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A vitamin D-efense against multiple sclerosis

MS involves a complex interplay between the nervous and immune systems (and potentially others as well). This is the first trial looking at the safety and immune impact of vitamin D supplementation for MS patients.

Study under review: Safety and immunologic effects of high- vs low-dose cholecalciferol in multiple sclerosis

Introduction

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is the most prevalent immune-mediated disease affecting the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS is made up of the brain and spinal cord, which are responsible for controlling the functions of your body. The precise causes of MS are currently unknown[1].

However, it is well-established that the effects of MS involve a degradation of the nerves of the brain and spinal cord[2] (as seen in Figure 1). These nerves transport electrical signals all around your body, allowing for activities like voluntary movement. Nerves are insulated by the myelin sheath, which protects the signal quality of these electrical transmissions. With MS, the myelin insulation is damaged, affecting the ability of nerve cells to effectively communicate. In addition to affecting movement patterns, MS also impairs cognitive ability, a symptom that worsens as the disease progresses over years.

Figure 1: How MS damages your nerves

Many immunologic[3], genetic[4], and environmental[5] variables have been implicated in the pathology of MS. One variable examined has been the connection between the risk of MS and vitamin D levels[6]. Some studies have shown that decreases in MS related relapses are associated with higher vitamin D levels[7]. The underlying mechanism is not entirely understood, but one hypothesis about this relationship is that vitamin D is able to modify or help regulate certain aspects of the immune system[8], such as inflammatory T cells, that have been linked to the development of MS.

However, questions still remain about what a safe dose of vitamin D may be and what role this vitamin may play in the immune system. The study under review investigates the safety and immunologic effects of a high versus low dose of vitamin D in patients with MS.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is thought to have an immune system-mediated component to its development. Factors such as vitamin D status may play a role in its prevalence due, in part, to vitamin D’s interactions with the immune system. The current study investigates the effects a high or low dose of vitamin D has on immune functions of people with MS.

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Other Articles in Issue #16 (February 2016)