San FranciscoNew studies suggest that low levels of vitamin D are associated with increased symptoms in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients.

Lead researcher, Ellen M. Mowry, M.D., assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, looked at MRI images of the brain and blood samples during a five-year study including 469 MS patients to find a correlation between lower levels of Vitamin D and brain lesions. In those with MS, the immune system attacks tissue in the brain, leading to nerve damage and scar tissue.

“At least early in MS, the more new lesions and active spots of disease, the more likely a patient is to develop long term disability,” says Mowry.

Mowry and colleagues found that for every 10-nanograms-per-milliliter increase in vitamin D levels, there was a 15% lower risk of new lesions, a 32% lower risk of spots and lower subsequent disability. Factors such as smoking status, current MS treatment, age and gender were accounted for.

Though these findings are promising, vitamin D isn't a cure for the disease. Lowry states, “Even though lower levels of vitamin D are associated with more inflammation and lesions in the brain, there is no evidence that taking vitamin D supplements will prevent those symptoms.”

In addition, Mowry says the best or safest dose for MS patients isn't clear, and more research is needed before such individuals take large doses.

The data are published in Annals of Neurology.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, December 2012 (online 10/19/12)