Taking Another Look at Vitamin D, Immune Tolerance, and MS
I’ve been popping vitamin D pills for years — decades, really. I never really understood why, I just knew that many people with multiple sclerosis (MS) are vitamin D-deficient. A recent study has cast some new light on why I should continue.
It all seems to comes down to the apparent ability of vitamin D to help “turn on” some genes that are important for promoting immune tolerance. That’s the immune system’s ability to recognize the body’s own tissues, and leave them alone while attacking threats like viruses. In MS, of course, the immune system attacks tissues that it shouldn’t.
It’s all about the sentinels
Dendritic cells are key players in this job. They’re sometimes called the sentinels of the immune system, and research has shown that they become more tolerant if they’re treated with vitamin D. The new research, by scientists in Spain, indicates that vitamin D may help to turn on immune tolerance cells that have switched off. The researchers think knowing how this happens might lead to the creation of methods to control that immune tolerance switch. That, in turn, could play a role in protecting against, or moderating, immune diseases such as MS.
Can vitamin D really help my MS?
“Some studies suggest that for people who already have MS, vitamin D may offer some benefits,” the Mayo Clinic’s Iris Marin Collazo, MD, wrote. “These benefits include lessening the frequency and severity of their symptoms, improving quality of life, and lengthening the time it takes to progress from relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis to the secondary-progressive phase.” But the evidence isn’t conclusive, she added.
Research published in the journal Cureus is slightly more positive. One recent study noted that “the role of moderate doses of vitamin D supplementation seems integral to the prevention and management of multiple sclerosis.”
On the other hand, professor Gavin Giovannoni, of the Barts MS Center in London, isn’t convinced about possible benefits for disease management. Though Giovannoni believes that low vitamin D levels or lack of sun exposure are causally linked to MS, he doubts that vitamin D supplements make much difference when it comes to changing the course of our illness.
Even so, Giovannoni recommends them. He says that vitamin D supplements are safe, and he believes that extra vitamin D is good for bone health. That’s important for people with MS, who have an increased risk of the bone diseases osteopenia and osteoporosis.
The Mayo Clinic’s Collazo said the Institute of Medicine recommends 600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D a day for adults up to age 70. That recommendation increases to 800 IUs a day for adults 71 and older. She said the institute cautions that people should avoid taking more than 4,000 IUs a day. So, I guess I’m good with the 2,000 IUs I take each morning. I’ll keep it up.
Remember, before making any changes to your vitamin supplement regimen or diet, always consult your healthcare providers.
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