Taking vitamin D supplements may positively influence the immune systems of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to researchers.
Although most MS patients have a normal life span, the disease, which causes the immune system to attack the body's own cells as "foreign," causes vision changes and muscle weakness in its victims. MS may progress steadily, or acute attacks may be followed by a temporary remission of symptoms.
Vitamin D status affects chemicals that modulate the immune system called cytokines, and these changes may benefit patients with MS.
The researchers drew their conclusions after analyzing samples from 10 MS patients who took a supplement of 25 micrograms (units) of vitamin D daily for 6 months. The patients showed increased levels of vitamin D in their blood, as well as a change in cytokine levels. But the investigators note that the study has not been in progress long enough to observe changes in the clinical symptoms of the participating MS patients.
The results were not completely unexpected as the investigators had seen similar results in an animal model of MS. Doctors should be aware of the detrimental effects of vitamin D insufficiency for their MS patients and make sure they are vitamin D adequate.
The study findings are supported by the fact that the number of cases of MS is nearly zero near the equator and increases with latitude in both hemispheres. The increased sunlight near the equator allows the body to produce more vitamin D, and may theoretically reduce the incidence of MS.
However, Cantorna also pointed out that vitamin D at high doses is toxic. "MS patients should not take large amounts of vitamin D supplements. They should increase their vitamin D intake under the supervision of their doctors," she warned.
The current recommended dietary allowance for vitamin D is 400 micrograms (units) per day.
Sources of vitamin D include adequate exposure to sunlight and cod liver oil.
Experimental Biology 2001 Conference in Orlando, Florida April 6, 2001