Lack of Vitamin D Linked to Pain
Study Shows Limited Sun Exposure Has Health Benefits
Dec. 10, 2003 -- There is new evidence that small amounts of unprotected sun exposure could be good for you. Earlier studies have linked vitamin D deficiency with an increased risk for several cancers. Now comes word that it may also be a major cause of unexplained muscle and bone pain.
In a study involving 150 children and adults with unexplained muscle and bone pain, almost all were found to be vitamin D deficient; many were severely deficient with extremely low levels of vitamin D in their bodies.
Humans tend to get most of their vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, so those who avoid the sun completely or who always wear sunscreen to protect themselves against skin cancers are at risk for vitamin D deficiencies, says Michael Holick, MD. Holick runs the Vitamin D Research Lab at Boston University Medical Center.
"I think the current message that all unprotected sun exposure is bad for you is too extreme," he tells WebMD. "The original message was that people should limit their sun exposure, not that they should avoid the sun entirely. I do believe that some unprotected exposure to the sun is important for health."
Holick claims there is now a strong epidemiological case linking vitamin D deficiency with a host of cancers including those of the prostate, colon, and breast; and he says vitamin D may also help protect against heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and even type 1 diabetes.
He will present the evidence in a book scheduled for publication next spring, but the nation's largest dermatology group remains unconvinced. In a recent press release, American Academy of Dermatology officials wrote that they were "deeply concerned" that the message that unprotected sun exposure may have health benefits could "mislead the public about the very real danger of sun exposure, the leading cause of skin cancer."
Patients Should Be Tested
In the latest study, Gregory A. Plotnikoff, MD, of the University of Minnesota Medical School found a much higher incidence of vitamin D deficiency in the patients with unexplained muscle and skeletal pain than expected, regardless of their ages.
All of the African Americans, East Africans, Hispanics, and Native Americans who participated in the study were vitamin D deficient, as were all of the patients under the age of 30.
The researcher says it was a big surprise that the worst vitamin D deficiencies occurred in young people -- especially women of childbearing age. The findings are reported in the December issue of the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
"The message here is that unexplained pain may very well be linked to a vitamin D deficiency," Plotnikoff tells WebMD. "My hope is that patients with unexplained pain will be tested for vitamin D status, and treated, if necessary."