Vitamin D deficiency has always been suspected to be a risk factor for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). According to a new Australian-led research, rheumatoid arthritis patients are twice as likely to suffer from vitamin D deficiency, compared with the general population. The study of over 200 RA patients and controls showed that the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency was 65% in RA patients compared to 32% in matched controls.
Effects of Low Vitamin D
RA patients lacking in vitamin D were more likely to experience pain, swollen joints, tender joints and morning stiffness, according to the study conducted in association with the Menzies Research Institute in Tasmania.
While low vitamin D levels were not associated with the radiographic bone erosions of RA, they were considerably lower in patients with osteopenia and osteoporosis than in those with normal bone density, the authors found.
Low vitamin D was also linked to high serum levels of IL-17 and IL-23, which drive immune activation and inflammation and are probably implicated in RA, data showed.
Reporting in ‘Rheumatology’, the authors said “Vitamin D affects both the innate and adaptive immune responses contributing to the immune tolerance of self-antigens. Vitamin D deficiency skews the immunological response towards loss of tolerance and may play an important role in autoimmune diseases including RA,” they wrote.
Linked to Heart Disease and Osteoporosis
In another study, researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine looked at the connection between vitamin D levels and cardiovascular disease risk among rheumatoid arthritis patients.
The researchers found that 41% of rheumatoid arthritis patients studied were significantly deficient in vitamin D, with another 46% having insufficient levels of the vitamin. Participants with lower vitamin D levels had more insulin resistance, lower levels of HDL cholesterol and more markers of inflammation, even after adjusting for other potential risk factors such as body mass index, antibody status, sex and ethnicity. Higher levels of inflammation suggest that low vitamin D status may actually worsen rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
The chronic inflammation also attacks the heart and blood vessels. In such cases, Vitamin D supplementation can help by abating inflammation and protecting the heart.
Rheumatoid arthritis patients are also known to have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. As many osteoporosis drugs do not function well in vitamin D-deficient individuals, it is especially important that people taking those drugs monitor their vitamin D status.
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