Vitamin D May Prove Vital In Suppressing Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
Low vitamin D levels have been associated with numerous health risks including risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment in older adults, severe asthma, and cancer, as well as diabetes, hypertension, and glucose intolerance. But, it turns out vitamin D may also play a role in fighting multiple sclerosis (MS) by blocking the migration of destructive immune cells to the brain.
HealthHub reports that previous research has shown MS to be more prevalent in parts of the world the furthest from the equator where there is less sunshine to stimulate the production of vitamin D in the skin. A new study took this information and began exploring whether vitamin D could help prevent or fight MS, and the results look promising.
MS is caused by the body’s immune defenses damaging myelin, a fatty insulating sheath which covers nerve fibers and allows for the proper transmission of nerve signals. When myelin becomes damaged, it can lead to symptoms as subtle as slight numbness to more severe blurred vision and even paralysis.
“With this research, we learnt vitamin D might be working not by altering the function of damaging immune cells but by preventing their journey into the brain,” said lead scientist Dr. Anne Gocke, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“If we are right, and we can exploit Mother Nature’s natural protective mechanism, an approach like this could be as effective as, and safer than, existing drugs that treat MS.”
When a person has MS, immune system cells known as T-cells are set to travel out from the lymph nodes and seek out myelin in the central nervous system. These T-cells attack the myelin, creating problems with nerve signal transmission.
Dr. Gocke’s team simultaneously gave mice the rodent form of MS while also gving them a high dose of vitamin D. The team saw that mice given vitamin D had their disease symptoms suppressed by the vitamin. Even when large amounts of T-cells were found in the bloodstreams of the mice, very few were seen in their brains and spinal cords.
“Vitamin D doesn’t seem to cause global immunosuppression,” said Dr Gocke. “What’s interesting is that the T-cells are primed, but they are being kept away from the places in the body where they can do the most damage.”
However, vitamin D doesn’t appear to actually prevent MS from forming, but instead prevents symptoms from arising. As soon as vitamin D was withdrawn from the mice, MS flared up very quickly according to the findings piublished in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.