The connection between multiple sclerosis and vitamin D levels is an area of study that has long been of interest to researchers and people who are living with MS. A study published in the journal Neurology in November 2016, examined the direct association between levels of neonatal vitamin D and risk of MS. The researchers concluded that low concentrations of neonatal vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of MS. However, researchers cautioned that they did not determine a direct causal relationship, and it is too soon to begin routinely recommending vitamin D supplements for pregnant women.
The research team, led by Dr. Nete Nielsen of the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, executed a large population-based case-control study. Using data from the Danish MS registry and the Danish Newborn Screening Biobank, the team identified all the individuals who were born since May, 1981 and had onset of MS by 2012 and conducted vitamin D analysis.
The researchers measured levels of two different types of vitamin D - 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 and the related 25-hydroxyvitamin D2 – from the dried blood samples taken from newborns. They compared those blood samples of the 521 people diagnosed with MS with samples from 972 individuals with the same date of birth and the same gender, but no diagnosis. They found that individuals with the highest levels of vitamin D were about half as likely to develop MS as those with the lowest levels.
“As mentioned in the article, we do not yet know for sure if supplementing vitamin D intake beyond the general recommendations will have any positive effects on the risk or course of MS,” says Dr. Timothy Vollmer, Medical Director of the Rocky Mountain MS Center and Co-Director of the Rocky Mountain MS Center at University of Colorado, “But, this should be a key area of investigation especially for women from families with MS where the risk of MS for them and their children is increased 30 to 50 fold over families without a history of MS.”
A growing body of evidence points to a clear connection between low vitamin D levels and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS). But with the emergence of frequent articles and studies on the topic, it can be hard to know how to interpret the various results. Speaking with your personal physician about vitamin D is always the best idea.
Previous studies have shown that people living close to the equator are less likely to develop multiple sclerosis than those at higher latitudes, which could be explained by at the equator there is more sun exposure, resulting in higher vitamin D levels. Other studies correlated MS severity directly with vitamin D levels and sun exposure (lower levels of vitamins D, along with lower levels of sun exposure correlated with higher levels of disability). In 2010, a study conducted at the University of Buffalo showed that low vitamin D levels may be associated with more advanced physical disability and cognitive impairment in people diagnosed with MS.
It is important for all MS patients, including pregnant women, to have your vitamin D levels tested to see where you stand. Vitamin D supplementation coupled with safe amounts of sun exposure can bring vitamin D levels to a healthier level. The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is 600 IU a day for adults and 700 IU for those over age 70. It is important to note that doses above 2,000 IU a day can increase the risk of hypercalcaemia and other complications and should always be discussed with your doctor. In addition to vitamin D supplements, the doctors at the Rocky Mountain MS Center recommend getting 15-20 minutes of sunshine on your arms and legs 2-3 times a week during the summer. During winter months there is relatively little UV light from the sun reaching people living in Colorado such that oral supplementation is required to increase the active form of vitamin D in the blood.