Study Finds Low Vitamin D May Contribute To Chronic Pain

SPECIAL REPORT—According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic pain is the leading cause of chronic pain in the United States. With ongoing symptoms, patients often turn to narcotic-type pain medications such as morphine, fentanyl or oxycodone.


Researchers at Mayo Clinic have discovered a link between inadequate vitamin D levels and the amount of narcotic medications a patient needs to cope with chronic pain. These findings present researchers vital information in developing new treatment methods that may lessen the dependency on pain medications.


The studies found that patients, who suffered from chronic pain and had inadequate levels of vitamin D, were usually taking much higher doses of narcotic-like medication as those who had sufficient levels of the vitamin.  Patients, who provided data for the study, also self-reported overall poorer health perception and worse physical functioning than those who have adequate levels of vitamin D.


Another finding of the study was a correlation between obesity and decreased levels of vitamin D.


"This is an important finding as we continue to investigate the causes of chronic pain," says Michael Turner, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician at Mayo Clinic and lead author of the study. "Vitamin D is known to promote both bone and muscle strength. Conversely, deficiency is an under-recognized source of diffuse pain and impaired neuromuscular functioning. By recognizing it, physicians can significantly improve their patients' pain, function and quality of life."


The study has significant implications for physicians who care for patients with chronic and widespread pain. According to Dr. Turner, patients who are diagnosed with fibromyalgia, may in fact, be suffering from possible vitamin D deficiency.  Patients who are noted as obese, have darker pigmented skin or are limited to sunlight exposure may be at increased risk of vitamin D inadequacies.


The study involved 267 chronic patients of the Mayo Comprehensive Pain Rehabilitation Center in Rochester, Minnesota from February to December 2006. The vitamin D levels of patients were evaluated and compared to factors such as the dosage and duration of narcotic pain medication as well as consideration for reported levels of pain, emotional distress, perceived health and physical functioning. Other data such as gender, age, diagnosis and body mass index, which can measure obesity, was gathered as well for the study.


Vitamin D is produced naturally in the human body when exposed to direct sunlight, however certain factors can affect the synthesis of the vitamin and in most cases, requires additional supplementation to receive adequate quantities. Vitamin D is also found in fortified milk and other dairy products, spreads, cereals, and breads.  The vitamin is also included in practically every multi-vitamin sold in retail stores.


Older adults, those with darker skin pigmentation or obese, may choose to discuss vitamin D supplementation, especially when chronic, diffuse pain is present.