Results of a large study suggest that people with genetically low vitamin-D levels are at an increased risk of multiple sclerosis. Scientists believe that the new findings, which confirm a link between vitamin-D and multiple sclerosis, could lead to better treatment and hopefully an eventual prevention for MS, which as on now has no cure.
Previous to these findings, observational studies had detected an association between a persons Vitamin-D level (obtained through sunlight and certain foods) and MS (crippling chronic autoimmune disease that effects the nerves in the brain as well as spinal cord).
These studies though only proved that there was a link to between the two, which could be attributed to the fact the people suffering with MS are more likely to stay inside and in turn may not be exposed to as much Vitamin-D. Whereas the new study shows that MS could actually be caused by low vitamin-D in oppose to just being a side effect of the condition.
The study by Brent Richards (McGill University, Canada) and colleagues – which was this week published in PLOS medicine – analysed the association between genetically decreased vitamin-D levels and the likelihood of multiple sclerosis in a group of 14,498 people with MS and 24,091 healthy controls. The findings showed that people who had genetically lower vitamin-D levels were twice as likely to suffer from MS, a disease that is most likely to be diagnosed between the age of 20 and 50.
The Royal National Orthopedic Hospitals director of Children’s Service, Benjamin Jacobs explained that the finding’s were “important” saying: “The results show that if a baby is born with genes associated with vitamin D deficiency they are twice as likely as other babies to develop MS as an adult.”
Jacobs, who was not involved in the study went on to say: “This could be because vitamin D deficiency causes MS or possibly because there are other complex genetic interactions. We do not yet know if giving healthy children and adults vitamin D will decrease their risk of developing MS, but clinical trials are being conducted now to study this.”
MS affects 2.3 million people worldwide. The debilitating chronic disease causes slurred speech, blurred vision that can lead to blindness, tremors, problems with the memory and extreme fatigue.
Immunologist Professor Danny Altmann of Imperial College London is a strong believer in vitamin D as a beneficial supplement: “Vitamin D is relatively cheap, safe and many of us would be all the healthier if we could achieve the serum levels that our ancient ancestors presumably acquired when roaming outdoors in temperate climates, unclothed and eating a diverse diet including oily fish.
“While it may be too much to expect therapeutic vitamin D to treat or reverse ongoing MS, this paper will add to the weight of argument for routine vitamin-D supplementation of foodstuffs as a broad, preventative, public health measure.”
Dr Susan Kohlhaas, from the MS Society has also deemed the finding to be beneficial, but believes there should be careful consideration when it comes to manually increasing ones vitamin-D levels: “There are many unanswered questions around what causes MS, so this large scale study is an exciting step towards understanding more about the complex nature of the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to it.
“There are government guidelines around how much vitamin D people should take, and taking too much can lead to side-effects, so we’d encourage people to talk to their health professional if they’re thinking of doing this… We’d also welcome more research into this area, as we know it’s really important to people living with MS.”
The UK government is currently debating whether there should be an official recommendation for people of the UK to increase their vitamin-D intake.