By: Sindy Hassig, MSPT
Recently I completed a paper about the importance of vitamin D for musculoskeletal health as part of the doctoral program I am working on. This is a topic I have been passionate about for 15 years. At that time, I experienced unexplained joint and muscle aches and pains. Concurrently at that time, the importance of an adequate vitamin D blood level was at the forefront of medicine. My vitamin D level was checked and found to be insufficient; thankfully my symptoms resolved with vitamin D supplementation. My recent research concluded that there is a definitive link between vitamin D deficiency and nonspecific musculoskeletal pain.
Vitamin D is Essential for Multiple Physiological Processes
Vitamin D is essential for multiple physiological processes and is considered a hormone, with receptors located in nearly all human cells. It is well established to be critical for bone health, with deficiencies linked to many issues including:
- Type II diabetes
- Cognitive health
- Autoimmune disorders
- Infectious disease, and more.
Many studies are linking insufficient vitamin D levels with an increased incidence of COVID-19.
Getting Enough Vitamin D
The majority of vitamin D supply is ideally obtained by ultraviolet-B (UV-B) induced production absorbed through the skin. This is very hard to achieve here in Vermont, which is considered the least sunny state in the US! Vitamin D is difficult to obtain through dietary intake because it does not occur naturally in a wide variety of foods. Dietary sources of vitamin D include fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, and swordfish), cod liver oil, beef liver, eggs, and fortified foods such as cereals and dairy products. (The old-time practice of taking cod liver oil every day was a good one, though hard to swallow).
Inadequate blood serum levels of vitamin D are considered a global health concern with estimates of severe deficiency in the United States at 5.9% and insufficiency at 24%. The only way to know your level is by having a blood test, ordered by your primary care provider. Blood serum vitamin D is measured in units of nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml). What is considered a “good” level depends on what source you listen to. But it is generally accepted that your level should be greater than 30 ng/ml (with some proponents indicating at least 50 ng/mL).
Here in the Northeast, most people would likely benefit from vitamin D3 supplementation. The amount to take daily is also debated and varies widely depending on the source. Supplements are measured in international units (IU). 1,000-2,000 IU/day is widely considered a safe amount. However, if you are deficient, this may not be enough to elevate you to the correct level. The only way to know is to have your vitamin D level checked, take supplements for three to four months, and then have your level checked again. So please consult your primary care provider.
Supplementing with vitamin D, will not necessarily cure you of your ailments. However, having adequate vitamin D levels will help give your body a fighting chance to function at its best. Unfortunately, the importance of this has left the forefront of many healthcare professionals, but it is something I talk to all of my patients about. The prevalence of vitamin D deficiency is considered by many researchers to be a global pandemic. However, the CDC has not made a statement about it, especially in light of the known correlation of vitamin D deficiency to respiratory illnesses, as well as so many other health concerns.
If you have questions about how physical therapy may help you or someone you care about, please don’t hesitate to ask your health care provider or local physical therapist for information.
You can learn more about the VNA Outpatient Therapy clinic by visiting us on the web at www.vermontvisitingnurses.org or calling 802.362.6509.