Here Comes the Sun: Vitamin D for Arthritis Symptoms

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  • Vitamin D

    Vitamin D

    Vitamin D helps bones absorb calcium, which is vital to bone health. Vitamin D is also crucial for muscle movement, communication between nerves, and fighting inflammation. Sunlight, diet, and/or vitamin supplements are good sources of this vitamin.

    In the same way that low levels of vitamin D can contribute to health complications, too much vitamin D in the body can be a problem as well. A test for serum concentration of 25(OH)D can determine your vitamin D levels.

  • Arthritis


    Arthritis is a general term referring to the inflammation of a joint. There are several different types of arthritis. The most common type is called osteoarthritis (OA). It occurs when the cartilage in a joint wears out or becomes damaged.

    Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that leads to inflammation of the joints. Arthritis is a leading cause of disability. It can’t always be prevented, but it can be treated in a number of ways.

  • Vitamin D and Cartilage Volume

    Vitamin D and Cartilage Volume

    Vitamin D may help preserve knee cartilage, according to a study in the May 2009 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism. Researchers found that older adults had more preserved knee cartilage if they had greater sun exposure and higher vitamin D levels in their blood.

    Lower vitamin D levels and less time in the sun were associated with greater cartilage loss. When ultraviolet rays from the sun reach the skin, the body starts to produce vitamin D. This is a problem in winter when there is less sunlight exposure.

  • Vitamin D Supplementation

    Vitamin D Supplementation

    Vitamin D supplements may be good for your bones, but they may not help relieve arthritis symptoms. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at whether taking vitamin D supplements would help. Arthritis patients who took vitamin D supplements for two years had no improvement in knee pain. 

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends a serum concentration of 25(OH)D of at least 20 ng/mL for most people. A blood test can check your vitamin D levels.

  • Muscle Strength

    Muscle Strength

    Vitamin D may indirectly help improve arthritis symptoms. Supplements and sunshine may not relieve joint inflammation, but they do benefit muscle health. Strong muscles around the joints can ease some of the discomfort caused by arthritis. This is because stronger muscles can take some of the stress off damaged cartilage in the joints.

    Along with vitamin D, muscles need protein and exercise to get stronger. Your doctor or a physical therapist can recommend the right exercises to perform if you have arthritis.

  • Vitamin D and Rheumatoid Arthritis

    Vitamin D and Rheumatoid Arthritis

    In RA, the immune system attacks your joints for no reason. That unhealthy immune response can damage the joints.

    Research shows, however, that higher vitamin D intake may lower the risk of developing RA. A study in Arthritis & Rheumatism suggests that vitamin D consumed through diet and supplements may lower RA risk among older women.

  • Vitamin D Caution

    Vitamin D Caution

    It’s impossible to get too much vitamin D from the sun, but it is possible to damage your skin from too much sun exposure. The NIH suggests that a few days a week with five to 30 minutes of sun exposure on the skin without sunscreen is sufficient for vitamin D production during summer months. 

    If you live north of the 38th parallel (Atlanta / San Francisco), you won’t get sufficient vitamin D from the sun in the winter. Speak with your doctor about taking vitamin supplements. Or, if you’re already taking vitamin D supplements, check with your doctor about how much you need in order to get your levels to a healthy range.

  • Treating Arthritis Symptoms

    Treating Arthritis Symptoms

    Vitamin D may not directly help with managing arthritis symptoms, but several effective treatments can. Anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can be helpful. You also may find pain and stiffness relief from cortisone injections.

    Exercise is important, but you should consult with your doctor before beginning a regimen. A physical therapist can help you make sure you’re doing exercises safely. Aids—such as canes, walkers, or devices to help with your grip—can make living with arthritis a little easier.