Some of the most advanced research opportunities in multiple sclerosis involve trying to determine the cause of the disease. While risk factors have been identified and marked, there is little evidence to prove any theories regarding the actual cause of the body’s attack on the central nervous system. What prompts the autoimmune reaction is still a mystery.
1. How is vitamin D produced?
Vitamin D is actually a group of vitamins, which can be found in liver and fish oils but which is also produced naturally in the human body. It is used to aid the absorption of calcium, which is necessary for strong teeth and bones. Vitamin D can prevent a number of conditions in both children and adults, including osteoporosis.
The body’s ability to create Vitamin D is dependent on sunlight. Exposure to sun is the best way to help the body produce adequate amounts of the vitamin to continue having a safe and healthy lifestyle. While there is no particular agreement on the exact levels of Vitamin D that a person should have – and no comparison number for individuals with MS – there are some guidelines that various agencies put out for general knowledge.
2. What are risk factors for MS?
Some risk factors for multiple sclerosis have been in sight for a long time, but others are only recently being acknowledged. The best-known factors include:
- Age – those between the ages of 18 and 40 are at the highest risk
- Gender – those who are female by birth are three times as likely as men to have MS
- Race – Caucasians of Northern European descent are the most likely to have the disease
- Genetics – the appearance of MS in an immediate family member increases the risk of MS
- Smoking – smokers are one and a half times as likely as nonsmokers to develop MS, with continued smoking being a risk factor for faster progression of the disease
- Infection – exposure to Epstein-Barr and other herpes viruses increases the risk of developing MS
- Obesity – a high body mass index (BMI) puts people at greater risk of developing the disease
- Autoimmune diseases – a patient who already has certain other autoimmune diseases is at greater risk, especially with type 1 diabetes but also lupus, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid disease
- Environment – climate seems to play a role, with people living in cooler climates more likely to develop MS
3. Evidence of vitamin D as a risk factor
Recent evidence has pointed to Vitamin D deficiency as a risk factor for developing multiple sclerosis, especially in women, who are already at a much greater risk of having the disease. Theories point first to the fact that there is a greater distribution of cases of multiple sclerosis in areas that are cooler and get less sunlight. In fact, the further away from the equator you are, the more likely you statistically are to develop MS.
This would be linked with the fact that skin produces Vitamin D based on intense sunlight and the idea that these climates don’t have nearly as much to offer. In addition, Vitamin D seems to interact with the immune system, which may lead to halting the autoimmune response against the protective coating of myelin in the central nervous system. This is the research currently underway in the field.
4. Other evidence related to vitamin D
In addition, Vitamin D supplements have shown significant promise in some MS cases when it comes to slowing progression of the disease. Though this is not a guarantee, many patients taking Vitamin D to supplement a deficiency report fewer relapses and less severe symptoms during relapse. In some small studies, it has been suggested that Vitamin D has also slowed the progression of relapsing-remitting MS into the secondary progressive stage of the disease.
5. Dosing and safety
There is no regulation as to what sort of dosing is best to help treat multiple sclerosis with Vitamin D. However, it seems that the needs in this regard are as unique as every other area of the disease in an individual. As it stands, it could be that patients require more supplements during the winter, when there is less sun, than during the summer. At the same time, because MS patients have a significant susceptibility to heat, production of Vitamin D based on sun exposure may not work well.
It’s hard to take too much Vitamin D, but a patient should always consult with their physician to determine a dosage that is adequate for their needs. If too much Vitamin D is ingested, common symptoms include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Irritability and confusion
- Constipation and decreased appetite
- Fatigue and weakness
- Kidney stones
In some studies, it’s been determined that taking between four and six hundred IUs of Vitamin D daily can decrease the risk of MS in women significantly.
While overall links between levels of Vitamin D and multiple sclerosis are still weak, research continues to provide more information regarding the potential for connection. The hope is to follow the trail and determine overall causes of multiple sclerosis so that a cure can be found. In the meantime, Vitamin D supplementation and assuring there is no deficiency can be a big step in reducing other risk factors for multiple sclerosis.