Multiple Sclerosis Risk Linked to Vitamin D Deficiency

In recent years, multiple studies have shown there is a link between vitamin D deficiency and contracting multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is an autoimmune disorder that results in the body attacking the myelin sheath that protects nerve cells. Worldwide, more than 2.5 million people have MS.

Vitamin D is created by the body due to exposure to sunlight. Epidemiological studies have shown that the higher the latitude of a human population, the higher the risk for MS. Higher latitudes receive less intense sunlight and often people spend more time indoors in cold weather, so it is not surprising that vitamin D production by the body is lower in these locations.

Now comes evidence of how vitamin D influences the development of MS. A recent study published in the journal PLoS Genetics reveals that vitamin D appears to be involved in regulation of the HLA-DRB1 genes in the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) region of chromosome 6. These genes are believed to be involved in multiple sclerosis.

Vitamin D deficiency causes far more common problems than multiple sclerosis, however. There is increasing evidence of involvement of vitamin D deficiencies in many common diseases, including cardiovascular diseases (such as high blood pressure), heart attacks, diabetes, various forms of cancer (including those of the colon, pancreas, breast, and ovaries), soft tissue calcification, atherosclerosis, osteoporosis, arthritis, and immune system disorders. Additionally, low vitamin D levels have been noted in many Parkinson’s disease and depression patients, although a causative relationship has not yet been firmly established. It is also theorized that seasonal flu epidemics may be related to lower vitamin D levels during winter months. Given the widespread connection between vitamin D and many diseases, it appears that vitamin D deficiency represents a significant risk factor.

Fortunately, vitamin D supplements are commonly and inexpensively available in two forms. Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) are the two commonly available types. Vitamin D2 is derived from plant and fungal sources and not produced by the human body. Vitamin D3 is produced by the human body, especially as a result of UV sun exposure.

The vitamin D3 form is about 6 times more potent in the human body as the D2 form and not much different in price, so supplementation with D3 seems preferable. The US RDA for Vitamin D is 200 IU per day for children and 400 IU per day for adults.

Based upon many recent studies, it is believed that not only is that intake not reached in many people, but that there are reasons to believe the RDA should doubled or more. Considering the low cost of Vitamin D3 supplements and difficulty in reaching toxic levels of vitamin D in the blood even with occasional massive doses such as 100,000 IU, experts are now recommending ongoing long-term vitamin D3 supplementation for children at 400 IU per day and for adults at 2000 IU per day as a reasonable level.

Recently, some hospitals have started giving 50,000 IU to 100,000 IU doses of vitamin D to patients with chest pains and heart attack symptoms. They recommend following up with 50,000 IU once per 8 weeks or 2000 IU per day thereafter.

Studies of children have been done with 2000 IU per day supplementation. They found drastically reduced rates of type 1 diabetes in children with high vitamin D intake. These studies are showing that even 2000 IU per day for children is probably safe for long-term use.

Notably, sunscreens which protect the skin from UV exposure that raises risks for skin cancer also appear to significantly reduce the production of vitamin D3. SPF factor 8 sunscreen cuts vitamin D production by more than 95%! If you’re using sunscreen, you should be supplementing your vitamin D intake.

These levels of vitamin D intake generally require taking vitamin D supplements as most multivitamins do not contain more than 400 IU of vitamin D. Furthermore, taking more than the recommended dosage of typical multivitamins poses some risks from vitamin A and iron toxicity and problems caused by excessive zinc. Therefore we’d recommend that the typical adult should be looking into using 2000 IU tablets for supplementation.

Further Reading

Molecular link between vitamin D deficiency and MS – The vitamin may interact with a gene associated with multiple sclerosis

Expression of the Multiple Sclerosis-Associated MHC Class II Allele HLA-DRB1*1501 Is Regulated by Vitamin D

Wikipedia: Vitamin D

Wikipedia: Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D Council

Endocrine Today: What would you recommend for vitamin D intake, and what is a safe upper limit to keep in mind?

Inspired by studies, doctors prescribing higher doses of vitamin D

High doses of vitamin D safe for school children

Kids Aren’t Getting Enough Vitamin D

Intake of vitamin D and risk of type 1 diabetes: a birth-cohort study.

National Institutes of Health – Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D

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