Does Vitamin D prevent or reduce severity and relapsing of Multiple Sclerosis?

Vitamin D plays an important role in developing healthy bones, but recently researchers have also been looking into the role of vitamin D in respect to other health problems. It is now well documented that vitamin D is important for proper functioning your immune and nervous systems but the mechanism of such impact is still being studied.Almost all cells in your immune and nervous systems have receptors for vitamin D on their surface where they receive chemical signals. By attaching themselves to a receptor, these chemical signals instigate a cell to act in a certain way, for example , they either divide or die. The vitamin D receptors on nerve and immune system cells means that vitamin D is somehow affecting the cell while the cells also control how much vitamin D they have inside of them.

In laboratory experiments immune system cells become less inflamed if they are exposed to vitamin D. This could mean that vitamin D affects your immune system and makes it less likely to attack other cells in your body. Some researchers believe that this implies that vitamin D has the potential to prevent MS from developing. They suggested that children who get lots of sun are less likely to develop MS as adults.

Exposing your skin to sunlight could affect your immune system in other ways apart from producing vitamin D.1 However, research does show that people with higher vitamin D levels in their blood are less likely to develop MS or have a relapse if they already have it. So, you are less likely to develop MS than someone who grows up in a place where there is little sun.It is evident through the situation in Scotland where there is the highest incidence of Multiple Sclerosis per head of population in the world. Scotland is also hit by higher than average levels of a string of conditions related to low levels of vitamin D.

Dull weather means people there do not get enough sunshine on their skin for half the year to boost vitamin D production. As a result, there is rise in multiple sclerosis, allergies, childhood rickets, osteoporosis, breast and prostate cancers, rheumatoid arthritis and bowel disease.

Vitamin D3
Vitamin D3 (hormone) is vital for bone health: it enhances intestinal absorption of calcium and phosphate. This hormone also regulates T cells and acts as an immune system modulator in the body. Researchers found that Vitamin D3 supplements can help in the prevention of different types of cancers; reduce the risk of diabetes, hypertension and heart diseases. It regulates the circulation of Renin (enzyme) in our blood stream, responsible for the rise of blood pressure. Deficiency of Vitamin D3 has also been connected to psychiatric and neurological disorders.

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Studies: Vitamin D vs Multiple Sclerosis

Most of the research which was looking for clues as to why they do or do not develop a certain disease suggested that vitamin D may help to prevent the development of MS . Some research also shows that vitamin D can reduce the number of relapses in people with relapsing remitting MS where as other research shows vitamin D has no effect on the number of relapses. There are at least there studies which started investigating such connection in 2012:

Study I (Iran):

Taking a vitamin D supplement reduced the likelihood of developing MS in people at high risk for developing the condition
Taking a vitamin D supplement significantly reduced the number of brain lesions detected by an MRI scan.
The people taking part in this study were taking much more vitamin D than the US government recommends. They developed significantly fewer new brain lesions and much less likely to develop MS than those who did not take vitamin D. None of participants taking the vitamin D experienced relapses. However, the number of people who took part in the study was small.

Study II (Finland)3   :

Taking vitamin D supplements significantly reduced the number of brain lesions found on a brain scan. A lesion on the brain means that nerve cells have been damaged or destroyed, which can lead to symptoms in the area of the body controlled by those nerves. New lesions show that there is nerve damage, which usually causes the development of more disabilities.

The number of relapses that people had was the same whether they were taking vitamin D or not.
Most people started the study with very low amounts of vitamin D in their blood. However, levels of vitamin D taken by participants during the study was greater than the dose recommended by the US government, but still under the amount recommended by the Vitamin D Council. All participants were also on medication for their MS therefore the exact effect of the vitamin D cannot be properly defined.

Study III (Norway)4 :

The number of relapses that people had was the same whether they were taking vitamin D or not.
Taking vitamin D did not prevent further disabilities from developing in people with MS.
The amount of vitamin D people took during the study was greater than recommended by the US government, but less that of the Vitamin D Council recommends. The people taking this dose finished the study with the amount of vitamin D in their blood that the Vitamin D Council recommends for healthy people. The study recommended that MS patients need to take even more vitamin D to reduce the number of relapses or to prevent new lesions from forming in their brains.

1. Faridar A, Eskandari G, Sahraian MA, Minagar A, Azimi A. Vitamin D and multiple sclerosis: a critical review and recommendations on treatment. Acta Neurol Belg. 2012;112(4):327-33.
2. Derakhshandi H, Etemadifar M, Feizi A, et al. Preventive effect of vitamin D3 supplementation on conversion of optic neuritis to clinically definite multiple sclerosis: a double blind, randomized, placebo-controlled pilot clinical trial. Acta Neurol Belg. 2012;
3. Soilu-hänninen M, Aivo J, Lindström BM, et al. A randomised, double blind, placebo controlled trial with vitamin D3 as an add on treatment to interferon β-1b in patients with multiple sclerosis. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatr. 2012;83(5):565-71.
4. Kampman MT, Steffensen LH, Mellgren SI, Jørgensen L. Effect of vitamin D3 supplementation on relapses, disease progression, and measures of function in persons with multiple sclerosis: exploratory outcomes from a double-blind randomised controlled trial. Mult Scler. 2012;18(8):1144-51.

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