A Quick Guide to Vitamin D and Lupus

Carie ShermanBy Carie Sherman

Have you had your vitamin D levels checked recently? If not–you should.

Last summer, I learned I was severely D-deficient. And recent blood-work confirmed that because of supplementation, I’m deficient no more. (I count it as one of the reasons I say “better” when someone asks how I feel.)

Why is this vitamin so important for lupus patients? To start, there are studies that indicate a link.

Low vitamin D levels might have some bearing on the development and severity of lupus.
Our D levels are low because those of us with photosensitivity avoid the sun (vitamin D is “sunshine vitamin”).
The drugs we take (steroids and hydrochloroquine) might interfere with vitamin D levels.
SLE patients who receive supplementation may experience less disease activity.

Lupus or not, researchers estimate that 1 billion people worldwide lack proper D-levels.

What’s the Big Deal about D?

This is so cool: The Mayo Clinic outlines what the science says about vitamin D, breaking down each piece of evidence and grading the science behind it. Not surprisingly, nearly every autoimmune condition listed is given a “C,” indicating more research is necessary (support lupus research and Lupus Colorado!).

The “A” list includes:

  • Bone disease: softening, weakening
  • Kidney disease Psoriasis
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Lung disorders
  • Diabetes
  • Stomach and intestine problems
  • Heart disease

The evidence isn’t fully in on these items, but there are also some indications that improved vitamin D levels could lessen joint pain, lower risks of certain kinds of cancer, improve brain function and improve blood pressure.

Could You Be Vitamin D Deficient?

You might be at risk if…

You don’t have much sun exposure (true of most lupus patients!).
You have dark skin.
You have kidney dysfunction.
You are obese.
You don’t eat meat or dairy.
Your digestive system isn’t functioning well, as in celiac disease or Crohn’s.

There’s only one way to know for sure: Ask your doc for a blood test (she’s taking so much already, what’s another test, right?). If your levels are low, treatment is as simple as taking a pill.

I saw my energy go up and my pain levels go down soon after treatment. You’re already seeing your doc, so I think it’s worth asking about.


Meditating for Better Health (by an Unlikely Meditator)

Carie ShermanBy Carie Sherman

My best girlfriends like to play a little game with me. Well, more like “at” me.

“We” first played a few years ago, while everyone was visiting me for a long weekend.

Here’s how they play: They decide it’s time to play (without informing me, of course). Whenever there’s a lull in the conversation, they purposely stop talking. They exchange glances, then sit, wait, and count.

Why? Because they know I’ll break the silence. I find it impossible to sit in quiet. I compulsively seek chatter.

Many laughs have ensued at my expense. They’re well-deserved.

So, no one will be more surprised than them to find that I have a new habit. And it’s all about me…being quiet.

And I think you should adopt this habit, too.

Finding Better Health through Meditation

As humans, we’re conditioned to experience stress. Evolutionarily speaking, it’s what kept us from getting eaten by saber-tooth tigers. Those days may be long gone, but our bodies are still wired for stress.

Most of us begin our days like this: We burst into action as soon as we hear the starting gun (aka, the alarm). We race and race and race until our day is done, and we collapse into bed wondering where the hell the day went and why our bodies hurt.

Most of us are chronically stressed. It makes our stomach hurt, our blood pressure sky-rocket, and our energy tumble. (And that’s how stress impacts “healthy” people.)

The Basics of Meditation
Meditation is an ancient practice that can positively impact health. There are many types, like mantra meditation, relaxation response, mindfulness meditation, and Zen Buddhist meditation. Most types involve four elements: A quiet place, a comfortable posture, a focus of attention, and an open attitude.

Meditation and Chronic Pain
One of my biggest fears in life is that my health issues are “all in my head.” So my worst fears have been realized, as research has shown that pain originates in our brains. It’s not a condition; it’s a perception. But it doesn’t make pain less real. Psychotherapist Eric Garland was quoted in the May/June issue of Spirituality and Health magazine as saying, “The whole idea of pain being in your head is ridiculous, because anything that’s in your mind is in your brain, and anything that’s in your brain is in your body.”

Garland goes on to say that patients need to think of the mind as a powerful tool in controlling chronic pain, citing meditation as a component of treatment.

What Meditation Can Do For You

So What’s Your Excuse?
You don’t have time. BS. Unless you’re an ER nurse on an 18-hour shift who literally can’t find time to use the restroom, you can find a few minutes in your day that are just for you. Try this: Set the timer on your phone for 45 seconds, then close your eyes. Breathe in for 7 seconds, breathe out for 7 seconds. Congrats–you just meditated.

I can’t stop my mind from racing. This is correct! But it’s not an excuse. In fact, it’s exactly why you should practice meditation. First, note I said “practice.” It’s a skill that you develop over time. Second, your mind will be filled with thoughts. All you’re trying to do through meditation is let those thoughts flow without getting caught up in them. You don’t need to follow every thought down the rabbit hole.

It’s not for everyone. Do you breathe? Yes? Then it’s for you. Breathing is both voluntary and involuntary. Mostly, we breathe without thinking. When we consciously breathe, we can improve our immediate situation (there’s a reason we say “take a deep breath” before you face a challenge) as well as long-term situations.

I’m not a stinky hippie. Of course you’re not and neither am I. You don’t have to follow Phish or wear Birkenstocks or smell like patchouli to reap the benefits of meditation. It’s a practice that executives, celebrities and professional athletes also embrace.

I can’t sit like that (in reference to the position my daughter calls “criss cross applesauce”). Then don’t. You can still get the benefits of meditation sitting in a chair or lying down. Sometimes, I go for a “mindful” walk, where I focus my energy on the present moment (i.e., what I’m hearing, what I’m seeing, what emotions I’m experiencing, where I feel my emotions in my body, etc.).

Try It, You’ll Like It
Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Try a quick 3-step brain hack for happiness, specially designed for the skeptic.
  • Visit meditationoasis.com. Check out the free podcasts for guided meditations on a variety of topics ranging from “work breaks” and “creativity” to “pain” and “grief.” I use their app daily, and it’s helped me realize this: I spent 36 years desperately trying to NOT feel any emotion other than happiness. Humans are meant to experience our emotions.
  • Download an app. I’ve tried Headspace, which is narrated by a fabulous Brit who walks you through the process.

Chronic pain is no joke. I started meditating daily about six months ago–and I can vouch for its positive effects. I don’t have a special routine and I try different methods. But I am consistently quiet a few times a day. If I can do it, anyone can (just ask my dang friends!).

The evidence is there. Isn’t it worth a shot?



Reality check quiz: 5 questions to honestly assess your sleep

Carie ShermanBy Carie Sherman

Lupus presents differently in every person, but one symptom seems to be part of every Lupie’s nightmares: Fatigue.

I met with my rheumy yesterday and said—as usual: ”I’m tired.” To which he replied sympathetically: “I know.”

But then he did the unthinkable: He suggested a reality check.

He said I might never fully understand the whys and whats of the fatigue that seems inherent with autoimmune disorders, even when they’re not actively flaring. Also, my own physical factors (sleep apnea, GERD, arthritis) can all contribute to poor sleep.

Dr. M suggested I think about that which I can control. In essence, how my sleep habits impact the quality of rest I receive.

So I did some research. And according to the sleep disorder clinic at the University of Maryland Medical Center, there just might be a few things I could improve upon.
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