Can sunshine help you live with less pain during treatment for cancer? Not necessarily, but encouraging research shows that patients diagnosed with breast cancer can get relief from joint and muscle pain associated with aromatase-inhibiting chemotherapy drugs by also taking a high dose of vitamin D, otherwise known as “the sunshine vitamin.”
Cancer pain can be one of the main reasons that patients discontinue treatment with chemotherapy.
The stiffness, muscle aches, and joint pain that arise when taking these aromatase inhibitors can sometimes outweigh the potential benefits for patients. Doctors at Washington University at St. Louis recognized this and designed a study to examine the potential benefits of vitamin D.
Half of the participants in the study were randomly assigned the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin D, plus an additional 50,000 unit vitamin D capsule once a week, and the other half received a placebo. Researchers used plant-derived vitamin D, which clears the body much more quickly than synthetic vitamin D. When patients were asked to rank their level of pain and its impact on their lives, patients who received the additional vitamin D reported significantly lower levels of pain that had much less of a negative impact on their lives.
Doctors also supplemented both groups with calcium to protect from bone loss. Researchers did not find any significant side effects from additional vitamin D but did find that the combination of vitamin D and calcium supplementation helped maintain bone density at the top of the femur, a common area to assess for bone loss.
These initial findings should give hope to patients suffering from cancer pain as a result of chemotherapy.
Vitamin D supplementation is a non-toxic, readily available treatment to help reduce pain while also showing some benefit for maintaining bone density. There are no side effects with normal use, and vitamin D can be used in conjunction with other therapies to lessen the intensity and interruption of cancer pain in daily life.
Grab your beach chair and tell us: how can you incorporate this therapy into daily life?
Image by Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho via Flickr