Study involving tens of thousands of people adds weight to observation that low vitamin D levels are associated with multiple sclerosis.

Anyone experiencing the current UK summer might well fret about their vitamin D levels. The so-called ‘sunshine vitamin’ is essential for the absorption of calcium, essential for good skeletal health. Thus far observational studied have shown that lower levels of vitamin D are associated with increased risk of multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune condition affecting the nerves, brain and spinal cord. Now the genetics appear to be on side too.

The International Multiple Sclerosis Genetics Consortium study, published this week in PLOS Medicine, measured genetically reduced vitamin D levels and susceptibility to MS in 14,498 people with the condition and 24,091 without. Their results show a strong association between reduced vitamin D level and increased MS risk.

However, it is not possible to infer causation from this study, because people who develop MS may well share another unknown characteristic that also increases their disease risk. 

Speaking to the BBC Dr Susan Kohlhaas, from the MS Society, said: “There are many unanswered questions around what causes MS, so this large scale study is an exciting step towards understanding more about the complex nature of the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to it.”

“We’d also welcome more research into this area, as we know it’s really important to people living with MS.”

Immunologist Prof Danny Altmann, from Imperial College London, said: “Vitamin D is relatively cheap, safe and many of us would be all the healthier if we could achieve the serum levels that our ancient ancestors presumably acquired when roaming outdoors in temperate climates, unclothed and eating a diverse diet including oily fish.”

“While it may be too much to expect therapeutic vitamin D to treat or reverse ongoing MS, this paper will add to the weight of argument for routine vitamin-D supplementation of foodstuffs as a broad, preventative, public health measure.”

The UK government is currently considering whether to recommend that us sun-starved Brits be taking regular vitamin D supplements.

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