A retrospective study found that vitamin D levels were significantly lower in adolescent idiopathic scoliosis patients compared to healthy controls.
Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) is an abnormal curvature of the spine that develops in late childhood or adolescence. The spine makes an elongated “S” or “C” shape rather than growing straight. The bones surrounding the spine are also slightly twisted or rotated. AIS is the most common spinal abnormality in children, affecting approximately 2%-3% of the children in the U.S. Most cases of scoliosis are mild, but some adolescents suffer from severe cases that can be disabling.
Since vitamin D plays an important role in musculoskeletal development and maintenance, researchers have begun to consider that vitamin D may also be a component in the etiology of AIS. Therefore, a recent study was conducted, comparing vitamin D levels between 229 patients with AIS and an age-matched comparison group of 389 athletes without scoliosis.
The researchers retrospectively assessed the medical records of patients between the ages of 10 and 22 years who were diagnosed with AIS defined by a Cobb’s angle greater than 10 degrees. Cobb’s angle is a standard measurement used to diagnose scoliosis and track its progression. Severity and treatments can be determined using the Cobb’s angle; a larger angle indicates a greater severity and thus, a more serious treatment. The researchers found the following:
- The average vitamin D status in patients with AIS was significantly lower than the average in the controls with values of 17.1 ng/ml and 21.6 ng/ml, respectively (p < 0.0001).
- Low vitamin D levels were correlated to Cobb’s angle (p < 0.026).
- When patients were sub-classified on the basis of the cutoff Cobb’s angle of 45 degrees, a severity of AIS that often requires surgery, no difference in vitamin D levels were identified between patients with Cobb’s angle less than 45 degrees and those with an angle of 45 degrees or greater (p = 0.075).
The researchers summarized their findings,
“It is likely that vitamin D plays a role, either causative or mediating, in the etiopathogenesis of AIS, and therefore larger population-based studies are warranted.”
It’s important to note that this study only found a correlation between vitamin D status and scoliosis; therefore, one cannot conclude that vitamin D supplementation helps AIS. In addition, there are various confounding factors to consider; perhaps athletes receive more sun exposure from being outside than those who are affected by AIS. Due to the benefits of vitamin D supplementation outside of AIS and its affordability, a patient with AIS should consider supplementing with vitamin D.
Tovey, A. & Cannell, JJ. Recent study finds patients with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis have lower vitamin D levels than healthy adolescents. The Vitamin D Council Blog & Newsletter, 2016.