my deficiency

Last week when I went to the midwives for a routine check-up (I am not pregnant), I learned (from a blood draw that ran amok—have you ever had them pierce a nerve instead of the vein? I practically levitated right out of my chair) that I have a vitamin D deficiency. So take the vitamin D pills, the midwife said.

Back home, I read up on vitamin D deficiencies. From the research, it would appear that pretty much everyone has one. Those who are most susceptible include dark-skinned and obese people, as well as people who consistently use sunblock or stay out of the sun. Even though you can get trace amounts of vitamin D from food, this vitamin is actually manufactured by the body—exposure to sunlight is what triggers the production—which means that vitamin D is not an actual vitamin. While some sources said a supplement is adequate, others said that the only effective way to raise levels is through noontime sun exposure to the trunk of the body (insert elephantine trumpet sounds).

So I did something I never, ever, evereverever do: I laid out. Because I’m so pasty pale and ridiculously sun sensitive, I set the timer for just ten minutes before hoisting my shirt and making myself comfortable on the deck, my head on a pillow just inside the shady doorway. (Once I asked my husband to take a picture, but he refused, claiming the glare from my stomach was too blinding.) That evening I noticed that my stomach was covered in little red, raised dots. Did I burn that fast? Good grief.

the sunbather’s view

Over the next week I continued to sunbathe off and on, never for more than ten minutes and sometimes for as little as five. The dots persisted. In fact, my whole stomach was a puffy, non-itchy rash. Was it hives? Did I have a sun allergy?

As luck would have it, this was the week I was scheduled to see my dermatologist for (yet another) routine check-up. After scrutinizing my stomach, she declared it a heat rash. It was perfectly harmless, she said. I could continue to toast my tummy in moderate amounts, should I wish. But why not just take the pills? She added that right now researchers are reevaluating the recommended range for vitamin D levels. Since so many people are deficient, they’re questioning whether they might have set the levels too high.

So now I’m wondering how to proceed. Should I take the pills? Keep sunbathing? Ignore the whole thing? I’m at a loss.

PS. The dermatologist told me I have beautiful skin. After a minute or two of pondering that unexpected observation—I consider my skin to be functional, not beautiful—I asked what her indicators were for beautiful skin. No sun damage, she said. No sun spots and discoloring. That’s funny, I said, because I had horrible sunburns as a child. Well, you’ve taken such good care of your skin that you’ve reversed the damage, she said. Huh. I had no idea skin damage could be reversed. Did you?

This same time, years previous: do you strew?, heading north, the quotidian (7.30.12), a quick pop-in, shrimp, mango, and avocado salad, and experimenting.


  • Emmy

    I'm not a pill taker. I'm all about natural remedies and diet whenever possible. However, I felt so bad I took the pills. I'm taking 2,000 IU a day, and I feel SO much better.

  • KTdid

    I had a similar experience, complete with blood test gone amok! (Person drawing blood stabbed and stabbed, ultimately tore the vein–my arm turned black and blue and swelled from wrist to shoulder!) And then, deficient in Vit. D. I was also told there's no good way to get it. I already have scars on my skin where the dermatologist scrapped two kinds of non-melanoma skin cancer off my face and chest (alas, my non-beautiful skin!) I recommend the pills! I took them. Now my levels are normal (or so they say). Q.

  • Becky

    My husband and I both have low vitamin D levels and we both spend quite a bit of time outdoors – his job requires long hours outside! He's got to be the tannest person out there with a vitamin D deficiency.
    At any rate, we take supplements. It's good to hear you can reverse the sun damage, because I fried as a kid. I tend to burn just stepping into the sun and I know there was no sun screen applied when I was growing up – my mother was a former lifeguard who immediately turned bronze upon stepping poolside every summer, as did all the other blonde, blue eyed members of my family. Me? I turned into a lobster. Good times.

  • Rebecca

    Well, how about that! I, too, went to the M.D. and came home with a whoppin'-great vitamin D dose to take every day. I have, it would seem, exactly zero melanin in my skin and a family history of melanoma (and routinely burnt myself to a crisp in childhood/adolescence) so down the hatch with the little greasy pills.

  • Melissa @ thelittlegrayhouse

    I have low vitamin D levels, very low. I took the vitamin pills and they gave me leg cramps. I did some research and now I take Fermented Cod liver oil from Green Pastures. I take the liquid Oslo Orange and the taste isn't too bad. My hair and nails look better too. Google it, but be forewarned it kinda has a cult following. Lol

  • Lauralli

    4 years ago I was also found to be deficient (very) in Vit D. I was told that I could not eat enough D rich foods nor stay in the sun long enough to bring my levels up without a supplement. So, I went with it. For the first year, I took 1,000 IU daily (which was recommended to me). When I went back for blood work, my levels were acceptable, but still on the low side of normal range. So, I upped my supplement to 2,000 IU daily. My levels are perfectly normal now. I feel so much better than I felt 4 years ago! Much less joint and bone pain, much less tired and I hardly ever get sick. Big change from where I started! So, I say keep your beautiful skin out of the sun and take the supplement! But, word to the wise: you need to take it with a meal that has a good amount of fat since it is a fat soluble vitamin. It needs to bind to the fat for absorption. Oh, and take a good quality D3 supplement. Let us know what you decide!

  • Rosanna

    Sun exposure (within reason) is great. It's inversely related to all-cause mortality, even when you take melanoma into account.

    At temperate latitudes, though, it's really not possible to make enough vitamin D from October to March or so. At least it's fat-soluble, so you can maybe theoretically store up enough during the summer to last a while, but I do take D3 in the winter. At high summer, I've achieved fine D levels without noontime exposure, wearing normal clothes–I'm usually indoors when it's super hot. A midmorning summer sun is about as high as a noontime sun at the equinox.

    Also I bet the benefits of sun exposure go beyond vitamin D. Bright daylight seems to protect developing eyes from myopia. And full spectrum light affects serotonin levels and (at the right time of day) helps get melatonin on a good circadian rhythm for better sleep. So maybe some of the supposed benefits of vitamin D are due to other side-effects of sun exposure and there's really no need for me to take the pills? Certainly severe deficiency is a deadly serious problem, as all those bonneted women with rickets in the 19th century can attest….

  • ShelahN

    I am wondering how this: 'the only effective way to raise levels is through noontime sun exposure to the trunk of the body' thing can be true. Certainly not everyone years ago was walking around exhausted and with weak bones. We are a more 'exposed midriff' culture than ever, sunscreen aside (who REALLY is supremely careful about it anyway). Common sense says: stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, you moron. Otherwise why would there be siestas and other such breaks common in other cultures of sunnier climes?
    There is more to this problem than sun exposure methinks, although that may be a good compensation for us in our ignorance at this moment in scientific understanding.
    Thumbs up to 'laying out' if you can handle it. It makes my head pound.

    • ShealhN

      Being prompted by a mild curiosity to read through others comments I happened by and re-read my own. HEAVENS HELP ME! That was terrible!. I must have dashed that off and never reread for sense and punctuation. Obviously I got the emPHASis on the wrong sylLOBle. Please delete immediatley! In no way was I saying you are stupid. That should have been a quote of common sense to self, NOT you! Please forgive me, I was thoughtless (careless) and rude! In the future don't publish odd comments from me! Lol. Thank you and I hope no hard feelings will remain! (and just so you know, I will not be back to check this to see if it is gone or if you reply, I am fine with just dropping the whole thing!) I enjoy your blog when I read it, blessings.

    • Jennifer Jo

      Actually, I really appreciated your comment and agreed with so much of it! It addressed a whole other area of questions that I have, but that I did not write about in the post. I had absolutely ZERO hard feelings towards your comment, so no worries!

  • Jessica H.

    I get this when I go to the beach after not having been in the sun for a while. Mom also suggested heat rash (she's a doctor) and though I hate when people ignore doctors and google things on their own, I've done that and found this:

    Doesn't seem to be much verifiable information about it, but the reason I looked it up, is I've noticed the rash isn't at the usual heat rash places (creases, etc.) and is only where the sun touched.

    However, maybe it IS just heat rash! At least we're in it together. 🙂

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