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Influencing change one at a time

Posted on: June 5, 2012   by  John Cannell, MD


As we have blogged on before, in the fall of 2011, the Vitamin D Council gave away free vitamin D at the Farmers’ Market in downtown San Luis Obispo. It was, to say the least, an educational experience. Bio Tech Pharmacal was nice enough to provide us with vitamin D to give away. We came fully armed with different types of vitamin D, reading materials, and a small sign. I know we have blogged on it before, but I’d like to share my insights.

First, everyone thought we were selling something, even when we put up our sign that said “Free Bottle of Vitamin D.” It is emotionally difficult to stand in the street attempting to hand a free bottle of vitamin D to passersbys who think you are hawking something. However, it didn’t take long to hit potential pay dirt.

I remember a woman in a wheelchair for profound muscle weakness who stopped to say that her doctor is talking about ordering a vitamin D blood test. I wanted to ask which test is he planning to order; there is a right one [25(OH)D] and a wrong one [1,25-di-hydroxy-vitamin D). The wrong test is often elevated in vitamin D deficiency and thus may be a serious mistake.

I told her of a case series of five people in wheelchairs for profound muscle weakness who got up and walked after taking proper amounts of vitamin D, but I could tell it was no hope. She wheeled away without the free vitamin D, apparently believing that something as serious as being wheelchair bound could not be helped by something seemingly trivial, like something that was being given away free at a Farmers’ Market.

Prabhala A, Garg R, Dandona P. Severe myopathy associated with vitamin D deficiency in western New York. Arch Intern Med. 2000 Apr 24;160(8):1199-203.

I had better luck with the next family I stopped, a woman with two children, one breastfeeding and one about five-years old. She had a hard time believing that nature’s perfect food (breast milk) has no vitamin D unless the mother is outside in the full sun a lot or takes 5,000 IU/day. However, I could tell she believed me, so I gave her several bottles of 5,000 IU, telling her to double the dose the first month. I told her to buy a cheap bottle of 1000 IU pills and give her five year old 1000 IU per 25 lbs and round up. He weighs about 40 pounds so that’s 2,000 IU/day. Mom went away interested, looking at the reading materials.

Wagner CL, Taylor SN, Johnson DD, Hollis BW. The role of vitamin D in pregnancy and lactation: emerging concepts. Womens Health (Lond Engl). 2012 May;8(3):323-40.

Finally, a teenage jock came sauntering by. I happened to have my paper on vitamin D and athletic performance, and she was very interested in anything that could improve speed, jumping ability, choice reaction time, balance and quickness. I quickly added that it only works well if you are vitamin D deficient to begin with, but even female soccer players are often deficient. However, she took two bottles and went away happy.

Gibson JC, Stuart-Hill L, Martin S, Gaul C. Nutrition status of junior elite Canadian female soccer athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2011 Dec;21(6):507-14.

One person at a time. Someone said that is how change happens, one person at a time. It’s slower going than I’d like it to be, but I hope the Council is making a dent in this public health problem, one person at a time.

6 Responses to Influencing change one at a time

  1. [email protected]

    Dr. Cannell:
    You converted me three years ago and it wasn’t that difficult. I read your website and articles…..loved your letters section. Your writing and your passion was clear. It was an “easy sell”. I’ve been supplementing since then, I’m very healthy and feeling great…lots of energy. And for the past two years have been educating my family, friends and work colleagues…one person at a time.

    Keep up the good work! I rely upon your website to stay current.
    Roger Rolfe

  2. Matt Rhodes

    I can relate to people being suspicious of your motives & not listening to the vitamin D advice. Been trying to get my 88 year-old father-in-law to take vitamin D. Years ago his dermatologist told him to cover up & avoid the sun. He dutifully followed the advice. Now he has pulmonary fibrosis & lots of muscle weakness. Very unsteady on his feet & close to wheelchair bound. I wish I could get his D level measured or at least get him to take a supplement, but he believes if it’s important his doctor will handle it for him. I see him slide downhill & I’d like to see if a supplement could help reverse things, but at this point I don’t think I’ll ever know. You can only help the people that want help.

  3. Ian

    Wow! proselytizing vitamin D. I do try.
    I tried with my 80 year old father in law who had suffered a mild stroke six years ago but recently developed a hyperkalemia and was hospitalised for a week to stabilise him. He has been sitting inside without any sun exposure for the past six years. I talked to him about his vitamin D levels and suggested he ask his doctor to test him. I gave him some vitamin D (1oooIU) and suggested he take 5 in the morning and 5 at night. He started taking them but after talking with his doctor he stopped. The doctor said they would do no good and may make him sick and that they no longer tested people’s vitamin D levels. I should have been shocked. {FAIL}

    In a second case: My brother’s son has Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy. He has done well as his mother is a Cardiologist and he is now 28 years old. I had recently read some papers on using vitamin D to improve muscular and bone strength in DMD. I asked my brother if his son had been tested for vitamin D, after all, he rarely got any sun. He did not believe so. I suggested giving him some which would be easy to administer through his stomach tube. After he discussed it with his wife she dismissed the idea and did not want to talk about it or follow up after I said I would provide the literature. {FAIL}

    In a third case: My wife’s 40 year old cousin revealed that he had prostatitis with urinary difficulties and a scan revealed a swollen prostate but no signs of cancer (a common enough problem). I suggested that he take vitamin D as aside from the prostate problem I knew he got little sun exposure because of his job. I gave him some to start with explaining that he would need to take a lot of capsules (NZ only allows 1000IU sale). Also to bring it up with his doctor. The doctor dismissed the idea but he continued with 5000 IU of vitamin D and sought to get more sun. That was 1 year ago. His urinary flow problems are much less and he is happy to continue the supplement. {Success}

    I have three other people in my sights. One with MS, one with SLE, and a brother in law who has a variety of problems suggestive of low vitamin D including chronic low back pain

    • Brant Cebulla

      Great stories guys, thanks for sharing!

  4. [email protected]

    Vitamin D came into my radar in a significant way ten years ago. Five years ago I had lunch with Dr. Cannell at his favorite café in Atascadero and my knowledge and interest level soared. Since then I have done extensive reading, both books and articles, and have become the most prolific reviewer of vitamin D books on Amazon. Also I have taken it upon myself to spread the word to around 100 people, one at a time. Like an earlier poster, results vary, but here are a few anecdotes.

    Pregnant women in our family automatically get a bottle of 5000 IU that I purchase at full retail from Bio Tech Pharmacal. I wish they would take a higher dose but one a day is easy to remember and almost enough according to Dr. Bruce Hollis, the expert in this subject. Have not been turned down yet.

    Most of my extended family and several close friends are on 5000 IU a day. Some get the 25(OH)D blood test but most don’t. Not surprisingly, the more educated they are in conventional medicine, the less receptive they are to the message, so the MD’s choose deficiency, ignorance, and sometimes serious consequences.

    Some friends have specific conditions that could be helped with vitamin D and for the most part have seen results ranging from promising to amazing. I have to be cautious not to make promises or do anything that can be construed as practicing medicine, but if their physicians are not educated in this area, my suggestion is always to do your own due diligence and make your own decision.

    My favorite is a woman who listened intently for well over an hour about the virtues of vitamin D, and requested the 25(OH)D blood test from her doctor. He resisted, she didn’t back down, and grudgingly he authorized the test. When the results came in she was severely deficient (around 8 ng/mL), the physician recognized the problem and took appropriate action. In researching her case he came to realize most Americans are deficient and has begun ordering tests for most patients who then learn the great value of being replete with vitamin D. Word got out, his practice is thriving, and hundreds of patients are now in better health as a result.

    One person at a time sometimes blossoms into something far bigger.

  5. Kate Saley

    Wow bigblue, you’re busy aren’t you! Keep it up!

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