Monday, March 19, 2012

PSA: Vitamin D Deficiency Real Problem for Runners

A few weeks ago I was hit with a sinus infection of epic proportions.  I’m not a fan of antibiotics, and try to avoid them like the plague, but because this infection actually made me feel as if I had the plague, I succumbed to my doctor’s advice and got on an antibiotic.  While the infection cleared up within a few days, I was left with feeling cruddy afterwards.

I noticed that my back was hurting, which was odd because I hadn’t done things like move a couch or anything.  My feet hurt, and my shoulder started to flare up, literally, swelling and causing great pain.  I wasn’t able to open the spaghetti sauce jar, my wrist was that sore.  When I headed out for a run, my IT bands felt like fire.

I must confess, I suck at being a patient.  I only go to the doctor if my problem causes me to not be able to run.  If my finger turned black and fell off, I probably wouldn’t go to the doctor.  Unless it hurt when I ran.  So when my IT bands hurt, I picked up the phone and called my doctor.  Of course she wanted to see me, and suggested blood work.  Because the pain started after the medication, it could have been an allergic reaction to the medication.  It could be allergies.  It could be anemia.  It could be the plague.  “Let’s run blood to see.” 

Just off the cuff, I asked her to run my vitamin D levels.  She laughed, “But you’re young, you’re a runner, you’re always outside!  Your vitamin D is fine!”  I said, “You know, my mom has really low vitamin D, let’s just check.” 

Through the week, I continued to feel like crap.  My energy level was at an all time low.  My wrist and shoulder continued to hurt.  I couldn’t muster the energy to run very much. 

When the results finally came back my doctor and I were pretty shocked.  My vitamin D level is a 19.  A healthy normal woman’s vitamin D level should be between 40 and 70.

Learning this has caused me to look into what’s going on with vitamin D.  Why is my level so low?  My doctor is right, I am outside a LOT; I shouldn’t have an issue with vitamin D.  But it turns out many Americans are dealing with this issue.  The current recommendations for the amount of vitamin D are way too low. While we are outside, most of us use sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats to avoid the Cancer Rays.  This is taking a toll on many of us, and we don’t even know it. 

Runners, we need D.  A lack of vitamin D causes muscle pain and cramping.  This deficiency leaves you feeling fatigued, and decreases your endurance.  Even more critical, without enough vitamin D, we can’t absorb calcium, which can cause devastating consequences. Deena Kester is a poster child for why it’s important to keep your D levels in check.  Three miles into the marathon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, she fractured her foot.  Kester is an elite athlete, at the time she held the record for the American marathon time.  (Runner’s World, 2009)

While I'm far from an elite athlete, my vitamin D deficiency has definitely impacted my performance.  My endurance?  Shot.  Furthermore, I realize that with each run, I’m risking a stress fracture.  Overcoming this deficiency won’t be easy.  But knowledge is the first step.  I’m on a bolus dose of Vitamin D for the next month and my levels will be rechecked after that. 

I hope that you take the time to consider getting your vitamin D levels checked next time your at the doctor.  Or, if you've found yourself a little more fatigued during your runs lately, consider that an issue.  Don't be like me and let it go until you're forced to swallow mega vitamins!

Great article by Bob Greene on why Vitamin D is important