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Vitamin D and Multiple Sclerosis

written by: kristenrosenthal • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 6/9/2009

Deficiencies in Vitamin D, a key nutrient made by the skin when exposed to sunlight, can lead to bone disorders and overall health problems. Recent research has also suggested that patients with multiple sclerosis may benefit from increasing their vitamin D intake.

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    What is Multiple Sclerosis?

    Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic neurological disease in which your own body attacks the nerves in your brain and spinal cord. As in any autoimmune disease, in multiple sclerosis, an over-active immune response leads to destruction of your own body’s tissues and organs. The immune system usually protects your body from infectious diseases, but something goes wrong during an autoimmune disease and the body turns on itself. As result of the immune attack, people with multiple sclerosis have a wide range of symptoms, from weakness and a lack of coordination to paralysis.

    The cause of multiple sclerosis is still unknown, but it is clear that there are both some genetic and environmental factors involved in the disease. Epidemiologists have shown that MS occurs more frequently in groups that live farther away from the equator. People who live near the equator are exposed to more sunlight and therefore have higher amounts of vitamin D, which is made by the human body when the skin is exposed to sunlight.

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    Vitamin D and Multiple Sclerosis

    Recent research on vitamin D and multiple sclerosis has revealed that MS patients have somewhat lower vitamin D levels than healthy controls. In addition, research has proven an important role for vitamin D in immune function, diverting the immune system from an active state to a “tolerogenic” or resting state. Although this research looks promising, thus far all research looking at vitamin D and multiple sclerosis has a correlative, but not causative, conclusion. For example, it has been shown that MS patients have lower levels of vitamin D, but not that low levels of the vitamin actually cause disease. Some have suggested that decreased mobility in MS patients may hinder them from enjoying the benefits of sunlight as much as healthy subjects and, therefore, produce less vitamin D.

    Importantly, research in animal models of disease have shown that giving mice extra vitamin D in their diet can inhibit disease from starting and even treat disease once it is established. Recent reports also show that MS patients who take vitamin D supplements may have less episodes of disease after beginning the supplements. Unfortunately, these early reports are not properly controlled experiments so no conclusive data can be drawn yet.

    Currently, clinical trials exploring vitamin D as a treatment for multiple sclerosis have begun (with the proper controls and statistically relevant numbers of subjects). Although these studies will take some time to complete, the correlative data mentioned above, along with the studies in animal models of disease, suggest that vitamin D and multiple sclerosis may have an intimate connection to the cause of the disease. In fact, some scientists and doctors do urge people with multiple sclerosis to take vitamin D suppliments, just in case.

    The information in this article should not be considered medical advice. Always check with your physician before taking any products or following any advice you have read on Brighthub.com.