The body makes vitamin D from the sun's ultraviolet rays, so it's known as the sunshine vitamin, but this source is in short supply throughout late fall and winter.
According to an extensive review of clinical research in a report from Pain Treatment Topics, inadequate vitamin D has been linked to a long list of painful maladies, including bone and joint pain, muscle aches, fibromyalgia syndrome, rheumatic disorders, osteoarthritis, and other complaints.
Lack of vitamin D also has been implicated in the mood disturbances of chronic fatigue syndrome and seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, which are more common during winter.
Author of the report and editor of Pain Treatment Topics, Stewart B. Leavitt, MA, PhD, notes that for many people sunshine is not an ample source of vitamin D during most of the year and the few foods containing the vitamin do not provide enough of it.
"In our review of 22 clinical research studies persons with various pain and fatigue syndromes almost always lacked vitamin D, especially during winter months. When sufficient vitamin D supplementation was provided, the aches, pains, weakness, and related problems in most sufferers either vanished or were at least helped to a significant degree."
The report mentions the following important points:
- Vitamin D is a complex nutrient that actually functions as a hormone to benefit numerous body tissues and organs, including bones, muscles, and nerves.
- A surprising majority of persons in many parts of the world, including the United States, do not get enough vitamin D from sunshine or foods.
- The currently recommended adequate intake of vitamin D - up to 400 IU per day in children and 600 IU per day in adults - is outdated and too low. According to the research, most children and adults need at least 1000 IU per day, and persons with bone or muscle aches and pains could benefit from 2000 IU or more per day of supplemental vitamin D3 (also called cholecalciferol), especially during winter months.
- Vitamin D supplements are generally safe if taken as directed. They interact with very few drugs or other agents, and are usually not harmful unless very high daily doses - such as, 50,000 IU or more - are taken for an extended period of time.
- Vitamin D supplements are easy to take, usually have no side effects, and typically cost as little as 7 to 10 cents per day.