DOCTOR'S VIEW ARCHIVE

Vitamin D May Prevent Progression of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is considered a disease of the joint cartilage. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of inflammation of the joints (arthritis). Osteoarthritis is related to aging and affects more than 15 million people in the U.S.

As osteoarthritis weakens the cartilage of a joint, the bone underlying the cartilage undergoes changes. Vitamin D assists the body in the absorption of calcium and has been used for the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis (a condition characterized by bone thinning). It has been suggested that suboptimal vitamin D intake and blood levels might impair the body's normal protection from these bone changes.

Research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (1996;125:353-359) suggests that low intake and blood levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk for progression of osteoarthritis.

Timothy E. McAlindon, M.D. and associates studied 556 patients (average age 70 years) and found that the risk of progression of osteoarthritis of the knee for participants that had low vitamin D intake and blood levels was increased three times over those without these deficiencies. Low blood levels of vitamin D also correlated with loss of cartilage and degenerative bony spur formation.

From this study, it appears that the nature of the bone response in osteoarthritis may determine the ultimate condition of the joint. If these results are confirmed by further studies, the authors conclude, patients with osteoarthritis who have modest vitamin D intake or low blood levels may benefit from increased vitamin D intake or sunlight exposure.

The findings of this study could have significant implications for the basic treatment of patients with osteoarthritis. It is important to note that while vitamin D may prevent the progression of osteoarthritis, the study mentioned above found no evidence that vitamin D prevents the disease from initially occurring in an individual.

For more information, please visit the Osteoarthritis and Osteoporosis Centers.


Last Editorial Review: 7/6/2004