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Got Vertigo? Consider Vitamin D
A new study suggests taking regular vitamin D supplements can help keep this dizzying condition at bay. 03/22/2021 by Nathaniel Scharping

Fortunately, there may be a simple way to help prevent vertigo. A recent study found that supplementing diets with vitamin D cut rates of one type of vertigo by almost a quarter (Jeong et al., 2020). Among people who were already deficient in the nutrient, the effect was even stronger.

That’s good news, because adding vitamin D to your diet - and/or getting more through prudent sun exposure - is safe and easy, and the nutrient comes with a range of other health benefits. Vitamin D is important for our bone health, immune systems, mental health and more. So, consider this latest research just one more reason to make sure you’re topping up with vitamin D. (Read More: Don’t Forget a Crucial Ingredient For Holiday Spirits This Year — Vitamin D)

Vitamin D in Our Bodies

Our bodies normally make vitamin D all by themselves. When our skin is exposed to sunlight, it kicks off a chain of chemical reactions in the body that results in the production of calciferol, or vitamin D. But in winter months, when we cover ourselves in warm clothing and the sunlight is weak (a bigger problem the farther north you go), our bodies can’t make enough by themselves. We need vitamin D from food or dietary supplements (Opinder Sahota, 2014).

Still, most people actually don’t get enough vitamin D from their diets (Opinder Sahota, 2014). So, eating foods like fish, eggs and dairy can help fill the gap, as well as using vitamin D supplements. Seafood is particularly rich in vitamin D. Canned sockeye salmon is high in vitamin D, boasting five times the average vitamin D per serving as whole milk. And other fish like halibut and tuna are great sources as well.

Not getting enough vitamin D has been tied to decreases in bone strength and poorer immune health. And our bodies use the nutrient in a number of ways, so shortfalls of vitamin D can cause a range of other surprising health issues. One side effect of vitamin D deficiency is a condition called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. Its symptoms include feeling like you’re spinning or experiencing dizziness when you stand up.

benign paroxysmal positional vertigo
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV, is probably caused by changes in the position of tiny crystals, called otoconia, inside our ears (Kim et al., 2014). Otoconia, which play an important role in helping our bodies orient themselves in space, can sometimes become dislodged from their normal positions and accumulate in ways that throw off our balance.

Millions of people around the world are thought to suffer from this kind of vertigo, and it’s more common among women and the elderly (Kim et al., 2014). Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo is usually treated by having a doctor move a patient’s head in specific ways to reposition the otoconia. But it’s not a permanent treatment for vertigo.

Vitamin D and Vertigo

The latest research on vitamin D and vertigo comes from researchers in South Korea. The scientists took a group of 957 people with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo and split them into two groups. In the first group, people with low vitamin D levels got regular supplements of the nutrient and of calcium. People in the second group kept their diets the same to serve as a control. The first group took 800 IU of vitamin D and 500 milligrams of calcium a day (Jeong et al., 2020). That’s slightly more than the NIH’s recommended daily minimum intake of 600 IU of vitamin D, but still well within dosages generally recognized as safe.

A year later, the researchers followed up with the two groups of people. People who took vitamin D supplements saw their vertigo attacks decline by roughly 17 percent, as opposed to an increase of 10 percent in the control group. People who started with very low vitamin D levels saw a decrease in vertigo attacks three times larger than those with just a minor deficiency.

The study builds on previous work showing that boosting vitamin D intake could help with vertigo. In a 2016 study, researchers gave participants vitamin D supplements for two months, along with the standard head-movement treatment. Following up six months later, they found that while the head-movement treatment still helped both groups, only those that received vitamin supplements saw the benefits last (Sheikhzadeh et al., 2016).

Other research has also shown that people with low vitamin D levels are at a higher risk of experiencing benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (Jeong et al., 2012). Researchers still don’t fully understand the connection, but the solution is becoming increasingly clear: make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D.

Health Benefits of Vitamin D

Fighting vertigo is far from the only reason to make sure your vitamin D levels stay high. The nutrient helps protect our bodies from pathogens, ensures our bones stay strong and much more.

Scientists have found that our immune systems rely on vitamin D to function. It’s so integral to immunity that some immune cells even have receptors for vitamin D molecules built into their structures (Borges et al., 2011). One study indicated that people who got vitamin D supplements are less likely to get viral respiratory infections (Martineau et al., 2019). It may also help prevent the dangerous cytokine storms — an overreaction of the immune system — that can increase the chances of death in some diseases.

That evidence was compelling enough that the United Kingdom’s National Health Service moved to distribute doses of vitamin D to its senior citizens last winter to help protect them against severe symptoms of COVID-19. And studies of COVID-19 mortality show that people not getting enough vitamin D seem to be harder hit by the virus (Carpagnano et al., 2020).

Vitamin D also plays an important role in maintaining bone strength and density. Without enough vitamin D, our bodies cannot make use of dietary calcium. Our bones need a supply of calcium to stay healthy, but they can’t get it unless we also have enough vitamin D. That’s why higher vitamin D levels translate into fewer bone fractures in people above age 65 (Dawson-Hughes et al., 1997).

Other studies have even suggested a link between vitamin D levels and cancer. They note that rates of a few kinds of cancer, including colon, prostate and breast cancer, are 30 to 50 percent higher in people with low levels of vitamin D (Garland et al., 2009).

With benefits extending from our brains to our bones, vitamin D is a nutrient that’s too important to miss. Whether you’re getting it from seafood, sunshine or a dietary supplement, we could probably all use a little more vitamin D in our lives — vertigo or not.

 

Sources:

  • Borges MC, Martini LA, Rogero MM. Current perspectives on vitamin D, immune system, and chronic diseases. Nutrition. 2011;27(4):399-404. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2010.07.022 
  • Carpagnano GE, Di Lecce V, Quaranta VN, et al. Vitamin D deficiency as a predictor of poor prognosis in patients with acute respiratory failure due to COVID-19. Journal of Endocrinological Investigation. Published online August 9, 2020. doi:10.1007/s40618-020-01370-x
  • Dawson-Hughes B, Harris SS, Krall EA, Dallal GE. Effect of Calcium and Vitamin D Supplementation on Bone Density in Men and Women 65 Years of Age or Older. New England Journal of Medicine. 1997;337(10):670-676. doi:10.1056/nejm199709043371003
  • Garland CF, Gorham ED, Mohr SB, Garland FC. Vitamin D for Cancer Prevention: Global Perspective. Annals of Epidemiology. 2009;19(7):468-483. doi:10.1016/j.annepidem.2009.03.021
  • Jeong S-H, Kim J-S, Kim H-J, et al. Prevention of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo with vitamin D supplementation. Neurology. 2020;95(9):e1117-e1125. doi:10.1212/wnl.0000000000010343
  • Jeong S-H, Kim J-S, Shin JW, et al. Decreased serum vitamin D in idiopathic benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. Journal of Neurology. 2012;260(3):832-838. doi:10.1007/s00415-012-6712-21.
  • Kim J-S, Zee DS. Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo. Solomon CG, ed. New England Journal of Medicine. 2014;370(12):1138-1147. doi:10.1056/nejmcp1309481
  • Martineau AR, Jolliffe DA, Greenberg L, et al. Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory infections: individual participant data meta-analysis. Health Technology Assessment. 2019;23(2):1-44. doi:10.3310/hta23020
  • Neuhauser HK. The epidemiology of dizziness and vertigo. Handbook of Clinical Neurology. Published online 2016:67-82. doi:10.1016/b978-0-444-63437-5.00005-4
  • Sahota O. Understanding vitamin D deficiency. Age and Ageing. 2014;43(5):589-591. doi:10.1093/ageing/afu104
  • Sheikhzadeh M, Lotfi Y, Mousavi A, Heidari B, Monadi M, Bakhshi E. Influence of supplemental vitamin D on intensity of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo: A longitudinal clinical study. Caspian journal of internal medicine. 2016;7(2):93-98. Accessed March 15, 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4913711/
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