New research published in Clinical Rheumatology found that children with systemic lupus erythematosus who have low vitamin D levels have increased disease activity and antibody levels.
Systemic lupus erythematosus, or lupus, is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks itself and causes inflammation in many different organs, including the heart, skin and muscles.
Twenty percent of all lupus cases are in children ages 2 to 14 years old. For reasons still not understood, lupus in children is much more aggressive and requires more intensive therapy than lupus in adults.
Vitamin D receptors are present in immune cells. This means that vitamin D can bind to these cells and help them function and communicate properly. This may help reduce the risk of the immune system attacking the body’s own cells and tissues.
Despite the amount of research on vitamin D deficiency’s negative impact on both the immune system and in lupus, there hasn’t been much research on whether the effects are the same in children.
Researchers out of Saudi Arabia recently recruited 28 children with lupus to study how vitamin D related to antibody levels and disease activity.
At enrollment, the researchers measured the patients’ vitamin D status, lupus disease activity,, and antibody levels.
Antibodies normally help the body recognize and fight off bacteria and viruses. In lupus, these antibodies can cause damage to the body. While not present in all cases of lupus, certain antibodies can bind to and damage the nucleus of a cell as well as its DNA.
All patients were also given 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 and 600 mg of calcium per day for 3 months. All measurements were taken again at this 3 month mark.
The researchers conducted an analysis of the baseline measurements. They found that vitamin D was inversely associated with disease activity and number of antibodies, meaning that higher vitamin D status was related to decreased disease activity and antibody count.
Vitamin D3 and calcium supplementation suggested a causal role for vitamin D in improving the health of lupus patients. After 3 months of supplementation, 17 patients had improved disease activity and antibody count.
“Disease activity of childhood lupus is probably linked with low serum vitamin D levels,” concluded the researchers.
“Accordingly, high daily vitamin D3 supplement could potentially impact disease activity of childhood lupus.”