There is growing evidence that vitamin D may play a role in multiple sclerosis (MS). Lack of vitamin D is one of the most studied environmental risk factors for MS. On the other hand, it is possibly one of the most promising vitamins in terms of new therapeutics. Vitamin D can be found in some foods, especially fatty fish, but most daily vitamin D intake is received naturally through exposure to sunlight.
Vitamin D has already been proven important for the management of many conditions, such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, muscle weakness, respiratory problems, premenstrual syndrome, and tooth and gum disease.
Studies have shown that MS is more common in people who live further away from the equator because they get less sunshine, which may influence levels of vitamin D. Other studies show that people who have been exposed to sunlight during childhood and adolescence or take vitamin D supplements have less risk of developing MS. Another study showed that there may be a relationship between people who are genetically predisposed to low vitamin D levels and those who are more likely to develop MS.
Vitamin D as a Possible Treatment for MS
Other studies have attempted to determine if vitamin D supplements can be used to treat symptoms of MS, but evidence is lacking because all of them used different doses and forms of the vitamin.
A promising study from the Cambridge Centre for Myelin Repair has shown that vitamin D may play a role in myelin repair. The study found that the vitamin D receptor protein pairs with an existing protein involved in myelin repair, the RXR gamma receptor. Adding vitamin D to brain cells where the proteins are present increased the production of oligodendrocytes (myelin making cells) by 80%. The study shows that vitamin D can be involved in the regeneration of myelin from the onset of the disease.
Though a large number of ongoing trials are studying the role of the vitamin in MS, people should be aware of some of the side effects of taking too much vitamin D. Side effects include hypercalcemia (too much calcium in the blood) which may affect the kidneys and cause bone pain, nausea and vomiting; psychological effects; and abnormal heart rhythm. Adults should not exceed 4000 IU (100 micrograms) of vitamin D per day.
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