Vitamin D and Unexplained Pain
Chronic pain affects 9% to 20% of American adults, according to the Mayo Clinic, and total estimated costs of it are around $50 billion annually. Chronic pain has been the focus of many research studies and much of chronic pain experienced has no known cause. Research has shown that vitamin D may be a missing piece of the puzzle.
Vitamin D Facts
Vitamin D receptors are present in many different tissues throughout the body. In many ways, it acts more like a hormone than a vitamin. Hormones are like the mail system of the body. When messages aren't sent or get lost, the body does not function the way it should.
Vitamin D has been linked to many conditions including cardiovascular disease, muscle weakness and diabetes, all of which can manifest in the body as some sort of pain or discomfort.
According to a study done by Forrest et al. in 2011, the overall prevalence rate of Vitamin D deficiency in the United States is 41.6%. In other words, 4/10 people in the US can be experiencing chronic pain due to decreased vitamin D.
What's the connection?
In a study done by Plotnikoff et al., over 90% of patients with “non specific musculoskeletal pain” directly correlated with a decrease in vitamin D levels. Vitamin D helps the bones to form properly and aids in the absorption of calcium, also needed for bone growth.
Vitamin D helps to regulate the inflammatory cascade, our body's defense mechanism for protection against invading organisms. When the inflammatory cascade is left unchecked, it can lead to wide-spread inflammation. Systemic inflammation is associated with conditions such as fibromyalgia and autoimmune dysfunction; symptoms of which include pain.
In a 2007 study, Mytoon and his colleagues stated that a vitamin d deficiency should be considered in anyone with chronic musculoskeletal pain. A deficiency can be detected through a simple blood test and can save someone time and aggravation ruling out other pathologies.
Sources of Vitamin D
Healthy doses of vitamin D are best received through sunlight. Since blood levels of vitamin D plateau after about 15-30 minutes of sun exposure, there has been no report of vitamin D intoxication through this method. The problem is, due to the very real risk of skin cancer, many of us lather up with sun screen before leaving the house. While this is an understandable practice, it does not allow for a good amount of vitamin D to be absorbed through the skin.
It has been suggested that people bring sun screen with them when they are planning to be outside, wait about 20 minutes and then put sun screen on. This way, you are limiting exposure to harmful UV rays without compromising on the vitamin D.
Unfortunately, for those living in regions where sun is limited, it can be difficult to get the proper amount of vitamin D through the sun. There are also a few foods which have naturally occurring of vitamin D, including Herring, Eel and Salmon.
Adequate dosing of Vitamin D can also be achieved through supplementation. Vitamin D is what they call fat-soluble. This means the body stores extra vitamin D in fat cells so toxicity is a possibility. If you decide to supplement, be sure to do so under the care of a licensed health care professional, to avoid harmful side effects.
Chronic pain sufferers know the hopeless feeling of thinking the pain will never go away. While vitamin D may not be the answer to all your chronic pain, it may help just enough to give hope that there's more that can be done.
Getting on a healthy path can be difficult and it takes baby steps. Ensuring adequate levels of vitamin D is a baby step that can turn into a giant leap. It is worth a try. Ask to your health care professional for more information.
In good health!
1-“ Mayo Clinic Proceedings”.; Prevalence of Severe Hypovitaminosis D in Patients with Persistent, Nonspecific Musculoskeletal Pain; Plotnikoff, G.A et al.; 2003
2-“Pain”; Vitamin D and Chronic Pain; Straube, S. et al.; January 2009
3- “Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries, 2nd edition”; Cost-Effectiveness of Interventions for Musculoskeletal Conditions; Connelly, L.B. et al,; 2006.
4- “Journal of the American Geriatric Society”; Associations between Vitamin D Status and Pain in Older Adults: The Invecchiare in Chianti Study; Hicks et al.; May, 2008.
5- “British Journal of General Practice”; Vitamin D deficiency in multicultural primary care: a case series of 299 patients; Mytoon, J. et al.; July, 2007
6- “Pain”; Vitamin D and chronic pain; Straube et al.; November 2009.
7- “British Journal of Nutrition”; Vitamin D in preventive medicine: are we ignoring the evidence?; Zittermann, A.; 2003. http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FBJN%2FBJN89_05%2FS0007114503000692a.pdf&code=b9f2322c68fda6e50e528452fc6608c7
8.”Nutrition Research”; Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults; Forrest, K.Y. et al.; January, 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21310306