While the study’s findings don’t necessarily prove that low vitamin D causes musculoskeletal pain, it certainly suggests they are related, according to Gregory A. Plotnikoff, an associate professor of clinical medicine and pediatrics at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis.
In the study, by researchers at the University of Minnesota, doctors found that, of 150 patients with unexplained muscle and bone pain at the university’s Community Health Care Center, 93 percent had a vitamin D deficiency. Among blacks, American Indians, East Africans and Hispanics in this group, the figure rose to 100 percent. Nearly half the women in their childbearing years with such pain were severely or even exceptionally deficient.
“Patients with low vitamin D feel pain because a low level of the vitamin causes bones to weaken and become more rubber-like,” observed Plotnikoff. “That means that everyday stresses and strains affect people who lack vitamin D differently than they would people with strong bones.”
The human body manufactures vitamin D naturally when the skin is exposed to sunlight for 15 or 20 minutes a day (though overexposure can open the door to skin cancer). We can also get the vitamin from fortified milk (we need to drink a quart a day), dark-flesh fish and cod-liver oil. The U.S. government suggests 400 International Units of the vitamin a day, and 600 for people 70 or older. So the best thing is to take a vitamin supplement and spend some time outside in the sun each day during spring and summer to build up a supply of vitamin D to last through the fall and winter, especially in northern climates.
The bodies of people with darker skin, greater age or heavier weight have more difficulty making the vitamin (not to mention babies, who get no vitamin D from breast milk), so they should take extra pains to get sun and take supplements.