Low Vitamin D Levels Linked to Added Falls, More Sleep Problems, Depression, Study Shows

low Vitamin D

Low vitamin D levels are associated with a greater tendency for falls, sleep problems, anxiety, and depression in people with Parkinson’s disease, according to a recent study.

The findings, “Relationship between 25‐Hydroxyvitamin D, bone density, and Parkinson’s disease symptoms,” were published in the journal Acta Neurologica Scandinavia.

Vitamin D deficiency and low bone mass are frequently observed in people with Parkinson’s disease (PD). In fact, one particular study found that lack of this vitamin is more common in people with Parkinson’s (55% of patients) than other populations, such as people with Alzheimer’s disease (41% of patients).

But the relationship between vitamin D levels and Parkinson’s has remained controversial. Some studies suggest that taking vitamin D3 — a form of vitamin D used in supplements — can stabilize the disease, while others see no relation with the risk of Parkinson’s.

However, most studies have focused on limited aspects of the disease and did not include important outcomes — notably, non‐motor symptoms.

Vitamin D has a vital role in bone health, since it promotes calcium absorption and bone mineralization, which keeps bones strong and healthy. It also blocks the release of parathyroid hormone (PTH), an hormone that promotes bone tissue reabsorption and bone thinning.

Some studies support that lack of vitamin D results in a greater risk of falls and fractures in Parkinson’s patients, which can increase hospitalization and even fatal disability. Its levels also have been associated with cognition and mood, as well as stomach malfunction, in people with the disease.

While it is possible that deficits in this vitamin impact several symptoms of PD, the connection remains unclear.

To shed light on this relationship, researchers at the Second Affiliated Hospital of Soochow University and Soochow University, in China, set out to determine if vitamin D levels correlated with bone mineral density (BMD) and non‐motor symptoms in Parkinson’s patients.

The team measured blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, or 25(OH)D — a precursor of the active form of vitamin D and the most accurate indicator of vitamin D levels in the body — and performed extensive clinical evaluations in 182 Parkinson’s patients as well as 185 healthy people (controls).

Participants were recruited from the Second Affiliated Hospital of Soochow University from March 2014 to December 2017.

Bone mineral density — a measure of bone mass and health — was measured at the lumbar spine and the top of the femur (thigh bone) by bone densiometry, which measures bone loss.

The data showed that people with Parkinson’s had significantly lower vitamin D levels in the blood compared with healthy controls — an average of 49.75 versus 43.40 nanomol per liter of 25(OH)D.

In agreement, low levels of vitamin D (below 50 nmol/l) also were more common in Parkinson’s patients (68.68%) than controls (54.05%).

People with lower vitamin D levels were more likely to fall and experience sleep problems, including difficulty in falling asleep (insomnia). They also had significantly more depression and anxiety.

Mean bone densities in both the spine and femur were lower in PD patients, however no correlation was seen between the levels of BMD and vitamin D.

“Together, these results indicate that vitamin D deficiency may play a role in PD pathogenesis [disease manifestations], while vitamin D supplementation may be used to treat the non‐motor symptoms of PD,” the researchers  said.

“As various non-motor symptoms place a burden on individuals with Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers, vitamin D might be a potential add-on therapy for improving these neglected symptoms,” study’s senior author Chun Feng Liu, MD, PhD, said in a press release.

However, the researchers stressed that future studies with a larger sample size are necessary to clarify the role of vitamin D in Parkinson’s disease.

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Seeking Relief, but Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Why do I feel stuck?

As my Parkinson’s disease (PD) symptoms worsen, my desperation to find relief increases. I constantly tell myself that if my symptoms don’t progress from where they are now, I can handle my dealt cards. However, I feel my ability to stay strong will be increasingly challenged as time goes on.

Between a rock and a hard place

The idiom “between a rock and a hard place” is an American manifestation of a phrase found in ancient Greek mythology. In Homer’s “Odyssey,” Odysseus must pass between Charybdis, a treacherous whirlpool, and Scylla, a man-eating monster on a cliff. My situation is not as dire as facing Charybdis or Scylla. However, at times, I do feel that way.

When I consider my potential supplements, I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. I am so overwhelmed with all the treatment and “cure” options (medical as well as naturally occurring) available for PD. They come to me via emails from well-intentioned friends, social media, and postings to my PD columns and blogs.

Although I continue to do the holistic things within my control to battle this disease (mainly gluten-free and vegan diets as well as regularly exercising, reducing stress levels, and getting plentiful sleep), I don’t think these actions alone are enough to battle this disease.

Taking prescription medications (my Scylla) goes against my grain. I also do not want to load up on vitamins and herbs (my Charybdis) since I feel these supplements end up passing right through me without having any impact on my symptoms. They drain my wallet, and I end up hopelessly wishing each item will be my miracle remedy. I’ve intended to avoid medications and other forms of treatment by continuing with my current diet and exercise regimen. However, this no longer appears to be an option.

What about medications?

While I do use Sinemet (carbidopa-levodopa) and Neupro (rotigotine), I am concerned about the long-term effects of these medicines on my body. I am also not a fan of Big Pharma remedies. I do not believe it is in the best interests of pharmaceutical companies to find a cure for PD because their monthly revenue streams would collapse if patients no longer needed to take daily medications to keep symptoms at bay.

Even with a prescription drug plan, medication costs are astronomical. Although some pharmaceutical companies may offer aid to help cover the cost of their medications, it is often short-term help. In September, a Sinemet shortage happened in the United Kingdom and other countries, which added to the stress of prescription medication reliance.

‘Naturally occurring’ remedies?

Many have jumped on cure bandwagons, giving so many of us suffering individuals false hope. I believe most of these claims are from shysters and snake oil salespeople without scruples or compassion. These companies and individuals post such convincing testimonials about how some obscure herbal remedy or supplement has cured their PD. These frequently appear on my PD blogs and articles.

I have also read articles that I believe come from valid sources concerning the efficacy of the following treatments:

I tried each of the above individually, and none has resulted in any discernible symptom relief.

There are so many challenges when trying to decide on “naturally occurring” supplements to take. Should it be taken orally? If so, in capsule or liquid form? What about intravenous? Which brand to choose? All may not have good quality control, so who do I trust? Such is the dilemma one faces when choosing the “naturally occurring” path.

Other options?

I saw a TV commercial for a local practitioner offering therapy for PD using one’s own stem cells. Their website had a compelling video of a patient’s testimonial on how much this treatment had helped him. The cost? $10,000. If this treatment was guaranteed to help my symptoms or stop my progression, I would beg, borrow, and steal to come up with the $10,000 to do it. Since there are no guarantees, this option is a nonstarter.

Stuck in the middle

PD symptoms vary greatly from one patient to another, and certain treatments will work for some while not for others. As such, like many others with PD, I am still searching for that elusive miracle that will stop the disease in its tracks and allow me to feel normal again.


Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.

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