Last week, I shared with you some sobering statistics about the escalating problem of opioid abuse. As you may recall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) blames the whole tragic situation on the coronavirus pandemic.
But that explanation just doesn’t add up.
Mainly because the opioid epidemic began long BEFORE the coronavirus hit U.S. soil. So, while the draconian lockdowns and restrictions certainly made the problem worse, it’s most definitely NOT the cause of it.
And now, new, eye-opening research suggests that a widespread vitamin deficiency could be the REAL reason why so many people develop an addiction to opioids in the first place.
The good news is, it’s entirely fixable!
Let me explain…
When two DEADLY epidemics collide…
I probably write more about vitamin D than just about anything else. It’s the all-important vitamin that protects you against any number of chronic diseases—including Alzheimer’s disease (AD), cancer, depression, heart disease, Type II diabetes, and much more.
Vitamin D also acts like a hormone in the body—helping to produce “feel-good” endorphins that support your mood and reduce pain.
But as you know, most people in the U.S.—and around the world—don’t have enough vitamin D in their system. In fact, vitamin D deficiency is a worldwide epidemic.
So, first, you must address HOW you can increase your vitamin D blood levels.
The most obvious way, of course, is by spending at least 15 minutes in the direct sunlight without sunscreen. (Although, at this time of year, in most parts of the country, the sun isn’t strong enough to trigger your skin’s natural activation of this critical nutrient.)
So, you can also get some vitamin D from eating foods rich in the nutrient—including full-fat dairy, eggs, mushrooms, and wild-caught fish like salmon and sardines. (These are staples of the healthy Mediterranean diet.)
But even with regularly spending time outside in the sun and eating these healthy foods, most people STILL fall short on their vitamin D levels.That’s why supplementation is a MUST for most people.
In fact, new research suggests that supplementing with adequate amounts of vitamin D may even help solve the opioid addiction, among other problems…
The “sunshine” vitamin plays a role in addiction
Back in 2007, researchers with Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) found that exposure to the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays in sunlight cause the skin to produce chemicals called endorphins. These chemicals—which act in some ways similar to opioid drugs in the body—can boost mood, create a sense of mild euphoria, and reduce pain sensations. In fact, other studies suggest that some people feel the urge to sunbathe outdoors (or even patronize tanning salons) because they unknowingly crave the effects of endorphins.
To build on this important understanding, the MGH researchers began a new series of experiments to explore how vitamin D status affects the likelihood of developing an opioid addiction. And here’s what they found…
In one study, they exposed normal lab mice and those deficient in vitamin D to moderate doses of morphine. It turns out, the morphine worked more effectively as a pain reliever in mice with a vitamin D deficiency than in mice with normal levels.
That effect might sound like a good thing for humans…but it really ISN’T. Because it means when a person with low vitamin D receives morphine after surgery, they may have an exaggerated response to it…making them more likely to develop an addiction.
Furthermore, when the researchers withdrew the morphine from the mice deficient in vitamin D, they were much more likely than the normal mice to experience drug withdrawal symptoms. And they continued to seek out the drug after it was taken away.
In other words, a vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency strongly increased the craving for, the effects of, and the responses to opioid drugs.
There was one bit of good news, however…
When the researchers gave vitamin D (through supplementation) to the mice with insufficient and deficient levels, their opioid responses returned to normal. And their cravings abated!
So, next, the researchers turned their attention toward humans…
Low levels of D increases addiction risk in humans, too
Ultimately, the researchers found that men and women with insufficient (moderately low) levels of vitamin D were 50 percent more likely to use opioid drugs. And patients with a deficiency (or very low levels) were 90 percent more likely to use opioid drugs.
Plus, when looking at the problem from the opposite side, patients diagnosed with opioid use disorder (now called OUD) were more likely to be deficient in vitamin D, too.
Clearly, vitamin D blood testing…and supplementation…should be a regular part of the treatment plan in people with substance abuse problems. And furthermore, everyone going into surgery, which often requires pain management, should also have their vitamin D levels tested. Then, supplementation should begin immediately for anyone with low levels.
Of course, I recommend that EVERYONE achieve optimal vitamin D blood levels…not just those going into surgery or those already struggling with opioids.
So—in addition to spending more time in the sun without sunscreen AND eating plenty of foods high in vitamin D—I also recommend you:
- Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels twice a year. A good rule of thumb is checking your levels once toward the end of winter and again toward the end of summer. Just ask for a simple blood test called the 25-hydroxyvitamin D or 25(OH)D test. (Optimal blood levels range between 50 and 75 ng/mL.
- Supplement daily and year-round. The latest science shows that people don’t get enough vitamin D from diet and sun exposure alone. So, supplementing daily and year-round is a MUST. I recommend supplementing with 250 mcg (10,000 IU) of vitamin D3 daily. (You can now find it in liquid form together with the potent marine carotenoid astaxanthin. Simply use the top right search bar on my website to learn more about these two powerful compounds.
At the end of the day, vitamin D is hands-down one of the most important supplements you can take. In fact—if you could take only one vitamin supplement from here on out, this would absolutely be the one to choose. But if you need more convincing, I encourage you to search the archives for my countless articles on the benefits of vitamin D. And of course, stay tuned as I report on all the latest science right here in my Daily Dispatch, and in my monthly Insiders’ Cures newsletter.