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Vitamin D—A New Pain Killer?

Women who get the right amount of vitamin D are less likely to suffer from chronic widespread pain, according to a new study in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases.

Vitamin D is a hormone that is intimately involved with bone and immune system health. In addition to promoting normal bone development, there is evidence that getting enough vitamin D helps protect against multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and certain cancers. Studies have found that many people suffering from chronic pain have low vitamin D levels and that supplementing may help relieve certain types of pain.

The sunshine vitamin’s role in pain prevention

About 10% of the population suffers from chronic widespread pain, which is pain that occurs on both sides of the body, above and below the waist, and lasts for longer than three months. This is the type of pain that characterizes fibromyalgia syndrome, but it can also occur without fibromyalgia.

The new study aimed to determine the range of vitamin D levels at which people were more likely to experience chronic pain. Almost 7,000 people gave information about bodily pain and had their vitamin D levels measured.

The researchers found that vitamin D status was associated with chronic widespread pain in women but not in men. Chronic pain was least likely to occur in women with the highest vitamin D levels. Women with lower levels were more than 1.5 times as likely to have chronic pain as were women with the highest levels.

“Follow-up studies are needed to evaluate whether higher vitamin D intake might have beneficial effects on chronic widespread pain risk,” the authors concluded.

Get your daily D

Because of its potential role in predicting chronic widespread pain, and its central function in bone and immune health, it is important to ensure adequate vitamin D intake.

People living in northern latitudes should aim to get some sun exposure all year round. During the hotter months, expose the hands, arms, and face to the sun for 15 minutes, three times per week. During the cooler months, allow any exposed parts full access to the sun—without any sun block.

Good food sources of vitamin D include egg yolks, fortified foods, and oily fish such as salmon and herring. Some brands of cod liver oil provide 400 IU of vitamin D per teaspoon. For most people, 1,000 IU of vitamin D per day is a safe amount. Check with your doctor to see how much vitamin D is right for you.

(Ann Rheum Dis 2008;doi:10.1136/ard.2008.090456)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND

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