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Multiple Sclerosis Relapse Rate and Vitamin D

multiple sclerosis relapse rate and vitamin D

The role of vitamin D in multiple sclerosis, especially related to relapse rate and disease progression, was the subject of a recent study conducted by a team from Australia. The findings shed light on the association between exposure to the sun, supplementation with vitamin D, and latitude on people with multiple sclerosis.


Previous research has indicated several associations between vitamin D and multiple sclerosis. Among them:

  • Individuals with multiple sclerosis with low vitamin D levels have more active disease and more brain lesions than patients with higher levels of the vitamin, according to a Johns Hopkins study
  • Increasing latitude is associated with a higher incidence of MS, likely due to reduced exposure to the sun
  • Vitamin D supplementation appears to have a favorable impact on the disease course, although the dosage level is in question
  • Less research has been done to determine the effects of exposure to sunlight on the disease course

New study of MS and vitamin D
A 163-question online survey was completed by 2,301 individuals who have multiple sclerosis. Among the questions were those covering demographics, diagnosis, disability level, symptom severity, use of vitamin D supplementation, and exposure to the sun.
An analysis of the data showed that:

  • Most (63%) of the participants said they made a point of getting sun exposure to improve their vitamin D levels
  • More than 80 percent (81.8%) said they took vitamin D supplements, with doses ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 International Units daily
  • Individuals who took vitamin D supplements had about a 33 percent lower relapse rate yearly than those who did not use the supplements
  • Relapse rate was related to latitude: a one degree increase in latitude was associated with a 1 percent increase in the chance of experiencing more relapses over the prior year
  • An increase in latitude by one degree was associated with a 2 percent increased chance of experiencing moderate disability and a 3 percent increase in experiencing high disability when compared with individuals with no disability or mild disability
  • Use of vitamin D supplements and quality of life were significantly related before and after adjustments were made for confounding factors and the response was related to dose

The high percentage of participants in the study who were taking vitamin D supplements suggested to the authors that patients with multiple sclerosis are aware of the importance of this vitamin in this disease. However, they also noted that “its role in MS health outcomes urgently requires detailed exploration with well-designed clinical trials.”

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If you and your doctor have not discussed vitamin D, it’s time to bring up the topic. A simple blood test can identify your blood level of vitamin D so a suitable supplemental dose can be suggested.

Experts do not agree on the optimal level of vitamin D in the blood. The Vitamin D Council recommends 40 to 80 ng/mL, the Endocrine Society suggests 30 to 100 ng/mL, and the Food and Nutrition Board says values that exceed 20 ng/mL are enough for good health.

Also read about alternative treatments for multiple sclerosis

Jelinek G et al. 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 2015 Aug