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CMSC INforMS: High dose vitamin D could treat multiple sclerosis, scientists find

Monday, January 04, 2016  
Posted by: Elizabeth Porco
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Low levels of vitamin D are known to be associated with an increased risk of developing MS but it is the first study to show that supplements can help the condition

Taking large doses of the recommended daily dose of vitamin D could be a cheap and simple treatment for multiple sclerosis, say scientists.

Low levels of vitamin D in the blood are known to be associated with an increased risk of developing MS.

And patients with low levels of the vitamin are also likely to suffer from disability, but until now scientists have now known if supplements could help the condition.

Now research by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore has shown that upping levels of the sunshine vitamin dampens down the immune system, stopping it attacking nerve fibres.

Around 100,000 people in the UK are battling the disease, so the new study suggests that upping their intake of vitamin D could have a major impact.

The disease destroys the fatty myelin sheath that insulates nerve fibres and assists the transmission of electrical signals. It can cause symptoms ranging from mild tingling or numbness to full-blown paralysis.

"These results are exciting, as vitamin D has the potential to be an inexpensive, safe and convenient treatment for people with MS,” said lead scientist Dr Peter Calabresi, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

"More research is needed to confirm these findings with larger groups of people and to help us understand the mechanisms for these effects, but the results are promising."

Vitamin D is known to be important for bone health and it can nautrally be obtained by eating cheese, eggs and fish oil, as well as direct exposure to sunlight.

For the new study, 40 patients with relapsing-remitting MS - a form of the disorder characterised by active and passive periods - received either 10,400 or 800 international units (IU) of vitamin D3 supplements every day for six months.

The first dose was significantly higher than the recommended daily allowance for vitamin D of 600 IU.

Patients taking the high dose experienced a reduction in the percentage of specific immune system T-cells related to MS activity.

Above a certain threshold, every five nanograms per millilitre increase in vitamin D blood levels led to a 1 per cent reduction of the T-cells, the researchers reported in the journal Neurology. It suggests that the maxim dose could reduce dangerous immune cells by eight per cent.

No such change was seen in those patients taking the lower dose supplements.

Side effects from the vitamin supplements were minor and did not differ between patients taking the higher and lower doses.

One person in each group had a relapse of disease activity, but while the study tested the effect of vitamin D supplements on the immune system it did not look closely at the clinical impact of the treatment. This will have to be the subject of future research.

The research was published in the journal Neurology.

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