The link between vitamin D and multiple sclerosis has been long established, but it is still somewhat unclear as to what that is, exactly. Due to this lack of clarity in what it is about vitamin D that makes a difference in MS, there are still lingering questions about what role it may play in being able to treat, or at least manage, the disease.
Vitamin D is important for the body to maintain general health. Specifically, bone health is highly impacted by vitamin D, as it is required for the absorption of calcium, and the regulation of phosphorus levels in the blood. Receiving adequate levels of vitamin D has also been shown to reduce a person’s risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, or even something as simple as getting the flu. Due to the range of things that have been accredited to getting sufficient amounts of vitamin D, it is somewhat unsurprising that many people – even those who are not affected by any particular health condition – choose to buy and take supplements as part of their daily routine.
So, what effect does this have on multiple sclerosis? Well, numerous studies have found that MS is more prevalent in countries farther away from the equator, which opens up the debate as to whether the lack of sunlight (and thus the vitamin D from this sunlight) is directly linked to the higher number of diagnosed cases. Within the U.S., it is estimated that the rate of MS is between 57-78 cases per 100,000 people in the southern states, and 110-140 cases per 100,000 people in the northern states. That is quite a substantial difference and clearly works in with the notion that a lack of sunlight, and accompanying vitamin D, can have a great impact on the development of the disease.
Another point to be taken into consideration, especially when looking at environmental factors, is the temperature of any given climate. Those with multiple sclerosis will often find that symptoms become troublesome at both ends of the temperature scale. High temperatures often lead to heat intolerance, which makes many symptoms worse as this contributes to the slowing of nerve impulses. At the other end of the spectrum, cold weather can lead to an increase in spasticity, causing great difficulties in walking and general dexterity. The issue with the cold then begs the question as to whether symptoms become exacerbated due simply to the temperature itself, or if this is also linked to a lack of vitamin D in climates where strong sunlight is more of a rarity.
Lower levels of vitamin D have definitely been connected with MS relapses – and even possibly in an individual’s risk of developing the disease – but there are still questions as to whether or not an increase in vitamin D is specifically helpful as a way of disease management. As far as this is concerned, studies have generally yielded mixed results. Some say that an increase in vitamin D has the ability to reduce certain immune cells that have been shown to cause harm in MS; others say that it could reduce lesion development, but seems to make no impact on the number of relapses experienced.
Ultimately, when it comes to the topic of how helpful vitamin D may be in regard to the management of multiple sclerosis, neurologists and other specialists tend to hold their own opinions on whether or not taking supplements has any specifically positive impact. It seems safe to say that this is an area where more in-depth research is required.
Until any solid answers are obtained on whether or not vitamin D supplements are 100% helpful, perhaps the question should be – is there any harm?