Vitamin D and arthritis

Vitamin D helps your bones absorb calcium, which is vital to bone health. It’s also crucial for muscle movement, communication between nerves, and fighting inflammation. According to the Arthritis Foundation, people who take oral steroids have a vitamin D deficiency twice as often as people who don’t take them. Oral steroids are a common treatment for people with arthritis.

Another study found that vitamin D deficiency is common in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and may be linked to musculoskeletal pain.

Not having enough vitamin D can:

  • affect your immune system
  • reduce calcium and phosphorus levels
  • increase your risk for RA, if you are a woman

But the biggest concern for vitamin D deficiency is osteoporosis, or brittle bones. This condition increases your risk for bone fractures, bone pain, and hearing loss. Read on to learn what to do if you have a vitamin D deficiency.

A vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis. According to the Mayo Clinic, higher doses of prednisone, an RA medication, also increase your risk for osteoporosis. This condition causes your bones to lose density and become weak, which increases your risk for bone fractures from incidents ranging from falls to bumping into objects. Talk to your doctor if you have arthritis and think you may be at risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis often develops without symptoms and requires a bone mineral density test for diagnosis.

Read more: Osteoporosis symptoms »

Supplements and diet

It’s important to get enough calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones. According to UpToDate, this is the first step to prevention or treatment of osteoporosis. Calcium is essential to keeping your bones healthy, while vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium as well as protect your bones. Food is your best source of these nutrients. You can get calcium from low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese. Vitamin D is available in fatty fishes like salmon and tuna.

You can also find fortified breakfast cereals, juices, and other foods that have calcium and vitamin D. The nutrition label on these items will show you roughly how much of your daily value you are getting.


The good news is that osteoporosis and arthritis symptoms both improve with exercise. And while supplements and sunshine may not relieve joint inflammation, they do benefit muscle health. Strong muscles around the joints can ease some of the discomfort caused by arthritis. This is because stronger muscles take some of the stress off of damaged cartilage in the joints, and also support the bones.

Some exercises such as yoga or lifting weights may increase your risk for falls. Talk to your doctor about the right exercises for you if you have arthritis and osteoporosis.

Theoretically, vitamin D should be helpful in preventing, slowing, or reducing arthritis inflammation. But there’s little to mixed evidence that vitamin D supplements can relieve or prevent arthritis symptoms. An example is a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that looked at whether taking vitamin D supplements would help. People who took vitamin D supplements for two years had no improvement in knee pain.

One study suggested that vitamin D may help with preserving knee cartilage. 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.

Read more: What’s a vitamin D test? »

Although rare, it’s possible to get too much vitamin D through supplements. Vitamin D toxicity, or hypervitaminosis D, causes calcium to build up in your blood. This can cause symptoms such as:

  • poor appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • tiredness
  • frequent urination
  • kidney problems

It’s possible to damage your skin from too much sun exposure. Always wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more before exposing yourself in the sun. While the National Institutes of Health suggest a few days a week with five to 30 minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen during the summer, it’s still important to wear sunscreen.

If you live in a city that has little sunlight during the winter, speak with your doctor about taking vitamin supplements. Or if you’re already taking them, check with your doctor about how much you need in order to get your levels to a healthy range.

Osteoporosis is the main concern related to arthritis and vitamin D deficiency. People with arthritis who take oral steroids may be at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis because they are twice as likely to have a vitamin D deficiency. But getting enough calcium and vitamin D can help reduce this bone loss. Your doctor may also prescribe medications to prevent osteoporosis.

Exercise and staying active are also very important for managing both osteoporosis and arthritis. Consult with your doctor before starting a routine. 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 and take stress off of your bones.