There has been increasing discussion in the past few years on the role that Vitamin D plays in relation to Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Many studies done during this time have suggested that vitamin D deficiency may play a role in the development of MS and that supplementation may be helpful in reducing severity of symptoms.
The idea that vitamin D may be involved in MS began in the 1960’s and 70’s when epidemiological studies showed that MS was more common the farther you got from the equator. In searching for reasons as to why MS concentrates in more northern regions, scientists realized that the farther you get away from the equator, the less sun exposure you have on average over the course of the year. Vitamin D is related to sun exposure in that when the sun hits your skin, your body is designed to naturally make its own vitamin D. Though, this depends on a lot of factors, mostly UV radiation from the sun, which means that sometimes, especially in very northern or southern areas, even if the sun is shining, there is so little UV radiation that your body cannot make vitamin D.
From this hypothesis, studies started coming out that measured vitamin D in patients with multiple sclerosis. These studies found that many patients with MS had very low vitamin D and were considered deficient. But was this just a coincidence, or was there actually a correlation between low vitamin D levels and MS?
Since then, there have been many more studies that have looked into the relationship between MS and vitamin D deficiency. We now know that vitamin D plays an important role in regulating the immune system. When there is a lack of vitamin D in our bodies, the immune cells will often behave erratically; this can cause either a lack of immune response or a overstimulated response. Multiple sclerosis is generally considered an autoimmune disease – meaning that our normal immune cells are abnormally attacking our healthy “self” cells and causing disease. In fact, it has been shown that many people with autoimmune diseases have low vitamin D levels.
This still leaves the question though of whether or not correcting these low levels of vitamin D will have any effect on MS prognosis or recovery. Some recent studies have found that vitamin D supplementation may help with the severity of relapse symptoms in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). Others have found mixed results when it comes to determining if vitamin D supplementation can help relieve symptoms such as fatigue or depression.
It is generally a good idea to get your blood vitamin D levels checked if you have MS or live in an area with limited sun exposure, such as the Pacific Northwest. Vitamin D supplementation at low levels is generally safe, but large dosages for treatment of conditions such as MS should be managed by your doctor. Vitamin D can have undesirable side effects at very high doses.
In the next month, we will be highlighting some specific recent research studies that look at vitamin D and multiple sclerosis. If you have questions about vitamin D supplementation for multiple sclerosis, or would like to get more information about vitamin D testing for autoimmune conditions, call our office today to schedule a free consultation with one of our physicians.
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