Which Came First: Lupus, or My Vitamin D Deficiency?


Why Do We Need Vitamin D?

  • Promotes a healthy circulatory and cardiovascular system (in the right dosage — experts believe that too large a dose it is actually dangerous to the cardiovascular system)
  • Is thought to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties
  • It supports the immune system’s T-cells and dendritic cells, which play an important role in the body’s protective immunity

The Research

Numerous studies have found there is a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and lupus disease activity. One study from the University of Florence in Italy tested the vitamin D levels of 36 female Caucasians with lupus and compared the results to those of 109 patients without SLE.

The participants who had the lowest levels of vitamin D were the ones with lupus. Additionally, those who had the lowest levels of vitamin D were the ones with the most active disease. Their bone density was lower in the spine, too.

Why would this occur? Well, since many lupus patients are photosensitive (have a reaction to UV rays) avoidance of the sun is typical behavior. We either stay out of the sun, cover up, or wear high SPF sunscreen. Other reasons may include chronic use of steroids or hydroxychloroquine, which may affect the way the body absorbs the vitamin.

But, this study also indicates that there might be more to it. It discovered that the more vitamin D in the blood, the lower the lupus disease activity (fewer flares or symptoms) and those with low levels of the vitamin demonstrated increased disease activity (more flares and greater symptoms).

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What We’ve Learned From Studies On Lupus and Vitamin D

  • People with lupus were more likely to have low levels of vitamin D.
  • Those who had lupus and but had high levels of vitamin D typically had fewer lupus symptoms.
  • Lupus patients with low levels of vitamin D had an increase in risk factors for heart disease.
  • There was an increased risk for high blood pressure and elevated lipids for lupus patients with a vitamin D deficiency.
  • A few studies supported that giving vitamin D supplements to SLE patients reduced the chances and incidents of lupus flares.

What Should I Do?

Don’t assume that you need more vitamin D, since extra high doses have negative side effects and can actually be dangerous. What you should do is ask your doctor to order blood work to test your vitamin D levels.

Ask your doctor to specifically give you the 25(OH)D blood test. This particular test is the only way to test whether or not you are getting enough vitamin D.

The Vitamin D Council offers good information and even offers an at-home test you can order online and test your levels yourself. These tests are pretty simple and involve you pricking your finger to get a small blood sample. You then send your test to a laboratory for results. One kit costs $50.

So what’s a good level of vitamin D, and how do you achieve it?

The experts recommend that all people with lupus continue to use sunscreen and avoid sun exposure if they are photosensitive. The solution for those with lupus is taking a supplement.

Your doctor needs to determine the quantity of your supplement, and it could contain anywhere between 400-2000 international units (IU) per day depending on your deficiency, your other health conditions, risk factors and your age.

I have decided I will take my supplement at dinner, since a study at the Cleveland Clinic showed that if you take your vitamin D with the biggest meal each day, you can increase the level of vitamin D in the blood by an average of 50 percent. It also helps me remember it!

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