Sunshine may reduce an individual’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, according to a study.
In the study, which was published in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, an analysis of over 200,000 women suggested a link between sunlight and the risk of developing the disease.
The research showed that those regularly exposed to sunlight reduced their risk of developing the condition by a fifth.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School now think vitamin D — which is produced in sunlight — may actually protect the body. They do sound a note of caution, however, and warn people not to spend hours in the sun.
According to BBC News, rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the body’s own immune system attacking the joints. More common in women in men, it is a devastatingly painful disease with symptoms such as throbbing pain, stiffness, and inflammation in the joints and also other parts of the body.
Recent strides in palliative care, notably the antibody drug Tocilizumab, have progressed treatments for the disease, but, at present, there is no known cure.
In the study, researchers tracked two groups of more than 100,000 women. The first group were monitored from 1976 onwards, the second from 1989.
The women’s health in both groups was then compared with estimates of levels of UV-B radiation they were exposed to while noting their locations a key factor.
In the 1976 group, results showed those living in the sunniest parts of the US, and consequently getting the highest levels of sunshine, were 21 percent less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than those getting the least UV radiation.
However, it was found that UV levels had no affect upon the risk of rheumatoid arthritis is the 1989 group.
“Our study adds to the growing evidence that exposure to UV-B light is associated with decreased risk of rheumatoid arthritis.”
Their explanation for why the 1989 group did not experience less risk of rheumatoid arthritis?
It was suggested that “differences in sun protective behaviors e.g greater use of sun block” could explain why the younger group of women received no benefit from living in sunnier regions.
In other words, using sun creams or covering up to avoid the sun could lessen the protective effects — which is something of a catch 22, considering the increasing dangers of skin cancer, the Daily Mail notes.
Vitamin D is produced when UV radiation hits the skin, and low levels of it in sufferers of other immune system disorders such as multiple sclerosis have already been identified by the medical community.
Dr. Chris Deighton, the president of the British Society for Rheumatology, said it was an “interesting study” which “gives us more clues” about the environment’s effect on rheumatoid arthritis risk.
“The treatment options in rheumatology have transformed the lives of patients with this crippling disease in recent years and anything that adds to our knowledge is welcomed.”
Meanwhile, Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, said:
“Studies that have been undertaken have not shown, thus far, that vitamin D is a useful treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. 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.
“In the meantime, until we know more, the best thing that people can do is to go out in the sunshine for up to 15 minutes in the summer months and expose their face and arms to the sun to top up their vitamin D levels.”