Maintaining sufficient vitamin D levels may help to prevent the onset of inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, according to new research.
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue, including the joints of the body. Over time, the inflammation can lead to bone erosion and joint deformity that seriously impacts a person’s life.
But research led by the University of Birmingham found that while vitamin D can be effective at preventing inflammation, it is less effective once inflammation is present, Science Daily reported. The researchers said the findings had important implications for the use of vitamin D as an inflammation treatment.
“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,” Martin Hewison, a professor from the University of Birmingham, told Science Daily. “We therefore investigated responses to the active form of vitamin D in immune cells from the inflamed joints of patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
The research also found that the impact of vitamin D on existing inflammatory disease could be predicted by testing on healthy volunteers. As a result, the researchers said that if vitamin D was to be used as a treatment, clinicians may need to prescribe much higher doses or provide a treatment that also corrects the vitamin D insensitivity afflicting already inflamed joints.
The study published in the Journal of Autoimmunity, tested peripheral blood and synovial fluid (found in cavities of joints) from the inflamed joint 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,” Hewison said. “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.”
The study is part of an ongoing research project, which first began in 2011. The university now hopes to determine why rheumatoid arthritis leads to vitamin D insensitivity.