Rheumatoid arthritis: Maintaining ‘sufficient’ levels of this may help prevent the disease
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own cells. This causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. The symptoms usually affect the hands, feet and wrists. Certain measures can be taken to reduce the risk of developing Rheumatoid arthritis, one study suggests a certain vitamin may help prevent the onset of the disease.
Research led by the University of Birmingham has discovered that maintaining sufficient vitamin D levels may help to prevent the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.
Another key finding of the research was that the impact of vitamin D on inflammatory disease cannot be predicted using cells from healthy individuals or even from the blood of patients with inflammation as cells from the disease tissue are very different.
The researchers concluded that if vitamin D is to be used in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, clinicians may need to prescribe much higher doses than currently employed or provide a treatment that also corrects the vitamin D insensitivity of immune cells within the joint.
In addition to its well-established actions on the skeleton, vitamin D is a potent modulator of the immune system, the study explains.
In particular, vitamin D can suppress inflammation in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
The study, published in the Journal of Autoimmunity, involved using paired peripheral blood and synovial fluid from the inflamed joint of patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Professor Martin Hewison, of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research, said: “Our current understanding of vitamin D and rheumatoid arthritis is based on studies of patient blood which may not truly represent the situation at the site of inflammation – the joints.
“We therefore investigated responses to the active form of vitamin D in immune cells from the inflamed joints of patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
“Compared to blood from the same patients, the inflamed joint immune cells were much less sensitive to active vitamin D.
“This appears to be because immune cells from the joints of rheumatoid arthritis patients are more committed to inflammation, and therefore less likely to change, even though they have all the machinery to respond to vitamin D.”
Dr Louisa Jeffery, also of the University of Birmingham, said: “Our research indicates that maintaining sufficient vitamin D may help to prevent the onset of inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
“However, for patients who already have rheumatoid arthritis, simply providing vitamin D might not be enough. Instead much higher doses of vitamin D may be needed, or possibly a new treatment that bypasses or corrects the vitamin D insensitivity of immune cells within the joint.”
According to the NHS, in the spring and summer months, most people should be able to get all the vitamin D they need from natural sunlight exposure, but taking a daily supplement of 10mcg of vitamin D is recommended during the autumn and winter months.
According to the health body, exceeding the recommended amount can pose health risks, however.
It can cause too much calcium to build up in the body (hypercalcaemia).
“This can weaken the bones and damage the kidneys and the heart,” cautioned.