Latest research indicates that there is a number of key nutrients relating to resolving inflammation quicker and relieving pain effectively. Vitamin D, DHA and EPA are already known as beneficial nutrients for immunity, depression and mood disorders, osteoporosis, diabetes and weight loss, to name a few. Now we can also add them to treatment options for pain of any kind.
Vitamin D and pain
In the 2011 vitamin D study (1), which was a two-month, double-blind placebo-controlled randomised trial involving breast cancer patients, the researchers concluded that taking high levels of vitamin D for two months significantly reduced pain.
The women who received high-dose vitamin D had a dramatic reduction in pain, moreover they also didn’t lose any bone density, as vitamin D is well known to be necessary for calcium absorption thus impacting the bones.
According to the study, vitamin D helps chronic pain because it puts a lid on how much inflammation can take place. As such, vitamin D is the key nutrient that prevents the immune system responding excessively, leading to persisting inflammation = pain.
These findings have widespread implications to anyone with chronic pain as it is theoretically expected that receiving vitamin D, at some dose that is different for each individual, could help decrease inflammation and pain.
This would be a far better and less costly approach than typical anti-inflammatory drugs currently widely used to control pain. However, more studies are needed to prove this point conclusively.
The bottom line is while vitamin D was used to relieve pain in breast cancer patients, it has obvious implications for any sort of autoimmune pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis or pain in general.
Importantly, taking large amounts of supplemental vitamin D (e.g. in excess of 5,000 IU per day) needs supervised by an experienced practitioner, and individuals should have their blood tested before starting supplementation.
And then retested every three months during treatment to ensure their vitamin D levels do not elevate out of range (which leads to a different set of problems). The goal is to reach a vitamin D blood level that is toward the higher end of the range i.e. above 100 nmol/L (120-150 is considered to be a good level by naturopaths).
Healthy vitamin D levels
At present, in Australia the ‘normal’ level is over 50 nmol/L; however, many studies indicate, that ideal vitamin D levels to experience its benefits are between 100-120 nmol/L. Individuals with any type of chronic pain may therefore want to take high dose vitamin D to target a blood level closer to 120 nmol/L.
On average it takes 3-6 months of supplementation to achieve these levels. Read my comprehensive Vitamin D article for more details on sources and dosages.
Fish oils also have the ability to reduce pain and inflammation. It is known that the pain response involves interplay between immune cells and nerve cells. Many individuals experience exaggerated pain following an injury, surgery, or from other inflammatory causes.
Resolvins and pain
Pain signalling can overload nerve and immune function, tending to lock itself into place or prolong itself unnecessarily. New research (2) shows that essential fatty acids DHA and EPA promote a class of compounds called resolvins which restore nerve and immune cell function to normal in a more timely manner, thus getting rid of excess pain.