New research investigates vitamin D levels in RA patients.

New research presented at last week’s 70th American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) Annual Scientific Meeting and Clinical Lab Expo in Chicago suggests that taking in some extra vitamin D could possibly be crucial to alleviating some rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms.

RA is an autoimmune disease that affects a wide cross section of people. The Arthritis Foundation reports that 1.5 million people in the United States have RA, and almost three times as many women have it as men.

The painful disease can cause swollen joints or regular fever and fatigue.

There is a wide range of treatments depending on the severity of RA symptoms, from nonsteroidal and corticosteroid drugs to surgery, but still, many patients are looking for new ways to find relief.

The potential use of supplements to help diminish symptoms of RA has been a subject of study for some time.

Now a team led by Dr. Tomas De Haro Muñoz, of Hospital Universitario Campus de la Salud in Spain, have new findings about vitamin D and its potential link to RA symptoms.

The team published their findings at the expo, but they have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Muñoz and the other researchers measured the presence of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, a marker which points to vitamin D in blood samples, in 78 people with RA. It was noted whether or not RA was in remission in each of these people.

They compared the vitamin D levels of those with RA to the vitamin D levels of 41 healthy people who served as the study’s controls, according to the study abstract from the conference.

The researchers found that only 33 percent of the people with RA showed satisfactory vitamin D levels, and the levels were lower for those who had active RA and experienced more severe symptoms.

“Vitamin D deficiency is associated with the clinical activity of the disease,” the authors wrote. “The quantification of serum 25 (OH) D levels and, consequently, vitamin D supplementation, should be considered in the management of patients with RA.”

While this is the first study to look into how a person’s vitamin D levels could impact the course of a person’s RA treatment, the link between vitamin D and the condition is well known, said Dr. Daniel Small, a rheumatologist at Mayo Clinic.

He told Healthline that since vitamin D is “very important” for a person’s immune system, brain, and bones, low levels are usually tied to “a worse prognosis in pretty much all of the diseases that affect these systems.”

“Vitamin D supplementation is important for most people that have not had adequate dietary intake,” Small added. “The most common good sources of dietary vitamin D are fresh fatty fish, eggs, mushrooms, beef liver, and foods that have been especially marked as fortified with Vitamin D — milk, orange juice, cereals, tofu.”

Small said that anyone who has an autoimmune disease, like RA, osteopenia, or osteoporosis and neurological disorders should make sure to get their vitamin D levels checked.

“Vitamin D deficiency may be seen as part of unhealthy habits such as poor nutrition, smoking, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, lack of exercise, physiological factors such as agoraphobia, or being shut in due to disabilities,” he added. “Social economic factors may be part of the deficiency as well, and the sum total of all these factors often leads to a poorer disease outcome, of which vitamin D deficiency is probably both a causation and a sign.”

He added that primary care physicians test for vitamin D levels usually during people’s yearly physicals. You can get vitamin D supplementation through two separate forms of the vitamin — vitamin D-2 or vitamin D-3. Small said that current research points to the fact that vitamin D-3 offers a better supplementation of vitamin D levels, and he stressed that he would recommend this form of the vitamin to his patients.

“For most people, 2000 IU (international unit) vitamin D-3 is adequate to maintain normal therapeutic levels, but monitoring blood levels is essential, as some people need a higher dose to maintain good levels,” he said.