Vertigo can be a terrible affliction. If you have never had it, count yourself lucky. Vertigo is almost a hallucination; it is the sensation that the room is spinning around you or the sensation you are in motion when you are still. Turning the head is usually what triggers it. Episodes of vertigo become more and more likely as you age, especially in women.
The most common form of vertigo is benign positional vertigo. Benign simply means the vertigo is not caused by a tumor, a concussion, a severe migraine headache, or other known causes. Positional simply means it comes on when you move your head in a certain way. It is caused by disintegration or displacement of the calcium crystals that fill the chambers of the inner ear. Vertigo can be associated with nausea and vomiting and can cause difficulties standing or walking, explaining why it accounts for about 6 million clinic visits every year in the USA.
A research group in Korea recently discovered that vertigo was associated with osteoporosis. Reasoning that the chambers of the inner ear are filled with calcium crystals, and that the vitamin D receptor has been found in the cells lining the inner ear, the same group thought that vitamin D may have some kind of association in vertigo.
Led by Dr. Seong-Hae Jeong, the Korean team measured the vitamin D levels in 100 patients with benign positional vertigo and compared them to controls that had vertigo or dizziness during the previous year. This choice of control group was very deliberate, to try to rule out the possibility of reverse causation; that is people with vertigo or dizziness tend to stay inside and thus have lower vitamin D levels.
The researchers found that people with current vertigo were much more likely to be severely vitamin D deficient compared to people who had vertigo in the previous year. In fact, the odds ratio was 23 for severe vitamin D deficiency (
When you think about the inner ear, the calcium crystals that help us sense balance and motion are probably maintained by vitamin D, in its role as the “repair and maintenance” steroid hormone.
If you have vertigo, see an ear nose and throat doctor. They can do certain maneuvers with your head that help vertigo a lot and will know if brain imaging is required. At the same time, get your vitamin D levels up to natural levels. This study at least opens the possibility that vitamin D may help your vertigo, and it will likely help the osteoporosis associated with vertigo.