Story courtesy Children’s Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan

Two Saskatchewan doctors are hoping that vitamin D just might be the key to treating chronic conditions like juvenile arthritis in young patients.

A two-year research project being conducted by Dr. Alan Rosenberg and colleague Dr. Hassan Vatanparast is underway to determine if ensuring adequate levels of Vitamin D in children with juvenile arthritis could help reduce painful joint inflammation. Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) symptoms, such joint pain, swelling, and mobility issues, often interfere with daily activities and overall quality of life.

Dr. Alan Rosenberg

Dr. Alan Rosenberg

“We have been fortunate to have had strong support from children with arthritis and their families as well as agencies such as the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan to allow us to collect valuable information relating to genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that influence vitamin D levels,” says Dr. Rosenberg, a pediatric rheumatologist based out of Saskatoon Health Region. “We are now able to use sophisticated computer programming to analyze this complex data. We will be able to gain a more thorough understanding of which patients need or don’t need extra vitamin D, how much they need, and what effect vitamin D might have on the course and outcomes of arthritis in children.”

Arthritis is among the most common chronic childhood diseases in Saskatchewan. Causes of JIA are still poorly understood but likely include genetic, lifestyle, and environmental influences.

“Many children in Saskatchewan are deprived of vitamin D primarily due to a lack of sunshine; even a sunny winter day in Saskatchewan provides insufficient sunlight to help produce vitamin D,” says Rosenberg. “We are in the process of looking at the different ways in which individual children handle and absorb vitamin D. We are looking at vitamin D levels in relation to sun exposure, nutrition, and genetics, which would help explain why some children are deficient while others are not.”

No Canadian study has investigated the relationship between vitamin D status and JIA in newly diagnosed children. Rosenberg and Vatanparast hope to use the data to create specific guidelines for vitamin D in managing JIA patients.  Funded by the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan, Rosenberg hopes to have the results in about a year’s time and that the study’s data will be of national relevance.

“We hope to gain insight into optimal doses to improve disease outcomes, “explains Rosenberg. “We’re also finding that a lot of our research can help us better understand many chronic inflammatory conditions other than arthritis. We think this could be very significant.”