New Evidence Ties Vitamin D Deficiency to Multiple Sclerosis

by | Feb 9, 2009
Vitamin D

Vitamin D

Both environmental and genetic factors seem to play a role in the development of multiple sclerosis (MS), but determining an exact cause of the disease has been elusive. Now new evidence suggests that vitamin D may play a direct role in regulating a gene known to be associated with MS. This finding helps bridge the gap between environmental and genetic risk factors, and strengthens the hypothesis that vitamin D could be instrumental in MS prevention.

MS is an autoimmune disease that attacks myelin, a component of the nervous system essential for the conduction of neural impulses. Onset of MS usually occurs between the ages 18 and 35, and is more prevalent in females than males.

One of the most interesting epidemiological findings associated with MS is that it is more common in regions farthest from the equator, with a few notable exceptions. Climate, sunlight and vitamin D are all suspected candidates in the occurrence of MS, as are genetics and diet. Importantly, the relationship between geographical location and MS risk seems to be most significant in early childhood years. After age 15, risk of MS for immigrants is closer to that of their home country than to that of their new country.

Sunshine is the most common source of vitamin D for humans. Vitamin D is created when ultraviolet B (UVB) light contacts skin. Dietary vitamin D is rare, though it can be obtained at significant levels with certain foods, particularly oily fish (e.g. sardines and salmon). Notably, Norway and many Asian countries have relatively low prevalence of MS. It has been suggested that fish consumption is the reason for these regional discrepancies that cannot be explained by sun exposure. This makes vitamin D a particularly strong candidate for MS prevention.

In addition to environmental factors, certain genetic risks are linked to MS. In particular, proteins associated with the body’s immune cells are mutated in many MS cases. Mutations in these proteins disrupt the ability of immune cells to determine which particles in the body are foreign and which are “self.” When this happens, the cells get confused and begin to attack their own body’s tissues.

A new article published last week in PLoS Genetics investigated the relationship between vitamin D and the genetic variants associated with MS. They found that vitamin D directly interacts with these genes at a molecular level, providing insight into the mechanism by which vitamin D may affect the disease. Though it is still not clear what specific role vitamin D plays in its interaction with MS genes, a new avenue of exploration has opened up into MS etiology.

The tie between vitamin D and MS is still vague, but it is a good idea to ensure your vitamin D levels are adequate. People living at latitudes greater than 40 degrees from the equator (San Francisco is on the border) should be taking vitamin D supplements. This is true for many reasons; MS is not the only disease that is linked to low vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D pills are now easy to find, and can be obtained at both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Take one or two oil-based 1000IU vitamin D supplements daily. Men should avoid vitamin D supplements that contain calcium, because excess calcium increases risk of prostate cancer.

Do you take vitamin D supplements?

UPDATE: This article can also be found in Synapse.

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16 Responses to “New Evidence Ties Vitamin D Deficiency to Multiple Sclerosis”

  1. Chinasaur says:

    My feedback on this headline: revise to “Vitamin D deficiency…”

  2. Make Money Online Tips says:

    I didn’t know Vitamin B is so important, thanks for enlightening me. Will surely try to get more of it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Vitamin B? Vit B is important too I guess…..

  4. Dinneen-Eat Without Guilt says:

    My brother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) over 10 years ago. We grew up in Boston and thus our exposure to sunlight and Vitamin D was fairly low, especially during the long winter months.Unfortunately, his condition has deteriorated a lot over the last couple of years, and cannot walk on his own. Having a family member with the disease, and being an expert on food & nutrition myself, I have done lots of research on the subject. I now take fish oil supplements daily in addition to paying closer attention to my diet and being sure to add variety.Thanks for enlightening us and brining attention to the subject!

  5. Scott says:

    So, what role exactly does fish oil have in Vitamin D deficiency MS? Is it that Vit D and fish oil modulate the same biochemical pathway? Are they synergistic if taken at the same time? Is there any disease that fish oil doesn’t prevent?

  6. Matt Shook says:

    I take 2200 IU of two types of vitamin D each day. I’m actually taking mine right now with a smoothie bowl w/ granola and healthy dose of Dandy Warhols.If heard if you going to take just one supplement each day, make it vitamin D…

  7. Darya Pino says:

    @ChinasaurOh, I see the issue. Correction made, thanks for the tip!—–@MakeMoneyI hope you take vitamin D and not B!!!—–@DinneenSo sorry to hear about your brother. MS is a horrible disease. Have you really seen convincing data about the role of fish oil in MS? Vitamin D is the only story that I’ve seen stand up to scrutiny. Please share…—–@MikeFrom what I understand it is just a coincidence that fish are high in omega-3 oils and vitamin D. Omega-3s are important in cardiovascular and metabolic health, and potentially neurodegenerative diseases. Vitamin D is important in MS, autoimmune diseases and probably cancer.—–@Matt Sounds delicious 😉

  8. Anonymous says:

    You guys hear about this cool NPR story about skin color changes, vitamin D, and migration? Really cool, they say that as people migrated to different regions in the world, their skin color changed to allow for increased or decreased Vitamin D production- in as little as 100 generations (which is only like 2500 years). Could you imagine, white to black in 2500 years?! I guess with all this supplementation though, the cycle will be broken and my offspring will forever be stuck with white skin…….

  9. Matt Shook says:

    I was thinking about this on my ride home today as the sun was squeeking through the clouds. It seems natural sources of vitamin D in food seem to be fairly non-existent for herbivores. (the best sources being certain seafood and fish oils.) Sure the leafy greens have some (yay chlorophyll), but not exactly at high levels. Is there any fruits, vegetables, or grains you would suggest?Also, I’ve heard if you’re going to take vitamin D to make sure it’s D-3…with some calcium and magnesium. Apparently D-3 is superior to D-2, and the Ca and Mg are needed for balanced absorption….or something like that. 😉

  10. Anonymous says:

    My question is, what do other mammals do to get enough Vitamin D? Like Sperm Whales for instance, that live mostly under water. And what about Polar Bears, that live in Arctic regions and have coats of fur that block all the sunlight- they must have all kinds of issues with MS, Alzheimers, and Cancer!

  11. MizFit says:

    I DONT!I nteresting. I need to ponder this and read more…and perhaps studiously avoid the sun a little less?

  12. Matt Shook says:

    Super interesting article about magnesium

  13. Darya Pino says:

    @anonYes, they mentioned those studies in the article. It is fascinating, and the outcome of the rapid travel in our modern age remains to be told.—–@MattYes, unfortunately it is not easy for herbivores to get vitamin D unless they live in a sunny climate. That is one of the main reasons I am not a bigger advocate of vegetarian diets. Supplements are the only real option.As to what kind of supplement, you are right in that vitamin D-3 is the best to take. It is the immediate precursor what our body can use.Ca2+ and Mg+ are important, but plant based diets have abundant amounts of these minerals, so you should be fine.That is a great article about magnesium too. I like that the laundry list of magnesium rich foods looks like my pantry :)—–@anonI’m not too sure about polar bears, but I think they eat a lot of oily fish, so they should be fine.Animals without fully developed hippocampi are unlikely to develop Alzheimers. Also, animals are outside a lot more than we are.You should ask a vet ;p—–@MizFitNot a bad idea. I have read that it is best to put on sunscreen once you are in the sun. It takes about 15 min for the sunscreen to become active, and that is about as much UVB you need to make vitamin D for the day.

  14. Travis Saunders, MSc says:

    Here in Canada I believe almost all commercial brands of milk are fortified with vitamin D, otherwise hardly any of us would get enough. Any idea if Vitamin D from supplements is as well absorbed as Vitamin D found in fish?

  15. Darya Pino says:

    @TravisYes, milk is fortified with vitamin D for a good reason. However, since dairy and calcium intake are highly correlated with risk of prostate cancer, I would not recommend that as your primary source of vitamin D.That is a great question about the absorption issue. It does seem that supplements are effective at raising blood levels of vitamin D, but I don’t know how it compares to fish. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, so I assume that it is better absorbed when taken in oil capsules, as shown in the photo. I don’t have definitive proof for this, however.

  16. Victoria says:

    Hi,I feel the body requires small quantity of vitamins to function properly. It is thus advisable to take the right proportion of vitamins to avoid diseases.Thanks for sharing such informative post.

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