According to the Arthritis Foundation, about 1.5 million Americans have rheumatoid arthritis. It affects almost three times as many women as men. In females, RA begins most often between ages 30 and 60. Men tend to develop it later in life.
Normally, your body’s immune system protects you from foreign substances like bacteria and viruses. But it attacks your joints when you have rheumatoid arthritis. This abnormal immune response causes chronic inflammation that can damage joints and organs including your heart. It also can lead to the bone erosion of osteoporosis.
Disease severity varies between patients with symptoms changing from one day to the next. You may experience inflammation, pain, fatigue and warm, swollen, reddish joints in both wrists and hands. Long periods of morning stiffness are common. Flares, or sudden symptom and illness increases, can last for days or months.
Direct Sunlight Proves Protective
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology monitored two large groups of female nurses for a study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases journal. They checked over 120,000 women between the ages of 30 and 55 from 1976 to 2008. Between 1989 and 2009, they followed 115,500 women ranging from 25 and 32. The study team estimated ultraviolet B (UV-B shortwave) radiation levels according to each subject’s home state climate.
Older women in the first set with the highest direct sun exposure were 21 percent less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than those with the lowest levels. Younger women in the second group demonstrated no correlation between ultraviolet radiation exposure and decreased rheumatoid arthritis risks. The study authors believe that’s because younger women knew to shield themselves from the sun by using sunscreen or avoiding exposure altogether from young ages.
The Vitamin D Factor
Multiple studies have shown that RA patients have lower vitamin D levels, compared to healthy controls. Research has determined that vitamin D works with the immune system by regulating cells that produce cytokines, inflammatory or anti-inflammatory proteins. A new study published in the Rheumatology journal compared 130 RA patients from a hospital in China against 80 healthy people from the local community. The research team classified all RA patients into low, moderate and severe groups, according to their Disease Activity Scores in 28 joints.
Statistical analyses showed that RA patients had significantly lower vitamin D levels compared to those in the control group. This deficiency occurred with increased RA Disease Activity Scores, morning stiffness times, tender joint counts, swollen joint counts, joint pain degrees, Health Assessment Questionnaire scores, inflammatory cytokine levels, erythrocyte sedimentation rates and platelets. RA patients with osteopenia or osteoporosis had significantly lower vitamin D levels than those with normal bone mineral densities.
RA is an incurable disease, but early diagnosis and prompt treatment are key to preventing joint destruction and organ damage. A rheumatologist, an arthritis specialist, can prescribe medications like Imuran (Azathioprine) to help ease your symptoms, reduce inflammation and slow RA’s progression. No single drug works for everyone, but many patients benefit from very effective treatment plans.
Countless research has shown that sunscreen blocks vitamin D production. Also known as the sunshine vitamin, it’s vital for bone health, muscle movement, nerve communication, regulating your immune system and fighting inflammation. Since vitamin D deficiencies can lead to rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders, osteoporosis and depression, anyone who lacks direct sun exposure by using sunscreen or staying indoors might suffer from these conditions over the long term. Taking vitamin D supplements is a good way to replace the advantages of unprotected sunlight without risking sunburn. Consult your doctor for the appropriate dosage. Save money by ordering your prescription and over-the-counter medications from a Canadian pharmacy.
The goal of RA treatment is remission, when inflammation is gone or very low. Schedule regular medical exams and blood tests to monitor your disease activity, or inflammation, levels. Your doctor may add to or change your medications or adjust your dosages after a few months, if your disease remains active.
Extra Ways to Manage Your Condition
Staying physically active is the key to keeping your joints flexible. Too little movement can lead to joint stiffness, and strong muscles protect joints. Studies show that even just three hours of physical therapy over six weeks provide lasting RA improvement. Strike a good balance between rest to reduce inflammation and activity to relieve stiffness and weakness.
Eat a well-balanced diet with approximately two-thirds coming from fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fill your other third with fat-free or low-fat dairy products and lean protein. Good sources of vitamin D include fortified breads, cereals, eggs and low-fat milk. Recent studies found that the omega-3 fatty acids in salmon, mackerel and herring alleviate RA inflammation, tender joints and morning stiffness. Other studies show that adding fiber lowers levels of the C-reactive protein (CRP) that’s an inflammation indicator. Making these lifestyle modifications and following your medication regimen can help you control your RA symptoms and improve your quality of life.