Low Vitamin D Linked to MS Flare-Ups

Brain lesions in multiple sclerosis patients seen more in those with low vitamin D

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) While multiple sclerosis (MS) has some hereditary causes, it has also been linked to environmental factors. Recent studies suggest a link between low vitamin D levels and an increased risk of relapse.

A recent study investigated whether levels of vitamin D in MS patients are associated with new brain lesions that indicate a more serious case of the disease.

This study showed a strong link between low levels of vitamin D in the blood and the new lesions, which means MS patients should discuss their diet with their doctor.

"Vitamins help - speak with a pharmacist."

Ellen M. Mowry, MD, MCR, from the University of California at San Francisco and colleagues examined data from a five year study of 469 MS patients. The data included yearly blood samples and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans from all participants.

Disability levels using the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS), age, ethnicity, sex, disease duration, smoking status, height and weight, disease modifying therapy and other medications used were recorded at baseline. At follow-up, clinical relapses, EDSS scores, and height and weight were recorded and confirmed by a physician.

Vitamin D levels were measured in the blood samples. The MRI scans searched for new lesions and active spots of the disease.

The lesions spotted in the MRI represent inflammation that interferes with message transmission in the brain. This occurs when the myelin, a fatty protein that coats the nerves in the brain and helps them send signals, are attacked by the body’s own immune system.

Previous studies have associated new lesions with later disability and the need for assistance with mobility.

The results of the study showed that for each 10 nanograms per milliliter increase in vitamin D levels, there was a 15 percent lower risk of new lesions. Higher vitamin D levels were associated with lower relapse risk, although the results were not statistically significant.

Future research is needed before determining if taking vitamin D supplements can help MS patients. It is important for patients to check with their doctor before taking any supplements.

Although vitamin D supplements are available over the counter, the vitamin is a hormone and should only be used with caution and guidance.

"Persons with MS might consider discussing the role of Vitamin D in MS with their physicians," said Nancy D. Chiaravalloti, PhD, Director of Neuropsychology & Neuroscience Research at Kessler Foundation.

"These data certainly indicate that a randomized clinical trial of Vitamin D supplementation is warranted," she added.

The study was published in Annals of Neurology.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, GlaxoSmithKline and Biogen Idec. The sponsors did not participate in the study or manuscript.

Study authors report associations with National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Teva Pharmaceuticals, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis, Roche, Sanofi Aventis, Actelion, Biogen Idec, Marcled Foundation, Nancy Davis Foundation, Pfizer, Acorda Therapeutics, Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, EMD Serono, BioMarin, Receptos, Genentech, Novartis, Symbiotix, Wyeth-Pfizer, Annals of Neurology, Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, CNS Imaging Consultant and Synarc.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 1, 2012
Last Updated:
November 6, 2012