We Are Sunshine

Tanning Beds Provide Pain Relief in Fibromyalgia Study

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Ultraviolet light may help relieve pain in fibromyalgia syndrome patients, according to a preliminary study at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center conducted by dermatology, rheumatology, and public health sciences researchers.

2009-01-21-ease-the-pain-tanningnews-copy.jpgA report on the study appears in the January issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. “We decided to look at fibromyalgia patients because there is such a big need for treatment,” Dr. Steven R. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Dermatology Research at Wake Forest Baptist.

The study included 19 fibromyalgia patients who were exposed to both UV and non-UV rays in tanning beds for two weeks. Then they were divided into UV and non-UV groups for the next four weeks. All of the fibromyalgia patients received light treatments three times a week for a total of six weeks.

The participants were treated with sunless tanning lotions to tan all participants because tanning might have indicated which group was receiving exposure to UV light. They were asked to report on their levels of pain as well as their moods. UV exposure resulted in limited improvement in pain, well-being and relaxation compared with the non-UV group. “People in the UV group reported a modest improvement,” Feldman said. “This was a small study and may indicate the need for a larger study.”

Fibromyalgia syndrome is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain and tenderness in localized areas of the neck, torso and extremities. In addition to pain, patients can experience stiffness, fatigue, sleep disturbances and other symptoms. Other pain syndromes, such as irritable bowel syndrome or migraine headaches, are seen in individuals affected by fibromyalgia. The majority of the three to six million people who have fibromyalgia are women.

Boston University Vitamin D research pioneer Dr. Michael Holick believes that many patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia are actually vitamin D deficient — which would explain why women exposed to UV in a tanning bed would show greater signs of improvement. Indoor tanners have 90 percent higher vitamin D blood levels as compared with non-tanners, according to Boston University research.

Traditional treatments for fibromyalgia are medications, such as antidepressants, analgesics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and non-pharmacologic approaches, most importantly regular participation in an exercise program.

The Wake Forest research team had earlier studied whether or not indoor tanning could be addictive. Smart Tan has pointed out that calling tanning “addictive” is a semantic mischaracterization of the fact that humans are naturally intended to be attracted to sunlight and UV light. “It would be like saying we are addicted to air, food and water,” Smart Tan Vice President Joseph Levy said. “It is a serious distortion of the facts.”

Feldman pointed out that the earlier study led them to follow up with the fibromyalgia study.

To read the full news release from Wake Forest University click here.