How does low vitamin D cause multiple sclerosis?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection is probably not the sole cause for this complex disease and it is likely that outside factors trigger Multiple Sclerosis (MS). One new piece of the puzzle has recently emerged. Vitamin D, abundant in oily fish, fortified foods and manufactured by the body when the skin is exposed to the sun, might be important for the healthy immune-fighting cells. Low vitamin D may cause immune pathways to go haywire, causing misguided immune cells to see the myelin sheath as foreign. The full picture is not yet in focus but increasing the amount of vitamin D through diet or dietary supplements may protect against MS.

In one study, people with multiple sclerosis (MS) who had low blood levels of vitamin D had more brain lesions and signs of a more active disease state. The findings suggest a potential link between vitamin D intake and the risk of long-term disability from MS, according to the researchers.

They analyzed data from a five-year study of nearly 500 people with MS and found that each increase of 10 nanograms per milliliter in blood levels of vitamin D was associated with a 15 percent lower risk of new brain lesions and a 32 percent lower risk of spots of active disease. The study also found that higher vitamin D levels were associated with lower subsequent disability. The effects of vitamin D levels remained even after the researchers accounted for other factors that can affect disease progress, such as smoking, current MS treatment, age and gender, according to the study, which was published in the journal Annals of Neurology.

It is too soon, however, to recommend vitamin D supplementation as a treatment, one of the study authors said.

Says Multiple Sclerosis Foundation Senior Medical Advisor Ben Thrower, MD, "Most research to date has suggested that low vitamin D levels are associated with a higher risk of developing MS and that correcting low levels may result in less disease activity as measured by relapse risk, new MRI lesions or progression of disability. Interestingly, this most recent study actually tries to quantitate the blood levels of vitamin D with the risk of new MRI lesions or progression of disability. Large clinical trials may give further guidance on the role of vitamin D deficiency and its treatment in MS."

Stacy Wiegman, PharmD
Pharmacy Specialist

Some research suggests that vitamin D3 may help treat or slow the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS), which is a chronic disease that damages the central nervous system. In addition, several studies have shown that exposure to sunlight (which causes the body to produce vitamin D3), is linked to a decreased risk of MS. But the full potential of vitamin D3 in MS treatment is still unclear. While some evidence shows that vitamin D3 may reduce inflammation and lessen the severity of MS, long-term trials are needed before experts begin recommending vitamin D3 supplements for treating MS. What is known: Vitamin D, along with calcium, helps boost bone density, which can benefit people with MS, who are at an increased risk of bone thinning. People interested in taking vitamin D3 for MS should talk with their doctors.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.