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Role of Vitamin D in Opioid Addiction

by Cristina Villalon

Role of Vitamin D in Opioid Addiction

Researchers have begun to dig deeper into the overall health of the American population to determine whether outside factors can influence substance misuse fueling the ongoing opioid crisis. While trauma and mental illness are issues that could lead people to self-medicate with drug experimentation, people may be attempting to resolve other imbalances in the body that are more fundamental.

A recent study found that a lack of vitamin D can strongly influence cravings for the effects of opioids. Although factors like poor nutrition, malabsorption of food, and illness can prevent the body from obtaining adequate vitamin D levels, the biggest reason is lack of sunlight. About 42% of the US population has a vitamin D deficiency, with higher rates among northern states due to the lack of sun exposure in harsher climates.

Sunshine and Endorphins

There’s no wonder why a “bright sunny day” is always held with positivity that makes people feel good. The sun’s UVB rays cause the skin to produce the hormone endorphin, which is in the chemical range of opioids because they stimulate the same areas of the brain that evoke feelings of mild euphoria.

In 2007, when tanning beds were wildly popular among people of all ages and genders, a study was conducted to understand why many seemed to be addicted to tanning. They found that the UV exposure from the beds gave people a rush of the “feel good” hormone, causing them to seek it out regularly, and for some, daily. The subjects exhibited behaviors very consistent with opioid addiction, leading scientists to reopen these studies and take a closer look.

While the test subjects were most likely unknowingly seeking out the UV radiation from tanning beds to make them feel better, how is it that people and animals seek out the sun, a known carcinogen that can cause skin cancer? Since bodies don’t produce vitamin D on their own, it’s biologically natural to crave the sun and has been through all of evolution as humans migrated north during prehistoric times.

Vitamin D Deficiency and Opioid Use Disorder

While the human body can “addictively” yearn for the sun because it increases vitamin D levels in the body, opioids do not. Opioids do, however, stimulate the same part of the brain that can mimic the pleasant-feeling effects. Scientists suggest that vitamin D deficiency can increase addictive behaviors based on human health records that show patients with moderately low vitamin D levels are 50% more likely to use opioids, while those with a severe deficiency were 90% more likely. Other records show that people diagnosed with opioid use disorder were much more likely to be vitamin D deficient, proving the inverse is also true.

Ongoing studies continue to dissect the relationship between the prevalent vitamin deficiency among Americans and how supplementing patients with opioid use disorder with vitamin D can help improve their treatment and decrease the relapse rate for opiate addiction. Until this research can be fully proven and immersed into addiction science, it’s important for patients in opioid addiction recovery to look after their overall health by focusing on nutrition and vitamin levels in the body, including vitamin D!

The medical providers at Health Care Resource Centers are specialized to treat those with opioid use disorder and help them improve their lives and wellbeing. To learn more about our outpatient addiction treatment services, locate a nearby clinic and call us today.

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