Lower back pain afflicts nearly 80 percent of the men and women in the U.S. at least once during their lives. In fact, it’s the leading cause of pain and disability in working people. And for many people, it becomes a chronic condition that leads to harmful drug treatments—and even surgery.
But two new studies suggest one simple vitamin deficiency may be to blame for your bad back. And this deficiency is quite simple to reverse with optimal supplementation.
Of course, I’m talking about good, old vitamin D. So, let’s jump right in…
Thank the “experts” for the low-vitamin D epidemic
As I often report, vitamin D plays a role in protecting you against just about every chronic disease on the planet. (Including back pain, as I’ll explain in a moment.)
But millions of Americans don’t get enough of it, thanks to dermatologists’ misguided warnings to avoid regular sun exposure. Thankfully, science is now starting to show just how protective and beneficial regular sun exposure really is. Which is important to keep in mind year-round…and especially now, as we adopt social isolation habits in light of current events.
Of course, you can also supplement with vitamin D to help boost your blood levels of this essential nutrient. But here again, the experts miss the mark…
For one, the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) Recommended Daily Allowance for vitamin D is woefully inadequate (between 600 to 800 IU daily). In fact, researchers have found that the optimal dose of vitamin D is 10,000 IU per day, which is more than 10 times higher than the RDA.
Yet, many doctors still harbor an irrational fear about “toxicity” or “overdose” at this level. (I know because, years ago, even I was brainwashed at first into believing some of these baseless concerns.)
But remember, as I explained in the May 2018 issue of my monthly Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“Setting the record straight on ‘too high’ vitamin D dosages”), vitamin D is measured in international units (IU), which makes the doses seem very high, when they’re really not at all. (Not yet a subscriber? Click here now!)
In fact, let’s put the optimal daily dose of vitamin D into perspective by considering this simple comparison:
- 10,000 IU of vitamin D = just 0.25 milligrams of vitamin D
So, as you can see, 10,000 IU isn’t really high at all compared to the doses of other nutrients. In fact, it’s actually pretty minuscule! For example, even the RDA of vitamin C is almost 200 times higher than that amount—at 46 milligrams!
Plus, as I recently reported in the September 2019 issue of Insiders’ Cures (“Debunking the latest ‘fake news’ about vitamin D”), you can count the actual cases of clinical toxicity associated with vitamin D on your fingers. And they all occurred under circumstances so rare and unusual, most doctors aren’t likely to encounter them even once in their lifetimes.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the two new studies I mentioned at the beginning of this Dispatch…
New studies find back pain may stem from low vitamin D
The first new study involved 65 overweight or obese men and women who were deficient in vitamin D.
The researchers randomly divided the participants into two groups. The first group took an initial oral dose of 100,000 IU of vitamin D, followed by 4,000 IU daily for 16 weeks. The second group took a placebo. The researchers also measured vitamin D levels and self-reported back pain scores at the study’s outset and at the end of the study period.
It turns out, after 16 weeks, even the men and women with the lowest vitamin D blood levels at the study’s outset had a “significantly greater” reduction in back pain scores than the placebo group.
The researchers concluded that vitamin D supplementation not only corrected a dangerous nutritional deficiency, it also seemed to offer significant potential as a back pain remedy in overweight and obese adults.
And in the second, new study, researchers measured vitamin D blood levels in more than 200 post-menopausal women, grouping them into two broad categories:
- Those who had a “severe” vitamin D deficiency—with blood levels below 10 nanograms/milliliter (ng/mL).
- Those who had “normal status”—with levels above 30 ng/mL.
It turns out, women with a “severe” vitamin D deficiency had three major issues compared to the “normal” group. Including:
- Lower bone mineral density scores.
- “More severe” lumbar disc degeneration. In fact, there was an inverse relationship between vitamin D status and lumbar disc degeneration. Which means the lower their vitamin D levels, the greater their lumbar disc degeneration.
- Higher back pain scores. (Not very surprising when you consider the first two findings!)
In the end, these two studies make the case that you can avoid—and even reverse—lower back pain by achieving and maintaining optimal vitamin D blood levels.
As always, I recommend you aim to achieve blood levels between 50 and 60 ng/mL. So ask your doctor to check your blood levels twice a year—once at the end of winter (now is the perfect time) and again at the end of summer.
In addition, now that the sun is growing stronger in most parts of the country, I recommend spending 15 to 20 minutes each day in the sun without sunscreen. You should also continue to supplement daily with 10,000 IU of vitamin D, which, again, is the optimal dose to support good health. (This dose is especially helpful if you carry some extra weight and/or are a woman with lower back pain.)
Fifteen years ago, my final federal research grant was to lead a team of scientists on a massive investigation to review all the thousands of studies worldwide on the treatment of low back pain. It was clear that surgery and drugs were the worst approaches, while spinal manual therapy, acupuncture, and massage were all safe and effective approaches. We didn’t yet know that a treatment as simple as vitamin D supplementation could work too. But, thankfully, now you know!
“Vitamin D Supplementation May Improve Back Pain Disability in Vitamin D Deficient and Overweight or Obese Adults.” J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol, January 2019; 185: 212-217. doi.org/10.1016/j.jsbmb.2018.09.005
“Does vitamin D status influence lumbar disc degeneration and low back pain in postmenopausal women? A retrospective single-center study.” Menopause, February 10, 2020. doi.org/10.1097/GME.0000000000001499