Summer is upon us; this means golf season for some, and vitamin D season for everybody. Most vitamin D (about 80%-90% of what the body gets) is obtained through exposure to sunlight. The vitamin can also be found in small amounts in some foods, most commonly in fatty fish such as herring, mackerel, sardines and tuna. To make it more accessible, it’s added to dairy products, juices and cereals with the tag “fortified with vitamin D” to accompany them.
We all require vitamin D; without it, bones can become thin, brittle, or misshapen. A lack of the vitamin has been implicated in a number of conditions, including chronic pain. This connection has been the subject of much interest; if it were proven to be true, vitamin D would be a relatively safe and inexpensive treatment. It begs the question: can defenses against chronic pain be “fortified with vitamin D”? A research review conducted earlier this year took a look at the effect of vitamin D on people suffering from chronic pain conditions.
What kind of research was done?
In February 2015, a Cochrane Database Systematic Review compiling the highest quality research on the effects of vitamin D on chronic painful conditions was published by S. Straube and colleagues. The review assessed whether or not there was substantial evidence to support vitamin D supplementation in cases of chronic pain.
Two review authors independently selected studies for inclusion, assessed quality, and extracted data. The research reviewed consisted of double-blind studies, testing the efficacy of vitamin D treatment when compared to placebo or other active comparators. An active comparator is an established, effective treatment used to gauge the success of the treatment in question. In total, 10 studies were reviewed, representing a total of 811 participants.
What were the results?
Overall, there was no consistent pattern that vitamin D yields a greater effectiveness than placebo in any chronic painful condition. Based on the evidence, a large beneficial outcome with vitamin D is highly unlikely. Yet, the question of whether the vitamin can have advantageous effects in specific chronic painful conditions warrants further examination.
The bottom line
- There is no substantial evidence to support the effectiveness of vitamin D in the treatment of chronic pain. In terms of risk benefit, benefit is unclear but there appears to be little or no risk to taking the supplements.
- The jury is still out. The vitamin’s effectiveness on specific chronic painful conditions remains to be seen. More studies definitely needed.