‘Sunshine Vitamin’ Linked to Lower MS Risk

A new study provides yet more evidence that vitamin D, the so-called sunshine vitamin, may protect against the crippling neurological disease multiple sclerosis (MS).

Harvard University researchers who reviewed the medical data of more than seven million US military personnel found the risk of MS fell dramatically as the level of the vitamin circulating in the blood rose. The effect was only seen in whites, because the data in the study for blacks and Hispanics were inconclusive.

The relationship was particularly strong in the under-20 age group, according to the study, appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week.

Individuals who ranked in the top 20 percent of the sample for vitamin D levels had a 62-percent lower risk for the chronic autoimmune disease than those in the bottom 20 percent.

The study also found that there was a 41-percent decrease in risk for MS with every increase of 50 nanomoles per liter in circulating vitamin D.

“The study strongly suggests that vitamin D has a protective effect, and one which could potentially prevent thousands of cases of MS,” said Alberto Ascherio, associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, and one of the paper’s authors.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence that vitamin D could reduce the incidence of the incurable condition, but Ascherio said it was still insufficient to make the case for an increase in the recommended daily dietary intake of vitamin D.

A chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system, MS afflicts some two million people worldwide, and is more common among people with Northern European ancestry, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The illness can be relapsing and remitting or progressive, with symptoms that range from fatigue and slurred speech to tremors, stiffness, poor coordination and – in the most severe cases – paralysis.

Vitamin D is naturally produced in skin that is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. It was discovered a century ago, when it was used to treat rickets, a bone deformity in children caused by a deficiency of the nutrient. But more recently, the vitamin has been touted as a wonder supplement that can strengthen the immune system, build stronger bones and reduce the risk for diabetes and certain cancers.

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