The Link Between Vitamin D Deficiency and Multiple Sclerosis

Why Vitamin D Deficiency May Put Your MS at Risk

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Vitamin D is known as the "sunshine vitamin" because our body makes it when exposed to the sun's rays. While a deficiency of vitamin D has been historically linked to poor bone health, now vitamin D deficiency is believed to play a role in a number of other health conditions, including multiple sclerosis.  

Vitamin D and MS Development and Activity

Perhaps you have heard the research that low vitamin D levels may increase a person's risk of developing MS.

This connection originated from a number of scientific studies that found that people who have limited sunlight exposure, like those who live in northern regions, are more prone to getting MS. 

In addition to vitamin D being linked to the development of MS, scientists believe that a person's Vitamin D level may also affect their MS disease activity once diagnosed — like how often they get relapses and how disabled they become. To support this, it's interesting to note that MS relapses tend to occur in the spring, when vitamin D levels have reached their lowest, after stores have been depleted from the winter.

Also to further support the role of vitamin D in MS, scientists have discovered that the the vitamin D gene in our body is located near a gene linked to MS and other genes involved in our immune system. 

This all being said, the definitive role that vitamin D plays in MS is still unclear and currently being further investigated.

Still, evidence is compelling enough at this point that taking vitamin D or having a level checked to determine if a deficiency is present seems sensible. 

Other Benefits of Vitamin D in Multiple Sclerosis

In addition to potentially benefiting your MS, taking vitamin D is also beneficial for your bones.

Osteoporosis, a condition characterized by bone weakening and loss, is common in people with MS, due to a number of factors like chronic corticosteroid use and decreased mobility. To prevent osteoporosis, patients are generally advised to increase the vitamin D and calcium in their diet or with supplements -- weight-bearing exercises, smoking cessation, and alcohol reduction are also important for your bone health.

Should I Take Vitamin D if I Have MS?

As of now, there is no specific guideline stating that people with MS should take vitamin D and if so, how much. That being said, many doctors see its potential benefit -- and the fact that its well-tolerated and appears quite safe unless taken in very high doses is also appealing. So don't be surprised if your doctor checks your vitamin D level -- and if he hasn't yet, consider bringing it up at your next appointment. 

Sources:

Birnbaum, M.D. George. (2013). Multiple Sclerosis: Clinician’s Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment, 2nd Edition. New York, New York. Oxford University Press.

Bowling AC. National MS Society. Vitamin D and MS: Implications for Clinical Practice. Retrieved January 12th 2015.  

Bowling, Allen C. Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. 2nd ed. Demos Publishing: New York. 2007.

Schwarz S, Leweling H. Multiple sclerosis and nutrition. Multiple Sclerosis. 2005 Feb;11(1):24-32.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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