Dizzy spells can be upsetting and dangerous. And when you suffer from vertigo, and for no apparent reason you occasionally feel dizzy and the world seems to spin, your anxiety can grow as you struggle to get your body back under control.
The most common form of vertigo is called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). BPPV can happen out of the blue, but usually happens when you lie down on your side and suddenly feel a sensation of the world rotating around you.
Unfortunately, as we grow older, BPPV becomes more common with about 30 percent of people over the age of 70 occasionally falling victim. In a Swedish study of people in their late 70s, more than half experienced dizziness and a whopping 40 percent had fallen because of vertigo.
So, what can you do to avoid vertigo? A simple vitamin combination can do the trick.
A study at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden shows that older people who suffer vertigo have a more complicated life. For example, they take more prescription medications, suffer more fatigue, walk more slowly, live in fear of hurting themselves in falls and rate their health as being “worse” than people who don’t get those dizzy feelings.1
As the Swedish researchers explain, one of the most frequent treatments for vertigo consists of “maneuver therapy” which aims to get at the root cause of vertigo. This therapy entails a doctor or physical therapist turning and spinning a person’s body in particular ways to help otoliths — crystals inside your inner ear that help the brain keep its sense of balance– return to normal. When the crystals are loosened and displaced, the result can be vertigo.
Vitamins for Vertigo
A study out of Asia now shows that some simple nutritional supplementation may also help end vertigo.
This research shows that taking vitamin D and calcium twice a day can significantly reduce the occurrence of dizzy spells related to vertigo.
“Our study suggests that for people with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, taking a supplement of vitamin D and calcium is a simple, low-risk way to prevent vertigo from recurring,” says researcher Ji-Soo Kim. “It is especially effective if you have low vitamin D levels to begin with.”
In Dr. Kim’s study, 445 people with vertigo first had their vitamin D levels checked with blood tests. The 348 people whose vitamin D levels were found to be below 20 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) took 400 international units (IUs) of vitamin D and 500 mg of calcium twice a day. The people whose vitamin D levels were equal to or greater than 20 ng/mL did not take supplements.
After a year of taking supplements, the folks taking vitamin D and calcium watched their episodes of vertigo fall by 24 percent.2
And those folks who were the most deficient in vitamin D, whose blood levels of vitamin D were less than 10 ng/ml, enjoyed the biggest improvement. In this group, the episodes of vertigo dropped 45 percent.
“Our results are exciting because so far, going to the doctor to have them perform head movements has been the main way we treat benign paroxysmal positional vertigo,” says Dr. Kim. “Our study suggests an inexpensive, low-risk treatment like vitamin D and calcium tablets may be effective at preventing this common, and commonly recurring, disorder.”
The Reality of Vitamin D and Calcium Supplements
A few comments about the nutrient levels in these experiments.
We’ve researched and written about vitamin D extensively for years, and I can tell you the 20 ng/mL mentioned above is extremely low. As for the level these scientists considered low – 10 ng/mL – I would describe it as cause for panic. I’m not surprised the supplement brought these people relief.
Speaking of which, the 400 IU supplement researchers gave these patients is also extremely low. Our research suggests that a daily supplement three times that amount is barely worth spitting at. The best bet is to get a blood test and see how much supplemental vitamin D you need.
When it comes to calcium, supplements are dubious for a number of reasons. Try to get your calcium from foods. Milk products are the richest source, but if you feel they aren’t healthy, then beans, lentils, chia seeds, almonds and green leafy vegetables like spinach are good sources. In general, it’s always best to get your minerals from foods.
Check Your Mental Health
Dealing with stress and anxiety is another way to reduce episodes of vertigo. Research at Ohio State shows that anxiety-related issues may be part of the problem in up to 15 percent of cases of vertigo.3
In these cases, stress management techniques like mindful meditation and exercise can be a big help. The Ohio State researchers also recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT therapists help people face their fears, learn to deal with anxiety and gain more confidence in their own abilities.
Whether you’ve ever suffered from vertigo or not, it’s a good reminder to ensure that you’re getting enough vitamin D—most people aren’t. What’s more, reducing your stress and anxiety levels overall is another thing I endorse for maintaining a sharp memory and a healthy body.