By Pat Anson, Editor
Vitamin D supplements, along with good sleeping habits, could help manage chronic pain from fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, back pain and other conditions, according to a new study.
The importance of vitamin D – the “sunshine vitamin” – in maintaining bone strength and overall health has long been known. But recent research has focused on the role it plays in inflammation, musculoskeletal pain and sleep disorders.
“Vitamin D status seems to have an important role in the bidirectional relationship observed between sleep and pain,” said senior author Dr. Monica Levy Andersen in the Journal of Endocrinology. “We can hypothesize that suitable vitamin D supplementation combined with sleep hygiene may optimize the therapeutic management of pain-related diseases, such as fibromyalgia."
Andersen and her colleagues at Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo in Brazil reviewed 35 clinical studies of vitamin D, and concluded that vitamin D supplements could increase the effectiveness of pain treatments by stimulating an anti-inflammatory response.
"This research is very exciting and novel. We are unraveling the possible mechanisms of how vitamin D is involved in many complex processes, including what this review shows - that a good night's sleep and normal levels of vitamin D could be an effective way to manage pain," said Sof Andrikopoulos, assistant professor at the University of Melbourne and Editor of the Journal of Endocrinology.
Sources of Vitamin D include oily fish and eggs, but it can be difficult to get enough through diet alone. Ultraviolet rays in sunlight are a principal source of Vitamin D for most people.
Several recent studies have found an association between chronic pain and low levels of Vitamin D in the blood. Researchers at National Taiwan University Hospital found low levels of serum vitamin D in over 1,800 fibromyalgia patients. Danish researchers have also found an association between lack of sunlight and multiple sclerosis.
But some question quality of the studies and whether Vitamin D supplements do any good.
“Evidence does not support vitamin D supplementation for the treatment of multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis or for improving depression/mental well-being,” wrote Michael Allan, a professor of Family Medicine and director of Evidence Based Medicine at the University of Alberta in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
Allan says much of the research is of low quality. He doesn’t dispute the overall health benefits of Vitamin D – such as building strong bones and teeth -- but thinks taking supplements is unnecessary and could even be harmful in large doses.
"The 40 year old person is highly unlikely to benefit from vitamin D," said Allan. "And when I say highly unlikely, I mean it's not measurable in present science."