Joints are an essential part of the human body as they play a critical role in holding and supporting the body in multiple postures. Everything we do relies on the skeletal network in the body, of which joints are an important component. It is not surprising, then, that they are one of the first parts that undergo deterioration as we age. Several diseases can affect the numerous joints in the body, and arthritis is one of the most common. Arthritis is essentially the inflammation of joints. It can be of multiple types based on etiology. One of the types is rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease of the joints characterised by inflammation and subsequent erosion and deformity. In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks the joints, leading to inflammation and painful joints. Moreover, it is not just limited to just the joints. It can affect other systems in the body, including the eyes, skin, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition that worsens with time. It can be caused due to a variety of reasons, including genetic predisposition, smoking, age, and obesity.
This is why, to raise awareness regarding arthritis, how to prevent it, and how to slow down its progression, World Arthritis Day is celebrated on the 12th of October every year. This is important as chronic conditions such as arthritis cannot be cured; they can only be managed. There are several ways; however, that can help slow it down, so it does not affect an individual’s everyday life.
What can help in rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition where the immune system of the body attacks itself. It can be accompanied by weak bones and low serum vitamin D. Osteoporosis is characterised by weak and hollow bones that are more prone to fractures. It is a side-effect of medications taken during rheumatoid arthritis, such as glucocorticoids. Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful condition, so the patients are often prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics.
How can vitamin D help in the effective management of rheumatoid arthritis?
Calcium is an essential nutrient needed by all living creatures, including humans. Vitamin D is a prohormone that helps the body absorb calcium, which is essential for strong bones and functional joints. Lack of vitamin D can not only exacerbate the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis but can also lead to other problems such as lethargy, brittle bones, numbness, and apathetic mood. The presence of anti-inflammatory properties in vitamin D helps in reducing pain and tenderness in the joints. It also boosts the immune system and helps in its regulation which can stop the flaring of the arthritic joint. Vitamin D decreases the activity of certain types of immune cells and can reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Its role in active inflammation is still unclear. Most experts define vitamin D deficiency as serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] level below 30 ng/ml. Severe vitamin D deficiency, or a cutoff value of 25(OH)D <12/10 ng/ml, significantly increases the risk of osteomalacia or nutritional rickets. A recent article in Nature reported <12 ng/ml 25(OH)D levels in more than 20 per cent of the population in India, Tunisia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, with an estimated 490 million individuals suffering from vitamin D deficiency in India. This also creates the need of the Vitamin D Oral Supplements in the countries backed by high quality nutraceutical manufacturers.
Where can we get vitamin D from?
There are multiple natural resources we can use to acquire vitamin D. The most important one is the UV rays from sunlight. Spending just 15 minutes in the sun can be effective. However, for rheumatoid arthritis patients, oral supplementation is recommended and preferred over sunlight exposure. Vitamin D can also be acquired from nuts, fatty fish, egg yolks, mushrooms, and dairy.
Vitamin D can be an important asset in tackling rheumatoid arthritis, particularly in the early stages. Due to its numerous benefits, it is also helpful in reducing the occurrence of arthritis in people who are at high-risk. People who are taking medications for rheumatoid arthritis should, however, consult their rheumatologist before starting any supplementation. This is done to ensure there aren’t any interactions between the medications the patient is already taking and vitamin D absorption in the body. Arthritis sounds like a difficult disease with a grim prognosis, but with adequate management, it can be slowed down in its tracks.
(The author is the Director of Akums Pharmaceuticals & Drugs)