Researchers from Emory University School of Medicine report in a recent study that after supplementing with vitamin D, chronic pain patients reported improvements in pain, lack of sleep, and quality of life.
Huang W, Shah S, Long Q, Crankshaw AK, Tangpricha V. Improvement of pain, sleep and quality of life in chronic pain patients with vitamin D supplementation. Clinical Journal of Pain. 2012 June 13. [Epub ahead of print]
Chronic pain is characterized by pain lasting longer than the point of healing, or pain exceeding 3-6 months. It is estimated that up to 40% of westerners have experienced chronic pain in their life. While chronic pain can stem from a number of different disorders, psychiatric or physical, the management of this type of pain can be difficult.
In this study, Dr Wei Huang and colleagues collected serum samples from 28 US veterans and separated them based on vitamin D status, insufficient (20-29ng/mL) and deficient (<20ng/mL). The insufficient group was supplemented with 1,200 IU/day vitamin D3 and the deficient group supplemented with 50,000 IU/week vitamin D2, both administered orally for 3 months.
Before and after supplementation, the researchers collected vitamin D serum levels as well as conducted standardized assessments of pain, sleep quality/quantity, and overall quality of life.
The mean vitamin D level before supplementation was 18.6 ng/mL, which improved to 26 ng/mL after 3 months. In this time, the participants’ pain decreased from mean score 7.11 to 5.68 (1-10 scale, 10 worst pain). Also, 64% of veterans in the sample had chronic pain in more than 3 areas of their body, but after supplementation, the number of pain areas decreased by 53.6%.
The participants’ scores for sleep quality were evaluated before and after supplementation as well. For their test, scores could range from 0-21, with lower scores representing better sleep. Their average sleep score was 13.5, well above the normal and healthy population average of 5. There was an improvement in sleep scores after supplementation, scores improving to a mean of 12.2 (p=0.001). Sleep latency and sleep duration improved significantly, while sleep efficacy improved insignificantly after controlling for confounding factors.
There were significant improvements seen in quality of life, including general health, vitality, and social functioning, while there were borderline significant improvements seen in physical functioning.
The obvious shortcoming in this study is lack of placebo to compare results to, so the effects of vitamin D cannot necessarily be separated from a placebo effect. However, the average vitamin D level was deficient, and improving vitamin D status is a simple and easy step. As always, Huang and colleagues called for further research, with a placebo group to compare to.
In the meantime, this interventional study gives people with chronic pain the option to use vitamin D as part of their treatment of chronic pain.