In multiple sclerosis (MS) the body’s immune system appears to attack the insulation material of nerve cells (called “demyelination”) leading to areas of focal inflammation. These areas can be depicted with MRI scans (see white MS lesions, compared to a normal brain). A new study showed that vitamin D supplementation (as part of a multivitamin supplement) was reducing the risk of developing MS in women when compared to women who did not take supplements. This study was published by Munger et al. from the Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston/MA, in the Jan. 13, 2004 edition of Neurology.
The study is based on data from two large nurses health studies (NHS with 92,253 women followed from 1980 to 2000 and NHSII with 95,310 women followed from 1991 to 2001). The study material was pooled into one database. Among these 187,563 women 173 developed MS during the course of the original studies. When the group of women who took 400 IU or more of Vit.D supplements (as multivitamins) were compared to the group who took less than 400 IU or none, the investigators found that they were 40% less likely to develop MS. Other factors that can lead to higher frequencies of MS such as smoking or latitude at birth had been adjusted for. There has not been a change in the results of the protective effect of Vit.D. With food being the only source for vitamin D (skim milk, fish) the protective effect against MS was not demonstrable. However, when food vitamin D was combined with additional multiple vitamin tablets (with vitamin D) the protective effect against MS was observed.
In the introduction the authors pointed out that Vit. D has been shown in other studies to be an immune response modulator weakening autoimmune reactions. This effect has been shown clearly in a mouse model of MS, called experimental autoimmune encephalopathy. There are also data available from human research, which showed that certain cytokines are released in the presence of vitamin D so that the immune cells are less likely to attack the brain tissue. There were also seasonal variations that could be demonstrated in this study, which indicated that MS lesions were progressing at times when vitamin D levels were low and that they were regressing when vitamin D levels were high.
The authors of this study stressed that this is the first study to suggest a protective effect of vitamin D against MS, which would have to be confirmed in other studies that preferably would also include males. It shows a very strong statistical connection, but cannot conclusively prove causation. The investigators said that further studies will also be needed to confirm the notion that vitamin D may be beneficial as part of the treatment in MS patients.
Link regarding vitamins and minerals: http://www.nethealthbook.com/articles/vitaminsmineralsandsupplements.php#vitaminsandminerals
Last edited December 8, 2012