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Vitamin D May Prevent Arthritis

Research Links Vitamin D Deficiency to Rheumatoid Arthritis
WebMD Health News

Jan. 9, 2004 -- Move over vitamins A, B, C and E. It is beginning to look like the long ignored vitamin D is every bit as important for preventing disease as you are.

New research makes the case that vitamin D helps protect older women against rheumatoid arthritis -- an autoimmune joint disorder of unknown cause. Recent studies have also linked deficiencies of vitamin D to other disorders such as certain cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and even unexplained pain but its role in human autoimmune disease is less clear.

The studies are far from conclusive, but researcher Michael Holick, MD, says there is every reason to believe that the supplement plays a much bigger role in disease prevention than has been recognized.

"Vitamin D has always been considered sort of a ho-hum vitamin," Holick tells WebMD. "People think they get plenty of it from the sun or in their diets, but these days that just isn't the case."

Vitamin D and Rheumatoid Arthritis

The latest research drew on data from the Iowa Women's Health Study, which followed almost 30,000 women, aged 55 to 69, for 11 years. Over the course of the study, the women were questioned about their eating habits, their use of nutritional supplements, and other health-related issues.

During the trial, 152 of the women developed rheumatoid arthritis. The investigators found that women whose diets were highest in vitamin D had the lowest incidence of rheumatoid arthritis.

Women who got less than 200 international units (IU) of vitamin D in their diets each day were 33% more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than women who got more, researcher Kenneth G. Saag, MD, tells WebMD. Saag is an associate professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The association remained significant even after the researchers adjusted for other suspected rheumatoid arthritis risk factors, such as smoking. And even though many foods with vitamin D are also high in calcium, the vitamin's protective effect seemed to be independent of how much calcium the women ate.

The findings are reported in the January 2004 issue of the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism.

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