Is There a Connection Between Vitamin D and Joint Pain?
Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin for good reason. Not only does your body make vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun, but we also know vitamin D can ward off many health problems. Vitamin D is a naturally occurring compound that regulates the body’s use of calcium and phosphorus. It’s crucial for the formation of bone and teeth. Because vitamin D is so important to bone growth, some researchers have wondered if supplements can help joint pain.
Does research support vitamin D as a treatment for joint pain?
One study found that patients living with chronic pain who were deficient in vitamin D were the most likely to benefit from taking vitamin D supplements. However, more information is needed to determine whether vitamin D supplements can help everyone living with chronic pain.
Another study predicted that adults with a vitamin D deficiency who are older than 50 are more likely to develop pain in their hip and knee joints. The study also noted that the pain is more likely to get worse if the deficiency isn’t treated.
A study looked at vitamin D levels in people who have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune condition that causes the body to attack its joints. The study found that most of the participants had low vitamin D levels.
The researchers concluded that the low vitamin D levels were a complication of RA. Other studies have concluded that people with RA have low vitamin D levels from their corticosteroid medications.
However, a study of postmenopausal women, a group that frequently experiences joint pain, found that taking daily vitamin D3 and calcium supplements did not improve joint pain.
Why do we need vitamin D?
Perhaps the best-known benefit of vitamin D is that it strengthens bones and teeth. Before vitamin D was routinely added to food, including milk, children were at risk for a condition known as rickets.
In adults, vitamin D wards off osteomalacia (soft bones) and osteoporosis (loss of bone mass). People with vitamin D deficiency are more likely to experience infection and insulin resistance. Some studies have linked vitamin D deficiency to coronary artery disease. However, not enough research exists to confirm the link.
How can I prevent vitamin D deficiency?
For most people, the recommended daily allowance of vitamin D is 600 international units (IU). Babies up to 1 year of age need only 400 IU, and adults older than 70 should have 800 IU. To get your recommended daily allowance, make sure you eat the right foods and get sunlight.
Eat the right foods
Food is the best way to get vitamin D. Fish, dairy, and fortified cereal are good sources.
Get some sunlight
Sun exposure is the second significant source of vitamin D. Ultraviolet (UV) light starts a chemical reaction in the skin that produces a usable form of vitamin D. How much vitamin D your body produces changes with the environment and how well your skin absorbs vitamin D. Those with darker skin need more sun exposure. The right dose of sunshine for getting vitamin D is hard to estimate. However, depending on skin color and how well you absorb vitamin D, aim for about 5 to 30 minutes of exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. at least twice per week. The exposure should be to your face, arms, legs, or back, without sunscreen. Sunscreens with an SPF of 8 or higher block vitamin D-producing UV rays.
For some people, a supplement may be needed regardless of the amount of time in the sun. Talk to your healthcare provider about your vitamin D levels. If you work at an office job or live in an area that doesn’t have a lot of sun, consider purchasing a vitamin D lamp.
What happens if you get too much vitamin D?
It’s very rare to get too much vitamin D. But overdose can potentially be very serious. Vitamin D toxicity is most likely to be caused by taking too many supplements. Taking 60,000 IU per day of vitamin D for several months can cause vitamin D toxicity. This is about 100 times the typical adult recommended dietary allowance of 600 IU. People who have certain health problems may need less vitamin D than the average person and be more susceptible to excess levels.
Your body regulates the amount of vitamin D it gets from sunlight and food. It’s difficult to get too much vitamin D from the sun. Too much time in the sun interferes with your body creating vitamin D.
The biggest risk of sun exposure is skin cancer. You should wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 before going outside into the sun. Sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours.
Vitamin D toxicity can lead to a buildup of calcium in your blood. This is a condition known as hypercalcemia. The symptoms include:
poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, weakness, frequent urination, kidney problems
The primary treatment is to reduce or discontinue the use of vitamin D supplements. In extreme cases, intravenous fluids or medications may be necessary.
People who have low levels of vitamin D often have joint pain. Vitamin D supplements may treat joint pain in some people who have a vitamin D deficiency. However, research doesn’t support that people with healthy levels of vitamin D take should take these supplements for joint pain.
Vitamin D and arthritis
Vitamin D helps your bones absorb calcium, which is vital to bone health. It’s also crucial for muscle movement, communication between nerves, and fighting inflammation. According to the Arthritis Foundation, people who take oral steroids have a vitamin D deficiency twice as often as people who don’t take them. Oral steroids are a common treatment for people with arthritis.
Another study found that vitamin D deficiency is common in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and may be linked to musculoskeletal pain.
Not having enough vitamin D can:
affect your immune system
reduce calcium and phosphorus levels
increase your risk for RA, if you are a woman
But the biggest concern for vitamin D deficiency is osteoporosis or brittle bones. This condition increases your risk for bone fractures, bone pain, and hearing loss. Read on to learn what to do if you have a vitamin D deficiency.
How does vitamin D affect your bones?
A vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis. According to the Mayo Clinic, higher doses of prednisone, an RA medication, also increase your risk for osteoporosis. This condition causes your bones to lose density and become weak, which increases your risk for bone fractures from incidents ranging from falls to bumping into objects. Talk to your doctor if you have arthritis and think you may be at risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis often develops without symptoms and requires a bone mineral density test for diagnosis.
What to do if you have arthritis and a vitamin D deficiency
Supplements and diet
It’s important to get enough calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones. According to UpToDate, this is the first step to the prevention or treatment of osteoporosis. Calcium is essential to keeping your bones healthy, while vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium as well as protect your bones. Food is your best source of these nutrients. You can get calcium from low-fat milk, yoghurt, and cheese. Vitamin D is available in fatty fish like salmon and tuna.
You can also find fortified breakfast cereals, juices, and other foods that have calcium and vitamin D. The nutrition label on these items will show you roughly how much of your daily value you are getting.
The good news is that osteoporosis and arthritis symptoms both improve with exercise. And while supplements and sunshine may not relieve joint inflammation, they do benefit muscle health. Strong muscles around the joints can ease some of the discomfort caused by arthritis. This is because stronger muscles take some of the stress off of damaged cartilage in the joints, and also support the bones.
Some exercises such as yoga or lifting weights may increase your risk for falls. Talk to your doctor about the right exercises for you if you have arthritis and osteoporosis.
Will vitamin D supplements work for arthritis?
Theoretically, vitamin D should be helpful in preventing, slowing, or reducing arthritis inflammation. But there’s little to mixed evidence that vitamin D supplements can relieve or prevent arthritis symptoms. People who took vitamin D supplements for two years had no improvement in knee pain.
If you have any questions or want information on managing your orthopaedic issues don’t hesitate to contact us.
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