More Optimal Vitamin D Status Reduces Risk of Opioid Addiction and Withdrawal Symptoms: 2021 Research Suggests
Source: J Science Advances (June 2021)
Lifestyle Medicine Update (June 16, 2021)
A study published in the journal Science Advances in June 2021 has strengthened the evidence that individuals who have more optimal vitamin D blood levels are less likely to become addicted to opioid drugs. With the opioid crises we are facing today, this finding may be very meaningful. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2003-2004), the data reveals that Americans that have low vitamin D levels (below 20 ng/mL; 50 nmol/L) are more inclined to use opioids and develop opioid addiction than Americans whose blood vitamin D levels are at or above 20 ng/mL; 50 nmol/). This finding remains consistent after factoring in, or controlling for, age, sex or gender, history of fractures, the season of blood analysis, and presence of chronic pain, which often drives people to use opioid drugs for pain control. These finding start to make sense when you understand that exposing our skin to sunlight or tanning beds not only increases vitamin D synthesis in our skin, and thus, our vitamin D blood levels, but it also increases the synthesis and release of endorphins, which provide a certain level of euphoria and feeling of wellbeing. This is one of the reasons why many people crave the feeling of sunlight on their skin and/or become mildly addicted to tanning beds – it’s a bit of an endorphin rush. Of course, too much UV-light exposure causes skin aging and skin cancer. But scientists believe that humans evolved to crave sunlight because it releases endorphins, which make us feel good, as we simultaneously synthesize vitamin D to prevent vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D deficiency causes malformation of developing bones (osteomalacia), as well as osteopenia and osteoporosis, and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers, and possibly other afflictions like M.S. Thus, our ancestors who survived the primitive world were the ones who maintained more optimal vitamin D levels by getting sufficient sun exposure. As such, our bodies have an internal program that drives us to crave sunlight to make feel-good endorphins, and in doing so, we increase our survival index by also synthesizing more vitamin D. As stated by Dr. Fisher, a co-author of the study, “consider a surgery patient who receives morphine for pain control after the operation. If that patient is deficient in vitamin D, the euphoric effects of morphine could be exaggerated (because their own endorphin levels are so low), and that person is more likely to become addicted (to morphine and other opioids)”. To bolster this argument Dr. Fisher and his team conducted an animal experiment using mice. The study showed that mice made deficient in vitamin D were more prone to keep seeking the drug morphine than mice whose vitamin D levels were normal. When normal levels of vitamin D were restored in the vitamin D deficient mice, their craving for morphine was reduced significantly as were withdrawal symptoms. Dr. Fisher went on to add that while more research is needed, he believes that treating vitamin D deficiency may offer a new way to help reduce the risk for opioid addiction and bolster existing treatments for the who are presently addicted to opioids. He stated, “our results suggest that we may have an opportunity in the public health arena to influence the opioid epidemic.” As he suggested, addressing the common problem of vitamin D deficiency with inexpensive vitamin D supplements could play a part in combating the ongoing scourge of opioid addiction.
So, the long and short of this story is that achieving a blood vitamin D blood level between 50, or more ideally, between 80 and 140 nmol/L (32 ng/mL – 56 ng/mL) may be one more way to help prevent opioid addiction in your loved ones and yourself. In other words, if you have more ideal blood vitamin D levels there is much less of a high or euphoria experienced with the use of morphine and other opioids, and thus, less addiction potential. As well, vitamin D supplementation should be considered as an adjunctive treatment in those undergoing withdrawal from opioid addiction, especially when vitamin D blood levels are below 50 nmol/L (20 ng/mL), which is often the case.
I have included the references for this information in the text below.
1. Lajos V. Kemény, Kathleen C. Robinson, Andrea L. Hermann, Deena M. Walker, Susan Regan, Yik Weng Yew, Yi Chun Lai, Nicholas Theodosakis, Phillip D. Rivera, Weihua Ding, Liuyue Yang, Tobias Beyer, Yong-Hwee E. Loh, Jennifer A. Lo, Anita A. J. van der Sande, William Sarnie, David Kotler, Jennifer J. Hsiao, Mack Y. Su, Shinichiro Kato, Joseph Kotler, Staci D. Bilbo, Vanita Chopra, Matthew P. Salomon, Shiqian Shen, Dave S. B. Hoon, Maryam M. Asgari, Sarah E. Wakeman, Eric J. Nestler, David E. Fisher. Vitamin D deficiency exacerbates UV/endorphin and opioid addiction. Science Advances, 2021; 7 (24): eabe4577 https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/24/eabe4577
Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great,
Dr. James Meschino
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. James Meschino, DC, MS, ROHP, is an educator, author, and researcher having lectured to thousands of healthcare professionals across North America. He holds a Master’s Degree in Science with specialties in human nutrition and biology and is recognized as an expert in the field of nutrition, anti-aging, fitness, and wellness as well as the author of numerous books.