Can vitamin D reduce the conversion to MS?
06 July 2012
There hardly seems to be a day when the benefit of vitamin D is not being discussed in the news - to add to this, researchers in Australia and New Zealand have reported that they hope to determine whether vitamin D can stop someone from developing MS after a first episode of neurological symptoms (known as clinically isolated syndrome).
Vitamin D is made by the skin when the body is exposed to sunlight. The vitamin has several important functions including regulating immune responses and controlling the amounts of calcium and phosphate in our bodies which are necessary to keep bones and teeth healthy.
Accumulating evidence has also lead to the idea that a lack of exposure to sunlight and consequent lack of vitamin D may play a role in multiple sclerosis. The evidence suggests that:
- low levels of vitamin D in the body may contribute to the risk of developing MS
- the distribution of MS around the world is variable and is generally more common the further you are from the equator
- low levels of vitamin D are associated with higher relapse rates and greater disability
- variations in genes involved in the vitamin D metabolism pathway may be implicated in susceptibility to MS.
Despite the fact that numerous lines of evidence link both the risk of developing MS and the disease course to levels of vitamin D in the body, it still remains elusive whether it is safe and if there is any benefit from taking extra vitamin D thought a supplement. It is hoped that a study, due to start in 2012 in Australia and New Zealand, will shed more light on the role of vitamin D in the disease. This four year study, termed PrevANZ, will investigate three doses of vitamin D (1,000, 5,000 & 10,000IU and placebo in 290 people who have experienced their first episode of neurological symptoms or clinically isolated syndrome (CIS). This CIS can be an indicator of what may turn out to be MS and is caused by inflammation or damage to nerves in the central nervous system. The researchers will assess the safety of using these high doses of vitamin D, but more importantly, whether there is a reduction in clinical relapse and reduction in lesions visible on MRI scans.
Whilst the results of this study may help to identify what may be one of the many factors that can influence MS, it may be one step further in producing a suitable preventive medicine.
The MS Trust aims to keep you informed of the evidence on the benefits of vitamin D in MS; here are some of our most recent news stories on the topic of vitamin D.
- Vitamin D and MS disease activity
- Calls for vitamin D fortification of food in Scotland
- More evidence for the link between vitamin D and MS
- People with fair skin may require vitamin D supplements
- People with MS have low levels of an important brain steroid
- Lack of vitamin D - who is most at risk?
- Sunlight, virus and risk of MS
- Sun exposure and vitamin D levels may have a role in MS
For interesting and relevant research articles relating to MS, see Research updates, the MS Trust's weekly search of Medline, the search engine for medical journals.