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Vitamin D and Spondylitis: Benefits and Uses

Posted on July 07, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A.
Article written by
Anika Brahmbhatt

What Is Vitamin D? | Vitamin D Levels | Does It Help? | Get Support

If you have spondylitis, you may be wondering whether vitamin D (or a lack of it) could be affecting your symptoms. As one MySpondylitisTeam member wrote, “Going to use my ibuprofen and try to catch that sun today to give my vitamin D a boost. I feel sooo tired and it’s hard to get these bones motivated with the pain.”

It’s important to understand whether there are any connections between vitamin D intake and spondylitis symptoms and if you should do anything to evaluate whether you have enough vitamin D in your diet.

What Is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a nutrient that your body needs to make your muscles move, help your nerves send signals, and allow your immune system to fight off bacteria and viruses that can make you sick. Vitamin D is also needed so that bones can absorb the calcium they need to be strong and healthy.

There are two kinds of vitamin D: vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Vitamin D2 can mostly be found in plants, mushrooms, and yeast. Vitamin D3 can be found in oily fish and is also made in the body during sun exposure. Additionally, vitamin D3 is later converted to 25-hydroxy-cholecalciferol, which affects how the transcription of genes related to vitamin D are up- and downregulated.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, foods that are good sources of vitamin D include:

  • Beef liver
  • Fortified cereal
  • Fish (such as salmon, sardines, swordfish, and cod liver oil)
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified milk and orange juice

Your body breaks vitamin D down into its active form, called 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D — which is also known as calcitriol and can be found as a supplement. This active form of vitamin D can affect the cells involved in the immune system.

Levels of Vitamin D in People With Spondylitis

People with spondylitis are often curious about the effects of vitamin D on the symptoms and treatments for rheumatic diseases.

Spondylitis, like other autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, is closely linked to your immune system. Rheumatic diseases, overall, are autoimmune (meaning that your immune system attacks your tissues) and inflammatory, according to the Mayo Clinic.

One study conducted in 2018 found that people with ankylosing spondylitis had lower vitamin D levels than people in the general population. They were also shown to have lower bone mineral density. “Monitoring vitamin D levels may have benefits in controlling inflammation and disease activity,” the study authors wrote.

Another group of researchers reviewed previously published studies to look for connections between spondylitis and vitamin D. They also found lower vitamin D levels among those with spondylitis versus the general population and noted that physicians should pay attention to vitamin D levels when treating people with spondylitis.

Bone health is particularly important for people with spondylitis because osteoporosis is one complication that can occur in people with the condition. Appropriate vitamin D levels are essential to maintaining overall bone health.

Does Vitamin D Supplementation Help Spondylitis?

Some MySpondylitisTeam members have shared that taking supplements to increase their vitamin D levels has been helpful. “I have to let everyone know that liquid vitamins are a miracle!” one member wrote. “I take a mixture with B vitamins and vitamin D every morning and it’s the difference between doing and ‘don’t-ing!’ ”

One reason vitamin D may be helpful is because it could decrease inflammation. Vitamin D has been shown to increase the body’s anti-inflammatory capabilities.

A 2017 study on vitamin D and pain management found that supplementing vitamin D helped alleviate pain symptoms in people who were deficient in the vitamin, but it did not make much of a difference in those who were not deficient. Many researchers believe that more studies are needed to confirm whether supplementation with vitamin D could be helpful for people with rheumatic diseases.

If you’re considering adding vitamin D supplements to your diet, it’s important to talk to your health care team first. Although some data suggests that the effect of vitamin D can be helpful for people with spondylitis, you may also run the risk of taking too much.

The Office of Dietary Supplements warns that too much vitamin D can cause nausea and vomiting, muscle weakness, confusion, pain, dehydration, and kidney stones, among other side effects. Vitamin D can also interact with some medications, so don’t start on any supplementation plan before first speaking with your physician.

Talk With People Who Understand

On MySpondylitisTeam, the social network and online support group for people with spondylitis and their loved ones, members discuss the chronic nature of the disease. Here, more than 66,000 members from across the world come together to ask questions, offer advice and support, and share stories with others who understand life with spondylitis.

Are you using vitamin D to help with spondylitis symptoms? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation on MySpondylitisTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A. is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Anika Brahmbhatt is an undergraduate student at Boston University, where she is pursuing a dual degree in media science and psychology. Learn more about her here.

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