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Will Sunshine Protect You from Rheumatoid Arthritis?

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Exposure to sunlight has been linked to a number of health benefits, including a reduced incidence of some cancers. New research suggests that ultraviolet light exposure may also cut the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

The data come from the Nurses' Health Study with more than 200,000 women included and periodically questioned about their activities and health. The first group of approximately 100,000 volunteers was recruited in 1976 and followed through 2008. The second cohort began in 1989 and was followed through 2009.

The scientists discovered that among the older women, regular sun exposure reduced the risk of rheumatoid arthritis by about 20%. There was no association one direction or the other among the younger women, perhaps because they were more likely to use sunscreen to protect their skin from ultraviolet rays and their potential to cause skin cancer. The researchers speculate that skin production of vitamin D might help explain the protective effect of sunshine.

[Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, online, Feb. 5, 2013]

We discuss the value of vitamin D against joint pain in our Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis. It has a brief discussion of medication for rheumatoid arthritis as well as many home remedies for easing painful joints.

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My doctor told me that virtually no one gets enough vitamin D from sunshine, that most people in fact are deficient in this vitamin regardless of their sun exposure. I don't doubt that anyone who gets less than the average person would likely experience worse symptoms (if they already have RA) and may well be more susceptible to becoming afflicted if not.

My Doctors overall message was that EVERYONE needs this vitamin as a supplement regardless of their sun exposure and/or diet.

It will be interesting to see if today's younger women have more RA as they age than women who grew up before the sun screen hysteria.

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