Here Comes the Sun: Vitamin D Deficiency and Your Spine Health

April 10, 2019

Young woman standing in the sun on a rooftop
Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

Over the course of a lifetime, as many as 80 percent of adults suffer from back pain. In many cases, pain affects the lower back and inhibits your ability to enjoy activities that you normally enjoy. And while old injuries or poor posture can certainly cause back pain, there's another culprit you may not realize — vitamin D deficiency.

Of all the vitamins to improve back health, vitamin D may play the most important role in preserving your spinal health and managing problems that often cause back pain. If you live with back problems, or have had spinal surgery, check with your doctor about measuring your vitamin D levels.

How Does Vitamin D Help Your Bones?

Vitamin D plays an important role in how much calcium your body absorbs from the food you eat. This vitamin also helps regulate other substances in the body, like phosphate and parathyroid hormone, helping to keep bones thick and strong.

Throughout your life, your bones constantly remodel, or rebuild, themselves. Vitamin D is essential to this process. If you live with vitamin D deficiency, your body does not have enough of this nutrient to keep your bones healthy. Many people with low levels of vitamin D are at higher risk for complications that cause the spine to degenerate.

Certain factors and medical conditions put you at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency, including:

  1. Age
  2. Conditions affecting vitamin D absorption in the intestines, such as Crohn's disease or celiac disease
  3. Diseases affecting the kidneys and liver
  4. History of gastric bypass surgery
  5. Obesity
  6. Skin color
  7. Use of certain drugs, like laxatives, steroids and some cholesterol-lowering medications

Boosting Vitamin D Levels to Manage Back Pain

Fortunately, vitamin D is readily available from several sources. These include:

  • Certain Foods: Only a few foods are naturally high in vitamin D. These include fatty fishes, like salmon and tuna, fish liver oils and some varieties of mushrooms. Other vitamin D-fortified foods, like milk, yogurt and margarine, provide higher levels of this nutrient.
  • Dietary Supplements: For many, food alone isn't enough to provide adequate amounts of vitamin D. Dietary supplements containing higher doses of vitamin D are available and may help reduce back pain and promote healing after spine surgery.
  • Sunlight Exposure: Inside the surface layers of the skin, naturally occurring compounds are converted into vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) B rays from the sun. Some research indicates that sunlight exposure for 5-30 minutes at least twice a week may provide adequate amounts of vitamin D.

In general, adults up to age 70 should consume 600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D every day. After age 70, the amount should increase to 800IUs each day. However, your doctor may recommend a different dose depending on your personal needs.

The Importance of Vitamin D

When it comes to vitamins to improve back health, vitamin D ranks among the top contenders for keeping your spine healthy. This valuable nutrient, which is available from several sources, helps keep your bones strong and healthy throughout your life. If you're concerned about vitamin D deficiency or live with persistent back pain, ask your doctor about checking your vitamin D levels. If your levels are low, your doctor can help you plan the best way to boost vitamin D levels.

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