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Vitamin D 'may help prevent development of rheumatoid arthritis'

Published on 21 November 2017
Vitamin D 'may help prevent development of rheumatoid arthritis'

People who consume plenty of vitamin D could lower their risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, according to a new study.

The University of Birmingham research, published in the Journal of Autoimmunity, has revealed key insights into the relationship between vitamin D and inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, with implications for those at risk for such conditions as well as those already affected.

The vital role vitamin D plays in rheumatoid arthritis
The researchers analysed samples of blood and synovial fluid from the inflamed joints of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, making this the first study to characterise the effects of vitamin D in both the peripheral blood and joint fluids of people with inflammatory conditions.

It was shown that maintaining sufficient vitamin D levels can be an effective way of preventing the onset of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, but is less beneficial once inflammatory disease has already been established, due to the fact that these conditions can result in vitamin D insensitivity in the cells.

Although vitamin D was shown to be an effective way of suppressing inflammation, immune cells in the joints that are already inflamed are less likely to change - meaning clinicians may need to prescribe much higher doses than are currently offered.

Potential implications
Based on these findings, the team are looking to carry out follow-up studies to determine why rheumatoid arthritis leads to vitamin D insensitivity and how this can be overcome, as well as to establish whether this effect is seen in other inflammatory conditions.

Dr Louisa Jeffery 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."

Arthritis Research UK's view
Dr Benjamin Ellis, clinical advisor at Arthritis Research UK, comments: "In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the body causing painful inflammation that destroys the joints. When doing a laboratory analysis of joint fluid from people with rheumatoid arthritis, these researchers found that these cells were unable to use vitamin D properly, which may contribute to the inflammation.

"In the long term, understanding this may help us find a cure for this devastating condition that affects 400,000 people limiting everyday activities such as getting dressed, walking up the stairs and travelling to work."

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