Vitamin D Effective Treatment for Chronic Low Back Pain
People suffering from chronic low back pain may get relief from taking supplemental vitamin D, according to a new study in Spine (2003;28:177–9). The findings of this study suggest vitamin D deficiency may be an underlying cause for persistent low back pain in some adults.
In the new study, 360 men and women between the ages of 15 and 52 with low back pain lasting more than six months were given 5,000 or 10,000 IU per day of vitamin D (25-hydroxycholecalciferol) for three months. All participants had no known underlying diseases that could be a cause of their back pain.
Initial tests showed that 83% of the participants had abnormally low levels of vitamin D in their blood. After the treatment period, vitamin D levels returned to normal in all individuals who were initially deficient. All participants with vitamin D deficiency reported improvement in their back pain after taking vitamin D, whereas 69% of those with normal vitamin D levels improved. It is not clear why so many people who were not deficient in vitamin D improved when they received the supplement. Some of the response may have been a placebo effect, and some may have been due to correction of subtle vitamin D deficiency that did not show up on the lab test.
Vitamin D is necessary for maintaining a normal blood concentration of calcium; it also enhances the absorption of calcium from the intestines. Vitamin D can be manufactured in the body from a precursor molecule that is produced when the skin is exposed to direct sunlight. Only a small amount of sun exposure is required to prevent vitamin D deficiency. People living in northern regions (such as Sweden, Norway, and Alaska), however, may be prone to developing vitamin D deficiency as are individuals who avoid the sun or cover their body when outdoors. The new study was conducted in Saudi Arabia, where, despite the excessive amount of sunlight, most people stay indoors and cover their bodies when outdoors for cultural reasons, which may be a predisposing factor for developing vitamin D deficiency. Deficiency of vitamin D can lead to softening of the bones (osteomalacia) in adults or rickets in children. The authors speculate that chronic low back pain may be due to osteomalacia, but future studies are necessary to confirm this theory.
The amount of vitamin D taken in the new study far exceeds the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults. As excessive vitamin D intake can be harmful, these doses should be used only under the supervision of a doctor. The form of vitamin D used in the study (25-hydroxycholecalciferol) is not the more common form (cholecalciferol) most often found in stores. While it is not known for certain whether the more common form would have provided the same benefits, the more common type of vitamin D is known to be effective for preventing and treating vitamin D deficiency.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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