When the immune system attacks the insulating sheath covering your brain cells, the result is a loss of normal electrical conductivity and a myriad of symptoms – ranging from loss of vision, muscle weakness, problems walking and loss of sensation. This is multiple sclerosis (MS).
It is estimated to affect 2.1 million people worldwide. However, since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not require U.S. physicians to report new cases, and because symptoms can be completely invisible, the prevalence of MS in the U.S. can only be estimated.
The prognosis for many is not good. Although a few patients (for reasons not fully understood) fare better than the average, most will progressively get worse and become debilitated and experience a significant decrease in their quality of life.
According to Michael Smith, M.D. senior health scientist with Life Extension in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and host of Healthy Talk on www.RadioMD.com, if this is you or a family member or a friend, talk to your doctor about starting vitamin D immediately.
“Why,” says Dr. Smith. “Because new research shows that taking what is called the sunshine vitamin can result in fewer MS symptoms. This is good news considering that current treatment options for MS are mostly ineffective and risky to take.
Experiencing fewer MS symptoms with vitamin D
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, reported a reduction in brain lesions and disease activity in multiple sclerosis patients who had higher levels of vitamin D. This conclusion came after a five-year study, involving 469 men and women with MS. All participants underwent yearly blood testing for vitamin D and brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to evaluate disease progression.
The researchers determined that with each 10 ng/ml increase in serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D, there was a corresponding 15% reduction in the risk of new brain lesions characteristic of MS.
They also noted a 32% lower risk of areas of active disease as indicated by white spots or areas of inflammation visible on MRI images. To put this into perspective, a 10-point increase in your vitamin D level can often be achieved by adding only one gram of it to your diet.
“Considering that the average cost-per-pill is around eight cents, for a mere fraction of the cost of current treatments, people with MS could experience significant improvements in their quality of life,” says Dr. Smith.
Optimal vitamin D dosing and blood Levels for fighting MS
So what is the optimal vitamin D dose? That depends on your blood level — and how much is in your blood is really the question we should be asking. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, a department of the National Institutes of Health, the optimal vitamin D blood level is between 20 and 50 ng/ml.
This is optimal by the way, if preventing bone disease is your only goal. But to reap the full benefits of vitamin D, including helping with MS symptoms and preventing new brain lesions, you’ll probably need to fall between 50 and 70 ng/ml, considerably higher than the NIH recommendations.
Dr. Smith suggests obtaining a vitamin D blood level first and then taking a dose that helps optimize the blood level, 10 points at a time.
“Sun exposure helps to optimize blood levels as well, however, our ability to convert precursors into vitamin D under the influence of UVB light from the sun becomes less efficient with age,” says Dr. Smith.
Furthermore, this process is influenced by multiple other factors, including season, latitude, time of the day, and sunscreen use. For these reasons, and given the many benefits attributed to vitamin D, it may be best to supplement with vitamin D daily.