Vitamin D link with multiple sclerosis established
07 February 2009
For the first time, concrete evidence has been found that vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of multiple sclerosis. Jagdeep Worah reports
For the first time, concrete evidence has been found that vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of multiple sclerosis, especially in individuals whose genetic structure makes them more vulnerable to MS.
A UK and Canadian team found that vitamin D helps to control a gene known to increase MS risk, according to their report published in the PLoS Genetics journal.
The study suggests that vitamin D supplements taken during pregnancy and early in life could prevent the disease. It is caused by the loss of nerve fibres and their protective myelin sheath in the brain and spinal cord, resulting in neurological damage.
Earlier research had indicated that both genetic and environmental factors play a role in MS, a condition that affects 2.5 million people worldwide. The 'environmental factor' is mainly vitamin D, known as the 'sunshine vitamin' because it is naturally produced in the body by exposure to sunlight. There is evidence that populations from Northern Europe have a higher increased risk of developing MS if they live in areas receiving less sunshine.
In the latest study, researchers at the University of Oxford and University of British Columbia looked at a section of the genome on chromosome six which had been shown to have the strongest effect on MS risk.
While one in 1,000 people in the UK is likely to develop MS, this number rises to around one in 300 among those carrying a single copy of the gene variant - known as DRB1*1501 - and one in 100 for those carrying two copies.