Vitamin D – the Sunshine Vitamin

Many of us know from personal experience how osteoporosis can affect one’s quality of life. The drugs commonly used for Birdshot Chorioretinopathy treatment can put you at risk.

Bone health is something that anyone who is on prednisolone for any length of time must discuss with their her/his GP. The risk to your bones from steroids increases with higher doses of steroids (prednisolone) for periods of three months or more. The problem is that when you are first prescribed steroids for Birdshot, you just do not know how long you are going to be on them as no one can be sure how hard the disease is going to be to treat.

The question is what do you do to prevent bone loss?

Vitamin D is a crucial ingredient in the process of absorbing calcium and potassium into the body. Sadly more than 50% of the normal UK population have insufficient levels of vitamin D and 16% have a severe deficiency. (Pearce and Cheetham 2010/Hypponen and Chris Powers 2007).

Vitamin D has a complex absorption pathway. It is produced in the skin by a photochemical reaction that is stimulated by sun rays (ultra violet light). The amount of sunlight required to obtain adequate vitamin D is approximately 20 minutes a day (Holick 2002) outside of peak sunshine levels. So the best way to produce vitamin D is to have unprotected sunshine exposure for about 20 minutes a day, exposing only less sensitive skin parts such as the arms and legs in the morning and afternoon/evening.

Skin pigmentation comes into play as well. If you have dark skin you require approximately six times more sunshine than people with fair skin. Also people with a history of caridovascular disease, obesity, history of cancer, malabsorbtion disease and renal disease have a higher risk of being vitamin D-deficient.

If like most people with Birdshot, you are on immuno-suppressants as well as steroids at some point in your treatment, you are likely to be following the instructions to cover up and use high-factor sun creams to avoid the skin-cancer risks. You are therefore more likely to have low vitamin D levels.

Only a relatively few foods contain substantial amounts of vitamin D. The best sources are oily fish and cod liver oil. Farmed fish may have less vitamin D than wild fish. Egg yolk, oliver and wild mushrooms contain small quantities but the amount in most vegetables is negligible.

You might like to look at this website if you are interested in checking nutritional information for food.

The recommended daily intake for vitamin D is 400 IU per day for an adult and unless we consume this recommended amount, we are all at risk of osteomalacia and even rickets.

If you don’t already take a calcium-vitamin D supplement, please ask your GP about it because you may need it, at least whilst on steroids. (You can have blood tests to determine if you are deficient or not, and tests to check on your calcium absorption.)

Important message to take home:

  • Calcium should not be taken at the same time as mycophenolate mofetil (Cellcept ®) as it may decrease the absorption of mycophenolate by your body and hence reduce the effectiveness of the it. You should take calcium supplements as many hours apart as possible to reduce this potential.
  • It is really important to discuss taking calcium and vitamin D with your GP because, for some people, excess vitamin D can cause problems – e.g. if you have sarcoidosis (which can also affect the eyes) excess vitamin D can make sarcoidosis worse.
  • Weight-bearing exercise does help to promote healthy bones; go to the gym; take the stairs as opposed to the lift; wear a ruck sack with a litre bottle of water in it while you do the house work; go swimming; take up belly dancing or whatever you fancy. Remember that exercise is also great for reducing inflammation, and Birdshot is an inflammatory disease.
  • Exercise will also help to prevent the likelihood of falls and consequent broken bones because your muscles will be stronger.

We cannot emphasise enough that any exercise is better than none!



3 thoughts on “Vitamin D – the Sunshine Vitamin

  1. This is extremely important information, as I have always taken my Calcium plus Vit D at the same time as my Cellcept. Must change my timings now and thank you for the info.

  2. This is very important. I didn’t know about keeping Calcichew away from Cellcept either. I am going to have to sit down with a pen and pencil and try to work this out now…. so many things that have to be kept separate yet my local hospital pharmacy, Gp and the pharmacy that does my local prescriptions knows nothing about any of this. Terrifying! Are some of us on higher doses of medication than necessary simply because it’s not being properly absorbed?

  3. Well, I too never knew that mixing Cellcept and calcium intake together was a no-go. Sadly there is still little info from my specialists at Moorfields about my drug intake (what should be taken when and with what) even to this day.
    On my last visit my specialist even doubled my dose of Ciclosporin by mistake. The pharmacy never noticed and nor did I ’til I go home.
    BS is bad enough without feeling unsafe in the hands of the people who are supposedly taking care of me.

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