By Sara Muharremi
According to the National Health Service (NHS), vertigo is “ … the sensation that you, or the environment around you is spinning.” Although vertigo can occur at any age, it is most commonly found in people who are 65 or older. Other symptoms that go along with vertigo can include loss of balance, feeling sick or being sick, and dizziness.
But what exactly can cause vertigo and how can it be treated?
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) is one type of vertigo that occurs when certain head movements trigger the vertigo sensations. It is caused by tiny crystals of calcium carbonate located within chambers of the inner ear which affects balance. Dr. Cherian, from the Cleveland Clinic, provides an analogy regarding these crystals. “[I]magine a hill with blades of grass, and on top of each blade is a crystal. Together, these crystals form an interconnected matrix. Whenever the blades of grass move, so do the crystals. The blades of grass represent cilia, hair-like processes that are attached to tiny nerves in your inner ear. When the crystals move, it stimulates the nerves to fire, which tells the brain your head is moving.”
The reason why these crystals might cause someone to experience vertigo and dizziness is because within the inner ear there are structures called the otolith organs which contain fluid and the calcium carbonate crystals. BPPV causes the crystals and the fluid to dislodge and move into the semicircular canals of the ear. Here, the crystals can touch the cilia, and the nerves will fire sending inaccurate information regarding how the person is moving and where they are positioned. This is where dizziness, feelings of spinning, and nausea may occur.
To treat BPPV, a specific series of head movements known as the Epley maneuver can help move the crystals back into their right place. This maneuver can have a high success rate if performed properly — but the symptoms still tend to recur often. There has been, however, new research and data to suggest that for people suffering from BPPV, taking a supplement of calcium and vitamin D can be a way to prevent vertigo from recurring, especially if someone is deficient in vitamin D to begin with.
There have been other studies involving women with osteoporosis and the prevalence of BPPV amongst them. The research confirms strong correlations between low bone density and low vitamin D levels,with relation to BPPV. Vitamin D helps with absorption of calcium, and the crystals in the inner ear are made up of calcium carbonate, meaning that sufficient levels of calcium and vitamin D are crucial for inner ear health as well. Although there still aren’t any foolproof cures for BPPV, there is hope in knowing that something as simple as a vitamin D and calcium supplement may help.
Sen K, Padiyar B, V, Arora G: Association of Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo with Osteoporosis and Vitamin D Deficiency – A Case-Control Study. Dubai Med J 2018;1:2-5. doi: 10.1159/000492756
Sheikhzadeh, M., Lotfi, Y., Mousavi, A., Heidari, B., & Bakhshi, E. (2016). The effect of serum vitamin D normalization in preventing recurrences of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo: A case-control study. Caspian journal of internal medicine, 7(3), 173–177.