The risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) later in life may be higher for babies born with low levels of vitamin D, according to a new study in the journal Neurology.
The study, “Neonatal Vitamin D Status And Risk Of Multiple Sclerosis – A Population-Based Case-Control Study,” was conducted by Nete Munk Nielsen, MD, PhD, with the State Serum Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, and colleagues.
Researchers analyzed dried blood spot samples collected in newborn screening tests, taken since April 30, 1981, from people who were diagnosed MS beginning in 2012 and from a control group. In total, researchers compared blood spot samples from 521 MS patients as newborns, and from 972 gender- and age-matched people without MS. (Samples are stored with the Danish National Biobank.)
Patients were divided into five groups depending on the levels of vitamin D present in the blood spots. The range extended from lowest vitamin D levels (below 21 nmol/L) to highest levels (50 nmol/L or more).
People born with less than 30 nmol/L were considered to have deficient levels of vitamin D, those with 30-50 nmol/L were considered to have insufficient levels, and those with levels equal or above 50 nmol/L were considered to have been born with sufficient levels.
Analysis showed that the group with the lowest vitamin D levels included 136 MS patients and 193 participants without MS, while the group with the highest levels of vitamin D had 89 MS patients and 198 participants without the disease.
People with the higher vitamin D levels, the researchers said, appeared to have a 47 percent lower risk of developing MS later in life, compared to those with the lowest levels.
But, the researchers noted, the study does not clarify whether increasing vitamin D levels would reduce MS risk, and reported several study limitations. For instance, the team had access to only 67 percent of the dried blood spot samples of people with MS born during the period under study. Participants were also 30 years old or younger, which excludes many people who developed MS later in life.
“More research is needed to confirm these results, but our results may provide important information to the ongoing debate about vitamin D for pregnant women,” Nielsen said in a news release.
Vitamin D can be found in certain fish, such as salmon and mackerel, and in supplements. Sun exposure is an important factor as well, as it triggers the production of vitamin D in the body. In fact, a recent study suggested that sunlight may be a critical environmental factor for MS due to insufficient vitamin D production.