Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system and normally strikes between the ages of 20-40, causing progressive neurologic deterioration. Women are more commonly afflicted. Swedish scientists have published results from a 35 year study of 164,000 patients, predominately pregnant women, in the medical journal, Neurology, which found that patients who had high blood levels of vitamin D (>75nmol/L) were 61% less likely to develop MS over the length of the study. The researchers speculated that increasing vitamin D consumption would reduce the overall incidence of this debilitating disease.
The Prescription Perspective: This study adds one more disease to the growing list of chronic health disorders which appear to be associated with low vitamin D levels. Other data have implicated low vitamin D levels in type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a variety of cancers. In addition low vitamin D levels are often associated with obesity and increasing vitamin D consumption appears to significantly aid weight loss.
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MS is a chronic disorder which is often latent for many years before becoming clinically apparent and the very long duration of the Swedish study almost certainly permitted the detection of a relationship between vitamin D and MS which would have been missed in a shorter trial. Sun exposure is the most potent stimulus to the body’s internal vitamin D production and northern Europeans are notoriously low in this important nutrient. It is difficult to replace vitamin D from dietary sources alone, so current recommendations for optimum vitamin D intake in supplements have been steadily increasing. The Institute of Medicine currently recommends 600 IU per day but many physicians who have worked in this field are now recommending 2,000-4,000 IU of D3 (cholecalciferol) daily.