Study Shows Vitamin D Deficiency a Risk Factor for Multiple Sclerosis

NOVEMBER 22, 2016
Adam Hochron


A study looking at pregnant women in Finland showed a potential connection between low levels of vitamin D and the development of multiple sclerosis.

While vitamin D deficiency is common in that part of the world, Alberto Ascherio, MD, DrPH, from the Harvard Medical School said the results of their study showed a connection which could help eliminate one potential risk factor of developing the condition. Ascherio, speaking at the annual ECTRIMS meeting in London, UK noted that while common, vitamin D deficiency can also be easily addressed in patients. 

What was the topic of your discussion?
 
The role of vitamin D as a risk factor for MS.
 
Why are you working in this area?
 
We have evidence from previous studies that individuals with low vitamin D levels have a higher risk of developing MS. Vitamin D levels can be corrected by taking vitamin D supplements. We’re trying to see if we can prevent MS by supplementing individuals with vitamin D.
 
How was your study conducted?
 
This study was based on a repository with over 1.5 million blood samples collected in Finland from all the pregnant women since 1983. The level of vitamin D collected from healthy women can be related to their future risk of developing MS.
 
We identified over 1,000 women who were healthy at the time of their pregnancy and developed MS during the subsequent 10 to 20 years and we compared those women to women who remained healthy.
 
Why was Finland chosen for the patient population?
 
We chose Finland because there is a Finnish maternity cohort that comprises all the women who gave birth and they kept their serum which is not available in any other country as far as I know.
 
What were your findings?
 
We found that those women who were vitamin deficient at the time of pregnancy had a twofold higher risk of developing MS.
 
Were there surprises in your findings?
 
Not really. The vitamin D levels of these Finnish women tended to be very low but this is not really a surprise because we know that vitamin D deficiency tends to be fairly common at this latitude. I think the results were pretty much in line with what we expected.
 
What can you learn from these findings?
 
They tell that probably most women could reduce their risk of developing MS by taking vitamin D supplements and this applies to all healthy individuals who are at risk of MS. From previous studies, we believe this would apply to men as well. This is very important for everyone but particularly for family members of people with MS and other individuals who may be at high risk because of where they live or their genetic predisposition.


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