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Did vitamin D treat an autoimmune disease?

Posted on: May 8, 2012   by  John Cannell, MD


Dr. Gerry Schwalfenberg of the University of Alberta just published the first case report of a woman with a treacherous autoimmune disorder, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura or ITP, that vitamin D apparently cured.

Schwalfenberg GK. Solar radiation and vitamin d: mitigating environmental factors in autoimmune disease. J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:619381.

More than 160 known autoimmune disorders exist in humans and more than 5% of the population has at least one of the disorders. They occur when your immune system malfunctions and attacks your own organs or tissues. No known cure exists. In the above publication, Dr. Schwalfenberg reviewed an extensive number of newer medical papers and concluded that, “Evidence that autoimmune disease may be a vitamin D-sensitive disease comes from many sources.”

He then reports on a 48-year-old female with one of the rarest and more perilous autoimmune disorders, ITP, which destroys platelets. Platelets help with blood clotting, and doctors follow platelet counts closely in ITP. She had been ill since 1998, had her spleen taken out to help elevate her platelet count and was on the best medicine for the disease, danazol. However, she continued to suffer from dangerously low platelet counts.

Visible symptoms of ITP include bruises, bleeding from the nostrils, bleeding at the gums, and excessive menstrual bleeding. A very low platelet count may result in blood masses in the mouth or on other mucous membranes. Bleeding time from minor cuts is usually long. Possibly fatal complications include bleeding inside the skull or brain or internal bleeding.

Knowing all the evidence that vitamin D is involved in autoimmune disorders, Dr. Schwalfenberg tested her vitamin D level in 2006 and found it to be 26 ng/ml. He started his patient on 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day. Her platelet count increased but not to normal. For the next two years, she had no symptoms of her ITP except for a moderately low platelet count. Unfortunately, a neighbor told her that 2,000 IU/day would make her toxic, so she stopped the vitamin D and her platelet count promptly fell dangerously low.

Dr. Schwalfenberg reassured her that her neighbor was incorrect and restarted her vitamin D, this time at 4,000 IU/day. She did well, and for the first time in a decade, was able to stop her danazol. She was given 10,000 IU/day of vitamin D for several days for an upper respiratory infection and her platelet count became normal for the first time in 14 years. It remains normal to this day and she is doing fine with a vitamin D level of 40 ng/ml taking 4,000 IU/day.

6 Responses to Did vitamin D treat an autoimmune disease?

  1. [email protected]

    I have been trying to find information about malabsorption of Vitamin D3. I have several auto-
    immune diseases (Hashimoto’s, lichen sclerosis, and also adrenal insufficiency). I was able
    to get my Vit D levels up to 60 for a while, but then they dropped down to 40 while I was still
    taking 17,000-20,000 Units of vitamin D3 daily. I know as a child I had rickets and that may
    be an indication that something isn’t “right”. I have recently switched back from an oil-emulsion D3 to a powder in capsules to see if that was what made a difference. How can one pursue this
    problem further?

  2. [email protected]

    @jrobbins: have you tried to raise your plasma levels of D3 with sun exposure rather than supplements?

  3. Ian

    It may also be worth investigating using calcidiol as well as vitamin D3.

  4. [email protected]

    My cousins 12 year old son came down with HS purpura in the past 6 months with blood pressure raising enough to have to take meds. He has since been able to return to school but remains on the meds.
    Are there any studies of children with HS purpura and vitamin D3 helping them and do you have any recommendations going forward?

  5. Brant Cebulla

    For others who are wondering what HS purpura is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henoch%E2%80%93Sch%C3%B6nlein_purpura

    I do not believe there is any research on HS purpura and vitamin D after doing a quick literature search. 1,000 IU/day per 25 lbs of body is the Vitamin D Council’s recommendation to achieve vitamin D sufficiency.

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