If you are not getting enough Vitamin D in your diet, chances are you will have worsening pain from arthritis and other related pain conditions, including fibromyalgia. Recent research studies have found a connection between low levels of vitamin D and chronic pain that does not respond to medication.
What Research Has Found
A 2009 study out of the Mayo Clinic found a relationship between low levels of vitamin D and the amount of pain that arthritis patients are in. According to the researchers of this study, patients who were taking a high dose of narcotic pain medication also had insufficient Vitamin D levels. In fact, these patients were taking nearly twice as much narcotic pain medication compared to those who had sufficient Vitamin D. Further, the patients with low levels of Vitamin D reported worsening pain, an inability to function, and an overall failing health picture.
A 2007 study from the American College of Rheumatology found that as much as 13.3% of fibromyalgia patients are vitamin D deficient while 56% had insufficient levels of Vitamin D. Further, various studies have found that vitamin D deficiency is quite common in patients with autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis.
Role of Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps bones to stay healthy and grow. It is also plays an important role in bone repair and prevention of osteoporosis. When individuals do not get enough Vitamin D in their diets, they are at risk for bone softening and pain, osteomalacia (the softening of the bones caused by defective bone mineralization), osteoporosis (a disease of bones that leads to an increased risk of fracture), rickets in children, hypertension, chronic pain, cognitive impairment, and other serious health risks.
Causes of Deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency can happen for a variety of different reasons. The most common causes are inadequate intake of Vitamin D from food sources, limited exposure to sunlight, disorders that limit absorption, and the body’s inability to convert Vitamin D in the body.
Individuals who do not consume the recommended levels of Vitamin D can become deficient. Most natural sources of vitamin D are animal based foods and include fish, beef liver, eggs, milk and cheese. For individuals who eat a primarily vegetarian diet, Vitamin D supplements can help. Most doctors recommend taking in no more than 2000 IU (International Units) a day to increase Vitamin D levels and keep them at normal levels.
Inadequate exposure to sunlight can lead to vitamin D deficiency. Our bodies make vitamin D when skin is exposed to sunlight. However, if you are housebound, live in the northern part of the country, have an occupation that limits your exposure to sun, have dark skin, or if you were wear head coverings and robes for religious reasons; you have a higher risk of becoming vitamin D deficient. If your exposure to sunlight is limited, you should discuss with your health care provider about getting your levels tested and whether taking a supplement is necessary.
Certain medical problems including autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can affect the body’s ability to absorb vitamin D from the foods we take in. Taking in more vitamin D, though supplements, can help to promote heart health, strengthen bone cartilage, and may even help to reduce pain and disability. Supplements can also help to alleviate other symptoms of arthritis conditions.
In some cases, the kidneys cannot convert Vitamin D properly. As we age, our kidneys become less able to absorb and convert Vitamin D thus increasing the risk for deficiency.
How can you get more Vitamin D?
You can get more Vitamin D through diet, sunlight and supplements.
Diet: Most people can acquire adequate Vitamin D from the foods they eat. Foods high in Vitamin D include fatty fish, such as salmon and catfish, fish liver oils, mushrooms, vitamin D-fortified milk and whole eggs. The Office of Dietary Supplement has a fact sheet that offers additional information about food sources that are high in vitamin D.
Sunlight: Exposure to sunlight is the most natural way to get more Vitamin D. Our bodies create the sunshine vitamin when exposed to adequate sunlight. Sunlight also helps those suffering with depression and many patients living with arthritis, fibromyalgia and other pain conditions, are already dealing with or are prone to depression.
Vitamin D Supplements: For most adults, the highest safe limit for vitamin D is set at 2,000 IUs per day. Taking more than 50,000 IU puts a person at risk for Vitamin D poisoning. Doctors will prescribe a dose no more than 50,000 IUs for patients suffering from severe deficiency or who have very low levels of Vitamin D. Supplements can help with pain reduction as well as long term bone protection.
The Bottom Line
It would be nice of Vitamin D worked to treat chronic pain on its own since it is a cheap and simple treatment with little or no side effects. While treating with Vitamin D will not stop pain, stable Vitamin D levels can still help to keep pain levels down. If you have chronic pain from arthritis, fibromyalgia or other pain condition, it doesn’t hurt to ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels. If you are vitamin D deficient, a simple supplement can help you to reduce pain and other symptoms associated with arthritis and other pain conditions and can also help to improve your quality of life as live with and deal with chronic pain.