Is There a Connection Between Vitamin D and MS?

Written by Kristeen Cherney | Published on January 16, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on January 16, 2014

Is There a Connection Between Vitamin D and MS?

When you think of vitamin D, you likely think of the sun. A gallon of milk from your local grocer may even have the nutrient added to help your body absorb calcium. This powerful nutrient affects numerous aspects of your health beyond bone strength, however. Some research has found that vitamin D may help alleviate symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). Other studies have suggested that adequate vitamin D intake can decrease the risk of MS development over time.

How Vitamin D Works

Vitamin D is naturally available through fish oil. It is also fortified in some milk, orange juice, and bread. The primary role of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood calcium levels. Over time, proper calcium levels may prevent osteoporosis. Low blood calcium is also linked to neurological disorders and diseases of the organs. These important roles in the body have led to an increase in the availability of over-the-counter vitamin D supplements. In fact, some brands of calcium supplements also contain vitamin D.

Possible Long-Term Prevention

Osteoporosis is just one of the diseases vitamin D may prevent. This nutrient also has surprising effects on the immune system. It may help to protect the coating that surrounds healthy nerve cells. MS itself is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own nerve cells. Ensuring adequate vitamin D intake might help prevent healthy cells from succumbing to these attacks. The better protected your nerve cells are, the less likely you may be to develop autoimmune conditions such as MS. This effect may especially be important if autoimmune diseases run in your family.  

Role of Vitamin D in MS Treatment

The regulation of blood calcium plays an important role in maintaining neurological reflexes. Vitamin D plays a possible role here, as neurological spasms are common MS symptoms. Unfortunately, the biggest challenge is determining the correct dosage. While vitamin D has helped relieve MS symptoms in some patients, others taking larger amounts of the supplement haven’t fared as well.

How Much Vitamin D Should You Take?

Research surrounding vitamin D and MS sounds promising, but this doesn’t mean you can simply load up on vitamin D supplements. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies has specific recommendations for vitamin D intake based on age:

  • 600 international units (IUs) per day for all children and adults under 70 years old
  • 600 IUs for pregnant and nursing teens and women
  • 800 IUs for all adults over the age of 70

These recommendations are based on individuals of average health. Your doctor may advise you to take larger amounts of vitamin D. The Mayo Clinic reports that some patients take 50,000 IUs a week for three months at a time to treat vitamin D deficiency.

Overdose Risks

Finding the right intake of vitamin D is important, but taking too much can increase your risk for an overdose. This also applies to patients with MS who aren’t necessarily diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency. According to the Institute of Medicine, all individuals over the age of nine should avoid taking more than 400 IUs of vitamin D per day. Vitamin D overdose can cause kidney stones from too much calcium buildup. Weight loss and gastrointestinal symptoms are also signs of toxicity.

Parents caring for children under the age of nine should keep vitamin D intake under:

  • 3,000 IUs for ages four to eight
  • 2,500 IUs for ages one to three
  • 1,500 IUs for infants 6 to 12 months
  • 1,000 IUs for infants 0 to 6 months

Location Matters

Supplements are an efficient way to gain vitamin D, but there are other sources that can also potentially affect MS. The sun, nature’s available generator of vitamin D, is a major factor in MS protection. In fact, according to the National MS Society, your risk for developing MS is greater the further away you live from the equator. Still, this doesn’t mean you should pick up and move to the equator, nor does it mean you can sunbathe. Obtaining beneficial sunlight is a balancing act, and is best accomplished a few minutes a day in the late afternoon when UV rays aren’t as dangerous.

Work With Your Doctor

Vitamin D shows a lot of promise in treating and potentially preventing MS. At the same time, this is by no means the only form of MS treatment you should try. There is currently no cure for the disease, but there are medications that help control symptoms and lead to better quality of life. Vitamin D may be used in conjunction with prescription medication, but only as long as your doctor gives the go-ahead. Never self-treat with vitamin D. More research is needed to specifically understand the role of vitamin D in MS, as well as to determine the right daily dosage.

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