Vitamin D & MS

17 April 2014

The power of Vitamin D to potentially reduce the risk of getting MS and influence disease progression of multiple sclerosis is gradually being revealed through the work of Australian researchers such as Professor Bruce Taylor and his colleagues at the Menzies Research Institute, Tasmania. Professor Taylor, a Professional Research Fellow at the Institute, recently visited Perth to provide an update on the latest findings regarding the role of vitamin D in MS, to MSWA Members and health professionals.

“Based on what we found, it is possible that people with MS would roughly halve their risk of relapse if they increased their Vitamin D level by 50 nmol/L”.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease where the immune system specifically damages tissue in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Episodes of attack are known as relapses. The more relapses a person experiences, the more likely they are to accumulate damage to the central nervous system and experience increasing levels of disability.

Prof Taylor has found that Vitamin D is a potent regulator of the immune system. They have anti-inflammatory effects and help regulate any overactivity in the immune system that may be causing tissue damage in MS.

In a study at the Menzies Research Institute, participant’s vitamin levels were measured every 6 months for two and half years and assessed for the association with the frequency of an MS relapse. “We found a 12% reduction in relapse risk per 10 unit increase in serum Vitamin D. If we raised Vitamin D by 50 units, we could reduce relapse rates by over half.” Additional findings that people with higher levels of disability have lower levels of both sun exposure and vitamin D levels, also point to the important role vitamin D may have in MS.

“This effect is on par with current immunotherapy treatments available. Vitamin D supplementation, however, is much cheaper and has less potential side effects.”

Supplementation, sun exposure and vitamin D from food sources are the best ways to increase vitamin D levels, if a person is assessed to be deficient.

Professor Taylor encouraged Members interested in supplementing with vitamin D, to first have their levels assessed by their neurologist or GP. “It is possible to overdose and experience toxic effects from too much vitamin D” he warned. Different doses may be required at different stages of treating a vitamin D deficiency, and results should be monitored regularly to maintain optimal levels.

Pointing to future research, Professor Taylor pointed to research such as the current Australia and New Zealand cooperative research effort, PrevANZ. A world-first clinical trial, PrevANZ will test whether vitamin D supplementation can prevent MS in those at risk of developing the disease following a first attack. The Phase IIb randomised, double blind, placebo-controlled trial will focus on the possibility of using vitamin D supplementation to prevent a diagnosis of MS following a person’s presentation with a first episode of symptoms people with CIS or clinically isolated syndrome. PrevANZ will also test appropriate dosage levels and safety. The MS Society of WA has provided a substantial amount of financial support to this research.