Along with calcium, vitamin D helps maintain bone health by ensuring that the body creates and reabsorbs bone tissue at roughly the same rate, thus avoiding a net loss of bone.  About 8% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, and most of these are elderly.  While adequate (but not excessive) intake of calcium and vitamin D has been proven to maintain good bone health, the evidence is less clear when it comes to other medical conditions.  Among those are unproven claims of vitamin D lowering the risk of the common cold, high blood pressure and even cancer.

Another commonly held belief is that the supplemental use of vitamin D would slow the progression of osteoarthritis.  However, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that vitamin D supplements given to people with osteoarthritis of the knee were not effective in relieving their knee pain or slowing the damage to the knee joint.

Osteoarthritis is often a mild condition and is widely known as “wear and tear” arthritis.  It may cause no symptoms or only occasional joint pain and stiffness.  The most severe form of osteoarthritis is the type that affects the joints that bear the body’s weight, such as hips and knees, which can progress to a point which makes walking difficult.

If you have osteoarthritis of the hip or knee and are obese or overweight, losing weight often can be the most effective treatment.  Weight loss should be achieved through a combination of diet and exercise.  Exercise should put an affected joint through its full range of motion while gently avoiding excessive stress on the joint.  Swimming and walking are particularly helpful, but avoid running on hard surfaces, which can aggravate the condition.

If your pain persists despite weight loss and gentle exercise, oral medications also can be used to treat the pain of osteoarthritis.

It is important to remember that other conditions can have similar symptoms.  These include rheumatoid arthritis, gout and joint infection.  Accordingly, if you have a joint that is suddenly swollen, or one that is hot and red, with a fever higher than 100 degrees, seek medical attention immediately.

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