MONDAY, Nov. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Pregnant women with higher
levels of vitamin D circulating in their blood were significantly
less likely to develop multiple sclerosis in the years after giving
birth, a new Swedish study suggests.
Researchers also found that vitamin D blood levels had decreased
gradually since 1975 in those tested, possibly providing clues as
to why MS has become more common in industrialized parts of the
"It seems that vitamin D might help twist the immune system towards a more non-inflammatory state, and this has been suggested as one of the [presumed] mechanisms by which vitamin D might influence MS risk," said study author Dr. Jonatan Salzer, a doctoral student in pharmacology and clinical neuroscience at Umea University. "The finding does, however, need confirmation in a different [group] before it's considered a 'true' finding, as is generally the case with these kinds of research results."
The study is published in the Nov. 20 online issue of the
Thought to be an autoimmune disorder, MS affects about 400,000
people in the United States, according to the National MS Society.
The disease attacks the fatty sheath protecting nerves in the
central nervous system, causing disabling symptoms such as blurred
vision, loss of balance, bladder and bowel difficulties, slurred
speech, numbness and extreme fatigue.
Salzer and his team reviewed results from 291,500 blood samples
collected from 164,000 people in the northern part of Sweden since
1975, including 124,000 samples from pregnant women. Women who had
high blood levels of vitamin D were 61 percent less likely to
develop MS compared to those with low levels.
However, no link was found between the mother's vitamin D levels
and whether her child would later develop MS. These findings
contradict a study published last week in the
Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatrythat
strongly implicated maternal exposure to vitamin D during
pregnancy, concluding that MS risk is lower among those born
between October and November, after months of vitamin D-producing
In the current
Neurologystudy, high blood levels of vitamin D were defined
as readings of 75 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L) or above. The
Institute of Medicine, a non-profit group affiliated with the U.S.
National Academy of Sciences, has said people should aim for blood
levels of 50 nmol/L, which can be achieved with vitamin D
supplements of 600 international units (IU) per day, or 800 IU for
those older than 70.
Salzer noted that scientists don't yet know if one source of
vitamin D -- whether sunlight, diet or supplements -- affects blood
levels more than another, calling it "the $10,000 question."
"Sunlight, and its UVB radiation, has immune-modulating properties apart from generating vitamin D, and these effects might actually influence MS risk as well," Salzer said. "Given the current knowledge, however, I'd say that the case for vitamin D is stronger than for sunlight in itself."
Dr. Karen Blitz-Shabbir, director of the Multiple Sclerosis
Center at Cushing Neuroscience Institute in Manhasset, N.Y., said
she recommends blood tests measuring vitamin D levels for all her
patients and would for the general population as well. She also
recommends vitamin D supplements for all, noting that the
much-researched vitamin has also been shown to hinder the systemic
inflammation that can contribute to other serious conditions such
as heart disease and cancer.
"Everything we see points to the value of vitamin D in MS," she said. "This study makes absolute perfect sense."
While the study found an association between lower vitamin D
levels in pregnancy and MS risk, it did not prove a
National MS Societyto learn more about multiple
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