Vitamin D Deficiency Debate

More vitamin D might help if you have inflammatory arthritis.

By Linda Rath

Despite high hopes, recent studies have found that vitamin D supplements taken alone don’t prevent fractures, make bones stronger or protect against heart disease or cancer — at least not at a dose of 2,000 international units (IU) a day. But people who have inflammatory forms of arthritis still may benefit from these supplements. Many studies and meta-analyses confirm the role of the sunshine vitamin as a powerful anti-inflammatory in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other inflammatory diseases.

People with RA consistently are shown to have low levels of vitamin D. One study showed fewer than one-third had the minimum needed for bone health (a blood level of at least 20 nanograms per milliliter). And research shows that the lowest levels are associated with more severe disease, greater disability and a worse quality of life.

Does More Vitamin D Help?

But it’s unclear whether restoring normal vitamin D levels could improve these things.

JoAnn Manson, MD, a Harvard professor and chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, both in Boston, doesn’t think so. Dr. Manson was the lead author of a National Institutes of Health study that showed vitamin D does not protect against heart disease or cancer. She says there’s no proof that low vitamin D levels cause RA or lead to more severe symptoms; it’s just as possible the disease itself causes nutritional deficiencies, not the other way around.

But some rheumatologists disagree. Daniel Small, MD, with the Mayo Health System in La Crosse, Wisconsin, believes normal vitamin D levels are essential for everyone, especially people with RA. He routinely tests patients for vitamin D and prescribes it when needed. He says 2,000 IU of vitamin D-3 a day should be enough to maintain normal levels, but “monitoring is essential, as some people need a higher dose.”

Supplements are important because it’s hard to get enough vitamin D from the few foods that contain it, including fatty fish, eggs and fortified cereal, milk and juice. The average daily intake from food is about 200 to 300 IU, according to the National Academy of Medicine. Relying on sun exposure is problematic, too, and most doctors don’t recommend it; not only does it increase the risk of skin cancer, but sunlight doesn’t easily convert into vitamin D in people who are older or have darker skin.

Get Tested

Healthy people who eat well don’t need to give vitamin D another thought. But if you have inflammatory arthritis, knowing your status may be helpful. Your doctor can check it with a $50 blood test. Your insurance might not cover it, but it may be money well spent.

 

Published June 2019

 

Stay in the Know. Live in the Yes.

Get involved with the arthritis community. Tell us a little about yourself and, based on your interests, you’ll receive emails packed with the latest information and resources to live your best life and connect with others.

 
I Want to Contribute
I Need Help
  • Donate

    Donate

    Every gift to the Arthritis Foundation will help people with arthritis across the U.S. live their best life.

  • Volunteer

    Volunteer

    Join us and become a Champion of Yes. There are many volunteer opportunities available.

  • Live Yes! INSIGHTS

    Live Yes! INSIGHTS

    Take part to be among those changing lives today and changing the future of arthritis.

  • Partner

    Partner

    Proud Partners of the Arthritis Foundation make an annual commitment to directly support the Foundation’s mission.

Donate


Ways to Give

Every gift to the Arthritis Foundation will help people with arthritis across the U.S. live their best life. Whether it is supporting cutting-edge research, 24/7 access to one-on-one support, resources and tools for daily living, and more, your gift will be life-changing.

Make a Donation

Help millions of people live with less pain and fund groundbreaking research to discover a cure for this devastating disease. Please, make your urgently-needed donation to the Arthritis Foundation now!

Become a Member

Become an Arthritis Foundation member today for just $20 and you'll receive access to helpful tools..... and more. 

Make a Honor or Memorial Gift

Honor a loved one with a meaningful donation to the Arthritis Foundation. We'll send a handwritten card to the honoree or their family notifying them of your thoughtful gift.

Gift Planning

I want information on ways to remember the AF in my will, trust or other financial planning vehicles.
 

Volunteer


Volunteer Opportunities

The Arthritis Foundation is focused on finding a cure and championing the fight against arthritis with life-changing information, advocacy, science and community. We can only achieve these goals with your help. Strong, outspoken and engaged volunteers will help us conquer arthritis. By getting involved, you become a leader in our organization and help make a difference in the lives of millions. Join us and become a Champion of Yes.

Become a Volunteer

More About Volunteering

Live Yes! INSIGHTS


Give Just 10 Minutes.

Tell us what matters most to you. Change the future of arthritis.

By taking part in the Live Yes! INSIGHTS assessment, you’ll be among those changing lives today and changing the future of arthritis, for yourself and for 54 million others. And all it takes is just 10 minutes.

Your shared experiences will help:

- Lead to more effective treatments and outcomes
- Develop programs to meet the needs of you and your community
- Shape a powerful agenda that fights for you

Now is the time to make your voice count, for yourself and the entire arthritis community. 

Currently this program is for the adult arthritis community.  Since the needs of the juvenile arthritis (JA) community are unique, we are currently working with experts to develop a customized experience for JA families. 

How are you changing the future?

By sharing your experience, you’re showing decision-makers the realities of living with arthritis, paving the way for change. You’re helping break down barriers to care, inform research and create resources that make a difference in people’s lives, including your own.

Get Started

Partner


Meet Our Partners

As a partner, you will help the Arthritis Foundation provide life-changing resources, science, advocacy and community connections for people with arthritis, the nations leading cause of disability. Join us today and help lead the way as a Champion of Yes.

Trailblazer

Our Trailblazers are committed partners ready to lead the way, take action and fight for everyday victories. They contribute $2,000,000 to $2,749,000

Visionary

Our Visionary partners help us plan for a future that includes a cure for arthritis. These inspired and inventive champions have contributed $1,500,00 to $1,999,999.

Pioneer

Our Pioneers are always ready to explore and find new weapons in the fight against arthritis. They contribute $1,000,000 to $1,499,999.

Pacesetter

Our Pacesetters ensure that we can chart the course for a cure for those who live with arthritis. They contribute $500,000 to $999,000.

Signature

Our Signature partners make their mark by helping us identify new and meaningful resources for people with arthritis. They contribute $250,000 to $499,999.

Supporting

Our Supporting partners are active champions who provide encouragement and assistance to the arthritis community. They contribute $100,000 to $249,999.