Vitamin D is naturally produced in the skin with some light exposure. While vitamin D is well known to help prevent osteoporosis and maintain normal calcium balance, it has been shown in many research studies of non-multiple sclerosis (MS) populations to help balance and reduce the risk of falls, stroke, and congestive heart failure; to enhance the ability to fight infection; and to improve muscular strength and lung function.
Vitamin D has been shown to play an important role in MS itself. Vitamin D may impact the risk of developing MS.
The epidemiological evidence shows that the risk of getting MS decreases as people live nearer to the equator, where presumably they have greater sun exposure and, therefore, higher levels of vitamin D. Studies have also shown that vitamin D intake, either through food sources or as a supplement, appears to decrease the risk of developing MS. Lower blood levels of vitamin D are associated with a higher risk of developing MS later.
Vitamin D also appears to decrease disease activity in people with known MS.
Evidence suggests that vitamin D intake decreases the risk of MS relapses. One study showed that vitamin D supplementation decreases the risk of MS relapses when added to a disease modifying therapy; this decrease was greater than with disease modifying therapy alone. This may occur because there are vitamin D receptors on certain types of immune cells. People who have a relative with MS may want to consider vitamin D supplementation to decrease their risk of developing MS. Appropriate vitamin D dosing may be determined by one’s physician or pharmacist.
Vitamin D also may decrease the risk of certain conditions known to be associated with MS.
People with MS are at high risk for thinning of the bones (osteoporosis). Appropriate blood levels of vitamin D, in addition to adequate dietary calcium and weight bearing exercise, are essential to maintain bone health. As low levels of vitamin D have also been linked with depression and those with MS are more prone to developing depression, it is important to maintain adequate blood levels of vitamin D.
While vitamin D levels may be attained with sun exposure, many people with MS in this region need to supplement their diet with foods rich in vitamin D or with supplements containing vitamin D. Some foods rich in vitamin D include:
- Fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon
- Foods fortified with Vitamin D, like some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
- Some mushrooms like Portobello, Shiitake, Morel, Chanterelle, Oyster, and White
- Lean pork
In general, we suggest people with MS have periodic monitoring of their vitamin D level. Vitamin D3 supplementation with up to 2,000 IU a day is considered safe for adults without other health conditions.