By Pat Anson, Editor
A new study is adding to the growing body of evidence that Vitamin D supplements can be used to treat multiple sclerosis (MS) and other inflammatory chronic pain conditions.
The pilot study published by Johns Hopkins physicians in the journal Neurology found that taking a high dose of vitamin D3 is safe for people with MS and may help regulate the body’s hyperactive immune response.
“These results are exciting, as vitamin D has the potential to be an inexpensive, safe and convenient treatment for people with MS,” says study author Peter Calabresi, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Multiple Sclerosis Center and professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “More research is needed to confirm these findings with larger groups of people and to help us understand the mechanisms for these effects, but the results are promising.”
MS is a chronic and incurable disease which attacks the body’s central nervous system, causing numbness in the limbs, difficulty walking, paralysis, loss of vision, fatigue and pain.
Low blood levels of vitamin D – known as the “sunshine vitamin”-- have been linked to an increased risk of developing MS.
People who have MS and low levels of vitamin D are also more likely to have greater disability and more disease activity.
In the Johns Hopkins study, 40 people with relapsing-remitting MS received either 10,400 international units or 800 international units (IU) of vitamin D3 supplements every day for six months. Patients with severe vitamin D deficiency were not included in the study. The current recommended daily allowance of vitamin D3 is 600 IU.
Blood tests at the start of the study, and after three and six months, measured the amount of vitamin D in the blood and the response in the immune system’s T cells, which play a key role in MS.
Participants taking the high dose of vitamin D reached optimal levels of Vitamin D in the blood (40 to 60 ng/ml), while the group taking the low dose did not reach that target. The people taking the high dose also had a reduction in the percentage of inflammatory T cells related to MS severity. The people taking the low dose did not have any noticeable changes in the percentages of their T cell subsets.
“We hope that these changes in inflammatory T cell responses translate to a reduced severity of disease,” says Calabresi. “Other clinical trials are underway to determine if that is the case.”
Another recent study in Neurology by Danish researchers found that MS patients who spent time in the sun every day during the summer as teenagers developed the disease later in life than those who spent their summers indoors. Ultraviolet rays in sunlight are a principal source of Vitamin D, which has a wide range of positive health effects, such as strengthening bones and inhibiting the growth of some cancers.
Low levels of serum vitamin D have also been linked to fibromyalgia. In a study of over 1,800 fibromyalgia patients published in the journal Pain Physician, researchers at National Taiwan University Hospital found a “positive crude association” between chronic widespread pain and hypovitaminosis D, which is caused by poor nutritional intake of Vitamin D, inadequate sunlight or conditions that limit Vitamin D absorption.
Pain News Network columnist Crystal Lindell began taking Vitamin D supplements when her blood levels were found to be very low. Within a few months she was feeling better, exercising more, and losing weight. You can read Crystal’s story by clicking here.