Multiple Sclerosis: Effects of Vitamin D, Sun Exposure, and Latitude
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a progressive chronic inflammatory disorder of the central nervous system and is one of the most common causes of non-traumatic disability among young and middle-aged adults. As symptoms of MS are extremely variable and often quite subtle, diagnosis and management have been greatly enhanced by the development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The disease affects scattered and diverse areas of the nervous system with a predilection for white matter and periventricular areas, the brain stem, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Symptoms include numbness, exhaustion, vision problems, memory loss, muscle spasms, sexual dysfunction, dizziness, seizures, and various related problems. Currently there is no cure for MS, but as we get closer to finding the exact cause we come closer to finding the solution.
Scientists believe that the etiology is multifactorial—a combination of genetic factors as well as several environmental factors. Three of those environmental factors hypothesized to have an effect on the progression of MS are vitamin D intake, sun exposure, and the latitude of where one lives. In a study by Jelinek et al., the results concluded that health outcomes, such as disability, relapse rate, and quality of life were all positively associated with deliberate sun exposure and vitamin D. Consequently, latitude also has an effect because if one lives closer to the equator, they will receive more natural vitamin D. Important to note, “studies have shown that people born in an area with a high risk of MS who then move…assume the risk of the new area” (National MS Society). There seems to be an effect between exposure to certain environmental agents before puberty and a predisposition to Multiple Sclerosis. Scientists and researchers all over studying this disease can agree that vitamin D is a key player in managing the symptoms and decreasing the relapse rate. In fact, “opinion leaders in neurology have publically stated that if they themselves were diagnosed with early demyelination, they would take high dose vitamin D supplements” (Jelinek). Then why is vitamin D supplementation not standard care for all patients with MS? Extensive research still needs to be conducted to determine what frequency and dosage of vitamin D is ideal for a patient with Multiple Sclerosis.
About Multiple Sclerosis (2013). University of California, San Francisco. Retrieved November 9th, from http://multiplesclerosis.ucsf.edu/education_and_support/about_multiple_sclerosis
Jelinek, G. A., Marck, C. H., Weiland, T. J., Pereira, N., van der Meer, D. M., & Hadgkiss, E. J. (2015). Latitude, sun exposure and vitamin D supplementation: associations with quality of life and disease outcomes in a large international cohort of people with multiple sclerosis. BMC Neurology, 15, 132. http://doi.org/10.1186/s12883-015-0394-1
Mayo Clinic. 2012. “Multiple Sclerosis: An Overview.” Retrieved November 9th, 2015 from http://www.mayoclinic.or/diseases-conditions/multiple-sclerosis/home/ovc-20131882
National Multiple Sclerosis Society. What Causes MS? Retrieved from NMSS website http://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS/What-Causes-MS