Vitamin D helps to regulate immune response. Since multiple sclerosis (MS) involves immune function, it should come as no surprise that a growing body of research suggests that vitamin D plays a role in preventing MS relapses. Let’s examine recent studies and explore why vitamin D influences relapse rate.
Five Promising Multiple Sclerosis Studies
Read through these five multiple sclerosis studies to get an idea of why experts believe vitamin D represents a key factor in preventing relapse.
1) Researchers in the 1980s first questioned the link between MS and vitamin D. For example, Goldberg, et al. spent two years giving ten patients a daily dose of 5,000 international units (or IU) of vitamin D in the form of cod liver oil. The patients experienced a 60% reduction in the predicted number of relapses.
2) In 2003, Mahon, et al. investigated the efficacy of modest vitamin D supplementation. 39 subjects ingested 1,000 IU of vitamin D for six months, while 22 subjects took no supplements. At the end of the study, tests on the first group showed a surge in the number of cytokines (which help to control immune response).
3) A large 2008 study by Smolders et al. strongly suggests a direct link between MS relapses and vitamin D levels. Their patients experienced a lower relapse rate if they tested higher for vitamin D.
4) In 2009, Burton, et al. gave two groups of MS patients different doses of vitamin D for a year. 25 people ingested 14,000 IU per day, and 6% relapsed. Meanwhile, 24 subjects ingested 1,000 IU per day, and 40% experienced relapses.
5) Correale, et al. also published encouraging findings in 2009, corroborating the 2008 study. They found that MS patients experiencing a relapse typically exhibited lower levels of vitamin D than patients in remission.
Explaining the Link Between Vitamin D and MS Relapses
In addition to the positive influence of vitamin D on your cytokines, vitamin D suppresses the counterproductive autoimmune activity that characterizes MS. T lymphocytes instigate attacks on the myelin sheaths protecting the brain cells of MS patients, and subjects taking the high dose of vitamin D in the study by Burton et al. experienced decreased T lymphocyte activity. No reduction in T cell activity appeared in the low dose group, suggesting that vitamin D reduces relapse rate by suppressing the destructive actions of T cells.
Are Researchers Worried About Vitamin D Toxicity?
No significant side effects troubled the patients in the 2009 study involving high doses of vitamin D. However, if you suffer from certain preexisting conditions (especially kidney disease), then a high dose of vitamin D poses a risk to your life. Never start taking high doses of vitamin D without talking to your doctor.
Reason to Doubt Vitamin D’s Efficacy
A group of Australian scientists recently argued that high doses of vitamin D fail to significantly influence MS. However, they surmised this from the fact that MRI scans revealed no interesting difference in the number of new brain lesions suffered by their two groups of patients (while the other studies focus specifically on the outward resurgence of MS symptoms).
Directions For Future Research
We currently lack comprehensive understanding of the link between vitamin D, and of MS more generally. We are still investigating exactly how genes and environmental factors interact in relation to MS, and attempting to ascertain which play the most significant role. We need larger research projects that retest the conclusions of each of the above studies, and we need studies that more rigorously measure the safety of high doses of vitamin D. In addition, we are obligated to properly differentiate between research projects on (i) whether people with a vitamin D deficiency experience more relapses and (ii) whether high doses of vitamin D actively reduce the relapse rate.
About the author: Alexander Bohan contributed this guest post for NaturesBest.co.uk – see here for more information on vitamins. Alexander is studying naturopathy. He is also a freelance writer who enjoys writing for various health blogs on a variety of topics.