There are certain vitamins that are unquestionably required for a healthy MS diet. vitamin D is one of those substances that is probably right at the top of your MS diet list. Knowing how vitamin D and MS are connected is vitally important to defend against episodes and attacks, here are the facts.
It is now a well known fact that vitamin D is an important protective factor for Multiple Sclerosis. The higher your levels, the less relapses you will experience which leads to a dramatic slowing of disease progression. It has been found that people with MS generally have very low levels of vitamin D. Some would hypothesise that it is these low levels that originally contributed to the onset of MS and are certainly aiding and abetting its progression. It is exceptionally important to have your vitamin D levels tested if you have been recently diagnosed. Every person, healthy or not, should have a plan to keep their vitamin D at optimum levels as it not only protects against MS but other auto-immune diseases and illnesses such as cancer. This posts will help you understand the relationship between vitamin D and MS, as well as explain some sources of vitamin D for your MS diet.
How Does It Work In The Body To Stop MS Progression?
Vitamin D plays a vital role in regulating the immune system. In Multiple Sclerosis, it is the person’s immune system that starts attacking the nerve cells of the body. The irony is that the very system in charge of protecting the body starts to attack and break it down. T-cells, the fighter cells of the immune system, are the main culprits in MS. These are the cells that attack and kill germs when they enter our bodies. If not kept in check, they start attacking the myelin sheath of nerves causing inflammation and symptoms of MS.
Enter vitamin D, our knight in shining armour. Vitamin D is thought to boost the immune system and bring rogue T-cells back into line if they start to attack their own cells. When T-cells are exposed to foreign pathogens a recent study has found that they expose a vitamin D receptor that searches for vitamin D. Activation of these receptors results in suppression of the cell’s activity. Hence, a lack of vitamin D allows these cells to act unchecked. Basically, they start behaving like naughty teenagers doing what they want without parental supervision and start attacking cells at random. Vitamin D, the parent in this scenario, modulates the immune system, keeping it in check and reducing the random attacks of those rebellious T-cells. As you can see, it is of vital importance that optimal vitamin D levels are maintained through a healthy MS diet. This link between vitamin D and MS cannot be overlooked.
My Vitamin D MS Diet Journey
Nutritionists and even Doctors are slowly becoming aware that it is an essential piece of the MS puzzle. However, the medical profession has, largely, not accepted this vital vitamin as a key to helping many people suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. As I mentioned in my story, I had several appointments with neurologists and a nurse specialising in helping people live with MS. None of them enquired about my vitamin D levels or even mentioned that it could be a helpful supplement.
A standard blood test revealed that my level of vitamin D was critically low. It was 8.3nMol/L whereas it should have been between 150nMol/L and 200nMol/L. The concerned doctor who had ordered these tests put me on a double dose of supplements immediately. I don’t think he had ever seen such low levels of vitamin D. Certainly not in a South African! I started doing some research to see how my critically low levels of vitamin D could be linked to my condition. The information I found was astounding. A large amount of research has been done on the link between vitamin D and MS, I found study after study confirming the connection. I wondered why, with all the available research, my neurologist didn’t know about this incredibly simple but important piece of information. I had been living with MS for a year and a half before I discovered this little gold nugget. How many thousands of other people could have been spared years of pain and debilitating symptoms. If only their vitamin D levels had been tested and they had started spending more time in the sun or started taking an inexpensive supplement as part of my MS diet. Have you had your vitamin D level tested recently?
I managed to contact my MS nurse to tell her about my discovery and encouraged her to spread the good news to every patient she sees. She was grateful for the feedback and casually shared that she remembered hearing about vitamin D and MS at an Multiple Sclerosis conference she went to once. Her nonchalant tone really did make my blood boil. If anyone should be constantly researching new answers to MS, it should be a nurse specialising in MS, the first port of call for many new people with MS. A comment by a Neurologist and MS specialist summed up this whole ordeal for me. He reckons that it should be considered medical malpractice for neurologists not to order blood tests for vitamin D levels in their patients. I whole heartedly agree!
Vitamin D and MS Diet Research Studies
(If you are interested in some scientific proof!)
I was pleasantly surprised when I began to research the effects of vitamin D on MS. There have been many studies done on this area of research. They all produce the same conclusion: vitamin D is absolutely essential for people with MS. It improves overall functioning, reduces symptoms and ultimately gives people with MS an improved quality of life. These are just a few of the studies that I have come across. Most of them have small sample sizes and have produced more qualitative rather than quantitative data. However, there are many more research projects in the pipeline which are producing more and more evidence to support the claims that vitamin D should be added to your MS diet.
Goldberg and Colleagues (1986): Cod liver oil supplementation
In 1986, Goldberg performed a research study giving vitamin D supplements to MS patients. A very small sample size was used. There were only sixteen participants entered into the study with no control group. Goldberg compared the patients’ relapse rates after supplementation with those before it was taken. He gave patients 5 000 units of vitamin D every day through 20g of cod liver oil. He also gave large doses of calcium and magnesium. There were 2.7 times as many relapses per year before the supplements than after.
Embry and Colleagues: Blood Levels Of Vitamin D
Embry and his fellow researchers have also researched the connection between Multiple Sclerosis and vitamin D. They compared monthly vitamin D blood levels in 415 patients from a particular area in Germany with the number of lesions detected on MRI scanning in MS patients from the same area. They found that high levels of vitamin D correlated closely with low levels of disease activity and vice versa. Embry recommended that doctors treat their patients with year-round supplements of 3 000-4 000IU per day of vitamin D. These results seemed to suggest that the effect of sunlight was more marked than interferon or glatiramer. The study suggested a 50-70% reduction in the number of MS lesions when UV exposure was at its maximum in summer compared to mid-winter. This effect size may be even higher as maximum vitamin D levels were not particularly high in this study.
Finland Study: Vitamin D during Relapses and Remissions
Another research study from Finland (2005) measured vitamin D levels during relapses and compared these with levels during remissions. They found the levels to be lower during a relapse and concluded that vitamin D may be involved in the regulation of disease activity in MS. Although levels were lower during relapses, they were mostly still in the ‘normal’ range. It seems likely that just having a normal vitamin D level may not be enough to significantly reduce the risk of relapses and a ‘high’ level may be more protective.
Canada Study (2009): The effect of high doses of Vitamin D
A study conducted in Canada in 2009 researched the effects of increasing vitamin D dosage on people with MS. Participants were given increasing doses of vitamin D to determine its safety at high doses. The higher dose group averaged 14,000IU per day throughout the study versus 1,000IU for the group treated with standard doses by their doctors. Apart from finding that high doses were safe the researchers found that the higher dose group had 2/3 fewer relapses through the course of the study. In addition, measures of immune activity showed a shift in balance away from an inflammatory profile. This is vitally important data about Multiple Sclerosis and vitamin D. The magnitude of the benefit derived from taking vitamin D supplements at high dose was roughly twice as big as the effect of taking disease-modifying drugs, like the interferons, and this was in comparison to taking a conventional dose of vitamin D. Had it been compared to taking placebo, the effect would definitely have been even bigger. This is compelling evidence that vitamin D supplements should be routinely prescribed for people with MS, and at a substantial dose.
These are just some of the findings that underline the important of the link between vitamin D and MS. Thankfully, vitamin D can easily be consumed – I myself take 2 drops of a vitamin D supplement every morning! Make sure you are getting your vitamin D dosage daily!