Multiple sclerosis affects one out of a thousand people, almost 3 million worldwide, with more than 200 new cases diagnosed per day in the U.S. alone. It usually begins between the ages of 20 and 50, is twice as common in women as in men and is the most disabling neurological disorder in young adults. It is interesting that the incidence of M.S. rises as one gets further from the equator, and this was first linked to Vitamin D deficiency as early as the 1970’s.
If there is a beneficial association between the two it would be helpful to understand it better, as supplementation with Vitamin D can safe and inexpensive when properly monitored. Let’s see what the research literature tells us about:
Vitamin D levels and the risk of getting M.S.
We now know that the sixth chromosome in humans has a significant influence on the expression of multiple sclerosis. A study from the University of Oxford 1 found that underactive genes in this region can be upregulated by Vitamin D to reduce the odds that M.S. will be expressed down the road. “Our study implies that taking vitamin D supplements during pregnancy and the early years may reduce the risk of a child developing MS in later life,” said lead author Dr Sreeram Ramagopalan.
The effect of Vitamin D on the frequency and severity of M.S. symptoms
In this 2008 study, a group at the University Hospital Maastrich in the Netherlands found that increased levels of Vitamin D3 were associated with significantly lower levels of relapse in patients with chronic M.S. 2 A similar study in the journal Neurology in 2012 3 also found that on going up toward the highest range of normal (100 nmol/L), each doubling of the serum Vitamin D concentration reduced the relapse rate of M.S. by 27%.
The safety of Vitamin D in patients with M.S.
A just published article in the journal Neurology 4 in January of 2016 compared the use of low dose (800 IU/day) Vitamin D to high dose (10,400 IU/day) therapy over a period of six months. Despite the wide range between the two dosage levels, the adverse events were minor and did not differ between the two groups. Both dosage levels were found to reduce inflammatory factors known to aggravate M.S. symptoms.
The research at this time indicates that healthy levels of Vitamin D may safely reduce the odds of getting multiple sclerosis, or reduce the relapse rate for those who already have it. Although Vitamin D has not been evaluated by the FDA as a treatment for any disease, ongoing research continues to more fully explore the relationship between M.S. and Vitamin D. Talk with your personal physician to further evaluate the optimal dose of Vitamin D for your health needs.
1 “Expression of the multiple sclerosis-associated MHC class II Allele HLA-DRB1*1501 is regulated by vitamin D.” Ramagopalan SV, Maugeri NJ, Handunnetthi L, et.al. PLoS Genet. 2009 Feb;5(2):e1000369. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000369. Epub 2009 Feb 6.
2 “Association of vitamin D metabolite levels with relapse rate and disability in multiple sclerosis.” Smolders J, Menheere P,et.al. 2008 Nov;14(9):1220-4. doi: 10.1177/1352458508094399. Epub 2008 Jul 24.
3 “Lower serum vitamin D levels are associated with a higher relapse risk in multiple sclerosis.” Runia TF, Hop WC, et.al. Neurology. 2012 Jul 17;79(3):261-6. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e31825fdec7. Epub 2012 Jun 13.
4 “Safety and immunologic effects of high- vs low-dose cholecalciferol in multiple sclerosis.” Elias S. Sotirchos, MD, Pavan Bhargava, MD, et.al. Neurology January 26, 2016 vol. 86 no. 4 382-390