefined Vegan Post author

        I knew someone who was B12-deficient and it really messed with her. Turns out that her body couldn’t absorb the pill supplements, so she needed shots. It made a huge difference for her. Being chronically deficient has serious long-term effects, so please go see a doctor if you continue to have problems! xoxo

  2. tearoomdelights

    The human body is so complicated, and yet wonderful at self healing, despite the issues we all have at one time or another. I’ve been through phases of taking vitamins and supplements and no doubt I’ll go back on them in the future, but I’ve often been put off by the fact that some of the doses in multivitamins are enormous (with reference to recommended daily intakes). I hope that the mix of pills you’ve got now will be the answer for you in the long term. It is a case of experimenting to find what works for you, isn’t it? Not easy.

    Reply
    1. An Unrefined Vegan Post author

      I remain wary of supplements. I always have the feeling of being taken advantage of – but the truth is that as conscientious as I may be about my diet, it’s obviously missing some key ingredients!

      Reply
  3. coconutandberries

    Eeek, that doesn’t sound like a fun situation to be in. Horrifying that your doctor would prescribe you a dose of Vitamin D that was actually making you sick too.
    I’ve been diagnose with low vit D on occasion too and was told it was a particular concern for bone health. I now take vit D drops during the winter (just vegan d3 dissolved in extra-virgin olive oil).
    Hope you’re now doing well!

    Reply
    1. An Unrefined Vegan Post author

      I guess the D dose I was given is fairly typical – to rapidly restore healthy levels – but it didn’t take into consideration my size/stature (which is small) and the addition of the vitamins that should be taken along with D. Yes, D and calcium work together to keep our bones healthy and strong :-).

      Reply
  4. The Vegan 8

    Thank you so much for sharing all of this! Your posts are so informative. As I was reading about your tush pain, then going down your leg , I shouted “sciatic”! Because I’ve had that and struggle from time to time, it started when I used to run a lot and after a half marathon I ran, it was so bad. I, unfortunately, cannot run anymore. As much as I love running, each time I try again, my whole body falls apart from my hip pain, sciatic nerve and my knees. It just tears me apart and my joints. Running is not easy on the body unfortunately because of all the pounding. I have found yoga and resistance weight training to be the best and LOTS of stretching does wonders. I should get my vitamin D levels checked. I’m curious now. Did you had any symptoms before you had yours checked? That’s so crazy that she would advise you to take so much! I’m not big on taking pills at all , but I do understand sometimes we just need help. I should also probably get my B12 level checked… I’m assuming doctor can check for that also. I’m so sorry you’ve had such a rough time and hope you are on the road to recovery for good!! xo

    Reply
    1. An Unrefined Vegan Post author

      Brandi, I’m so sorry to hear that you have this kind of chronic pain. I do have to admit that as I get older, the kinds of workouts/running I did as a young person don’t work for me anymore and I’ve moved to gentler strength training (mostly body weight), yoga, and Pilates. Lots of walking with a few short runs here and there. From all of the reading I did and from talking to physical therapists, true sciatica is very rare as it is pretty difficult for the spine to actually impact (compress) the sciatic nerve as they are not close to each other. I would definitely recommend meeting with a dry needle therapist for an evaluation to see if your pain is being caused by a “trigger point.” My trigger point location is typical in runners and mimics sciatica to a T. And yes, your doctor can test your B12 as well as your D level. Simple blood test.

      Reply
  5. Sweet Posy Deams

    I was also recently diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency. I think it might have been because of the long, gray winter we had. I didn’t have any problem with the supplements, fortunately. Glad you found something that works for you.

    Reply
    1. An Unrefined Vegan Post author

      Thankfully the slightly-higher lower dose (if that makes any sense…) seems to be sitting well with me; could be the addition of the other vitamins.

      Reply
  6. biggsis

    Thanks for sharing this. Vitamin D has been shown to have lots of links to heart health – apparently some of the links to immunity are more tenuous but of course it always matters who you ask, who funded the research, and what is the interest of the person sharing the information. And we’re all so different! Glad you’ve figured it out and are feeling better! We have had some good results from supplements over here as well!

    Reply
    1. An Unrefined Vegan Post author

      I had no idea how important D was until this happened – and I had to find out on my own.

      Reply
  7. Choc Chip Uru

    Thank you for sharing so much important information, I have a vitamin D deficiency and before I knew about it, it was a weird period 😛
    I am happy you are working well!

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

    Reply
  8. Brittany

    I am soooo anti supplements, BUT I do take a B12 (for the obvious) every few days, and once in a while I throw a D vitamin in there and some probiotics. Other than that I am very hesitant on any and all pills. I think your intake is perfect, I try to use turmeric for anti-inflammation, but will look into curcumin since apparently they are nearly one in the same?

    I’m glad you got most of this stuff figured out, nothing like having an injured arse 😉

    Reply
    1. An Unrefined Vegan Post author

      I like to think that my vegan diet saves me from having to take supplements – and from getting sick – but that’s not the case…sigh. Nevertheless I still think it’s the best damn diet on the planet!!

      Yes, turmeric and curcumin are one and the same. Can’t we all just agree on one name for heaven’s sake?!

      Reply
  9. Laura Black Caprioni

    As I’ve gotten older, the more aches and pains I seem to develop. Living in Hawaii, I am blessed with ample sunshine and no shortage of Vit. D. But I’ve had a lengthy battle with anemia. At one point it was so low that the lab called my doctor…Twice.. to get me in for a blood transfusion. Well, that didn’t happen. I did Vit B shots for a time then went to supplements. I’m not good with supplements either, but they do help when you get the proper dosage. I marvel daily at the miracle of the human body. And I’ve learned that if I really listen and take heed to what my body is telling me that it will heal itself. The key of course is really listening and taking action. Not something I am always willing to do. 🙂 Being vegan is definitely going on the right track. The rest is just a little fine tuning.

    Reply
    1. An Unrefined Vegan Post author

      Laura, I think that’s the key – and something that’s taken me 47 years to learn: listen to my body! I got a clear message from mine that I needed to back off and give myself time to heal. Thank you for your thoughts!

      Reply
  10. annesturetucker

    This is great information Annie! I am not into supplements because I believe that natural is always better – This is important information and I had no clue! So thanks for sharing 🙂

    Reply
    1. An Unrefined Vegan Post author

      I’d love to do without supplements; I’ve resisted for quite a long time. But…apparently I just wasn’t getting the amount of sunshine I thought I was!

      Reply
  11. Wendy

    If you can’t find a qualified practitioner of dry needling, you may more easily find a massage therapist that does trigger point therapy (also known as deep muscle or neuromuscular therapy). Some folks don’t like the idea of needles, but the human touch can have similar results. I also recommend consulting a physical therapist for body alignment techniques for optimum functioning. The trigger point for sciatica is almost directly in the center of the butt cheek for most people. Hope this helps!

    Reply
    1. An Unrefined Vegan Post author

      Interesting, Wendy! You’re right – the needling is not for the faint of heart! I didn’t find it so bad; some uncomfortable moments, but knowing it was helping made the pain bearable. I was also given some exercises to do at home in regard to alignment, so that’s an excellent point. I do want to stress that I did not have sciatica and that having true sciatica is pretty rare.

      Reply
  12. Becky

    I was very opposed to supplementing until I got pregnant and found that my daily vegan prenatal made a big difference in my energy levels! I still try to remember to take my prenatal vitamins, even though I’m not pregnant anymore, because my nails and hair look one million times better when I do!

    Reply
  13. Poppy

    Oh Annie, I’m so sorry to hear all this, what a painful and stressful experience. I’m surprised that your doctor didn’t advise you on the connection between your muscle injuries and deficiency as it’s a common response. Not to mention the risk to your bones also. I’m glad you have found a supplement that works for you now and I hope it helps. Also, great on the needle therapy! It’s such a relief when you can finally diagnose something and treat it. Onwards and upwards and I hope you are managing to get some kind of a break and rest too. 🙂

    Reply
  14. Richa

    oh no. i am so sorry about the recent troubles, i totally dislike it when i cannot get answers. i was low on D last year and borderline on b12 . my b12 was low the last time and instead of shots i just took the liquid and pills alternatively and not even everyday., and it came to normal nicely, maybe slowly but its hanging in there. doc told me to take insane high value of vit d and i said nope not doing that much. that much anything for sure that will screw up something sinc ei am generally very sensitive. so i take the daily needed amount. i should go get my this years numbers done.

    also about the grey hair. i instantly pop a few when i get stressed. not anxiety stress but work kind of stress. i noticed 10 or so new ones this month with all the book stress 🙂
    great to hear that you are finding things yourself and fixing them.

    Reply
  15. Cheerfully Vegan

    Have you read The vitamin D cure by James Dowd and Diane Stafford? I also recommend The Magnesium Miracle, or go to the author’s website – http://drcarolyndean.com/magnesium_miracle/

    I’ve been taking about 5,000 I.U. for a while now and it seems to help a lot. I found a brand called Country Life that is certified vegan D3. I haven’t checked on my B12 levels, though. Perhaps that’s another place to check. I figured I use so much nutritional yeast that I’m sure to get enough! lol

    Reply
    1. An Unrefined Vegan Post author

      Thanks for the book recommendations, I’ll check them out. I did a lot of online reading about vitamin D deficiencies and how they can wreak havoc with health. I had NO idea! I will be much more careful in the future. I had my B12 taken at the same time and it was okay. As you say, it’s probably because of all the nutritional yeast consumption :-P.

      Reply

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