As pelvic rehab practitioners, it is common for our patients to ask us dietary questions pertaining to their unique pelvic floor symptoms. We often counsel on fluid consumption, bladder irritants, and fiber intake. At times, we even give our patients a bladder or bowel diary to better monitor nutritional status and habits. However, how often do we ask about vitamin D status? It is common knowledge that vitamin D deficiency contributes to osteoporosis, fractures, and muscle pain and weakness, but what is the role of vitamin D in overall health of the female pelvic floor. Is vitamin D supplementation something we as health care providers need to at least discuss? An article published in the International Urogynecology Journal (Parker-Autry) explores this topic. This interesting paper reviews current knowledge regarding vitamin D nutritional status, the importance of vitamin D in muscle function, and how vitamin D deficiency may play a role in the function of the female pelvic floor.
Vitamin D affects skeletal muscle strength and function, and insufficiency is associated with notable muscle weakness. Vitamin D has been shown to increase skeletal muscle efficiency at adequate levels. The levator ani muscles and coccygeus pelvic floor muscles are skeletal muscle that are crucial supporting structures to the pelvic floor. Pelvic floor musculature weakness can contribute to pelvic floor disorders such as urinary or fecal incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. Pelvic floor muscle training for strengthening, endurance, and coordination, are first line treatment for both stress and urge urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, and overactive bladder syndrome. The pelvic floor muscles are thought to be affected by vitamin D nutrition status. Additionally, as women age, they are more prone to vitamin D deficiency and pelvic floor disorders.
This article reviews several studies, including small case and observational, that show an association between insufficient vitamin D and pelvic floor disorder symptoms and severity of symptoms. The recommendation from this review is that more studies of high quality evidence are needed to fully understand and demonstrate this relationship between vitamin D deficiency and pelvic floor disorders. However, the authors feel that vitamin D supplementation may be a helpful adjunct to treatment by helping to optimize our physiological response to pelvic floor muscle training and improving the overall quality of life for women suffering from pelvic floor disorders.
The Institute of Medicine has only made recommendations for dietary allowance for vitamin D and calcium for bone health. There is no consensus for adequate vitamin D levels for a condition specific goal (other than bone health), and the levels of vitamin D varied throughout the reviewed studies. It has been shown that very high levels of vitamin D are tolerated well, so supplementation of vitamin D seems to be very safe in low and very high doses.
As pelvic rehabilitation providers, it is our job to assess the whole person, however, we are not dieticians. As physical therapists we are musculoskeletal specialists and vitamin D affects muscle function. What our patients put in their bodies (wholesome nutritious food vs nutrient lacking artificial food) affects the quality of the cells they produce and tissues that are made, which can influence their healing. When reviewing health history, maybe consider discussing vitamin D status and possible supplementation with the patient, or with the patients’ primary care provider or naturopathic doctor. This team approach may provide more comprehensive health care, hopefully yielding more successful outcomes.
Parker-Autry, C. Y., Burgio, K. L., & Richter, H. E. (2012). Vitamin D status: a review with implications for the pelvic floor. International urogynecology journal, 23(11), 1517-1526.