The room is spinning but you’re simply standing still. The dizziness and spinning associated with vertigo can be completely debilitating, oftentimes leading to nausea and vomiting. But what causes vertigo, and how can you fix it? Studies show that benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is associated with osteoporosis and poor bone health. An effective BPPV treatment might be to address a vitamin D deficiency.
What is BPPV?
BPPV is a very common disorder of the inner ear’s vestibular system, the system that helps us to maintain balance. It occurs when tiny pieces of calcium carbonate (called otoconia) detach and move around in the inner ear. When you are still, they settle, but when the head is moving, the otoconia shift and float around, disrupting the delicate system, sending false signals of movement to the brain and causing the primary symptom of vertigo, along with dizziness, nausea, and imbalance.
In younger people, BPPV is most often caused by head injury. Other causes include repetitive head movements, high intensity exercise, infections, or holding the head in the same position for prolonged periods (as in bed rest or dental work). But in older populations, it is it generally associated with natural age-related degeneration of the inner ear. BPPV is especially common in women over 50 years, post-menopause.
The Link Between Osteoporosis and Vertigo
With age, calcium metabolism becomes imbalanced, which can cause us to lose bone density and develop osteoporosis. Researchers believe that the same problems with calcium metabolism that cause our bones to lose density might also be contributing to what causes vertigo, as BPPV is caused by degradation of calcium deposits in the ear.
Numerous studies have found an association between osteoporosis and vertigo, with reductions in bone mineral density associated with the onset and recurrence of BPPV.[1,2] In one study involving 29 women with BPPV, 81% had osteoporosis or osteopenia. This remarkably high rate of osteoporosis in people with BPPV provides a strong link between bone health and vertigo.
Vitamin D Deficiency and BPPV
Vitamin D is well known for its importance in maintaining healthy bones; vitamin D supplementation can help reduce risks of falls and fractures and treat osteoporosis. As osteoporosis and vertigo seem to be linked, does that mean that vitamin D and vertigo also are associated? The answer seems to be yes.
Several studies have reported significantly low vitamin D levels in people with BPPV.[1,4,5] The Journal of Neurology published findings in 2013 that reported vitamin D levels in people with BPPV to be 4.5 ng/mL lower than healthy controls. Very low levels have also been associated with the recurrence of BPPV.
Although more research is needed to confirm the benefits of taking vitamin D for BPPV treatment, a small pilot study found that in four patients with low vitamin D and BPPV, supplementation with vitamin D prevented recurrence of vertigo for at least eight months.
Get Your Vitamin D Checked
If you suffer from BPPV, try checking your vitamin D levels. The lower limit for vitamin D levels should be 30 ng/mL, but keeping your vitamin D above 45 ng/mL, or even 50 mg/mL, may be the most beneficial. Ask your doctor to perform a 25 hydroxyvitamin D (25[OH]D) blood test to determine where you are. Supplementation with as much as 3,000 to 5,000 IU daily can help you raise your levels to the optimal range. Safe sun exposure of about 15 to 30 minutes daily can help boost your vitamin D as well (make sure to avoid burning).
Correcting a vitamin D deficiency just might be the key to your BPPV treatment to help you get rid of sickening and debilitating vertigo. Plus, vitamin D can also help to treat depression, fight cancer, and help you live longer, too.
Share Your Experience
Do you have vertigo? Do you have recommendations for natural BPPV treatment? Share your tips in the comments section below.
Originally published in 2015, this post has been updated.