A few cells in the immune and nervous systems have vitamin D receptors that are found on the cells’ surface. It is here where they receive chemical signals. When a cell attaches itself to a receptor, the chemical signals trigger the cell to perform an activity, such as to divide in multiple ways or die. This being said, the vitamin D receptors directly affect the cells and they are responsible for their activity. Several researchers believe that since exposure of vitamin D directly affects the immune system, it has the potential to prevent MS from developing in the first place. Moreover, some researchers believe that it could also decrease the number of relapses the patient experiences and their overall severity.
In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a new research study was introduced. Hector DeLuca of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and his team examined the effects of UV light and sunscreen on mice with a rodent version of MS. Over the last few decades, it has been noticed that MS is less common in areas near the equator than it is in areas at high latitude. The first theory suggested that vitamin D plays a role because individuals in the tropical areas receive more sunlight than those in temperate zones. Such theories led Dr. DeLuca to discover the MS prevention is associated with a specific type of sunlight, that is, UV with a wavelength of 300 and 315 nanometres. His most recent study intended to present evidence that using this type of light on mice with a rodent version of MS, could, in fact, lead to MS prevention.
In the new research study, Dr. DeLuca and his team shaved the backs of twelve mice and exposed them to UV radiation everyday at the above wavelength for 4 weeks. To compare the results, Dr. DeLuca devised three other control groups. In the first control group, he applied 1 of 6 kinds of sunscreen to twelve shaved mice before exposing them to UV radiation. In the second control group, he applied the sunscreen but not the UV radiation. In the third control group, the mice were shaved; however, they were neither applied with sunscreen nor exposed to UV radiation. All four groups were then monitored for any signs and changes.
When they initially began the study, Dr. DeLuca and his team predicted that MS would progress more gradually in the experimental group than in the three control groups. Much to their surprise, the first control group managed to suppress MS’s progression, that is, even the mice not exposed to UV. In light of the new evidence, Dr. DeLuca and his team conducted further experiments to confirm their original findings. They studied the substances in the sunscreens and tested each one on additional mice. By the end of the study, the results revealed that two sunscreen substances, homosalate and octisalate, were found to be effective in sustaining the version of MS in mice.
As to why particularly these two substances help suppress MS remains unknown. The researchers believe that it could be due to their ability to prevent the production of cyclooxygenase. Cyclooxygenase is an enzyme that is typically found in lesions characteristic to those in MS. Nonetheless, the researchers state that mechanisms in rodents and humans work differently. For this reason, it is unclear as to whether the two substances would work as effectively in humans with MS as they do in the rodents with MS. Further research needs to be conducted on human clinical trials.
A 2012 research study in Finland looked at whether vitamin D supplements could help alleviate symptoms in individuals with relapsing remitting MS. The results revealed that taking vitamin D supplements significantly reduced the number of brain lesions. However, the number of relapses that individuals experienced was the same in those taking and those not taking vitamin D supplements.
The unclear connection between vitamin D and MS
Throughout the years, research seems to show a connection between vitamin D and MS; however, it is unclear as to how exactly the two are related. This is mainly because research studies are often carried out differently in terms of duration, amount of vitamin D, form of vitamin D, participants, and measurements. Some research studies have shown the individuals with lower vitamin D levels may be more susceptible to developing MS than those with higher vitamin D levels. Other research studies reveal that individuals who expose their skin to the sun on a regular basis may be less likely to develop MS than those who receive very little sunlight.
Moreover, there are those research studies that contradict each other – where one shows vitamin D reduces the number of relapses in individuals with MS and the other shows vitamin D has no effect whatsoever on the number of relapses. Currently, more research is being conducted and studies are beginning to take into account more participants and longer duration. Researchers hope that this will present results more clearly as to whether vitamin D can help to prevent MS or treat its symptoms upon the onset of diagnosis.
Sunscreen is a necessity when it comes to sunlight exposure. It protects you from the sun’s harmful rays and it helps to prevent premature aging. According to recent research, applying sunscreen can slow down the progression of MS symptoms. At this point, researchers cannot say for sure that sunscreen substances and vitamin D help in treating or preventing MS altogether; however, they are optimistic. While positive effects have been seen in clinical trials conducted on mice, further research needs to be conducted during human clinical trials.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects roughly around 250,000 individuals in the United States. MS is a lifelong disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks the nerves in your brain and spinal cord. The main function of these nerves is to transmit signals to several different areas of your body. Once they become disrupted, this leads to nerve damage and deterioration, as well as possible permanent nerve damage.
The exact cause of MS remains unknown. Researchers speculate that since vitamin D helps to control the immune system, taking vitamin D supplements could help to reduce the chances of developing MS. Still, there are several other genetic and environmental factors that might play a significant role in increasing the likelihood of developing MS. Due to several research findings, it is difficult to determine the exact role that vitamin D plays in helping to treat or prevent multiple sclerosis. What is known is that taking vitamin D is unlikely to harm or worsen your symptoms if you take less than 10,000 IU a day.
If you have MS and you want to take vitamin D supplements, it is important that you consult with your doctor first for more information. Having MS means that you are more likely to develop bone disease and vitamin D helps in improving bone development and bone health. Still, every individual’s case is different and depending on the severity of your symptoms, vitamin D supplements may or may not be recommended. Most important, you should not take vitamin D as an alternative to other medications for your condition. Always be aware of what factors can ease or aggravate your symptoms and stay involved in making healthy lifestyle choices every day.