Living in sunnier parts of the world may reduce your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, according to a US study.
Vitamin D has been dubbed the "sunshine vitamin"
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, caused by the body’s own immune system attacking the joints. This causes pain and swelling, most commonly in the hands, feet and wrists.
The condition occurs more frequently in women than men, and is thought to affect over 580,000 people in England and Wales.
21% reduced risk
To look at the link between sunshine and rheumatoid arthritis, researchers from Harvard Medical School monitored two groups of more than 100,000 women in the US. The first group of women were followed from 1976, and the second group from 1989.
Writing in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, they found that UV levels had an effect on rheumatoid arthritis risk in the 1976 group. Those living in the sunniest areas were 21% less likely to develop the condition than those getting the lowest levels of sunshine.
However, the same link was not seen in the 1989 group. The researchers believe that these women may have used more sun cream or other protective methods against UV radiation. The report's authors said:
"Our study adds to the growing evidence that exposure to UV-B light is associated with decreased risk of rheumatoid arthritis."
The sunshine vitamin
Experts believe that vitamin D is the reason behind the link between sunlight and rheumatoid arthritis. Low levels of vitamin D have already been linked with other immune disorders like multiple sclerosis.
Vitamin D, dubbed the ‘sunshine vitamin’, is made by our body under the skin in reaction to summer sunlight. Vitamin D can also be found in a small number of foods, such as oily fish and fortified cereals.
Prof Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, said: "We know that many people with arthritis have low levels of vitamin D and this can have a powerful effect on the types of immune cells which may cause this condition.
"We're currently doing research to find out how this happens and are performing lab studies to find out whether vitamin D can alter the aggressive immune response found in rheumatoid arthritis and turn it into a less harmful or even a protective one.”
Harmful UV radiation
However, experts also warn people to stay safe in the sun to protect against skin cancer. Dr Chris Deighton, the president of the British Society for Rheumatology, said:
"We cannot advocate everybody sitting in the sunshine all day to protect from rheumatoid arthritis, because UV-B burns people and increases the risk of skin cancer.”
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© ActiveQuote Ltd. 2013