Multiple Sclerosis No Match For Sunshine and Vitamin D

Multiple sclerosis may have an enemy, vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin). The sun may be giving you more than just a nice tan. A new study suggests that exposure to sunlight may reduce your risk of developing multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis, a severely debilitating nerve disease, is less common in the tropics and scientists assumed that this may be attributable to sun exposure and vitamin D levels. In MS, the fatty myelin sheaths that insulate nerves in the central nervous system are damaged by the immune system. The cause of MS is not entirely known, but scientists believe a combination of several factors — including vitamin D levels and exposure to the sun — may be involved. Vitamin D, a nutrient that the body produces from sunlight, is noted to likely have a positive impact on the immune system and therefore may help protect against the autoimmune disease. While there have been studies linking vitamin D to incidence of MS, none of these studies linked the quantity of sun exposure to the risk of developing MS. 

The study, which took place in Australia, investigated whether exposure to the sun and blood levels of vitamin D are linked to first demyelinating events, or FDE. First demyelinating events are warning signs of development of multiple sclerosis (MS).  Results revealed that higher sun exposure translated to a higher blood level of vitamin D and lower risk of FDE. Interestingly, while 34.3 percent of the patients took vitamin D supplements, if they did not have sufficient sun exposure, blood levels of the vitamin remained low.

While there were a few limitations to the study — namely that sun exposure was based on personal report and vitamin D levels were only measured once — the most interesting thing that this study suggests is that a vitamin D supplement alone may not be enough. Our bodies may not be utilizing vitamin D from a supplement as effectively as that achieved with moderate sun exposure.

But don’t go overboard just yet. There are definite risks to overexposure to sunlight. But there seem be benefits to moderate exposure.  While more research on this topic is needed, the future looks fairly bright.

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