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Dear Dr. Cannell: vitamin D and Parkinson’s Disease

Posted on: November 16, 2015   by  John Cannell, MD


Dear Dr. Cannell:

About four years ago, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD). Looking back, I could see that my illness had been slowly developing over the course of at least twenty years. By the time I was diagnosed, my symptoms began to worsen quickly. I was experiencing extreme imbalance issues that impaired my ability to walk as well as painful muscle cramping known as dystonia.

I also began to drool during the day and at night while sleeping. Coincidentally, I started taking vitamin D 50,000 IU/day, because I thought it might help treat the flu. I was greatly surprised within several hours after taking vitamin D that these major PD symptoms began to clear up. It has been two years since I accidentally discovered the miracle of vitamin D, and I now take 10,000 IU/day and keep my vitamin D level around 80.

I’m still amazed. I still have Parkinson’s, but my symptoms are less severe.

Paul, California

Dear Paul:

A number of readers have written me that they had a very rapid response to vitamin D. In the standard genomic model of vitamin D’s metabolism, it makes no sense. However, Professor Bruce Hollis recently alerted me to an important paper.

Gibson CC, Davis CT, Zhu W, Bowman-Kirigin JA, Walker AE, Tai Z, Thomas KR, Donato AJ, Lesniewski LA, Li DY. Dietary Vitamin D and Its Metabolites Non-Genomically Stabilize the Endothelium. PLoS One. 2015 Oct 15;10(10):e0140370.

This paper basically shows that the parent compound, vitamin D, has a very rapid effect on endothelial cells. Endothelial cells are a thin lining of cells that make up the innermost lining of vessel walls.

The newly discovered effect occurs so rapidly that it could not be via genetic function. The vitamin D signaling pathway teaches us that vitamin D is converted to 25(OH)D in the liver and that 25(OH)D is circulated around the body and absorbed into cells where the cells transform 25(OH)D into a steroid hormone, calcitriol, which helps regulate gene transcription. This paper does not dispute this pathway, but adds to it, finding cholecalciferol by itself may plug up holes in the lining of blood and lymph tissues.

As the authors state, vitamin D acts very quickly to “stabilize barrier structure and function, thereby reducing vascular leak into the surrounding tissues. This new observation may explain, in part, the broad associations between vitamin D and many diseases.”

Professors Bruce Hollis and Carol Wagner were, to the best of my knowledge, the first to recognize that the parent compound has important effects, independent of the liver’s transformation into 25(OH)D.

Hollis BW, Wagner CL. Clinical review: The role of the parent compound vitamin D with respect to metabolism and function: Why clinical dose intervals can affect clinical outcomes. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Dec;98(12):4619-28. doi: 10.1210/jc.2013-2653. Epub 2013 Oct 8. Review.

If they are right, it serves as an explanation as to why some people seem to notice vitamin D works very quickly. It also explains why vitamin D should be taken daily, not weekly or monthly.

5 Responses to Dear Dr. Cannell: vitamin D and Parkinson’s Disease

  1. Rita Celone Umile

    I wonder if hypothyroidism, including subclinical disease, plays a role in PD. I do know that increasing Iodine intake will increase dopamine levels in the body. Previous generations used Iodine as medicine for so many diseases.

  2. PeterVermont

    Dear Paul,
    I am happy for you that vitamin D has been helpful for you. If you are not already doing so I suggest you add vitamin K2 — not only is it synergistic with vitamin D but it appears to independently be useful for Parkinson’s. https://www.google.com/search?q=vitamin+k2+parkinsons

  3. Ron Carmichael

    Someone I am related to and went to visit about a decade ago, living in the northeast U.S., an octagenarian and a sun-avoider had become what I felt was very symptomatic – uncontrollable and obvious tremors of appendages, as well as head-tremor motions. Her change from my previous visit was like night and day. Her MD had diagnosed her with “pre-Parkinsonism”. At my urging and only through stubborn yankee persistence on her part, essentially against the doctor’s wishes, she got a 25(OH)D done. It was 8 ng/ml. Within a month of instituting 5,000iu daily, her tremors began retreating and within a few more months achieved complete cessation. As she approaches her 90th birthday she is still active and doing fine, with about 99% absence of tremors. Genetically, she appears to be unique in that she can achieve very high levels, between 70 and 120 ng/ml according to the doctor, by taking more than 5K a day. This does mystify me a little, and I retain a suspicion of her physician. 🙂

  4. Ron Carmichael

    correction: she takes NO more than 5K a day, yet still has fairly consistent high levels.

  5. Rebecca Oshiro

    Paul, this is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing and best wishes to you.

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