Could vitamin D treat multiple sclerosis?

By on January 27, 2014
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About a third of the world has low levels of vitamin D, a nutrient the body readily produces on its own with adequate sunlight. Though the importance of this vitamin, commonly associated with bone health, may be underestimated by the public. Clinical research suggests that vitamin D, a potentially effective and cheap treatment, may mitigate symptoms seen in multiple sclerosis, a crippling disorder of the nervous system.

The body normally produces vitamin D naturally when sunlight strikes the skin. However, some people, for various reason, do not produce adequate levels of this vital nutrient. So, when a customer purchases vitamin D3 from the shelf, they actually purchase cholecalciferol, an enzyme that produces calcifediol in the liver. Calcifediol is a precursor to calcitriol, vitamin D’s active form. Doctors test for levels of calcifediol as a reliable estimate of vitamin D in the blood.

About 2.5 million people across the world have multiple sclerosis, according to the World Health Organization. Multiple sclerosis, shortened to MS, is a crippling neurodegenerative disease in which the body’s own immune cells attack myelin sheaths around neurons. Myelin is a fatty tissue that helps neurons function quickly and effectively in the body, and without myelination the body’s motor capacities become crippled. Symptoms among patients can vary widely; they include muscle weakness, coordination and balance issues, thinking problems, visual disturbances, and slurred speech. Past research revealed a link between low vitamin D levels and progression of MS symptoms, but scientists were unable to decipher whether the low vitamin D levels worsened symptoms, or if low vitamin D levels are a result of MS.

While examining relationship between MS and vitamin D, researchers discovered that healthy levels of vitamin D in MS patients is correlated with a 57% lower rate of brain lesion formation. They also found that these MS patients demonstrated a lower frequency in relapse of symptoms — 57% lower compared to MS patients with lower levels of vitamin D. Moreover, healthy vitamin D levels are found to be correlated with a lower loss in brain volume brought about by multiple sclerosis. In light of these findings, Alberto Ascherio, the primary author of this paper from the Harvard School of Public Health, says that “identifying and correcting vitamin D insufficiency should become part of the standard of care for newly diagnosed MS patients.”

Because vitamin D supplements are easy to access and purchase, such a treatment could become quite useful for patients in the early stages of multiple sclerosis, especially if used in tandem with current treatments like interferon beta-1b, a particularly effective drug for hindering MS progression.

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