Vitamin D tablets could help people cope with chronic backache and arthritis, it emerged yesterday.
The ‘sunshine supplements’ could help many pain-related conditions, from menstrual cramps to fibromyalgia, biologists have concluded.
That is because Vitamin D, created by sunlight and found in oily fish, is believed to tackle inflammation.
Inflammation, the body’s immune response to illness, releases proteins which make people more sensitive to pain and allow it to last for longer.
A review by scientists in Brazil states that vitamin D must be combined with good sleep to manage pain-related diseases.
The vitamin is already recommended for pregnant women and claimed to ward off dementia and multiple sclerosis, with some experts calling for it to be routinely added to food to prevent chronic colds and flu.
Lead author of the review, Dr Monica Levy Andersen, from the Federal University of Sao Paolo, said: ‘We can hypothesise that suitable vitamin D supplementation combined with sleep hygiene may optimise the therapeutic management of pain-related diseases, such as fibromyalgia.’
The paper is published in the Journal of Endocrinology and its editor, Dr Sof Andrikopoulos, from the University of Melbourne, added: ‘This research is very exciting and novel.
‘We are unravelling the possible mechanisms of how vitamin D is involved in many complex processes, including what this review shows – that a good night’s sleep and normal levels of vitamin D could be an effective way to manage pain.’
Nearly a third of the British population are deficient in vitamin D, because of a lack of time outdoors, the grey UK weather and a diet low in fresh produce.
In the spring and summer, it is easier to make vitamin D through the skin when it is exposed to sunshine. But many people do not make up the shortfall in the autumn and winter by eating foods high in the vitamin, such as liver, eggs, red meat and oily fish.
The review cites several studies showing that taking supplements instead can help with musculoskeletal pain, such as chronic back pain. A meta-analysis from last year found people in hospital reduced their pain after three months of vitamin D pills.
Dr Brian Hammond, chairman of UK charity Backcare, said: ‘This exciting review of the research involving vitamin D, sleep and pain will hopefully help the millions of sufferers of low back and neck pain, as well as patients suffering from chronic pain from other conditions like fibromyalgia.
A study from two years previously found people with fibromyalgia ranked their ‘pain score’ lower over the weeks after starting taking supplements.
People with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis also saw their pain reduced. It is suggested by the authors that vitamin D works for these autoimmune diseases by disrupting the pathways within the immune system which make us sensitive to pain. In other words, it raises our pain threshold.
However the vitamin also can work to help with pain caused by injury, when combined with sleep, which is also linked to pain.
Dr Andersen said: ‘It is necessary to understand the possible mechanisms involved in this relationship, including immunological and neurobiological pathways related to inter-relationship among sleep, vitamin D and pain.’