Vitamin D3 Eliminated Colds and Improved Sleep When Taken in the Morning (Stories 24 and 25)

A year and a half ago, the father of a friend of mine started taking Vitamin D3, 5000 IU/day at around 7 am — soon after getting up. That his regimen is exactly what I’d recommend (good dose, good time of day) is a coincidence — he doesn’t read this blog. He used to get 3 or 4 terrible colds every year, year after year. Since he started the Vitamin D3, he hasn’t gotten any. “A huge lifestyle improvement,” said my friend. His dad studied engineering at Caltech and is a considerable skeptic about new this and that.

Much more recently his mother changed the time of day she took her usual dose of Vitamin D3. For years she had been taking half in the morning (with a calcium supplement) and half at night. Two weeks ago she started taking the whole dose in the morning. Immediately — the first night — her sleep improved. She used to wake up every 2 hours. Since taking the Vitamin D3 in the morning, she has been waking up only every 3-6 hours. A few days ago, my friend reports she had “her best sleep in years”.

Sleep and immune function are linked in many ways beyond the fact that we sleep more when we’re sick. A molecule that promotes sleep turned out to be very close to a molecule that produces fever, for example. I found that when I did two things to improve my sleep (more standing, more morning light) I stopped getting colds. So it makes sense that a treatment that improves one (sleep or immune function) would also improve the other (immune function or sleep).

A few days ago I posted a link about a recent Vitamin D study that  found no effect of Vitamin D on colds. The study completely neglected importance of time of day by giving one large injection of Vitamin D (100,000 IU) per month at unspecified time. I commented: “One more Vitamin D experiment that failed to have subjects take the Vitamin D early in the morning — the time it appears most likely to have a good effect.” These two stories, which I learned about after that post, support my comment. What’s interesting is that the researchers who do Vitamin D studies keep failing to take time of day into account and keep failing to find an effect and keep failing to figure out why. I have gathered 23 anecdotes that suggest that their studies are failing because they are failing to make sure their subjects take their Vitamin D early in the morning. Yet these researchers, if they resemble most medical researchers, disparage anecdotes. (Disparagement of anecdotes reaches its apotheosis in “evidence-based medicine”.) The same anecdotes that, I believe, contain the information they need to do a successful Vitamin D clinical trial. Could there be a serious problem with how Vitamin D researchers are trained to do research? A better approach would be to study anecdotes to get ideas about causation and then test those ideas. This isn’t complicated or hard to understand, but I haven’t heard of it being taught. If you understand this method, you treasure anecdotes rather than dismiss them (“anecdotal evidence”).

 

12 Responses to “Vitamin D3 Eliminated Colds and Improved Sleep When Taken in the Morning (Stories 24 and 25)”

  1. Paul N Says:

    Many great scientific advancements have come about because of “anecdotes” – some unusual “thing” that has been observed/reported.

    That is how penicillin was discovered, same for x-rays.

    It is a case of cause and effect, where sometime the cause is not apparent. Most scientists start with a cause and want to see an effect, they are mostly unwilling to take an (anecdotal) effect and identify the cause – what prestige/grants/papers are there in researching anecdotes?

    Yet that is exactly how (nobel prize winners) Warren and Marshall discovered that a bacteria – H. Pylori – not acid or spicy foods – was the cause of stomach ulcers.

    Evidence based medicine is getting very good at ignoring real world evidence in favour of lab mice evidence, and, in the process, is becoming less useful by the day.

  2. charlie Says:

    You’re drawing a false contrast here; it isn’t evidence based medicine vs. anecdote.

    The Vitamin D study set out to study one thing : does an improved level of Vitamin D in the blood stop colds. The answer is no.

    You’re asking whether taking Vitamin D in morning improves sleep, which then improves colds.

    Seth: Okay, maybe I should restate my point by turning it into a question. Why do I find it easy to find anecdotes showing benefits of Vitamin D — in particular, the importance of taking it in the morning — when those who do clinical trials find it so hard to show benefit?

  3. Nancy Lebovitz Says:

    Some anecdotes about organic food and health:
    http://nancylebov.livejournal.com/556141.html

    Following up about a study of GMO and rats
    http://nancylebov.livejournal.com/556467.html

  4. gwern Says:

    > A few days ago I posted a link about a recent Vitamin D study that found no effect of Vitamin D on colds. The study completely neglected importance of time of day by giving one large injection of Vitamin D (100,000 IU) per month at unspecified time. I commented: “One more Vitamin D experiment that failed to have subjects take the Vitamin D early in the morning — the time it appears most likely to have a good effect.”

    Why does time matter if the injection is *1* day per month? If it affects that day’s circadian rhythm, that’s just 1 day out of 29-31 days and shouldn’t affect the net results.

    If the disturbance lasts that many days (which there’s no reason to think), then conversely, few of the anecdotes should be possible, and in particular neither of my RCTs should have found an effect because they were randomized on a much smaller-than-monthly basis.

    > Why do I find it easy to find anecdotes showing benefits of Vitamin D — in particular, the importance of taking it in the morning — when those who do clinical trials find it so hard to show benefit?

    Why indeed.

  5. Adam Says:

    I take 4000 units of Vitamin D in drop form every morning right when I wake up and I still get colds.

    I can’t say I noticed any improvement in my sleep from Vitamin D.

    There is plenty of evidence that Vitamin D levels should be in the range of 30-100 & that supplementation is often required to get it there. I’m still a bit skeptical about the sleep bit though.

  6. Adam Says:

    P.S. Is there a plausible mechanism by which Vitamin D could effect sleep quality? Because it is so persistent in the body, I’m a bit puzzled about why there would be a temporal effect.

    Seth: There are countless examples where the brain detects change, not constancy. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, search “edge detectors”. That could easily be true here. The brain is sensitive to changes in level of Vitamin D.

  7. Jim Purdy Says:

    Seth, your self-experimentation is always fascinating, in the way you apply it to many diverse health issues, and you come up with many unexpected results.

    However, with all the data you have accumulated over the years, I wonder whether you are finding any pattern — connecting the dots, if you will — that leads you toward any new and broader hypotheses or theories.

    One of my favorite authors is the evolutionary psychologist Randolph Nesse, who has written extensively about evolutionary medicine. Nesse seems to start with a broad theoretical evolutionary approach, and he then delves into the details — kind of a top-down approach.

    On the other hand, your research seems to start with the details from your self-experimentation, and perhaps your data lead to a bottom-up approach toward a theoretical construct.

    I’m not sure if I’m explaining this well, but I wonder if you are familiar with Nesse’s work, and if you see much common ground between his work and yours.

    Seth: My data has led me to three broad ideas. 1. Evolutionary thinking is a good way to generate ideas to test. 2. A theory of weight control (setpoint controlled by smell-calorie associations). 3. A theory of depression (mood/energy oscillator controlled by seeing faces). Or four broad ideas, if you count 4. There is a lot of useful stuff that medical researchers haven’t figured out. I am familiar with Nesse’s work. I agree with your description of how we’re different. The common ground is both of us see value in evolutionary thinking.

  8. gwern Says:

    Adam: check out http://www.gwern.net/docs/2012-gominak.pdf

  9. Nancy Lebovitz Says:

    The earlier hypothesis here was that taking vitamin D in the evening disrupts sleep. It wasn’t that vitamin D in the morning would improve sleep in general.

    Seth: The two ideas — Vitamin D in the evening disrupts sleep and Vitamin D in the morning improves sleep — go together, but it’s true that the former is far less interesting than the latter. In my self-experimentation, I tested the latter and found evidence supporting it.

  10. dearieme Says:

    O/T: of any interest, Seth?
    http://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2012/10/10/richard-smith-a-successful-and-cheerful-whistleblower/

    Seth: thanks very interesting. I will post about it in a few days.

  11. Adam Says:

    Gwern: Thanks for the study, I found it very interesting.

    I think that you don’t understand my question, however. I can see how Vitamin D could affect sleep, but I don’t understand why it would be related to time of ingestion.

    If I take Zolpidem, for example, I will get sleepy when my blood level goes up, and the effects will wear off as my body metabolizes and eliminates the drug.

    With Vitamin D, on the other hand, I take the drug & my blood level goes up & stays up, basically forever (it has a half-life of 10-21 days, whereas Zolpidem has a half-life of about 3 hours).

  12. Guv Says:

    Adam,

    My guess would be that Vitamin D probably does fluctuate throughout the day, like a lot of other hormones.
    But i guess the only way to know for sure is to test every few hours throughout a 24 four period.

    I got a few hits googling, “vitamin d” diurnal, & “vitamin d” circadian.
    Here are 2 studies i had a quick look at,
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11980618 (on postmenopausal women).
    http://www.jcircadianrhythms.com/content/2/1/3 (i know its on horses, but what the hay).