A link between rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and vitamin D deficiency has been established in a new study.
Females living in the northeastern United States are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, suggesting a link between the autoimmune disease and vitamin D deficiency, the study led by a Boston University School of Public Health researcher claimed.
In the paper, which appears online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, a spatial analysis led by Dr. Versnica Vieira, MS, DSc, associate professor of environmental health, found that women in states like Vermont, New Hampshire and southern Maine were more likely to report being diagnosed with RA.
"There's higher risk in the northern latitudes," Dr. Vieira said. "This might be related to the fact that there's less sunlight in these areas, which results in a vitamin D deficiency."
The study looked at data from the Nurses' Health Study, a long-term cohort study of U.S. female nurses. Looking at the residential addresses, health outcomes and behavioral risk factors for participants between 1988 and 2002, researchers based their findings on 461 women who had RA, compared to a large control group of 9,220.
RA is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the lining of the joints, mostly in the hands and knees. This chronic arthritis is characterized by swelling and redness and can wear down the cartilage between bones. RA is two to three times more common in women than in men.
Although the cause of RA is unknown, the researchers wrote, earlier studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency, which can be caused by a lack of sunlight, has already been associated with a variety of other autoimmune diseases.
"A geographic association with northern latitudes has also been observed for multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease, other autoimmune diseases that may be mediated by reduced vitamin D from decreased solar exposure and the immune effects of vitamin D deficiency," the authors wrote.
The authors said further research is needed to look into the relationship between vitamin D exposure and RA.