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Vitamin D—Natural Relief for Low Back Pain?

Older women with low back pain might benefit by getting some extra vitamin D, reports a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Low levels of vitamin D can lead to weakened bones, lowered immune function, and sometimes pain.

The new study included 958 people over age 65 who gave information about the location of their pain, from their midback to their feet. Blood samples were taken to measure vitamin D levels.

Women were more likely than men to have moderate or severe pain in some part of their bodies, and women who were vitamin D deficient were almost twice as likely to suffer from low back pain as were people with normal vitamin D levels. Vitamin D status didn’t seem to affect low back pain in men, nor did it influence pain in other parts of the bodies of men or women.

The "sunshine vitamin" is produced in the body after exposure of the skin to sunlight. Exposing the face, arms, and hands to sunlight for 15 minutes three times per week year-round can help boost vitamin D levels. Vitamin D also occurs naturally in a few foods like egg yolks and fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel. Dairy products, juices, and cereal products are often fortified with vitamin D.

Just how much vitamin D is best for optimal health is a hot topic. A growing body of evidence suggests that 400 IU per day, the amount found in many multivitamin products, is not enough to maintain optimal levels. Many people appear to need 1,000 IU per day and in some cases even more. The body's ability to synthesize vitamin D diminishes with age, putting older people at increased risk for deficiency.

The Institute of Medicine has concluded that long-term intake of 2,000 IU per day is safe for most people. Some doctors recommend even more, such as 2,000 to 4,000 IU per day depending on the season, but people taking those amounts should be monitored by a doctor.

Along with the many other benefits adequate D offers the body, such as supporting calcium absorption that keeps bones strong, the authors of the new study conclude that the new study’s findings "suggest it may be worthwhile to question older adults about their pain and screen older women with significant back pain for vitamin D deficiency."

(Hicks GE, Shardell M, Miller RR. "Associations between vitamin D status and pain in older adults: the Invecchiare in Chianti study." J Am Geriatr Soc 2008;56 :785–91)

 


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