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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Dr Angelica L Dumapit and Physician Lim Sock Ling on April 18, 2022

Vitamin D Deficiency: Here’s How TCM Can Help Manage Symptoms

A vitamin D deficiency could make it harder for you to get over the common cold. It may also cause fatigue, depression, and joint pain. Here's how to correct those symptoms.

Vitamin d deficiency min scaled

Vitamin D deficiency might not be something you’ve given a lot of thought to. This is especially true if you live in a warm state or spend a lot of time outside and in the sun.

However, if you’re having unexplained symptoms, such as muscle weakness, pain, fatigue, or depression, then it might be due to low levels of vitamin D.

In this article, we’ll describe some common vitamin D deficiency symptoms and how Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can help manage them.

What Is Vitamin D Deficiency?

Vitamin D can be found in foods such as egg yolks, fish, and dairy products.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is required for numerous processes in the body. It assists with calcium absorption, immune functioning, and skeletal health.

Vitamin D deficiency occurs when you do not have enough vitamin D in the body. The amount that you need daily varies by sex and age.

Most adults need around 600 IU of vitamin D per day. However, some doctors have increased their recommendations to 2,000 IU per day.

What causes it?

Low levels of vitamin D may be caused by certain health conditions, such as obesity, kidney and liver diseases, or gastrointestinal problems.

Certain medications may also impair your ability to absorb vitamin D. This includes steroids (Prednisone), laxatives, and drugs that treat cholesterol, tuberculosis, or epilepsy.

Skin color, mobility, and age may also affect vitamin D levels. People who are home-bound, dark-skinned, or elderly may have low levels.

The pathology of a vitamin D deficiency is a bit different from a TCM perspective. According to TCM Physician Lim Sock Ling, “From a TCM point of view, sun represents yang and qi. Being in an environment away from the sun or lacking ventilation would cause the buildup of moisture. This translates to a body constitution comprising Yang or Qi Deficiency with an accumulation of Dampness. Accompanying symptoms are lethargy or fatigue and cold limbs, which are coherent with symptoms of vitamin D deficiency.”

“The Liver and Kidneys play a key role in synthesizing vitamin D. Consequently, somebody with poor Kidney or Liver function may very well have suboptimal levels of vitamin D,” Physician Lim continued.

Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D deficiency isn’t always detectable. In fact, one study stated that most people who are deficient do not have symptoms.

However, it’s important to have your levels checked as vitamin D deficiency may lead to osteoporosis in adults and rickets in children.

Here are some of the most common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency:

  • Muscle weakness or weakness in general
  • Bone pain
  • Muscle twitching
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Mood changes, such as depression or irritability

Manifestations of Vitamin D Deficiency

In addition to providing bone and structural support, vitamin D is required for proper immune health.

One study found that low levels of vitamin D are linked to increased risks of autoimmunity and infections.

Therefore, if you are having trouble managing your autoimmune symptoms or recovering from the common cold, have your levels checked.

How To Use TCM To Manage Symptoms

Bone and joint pain may be a sign of low vitamin D levels.

If your doctor confirms that your vitamin D levels are low, he or she will work with you to get them back up.

You may be asked to eat more foods high in vitamin D (such as salmon and eggs) or take a supplement.

Meanwhile, there are several things you can do to help manage your symptoms at home using TCM.

Immune Function

According to TCM theory, the pathogenesis of many viral infections is closely related to Cold-Dampness.

Cold-Dampness may be attenuated by sun exposure and Wen Yang herbs, both of which can restore vitamin D serum levels.

Therefore, it is recommended to consume warm foods such as ginger, garlic, and scallions to boost immune function.

Jujube soup can warm the blood and stomach. People with weak yang qi can consume a Dang-Gui ginger mutton soup.

Physician Lim also shares that Yu Ping Feng powder is often used to improve immunity. It’s beneficial for people with recurrent flu and can also be used in children.

Fatigue

Research shows that fatigue is common in people with low levels of vitamin D. This may be due in part to problems sleeping and a weakened immune system.

Taking a supplement that contains Lingzhi mushrooms may help alleviate fatigue, boost immune function, and improve sleep to boost low energy levels.

“Depending on the syndrome, if the issue arises from an accumulation of Phlegm and Dampness, you may consume Si Shen soup to remove Dampness and strengthen the Spleen. You may also consider the Si Shen brown rice,” stated Physician Lim.

Other TCM herbs that may help with fatigue include Bu Zhong Yi Qi soup, Astragalus radix, and cordyceps. Research shows that cordyceps help to boost athletic performance and enhance energy levels.

Depression

In TCM, depression is thought to stem from Qi Deficiency. This is caused by the dysfunction of multiple physiological systems in the body, such as inflammation, dysregulation of blood circulation, or Dampness and Phlegm.

Strengthening qi is important. However, correcting imbalances in other physiological systems by stimulating blood circulation, reducing inflammation, or removing Phlegm and Dampness is also needed.

Research shows that Kai Xin San (KXS) is a popular TCM herbal formula used for depression treatment. It helps strengthen vital energy, improve blood flow, alleviate inflammation and reduce Phlegm and Dampness.

Physician Lim shared that Cha Hu Shu Gan powder, rose buds, and silk tree bark are often used in the management of depression. “Dao Chi powder clears Heart meridian to soothe frustration and promote sleep. Imbalance in the Liver can cause emotional upheaval. Chrysanthemum clears Liver Fire, which is a common cause of irritability and anger,” stated Physician Lim.

Bone and joint pain

Because vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption, it plays a large role in bone and joint health.

According to one study, vitamin D deficiency is linked to skeletal and muscular hypersensitivity and pain.

If you are experiencing bone pain due to low levels, then you may benefit from taking a bone and joint supplement or an herbal remedy for joint pain.

Always remember to see your doctor or a registered TCM practitioner if symptoms worsen as this may indicate an underlying health condition.

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