The Environmental Link? Vitamin D and Multiple Sclerosis

Jan 10, 2013
Tagged with: The Environmental Link? Vitamin D and Multiple Sclerosis

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS) or know someone who does, you know that the condition is a chronic, degenerative disease affecting the nervous system. Globally, the incidence of this disease has been rising (not just because doctors are getting better at diagnosing it), and the condition’s causes are not well understood.

Scientists have long acknowledged a global “gradient” in MS rates, with the lowest rates near the equator and gradually rising rates to the north and south. The potential connection between MS and vitamin D levels or sun exposure increasingly gained attention in the scientific community as study after study documented this trend.

The evidence regarding environmental causes of MS still has a long way to go before it is adopted as medical fact, but research is mounting in favor of a biological link between vitamin D levels and the risk of developing MS. Clinical trials are currently underway to investigate the link. What does this mean for those who do not have MS but may be at risk for it?

Hedging Your Bets by Getting Some Sun

Most North Americans do not have adequate levels of vitamin D, particularly during the winter months. The recommended daily intake for adult men and women is 600 IU, although more may be necessary to make up for a deficiency. Exposure to the sun is the most natural way to obtain sufficient levels of vitamin D, but many people are trapped indoors during the limited daylight hours of winter.

Some research also indicates that supplements of Vitamin D3 may improve symptoms among individuals with MS after regular doses over 12 months. So, sun and vitamin D for everybody, right? Despite the lack of a full-fledged embrace by the medical community, the short answer seems to be “Yes.”

The fact is, everyone needs vitamin D. Sun exposure, a balanced diet, and even supplements can be healthy ways to obtain sufficient vitamin D. Provided doses do not exceed 4,000 IU per day (unless under the guidance of a physician), plenty of vitamin D does not seem to cause harm. Too much sun exposure, however, can cause skin cancer and other problems—so it shouldn’t be someone’s exclusive source of vitamin D.

Tips for Increasing Your Vitamin D Levels

Try taking an outdoor stroll or roll during your lunch break (every day, if possible!) to grab some extra rays, or take advantage of sunny weekend days by getting outside for a hike, snowball fight, or just a hot cup of coffee. Aim for up to 30 minutes of “sun time” each day during the winter months between the hours of 10am and 3pm. This should be enough exposure for most people to achieve healthy vitamin D production.

If sun is hard to come by in your region or if you have difficulty maneuvering out of doors, aim to get your vitamin D needs met through diet and supplements. Power foods for natural vitamin D include salmon, sardines, tuna, egg yolks, and beef liver. Vitamin D is also added to a wide variety of fortified foods, such as orange juice, dairy products, and grains. Check a product’s label to find out if it has added vitamin D.

For those who don’t like the sun or don’t get much in the way of fortified foods, over-the-counter vitamin D supplements are also available (even in fruity gummy form!). Always consult your healthcare provider before beginning a supplement, especially if you are already taking other medications or supplements.

Regardless of the way you get your appropriate levels of vitamin D–or the impact it may or may not have on MS risk and symptoms–you can rest assured that you are providing your body with a necessary building block for health (and happiness!). Eat, play, and be merry!

Author: Katie BrindAmour

  • Edward Hutchinson

    Traditionally living populations in East Africa have a mean serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration of 115 nmol/l. or 46ngml. At that level human milk is vitamin d replete and vitamin d is most effective as an anti inflammatory agent.

    The reason humans living further from the Equator survived better with paler skins is that darker skin are less able to make vitamin D3 and require longer exposure in the sunshine. Full body exposure to UVB creates 10,000 ~ 20,000iu of vitamin D3. We use roughly 4~5000iu daily so anyone not getting outside requires a lot more vitamin D than can possibly be obtained from food sources.

    Grassrootshealth have a chart showing roughly the amounts generally required to raise 25(OH)D to optimal status around 125~150nmol/l or 50~60ng/ml. They and The Vitamin D council offer postal 25(OH)D testing and UK readers can get the same test for £25 from the NHS path lab in Birmingham CITYASSAYS.
    Amazon usually have a years supply of effective strength 5000iu vitamin d capsules for less than £10.