People often worry that sun exposure will lead to wrinkles or skin cancer, but sunlight, the most efficient source of vitamin D, is linked to decreasing the risk of MS in women.
This finding was published in a Finnish study in the journal Neurology, “25-Hydroxyvitamin D deficiency and risk of MS (Muscular Sclerosis) among women in the Finnish Maternity Cohort.” Researchers at Boston’s Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in connection with Finland’s University of Turku, observed vitamin D levels in more than 800,000 blood samples from pregnant women, as part of prenatal evaluations, and correlated them with the incidence of MS in this population (multiplesclerosisnewstoday).
Funded by the National Institute of Neurology Disorders and Stroke, the study consisted of 1,092 cases of MS diagnosed between 1983 and 2009 in women from whom they had at least one blood sample collected prior to the MS diagnosis. These subjects’ vitamin D levels were compared to 2,123 samples collected from women who did not develop the disease. Analysis of all 3,215 records showed that 58% of the women who developed MS had vitamin D deficiencies compared to 52% in the control group. Higher levels of vitamin D reduced the risk of MS in women by 39%. Subjects who were deficient in the vitamin were 43% more likely to get MS in the future. Levels of deficiency were defined as fewer than 30 nmol/L; insufficient levels were 30 to 49 nmol/L; adequate levels were 50 nmol/L or higher.
What is MS?
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks myelin, the fatty coating of the nerves in the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. MS can result in weakness, loss of balance and bladder control, and vision problems. Numbness, tingling, depression, and chronic pain are also symptoms that oftentimes become debilitating. While some people with MS experience only mild symptoms that require little to no medical treatment, others in severe cases may eventually become paralyzed and/or blind.
What does vitamin D have to do with MS?
Experts have known that higher levels of sun exposure is linked to lower risk levels of developing MS. This is why vitamin D, the immune system booster and anti-inflammatory, is so respected. In the words of Geeta Sidhu-Robb, a nutritionist and founder of Nosh Detox, “the body needs vitamin D to help absorb different nutrients, and is most commonly absorbed through natural sunlight” (rd.com). Problems begin to arise when these nutrients are not absorbed. Subjects at risk of a vitamin D deficiency include older adults, breast-fed infants, people with dark skin (melanin reduces the skin’s ability to produce the vitamin from sunlight), people with little sun exposure, people with inflammatory bowel disease which blocks fat absorption, and those who have had gastric bypass surgery. And believe it or not, sunscreen can be a conundrum in that it protects the skin from harmful sun rays but can cause people to become deficient in vitamin D.
As with many studies, there were limitations to “25-Hydroxyvitamin D deficiency and risk of MS (Muscular Sclerosis) among women in the Finnish Maternity Cohort.” It excluded women of color and men. So while detecting vitamin D deficiencies could help both doctors and patients, broader and more inclusive investigations must be carried out to find more evidence showing the power vitamin D has in terms of lowering people’s risk of developing muscular sclerosis. The findings in this study have prompted motivation to do so, in addition to longer follow-up evaluations that could provide more information on time to disease onset and vitamin D association (multiplesclerosisnewstoday). However, according to Healthline, there are more than 400,000 people with MS in the United States and another 200 cases diagnosed each week. Therefore, achieving vitamin D sufficiency will likely have more than a few health benefits.
Considering the fact that there is a higher incidence of MS in people who live farther from the equator, it is increasingly in our best interest to get outside and absorb some sunlight—without sunscreen for 20 minutes a day, to be precise. Or if you would like to take the supplement route, something Makers Nutrition can help you with, contact a certified physician about consuming vitamin D.