As we’ve seen in a my previous post, the relationship between vitamin D and MS diet cannot be undervalued. Vitamin D is unique in that it is produced as a by-product of the skin’s exposure to the sun. Twenty to thirty minutes of sun exposure, three times a week, is enough to ensure optimum vitamin D levels for most, but this may not be enough for someone with Multiple Sclerosis. Some of us are prone to low vitamin D levels, which makes it even more important to ensure sufficient direct exposure to the sun on a regular basis.
The Sunshine Miracle Worker
Our body loves every gorgeous little ray of sunshine it can get! Interestingly, far lower rates of MS are found in countries around the tropics that receive the most days of sunshine per year. This is compared to communities nearer to the South and particularly the North poles that have a much higher incidence of the disease. Countries such as Scotland and Norway that receive very few warm, sunny days per year have crippling rates of MS, really emphasising the importance of ensuring correct levels of sunshine when it comes to vitamin D and MS.
Research has revealed that Multiple Sclerosis is over 100 times more prevalent in the far north than at the equator. This is significant evidence that there is a crucial link between the development of MS and vitamin D levels. It should be enough to make every person, healthy or not, RUN down to their nearest clinic and have their blood levels tested.
Another fact worth mentioning here is that your body stops producing vitamin D after a certain amount of sun exposure. After 20-30 minutes of sunshine, that particular patch of skin decides it’s time to call it a day and close down the production factory until the next day. So spending longer than 20-30 minutes in the sun will not produce more vitamin D. Sunshine is the fastest and most efficient way of obtaining this vital vitamin for your MS diet. You would need to eat a whole lot of food sources to get the same amount as twenty minutes in the sun. Food sources of vitamin D is still a vital element in our control and healing of Multiple Sclerosis and must be carefully considered when planning your MS diet correctly.
MS Diet Sources of Vitamin D
Natural food sources are very important to solidify the bond between vitamin D and MS. These sources include fish liver oil, eggs and fatty fish such as salmon, herring or mackerel. It certainly is important that these foods be eaten on a regular basis. Try to eat at least 2-3 servings of vitamin D rich foods per week. The jury, however, is still out on whether eggs could be the cause of an allergic reaction that activates the T-cells. If you think they could be provoking an onset of symptoms, try giving them up for a while to see if there is an improvement.
As for vegetarian sources of vitamin D, there are not many. Mushrooms can be a source as well as soy products. Most tofu is fortified with additional nutrients and soy milk is also a source. Dairy products such as yoghurt and fortified milk also contain vitamin D but most people with Multiple Sclerosis see an improvement in their symptoms when they stop eating dairy (see the full MS diet section for more information) as part of their MS diet.
Vitamin D Supplements
So, what if you live in a country with more overcast and rainy days than sunny days? A good vitamin D supplement can also do the trick. It is, however, important to test your vitamin D levels through a simple blood test. Until recently, a level of less than 25nmol/L was considered to represent moderate to severe deficiency and a level of 25-50nmol/L mild deficiency. Many laboratories have now changed their recommended normal levels to 75-250nmol/L . This reflects recent research indicating a higher upper level of normal is quite safe. Currently, less than 75nmol/L is considered insufficient, and less than 50nmol/L deficient. In the USA, the measure is ng/mL, with 100nmol/L equivalent to 40ng/mL. So if you have your reading in the US in ng/mL, multiply by 2.5 to get the nmol/L. If your levels are 50ng/mL in the US, your results will be 125nmol/L for the UK, Australia, South Africa and other countries.
High dose vitamin D appears to suppress the autoimmune response that causes MS. In patients given the high dose vitamin D supplement, T-cell activity was reported to drop significantly. As you will have read in my story, my vitamin D levels were critically low at 8.3nmol/L. I was able to increase this to 188nmol/L within 3-4 months of taking 10,000iu per day. I have not had a noticeable MS relapse since I started working on increasing my levels. If your levels are on the lower side, it is recommended that you take a supplement of 10,000iu per day. Usually this translates to two small capsules. Once your vitamin D levels have reached optimum levels, you can reduce this supplement to 5,000iu per day. There are mixed opinions about whether high doses of vitmamin D can be toxic. Some say that this is a myth and that taking higher doses leads to better disease control. Others say that toxic levels can be reached but only by taking over 40,000iu of vitamin D a day. In the end, you really have to do what works for you and your body. Experiment a bit and see what happens! The right form of vitamin D to take is vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol. This is the natural form that is made in the body in response to sunlight. It is relatively inexpensive and can be bought easily from websites such as Amazon (see the Supplement section for more details on which products to buy). A good quality brand is Life Extension.
As funny as it sounds, add 20-30 minutes of sunlight to your MS diet. This will help strengthen the bond between your intake of vitamin D and MS. It is worthwhile to get tested to see where you are at, and then plan the right dosage of a vitamin D supplement into your MS diet.
So go get some sun!