Ever want to blame someone for your multiple sclerosis?
How about blaming a natural substance?
Vitamin D has long been associated with multiple sclerosis (MS). Many people with MS appear to have lower levels of the substance compared with those who don’t have MS.
But evidence is mounting that vitamin D may be a safe and effective way to treat, and even prevent, the disease.
Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with MS relapses and disease progression. A study led by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), concluded that low levels of vitamin D could predict disease severity and accelerate its progression in people in the early stages of MS.
Another study made the connection between neonatal levels of vitamin D in mothers and the risk of developing MS, showing the possibility that preventing MS could involve taking the right supplements during pregnancy.
A preventable risk factor?
Because vitamin D is something that people with MS have control over and can manage, it is considered an environmental modifiable risk factor.
People can take over-the-counter vitamin D supplements or a prescription from their doctor. They can spend more time in the sun (taking precautions) and could change their diets to include more foods that contain vitamin D.
“Vitamin D is manageable and evidence suggests that covering levels is important for MS patients in general,” Jaime Imitola, M.D., director of the progressive multiple sclerosis multidisciplinary clinic and translational research program at The Ohio State University, told Healthline.
He added that while levels above 30 units are generally OK, people with MS might aim for numbers between 50 to 70 units.
Considered safe, the one conflict that may occur is if the vitamin is consumed with calcium supplements, which are often taken by older women.
Imitola suggests that women, especially premenopausal and menopausal, discuss their bone density and vitamin D levels with both their neurologists and OB-GYNs to find the best solutions.
Promising research from Yale University points to a possible role of vitamin D in neuroprotection.
From Cambridge University, another study shows how vitamin D can repair the myelin sheath.
Neuroprotection and myelin repair are both necessary for slowing down or stopping the progression in MS.
However, not all studies are proving positive.
One study showed that vitamin D can fight oxidative stress in most people but not in people with MS.
Oxidative stress is known to cause inflammation and increase exacerbations and disease progression in people with MS.
Reasons for vitamin deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency can be caused by a variety of things.
As people with MS age and the disease progresses, they may not be as active and therefore spend less time outside.
People with MS may also gain weight due to inactivity, creating a higher body mass index (BMI), which can also cause lower vitamin D levels.
And due to general aging, their kidneys may have a harder time converting vitamin D into a form the body can use.
Susan Weiner, a registered dietitian and nutritionist has a few suggestions.
She told Healthline that people with MS may want to eat natural foods rich in vitamin D, such as wild caught salmon, mackerel, mushrooms exposed to UV light, D-fortified milk, D-fortified cereals, D-fortified orange juice, beef or calf liver, egg yolks, cheese, sardines canned in oil, and cod liver oil — with a warning to use with caution due to high levels of vitamin A.
“Vitamin D supplementation may be indicated for some people with MS who cannot consume an adequate amount through their diets,” Weiner added. “Remember to always check with your healthcare provider before taking any vitamin or mineral supplement.”
But the verdict is still out as to why vitamin D seems to positively affect those with MS.
Editor’s Note: Caroline Craven is a patient expert living with MS. Her award winning blog is GirlwithMS.com, and she can be found @thegirlwithms.