Light appears to have powerful painkilling properties for some people

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I am writing this on a train, and as I look out of the window I can see the British West Country go by. It is bathed in sunlight. And this stunning day reminds me of the last few days we’ve had here in the UK that have been cold, wet and grey. The general lack of sunlight during the winter months can put a bit of a dampner on our mood. It can also make it darn difficult to maintain adequate levels of vitamin D.

Just this morning I was talking to a friend for whom vitamin D levels and sunlight exposure appear to have a profound effect on his life. A year ago (almost to the day) he developed quite disabling muscle pain. A battery of conventional tests revealed nothing untoward. He has been maintained on medium doses of steroids, and has simply been unable to wean himself off these because as he reduces the dose, his pain returns with a vengeance.

Awhile back I asked him if he was aware whether his muscle pain was made worse or better by anything. It turns out he has complete resolution of his pain during a summer holiday this year in Rhodes. One of the things that occurred at the time was perhaps my friends problems might be related to vitamin D or sunlight exposure. Low levels of vitamin D can lead to muscle pain and weakness. His GP obligingly tested his vitamin D levels and informed him that they were normal. I recently had sight of these test results. They were ‘normal’. But actually, his vitamin D levels were only marginally above the reference range of vitamin D. And the test had been done in June ” when blood levels of vitamin D would be expected to be relatively high compared to other winter time (his symptoms started in the winter).

In light of all this, I suggested John took steps to get his vitamin D levels up. A couple of weeks ago he started on some vitamin D supplements (5000 IU per day). In addition to this I recommended that he see what effect some sunbed sessions have. Over the last two week, he has had twice weekly sunbed sessions, for 4 minutes at a time. He has found that immediately after the session he feels no different. However, the following day he told me he feels significant relief from his pain. Today he told me that in the first time in a year, he has been able to get out of the bath without pain and weakness in his arms that caused him to have to crawl out rather than stand up.

Now, this response suggests some benefit from vitamin D because on exposure to sunlight, the skin makes vitamin D, but it believed to take a day or two to absorb ‘systemically’ (into the system).

Now of course my friend’s response to sunbed sessions might be nothing but an overblown placebo response. However, the fact that he does not feel immediate relief from the sessions suggests this is not the case. Even if, in reality, it is a placebo response, I suspect my friend won’t care (neither do I, for that matter).

Anyway, I’ll be interested to see how my friend gets on in the longer term. If he continues to improve and is able to wean himself successfully off the steroids, it seems this will have been the result of getting his vitamin D levels up. It’s quite satisfying to think that something so simple can make such a profound difference to someone’s quality of life.

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