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New Vitamin D Study Promising for MS Patients

Vitamin D and MS

Treatment options for people who have multiple sclerosis (MS) are limited, and the available drugs have little impact on progression of the disease or its symptoms. Now the results of a new vitamin D study hold some promise for MS patients.

How can vitamin D help MS patients

Previous studies have indicated that low levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased incidence of MS, while others have suggested that taking vitamin D supplements may protect against development of the disease or at least reduce relapse. (It should be noted that vitamin D deficiency or chronically low levels is common among the general population.)

A Johns Hopkins University study, for example, found that people with MS who had low levels of vitamin D had a greater number of brain lesions and signs of more active disease than those who had higher amounts of the nutrient. Greater levels of vitamin D also were associated with a reduced level of long-term disability.

Other research has suggested that lower levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of relapse in some individuals with the disease. The authors of a 2012 Swedish study concluded that high levels of vitamin D are associated with a decreased risk of MS.

New MS study
In this newest study, a research team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison used a mouse model of MS to explore the impact of vitamin D. More specifically, the biochemists administered a single dose of calcitriol, the active hormone form of the vitamin, to the mice and followed it with daily vitamin D supplementation in the animals’ diet.

The investigative team, led by biochemistry professor Colleen Hayes, first compared a single dose of calcitriol versus a glucocorticoid, a drug that is currently prescribed for MS patients who have a serious neurological event. Calcitriol use resulted in a nine-day remission in 92 percent of the mice compared with a six-day remission in only 58 percent of mice who received the drug.

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Even though the researchers then found that a weekly dose of calcitriol reversed the disease and maintained an indefinite remission, the negative side effects of the vitamin D supplement—such as elevated calcium in the blood—led them to try something else. That something else was a single dose of calcitriol followed by daily vitamin D supplements.

The result, according to Hayes, was “one hundred percent of mice responded.” So does this mean MS patients will respond in the same manner?

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Only time and studies using human subjects will provide that answer. On the upside, previous research has shown that vitamin D has a positive impact on MS. Hayes noted that calcitriol may be important because it could cause the autoimmune cells (T cells) that attack the nerves to die (a process called apoptosis) while vitamin D, which is a potent antioxidant, may stop new attacking cells from moving in.

If future studies pan out, there may be a time when vitamin D can be used to avoid or halt MS in its tracks. Until that day comes, individuals who have MS, and even those who do not, should talk to their healthcare provider about their vitamin D levels, which can be measured using a blood test.

Mowry EM et al. Vitamin D status predicts new brain magnetic resonance imaging activity in multiple sclerosis. Annals of Neurology 2012 Aug; 72(2): 234-40
Nashold FE et al. One calcitriol dose transiently increases Helios+FoxP3+ T cells and ameliorates autoimmune demyelinating disease. Journal of Neuroimmunology 2013 Aug 6.

Image: Morguefile