Are You Vitamin D Deficient? Find Out

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05/03/2013
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Unknown: Talking with Dr. James Dowd, the author of The Vitamin D Cure. How did you first discover that you were deficient and how did you get out of that hole so to speak and talk about your history with vitamin D. 

Dr. James Dowd: Well so my story is that I was raised in Texas; in Houston, Texas. So the Southern part of Texas. And I was on a swim team, and I rode my bike a lot and I was outside all the time and I, most of my training was done in Texas. I did my undergraduate there. I did medical school there. I even did my fellowship there in rheumatology. And so I met someone in, during my fellowship and when we moved back to her home state of Michigan, things were okay for two or three or four years. And then about four or five years into living in Michigan, I just didn't feel well. The quality of my sleep deteriorated. I started getting muscle cramps and my hands would, the end joints in my fingers and being a rheumatologist I knew okay, this is probably early osteoarthritis but why is it happening to me at only 40 years of age? And I'd wake up in the morning particularly at the end of winter and in the early spring and I could hardly make a fist and it hurt for patients to shake my hand. I said, "Something's not right here." And it was weird that it was coming the first few years. 

It was only in the certain time of year that I would have these symptoms and then it started becoming more year round symptoms. And what was odd, was I was seeing this happening in myself and then I would go to the office and talk to patients and they would tell me the exact same story that I was feeling myself. I said, "Okay, whatever's happening to me is happening to my patients too." And then I stumbled across a handful of patients, these were actually African Americans in the office, patients who came in with diseases that were vaguely possibly related to vitamin D deficiency and I thought well, you know, I'll check a vitamin D level, see what it is. And their levels, several of them were undetectable. And I thought, "Okay, this is bizarre." 

I was always told in training that, you know, all you need is casual sun exposure and that casual sun exposure definition was 10 or 15 minutes exposure of your hands and your face, that's plenty. Okay? Well clearly these people were getting that. Why did they have no vitamin D at all in their blood? And then I would go through the process of replacing their vitamin D and all kinds of symptoms, aches and pains went away. Their fatigue went away. They were sleeping better. And I thought, "Okay, something bizarre is going on here and I need to more about this." And so at that point I became very interested in vitamin D, started measuring it much more often in my patients, and started vociferously all the science about vitamin D. And when I looked up after about a year or two I had read, I don't know how many hundreds of papers on vitamin D. And I was really in a completely different place about how I thought about people's illnesses and what I could do for them. And that maybe even some of these patients you could cure by simply changing their lifestyle or supplementing targeted, targeted supplementation, you could eliminate the symptoms that they were coming in with. So it was really an eye-opener and a game changer for me.

Unknown: And talk about your progression and when you started to feel better and how now that's translated into your practice. I mean, your practice has changed a lot in how you treat with patients with what some of the things that you had.

Dr. Dowd: Yeah, so initially it was all about vitamin D and as I was reading about vitamin D I also wanted to learn more about calcium because it was clear that vitamin D wasn't the only thing regulating calcium. That there were other factors involved. And that led to me reading a lot more about diet, an acid base balance in the diet. And exercise and what role that played. And really morphed into an entire lifestyle change and as I was reading about these things I was making the changes myself. I'm always the first guinea pig. And so I was making these changes and I was feeling incredible. I mean I thought to myself, okay, all the aches and pains have gone away. My hands don't hurt anymore. My sleep has gone back to the way it was. I can sleep like a baby. The exercise got rid of cramps in the neck. I was taking some magnesium citrate and that got rid of a lot of muscle cramps I was having. 

So some of these complementary targeted supplements that compliment one another that I talk about in the book, really seemed to be working. I mean I read the literature then I would try it myself and boom I was feeling better. And I was like wow this is really cool how this works. And I was starting to implement in my practice as well and seeing remarkable, not everybody was that remarkable, but clearly there was some patients, you come and make these very straightforward changes and they come back in and their just, "Thank you so much. This is unbelievable. I can't believe, I feel so much better with such a simple solution." And other doctors were trying to give them medications. They were on prescriptions for these symptoms and they no longer needed these prescriptions. And so I was kind of experiencing this whole thing along with my patients and it was really quite gratifying and it was this momentum that developed from the reading and putting it into practice that led to the book.

Unknown: Was it easy to translate that into your patients, when you talk about lifestyle change, that's a lot more difficult than it is taking a medication once a day. Was that easy for you to change your lifestyle and your diet and has that been for your patients as well? Have they been willing to make a big change like that?

Dr. Dowd: Well so lifestyle changes, this is, you know, if we could answer this question, this is the ten million dollar question. Because compliance is always a struggle. Now when I first was introducing myself to all of these new ideas and the enthusiasm alone motivated me to make all these changes and I stuck to them like glue. And many of my patients I see the same thing in the first few months they see this as a revelation and they're thinking, "Wow, this is a whole new way of thinking about this problem I have or these symptoms I have. And maybe there is something I can do about them." And they're motivated to take that step. And so for the first few months, maybe even for the first year, they are gung-ho. And they stick to it tightly. And then you feel better and after you start feeling better, you think, well, you know, maybe I can have a piece of pizza, or maybe I can add the bread back and maybe I don't need to take the vitamin D in the summertime because I get out in the sun enough. 

And so you start to make some of these compromises and what I found is that immediately you feel an impact now. And so what the initial change does is it tunes you into how much better you feel doing the right thing and then when you slip up it also tunes you into how lousy you feel when you're off the diet, when you're off the lifestyle changes, when you stop the targeted supplementation. So people still struggle with it and so I see a lot of patients in my visits become basically pep rallies to get them back on program. And, but I feel better about myself as a physician being a motivator for what I know is a healthy lifestyle then just refilling prescriptions and asking if they're taking their medications. So I feel much better about reinforcing these lifestyle changes at every visit than I did before when all it was, was medication.

Unknown: And how much more important is it when your patients educate themselves to know that, if I change my lifestyle and do this, it's safe. I mean, it's a more healthy way of living versus medication which could have a lot of question marks in the short and long term.

Dr. Dowd: Yeah it's initially when I started with this message, many patients were very receptive. Okay? As soon as you say, "Well we might be able to get you off medications," their eyes get a little wider. And they say, "Really? I may not have to take this for the rest of my life?" Or, "I may not have to be on all of these things?" And so receptivity early on is quite high. That's not to say that there aren't patients out there who are looking for a simple convenient solution in the form of a pill. But most patients are very receptive. And now that I've been in practice and the book has come out, I'm actually attracting the patients who want this. 

And so the practice has even changed a bit from five years ago before the book came out because patients are now coming in and they come in with a bag full of targeted supplements and they come from another rheumatologist and they say, "Look, this is the rheumatologist, here's what they have me on. I don't want to take these things any more," or, "I want to take as little as possible, here are some things I've been experimenting with, what can you tell me about what I've been experimenting with, good or bad or appropriate or inappropriate", because it's not good or bad, its appropriate or inappropriate, and, "What other changes can I make?" Empower me in other words. They're asking me to empower them so that I don't have to take these medications. So its really been a joy to see my practice sort of change in character so that now I'm actually attracting patients who are even more motivated than the patients I had before because they've already decided in their mind, this is the direction I want to go.
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How can you tell if you're vitamin D deficient? Dr. James Dowd talks about how he realized he was, what some of the symptoms are and how you might be able to notice those symptoms as well.

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