Why is rheumatoid arthritis increasing in women?

The incidence of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in women has risen during the period of 1995 to 2007, according to a newly published study by researchers from the Mayo Clinic. This rise in RA follows a 4-decade period of decline and study authors speculate environmental factors such as cigarette smoking, vitamin D deficiency, and lower dose synthetic estrogens in oral contraceptives may be the source of the increase…

Between 1 and 2 million Americans suffer the effects of RA, a chronic inflammatory disease that targets joints and which contributes to work-related disability, increased morbidity, and shortened survival. Up to one-half of all RA patients become unable to work within 10-20 years of follow-up and those with the disease have a 60% to 70% higher mortality risk than those in the general population. Furthermore, studies show that RA treatments alone account for $9 billion in excess health care costs with direct and indirect costs expected to exceed $39 billion annually…

“We observed a modest increase of RA incidence in women during the study period, which followed a sharp decline in incidence during the previous 4 decades,” said Dr. Sherine Gabriel. Results show that RA incidence in women increased by 2.5% per year from 1995 to 2007, while a decrease of 0.5% was noted for men. Researchers did not find a disproportionate increase in RA incidence in any particular age group over the study period.

Prior studies have clearly demonstrated that cigarette smoking is associated with a greater risk for RA development in both sexes. While smoking rates in the U.S. are declining, the rate is significantly slower in women than men, which researchers believe may, in part, explain the modest increase of RA incidence in women. Researchers also note that lower doses of estrogens found in modern oral contraceptives offer less protection against RA development then at the previously higher doses found in older medications, which they suspect may contribute to the increased RA incidence among women. Furthermore, several studies have shown vitamin D deficiency to be associated with RA development and coupled with evidence that this deficiency, particularly in women, has risen over the past decades the Mayo team considered it a possible contributor to the upward trend in RA.

Dr. Gabriel concluded, “Reasons for the increase in incidence we found are unknown, but environmental factors likely play a role and should be further explored.”

There is ever-increasing evidence that we’re killing ourselves slowly with all the crap we accept as part of an urban industrial environment. It has to cease. We have to win back a healthier lifestyle.

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