Bad reaction to vitamin D supplements: why?

Updated 1/1/13. Again.

I’ve tried vitamin D3 three times over the past ten years and each time have been stymied by side effects: first, splitting headaches and later, the addition of a white-hot-iron-vise-crushing-my-lungs sensation. It’s definitely not D toxicity/overdose — there’s no way in Hades I could’ve gotten my D levels up too far that fast.

The fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) all compete with each other to some degree, so my first experiment was to try each of them, thinking I was inducing a deficiency. For a while, vitamin E stopped the headaches, but after a few weeks didn’t help. When I finally realized that vitamin K comes in supplement form — did I mention the brain fog? — a few months before I originally wrote this post, I discovered that it helped the breathing problem a lot, at about 2,000 mcg.

FYI, low levels of the various fat-soluble vitamins seem to manifest as follows:
— A: inner-ear pain, dry eyes
— D: back pain, abdominal pain, insomnia
— E: headaches not sure anymore
— K: killer menorrhagia, difficulty concentrating, difficulty breathing

Calcium, magnesium, and zinc also work with vitamin D3 and thus might end up being depleted with big doses of D. I definitely need to take them when I take D3 for more than a week, but they don’t address the headaches/breathing issue.

Two months after that, I discovered that thiamine (vitamin B1) in the form of TTFD got rid of most of the headaches and the rest of the breathing problems. However, when I take enough D3 to correct deficiency symptoms (fatigue and abdominal pain), the amount of thiamine needed to stop the headaches completely stops me sleeping, as does the vitamin K. Eventually the thiamine stopped working headaches-wise anyway, where before it would halt them within 20 minutes.

After reading this article about copper poisoning, I learned that vitamin D in big doses — or anything that needs copper to work — can induce a copper dump if you happen to be copper toxic. (I think I understood that correctly.) So I started thinking in terms of copper detox. After following what detox guidelines I could for a few weeks, I started vitamin D again in January 2013. I’ll keep ya posted.

6 thoughts on “Bad reaction to vitamin D supplements: why?

  1. Nola

    Just wanted to say that I also have a reaction to vitamin d when taken internally ..I have severe stomach and upper GI upset ..I have had chills , bad GI pain , weakness , loss of appetite and paleness …all that from a doc prescribed dose of 50,000 IU weekly .. my levels were 18 so I was low and suffering a lot of symptoms because of it ..I went to doc and she said I looked awful..I said I feel terrible ..she didnt know what to do or say..she ran blood work ..all came out good thank goodness ..I decided since I needed the d to buy some vitamin d cream and start using that ..I first tried the 5000 iu sublingual kind first which was short lived .. the cream worked good for me and I could control the dosage of course..over time I went to just buying the gel caps 5000 IU and biting the end off and rubbing it on my belly..still I could tell when I get too much ..I would get bad back of the head headaches in the neck area .. then the worst symptom of chest pain (left side ) raidiating down my left arm and pressure that would not go away ..then I got turned on to magnesium oil and mag supplements which helped a lot .. I didnt know that the more D I consumed meant more magnesium that I needed .. then I discovered youngevity or 90 for life vitamins and minerals ..awesome stuff !! ..I have really used a lot of magnesium to combat all the d I have used .. still trying to figure out why I cannot take D internally without bad reactions ..but magnesium and K2 have helped with that ..also the magnesium has helped with the headaches for sure ..and has helped me sleep a lot better but it has to be a good souce ….I use mag glycinate ..mag oxide is a cheap form and a total waste of money .. fixing to experiment with mag taurate and see how that goes .. :)

  2. Aaron_c

    Thank you documenting your experiments!

    I read with particular interest about the possible link between vitamin D and copper dumping, as I am currently trying to navigate the complexities of vitamin D supplementation (complex for myself and many others with ME/CFS aka Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that is).

    I ran across this article from 1995 regarding interactions between vitamin A, zinc and copper. If you look at the tables on page 7, you will notice in the ceruloplasmin column that Vitamin A appears to have a rather greater effect on ceruloplasmin than copper does!

    Unfortunately, they did not add VItamin D as a variable in the study. I am under the impression that in many things vitamins and and D work in dynamic concert, which makes me wonder what effect your Vitamin D supplementation would have had on Vitamin A’s ceruloplasmin-increasing action. This web site indicates a tentative direction: It claims to have found 8 cases where vitamin D supplementation may have decreased ceruloplasmin, and it does not list any cases where vitamin D is thought to have increased ceruloplasmin. To me this indicates that your vitamin D supplementation may have caused a release of copper as ceruloplasmin levels decreased, but that this would probably have been followed by a consequent deficiency in intercellular copper transport as well (possibly) as biliary copper excretion.

    Perhaps this was also why thiamine helped you, as copper is needed for the mitochondrial respiratory chain, and thiamine could help make up for respiratory chain sluggishness by adding more raw materials to the krebs cycle. (I consider this more speculative than the earlier observations)

    Finally, I’d like to offer another correction: According to this study, Vitamins D, E and K compete for absorption, but vitamin A, in effect, trumps all of them, with vitamin E increasing vitamin A absorption even further.

    I realize that this page is a little old, and some of this you may have found in the intervening time. Also, there may be aspects of this picture that I haven’t picked up on–in which case I would greatly appreciate if you would take the time to educate us! Perhaps I simply need to read a further update (in which case I would greatly appreciate a link). Finally, I may have inadvertently made an assumption which will, in time, prove to be false.

    I am not a physician, and none of this should be construed as medical advice. I am a person struggling with a problem that may have some similarity to the situation you have described above.

    Again, thank you for this and other posts on vitamin D sensitivity, which have proved fertile ground from which to launch an inquiry.

    1. Marjorie Post author

      Aaron: Sorry for the delay in posting your comment. Thanks for the links about the various interactions. I have moved farther and farther away from using research papers as a source of guidance because so often the studies are too small, not on humans, and contradictory, and of course lately there’s been so much media coverage on how little research is valid. I keep the info in mind, but put more value on people’s experiences with the supplements.

      I agree that it does not seem to be a copper dump issue anymore. So many things have started giving me similar symptoms that I don’t think it’s even a nutritional competition thing. More a general-breakdown thing. I have also had cfs for 15? years now. I avoided mentioning it to avoid discrimination by potential employers, since I use the blog in my portfolio. Now I no longer care.

  3. Brent

    Thanks for this post. Was the copper detox successful? I too have an odd reaction to vitamin D – intense brain fog. Difficult to put into works, but it comes on after about 20 min of taking as low as 500IU (in MCT oil, have also tried in sunflower oil same thing). Have experimented with magnesium along with the D – no help. No doing a trial with vitamin K. Let me know if you have any update.

    1. Marjorie Post author

      I believe that the copper detox got a boost when I started talking lots of fat (olive oil and butter and lamb) along with bile acids. I found an article on Weston Price site by a woman who said she didn’t get very far with copper detox until she did that ……. I’m afraid I don’t remember how that January 2013 D experiment went, but I don’t think it was very long ………… Around the same time as the bile/fat experiment, I discovered that B6 in form of P5P solved a lot of problems, and a few days of vitamin D a few months after that were unremarkable, but it really wasn’t a long test…………. Now I find that any supplement with calcium in it, even as a filler, or magnesium, or any food with rice/corn, makes it hard to breathe in a scary way. Methylfolate and vitamin K help. I’ve read both that vitamin D can increase your calcium and decrease it, so I don’t know what to think. Calcium intake will increase copper levels. Feeling worse and reacting to more things is apparently normal with detox, so I’m hoping it’s a good thing. But really I’m just guessing….. The B6 helped the brain fog a lot, btw……….. Hope this helps.

    2. Donna

      Can you email me re: your outcome with vitamin D and brain fog, please?
      I have the same thing…want to see what worked for you…or not.

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