What vitamin D could do for multiple sclerosis uncovered
Researchers have known vitamin D can help patients with multiple sclerosis. Results of a new Johns Hopkins mouse study uncovers how the so-called sunshine vitamin relieves multiple sclerosis symptoms that could also apply to humans.
How vitamin D stops MS damage in mice
Researchers from Johns Hopkins have been studying the role of vitamin D supplements in patients. Prior studies of the benefits of the vitamin have mostly come from studies on animals.
Anne R. Gocke, Ph.D., an assistant professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who lead the newest study explains vitamin D appears to block immune cells that enter the brain to cause damage rather than changing the function of cells.
"If we are right, and we can exploit Mother Nature's natural protective mechanism, an approach like this could be as effective as and safer than existing drugs that treat MS," Gocke said in a press release.
Multiple sclerosis damages myelin that normally protects the nerves. Destruction of myelin leads to symptoms of MS that include weakness, visual difficulties, trouble talking, dizziness and tingling or even pain in the body.
MS is believed to be an autoimmune disorder, which means the body’s immune fighting cells attack the myelin; disrupting nerve signals.
Gocks and colleagues gave mice with multiple sclerosis high doses of vitamin D for their study; discovering the vitamin protected the mice from myelin damage caused by immune fighting T-cells.
"Vitamin D doesn't seem to cause global immunosuppression," Gocke says in release. "What's interesting is that the T cells are primed, but they are being kept away from the places in the body where they can do the most damage." He adds the vitamin might slow down a process that allows T-cells to enter brain cells and adhere to the blood vessel walls.
But vitamin D can also suppress the immune system.
"Vitamin D may be a very safe therapy," says Peter A. Calabresi, M.D., a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University and a co-author of the study. "But we still have to be careful with it. It's not just a vitamin. It's actually a hormone.”
But Gocks said the good news if a person become immunocompromised or develops infections from taking vitamin D, withdrawing it can quickly allow the immune system to recover.
The current studies on mice show promise for treating MS with vitamin D and clinical trials are ongoing. The next step is to analyze tissue samples from humans being tested to see if the vitamin D has the same effect on the protecting from multiple sclerosis damage that the researchers found in mice.