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Too Little Sunshine Raises Risk of MS

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Multiple sclerosis remains mysterious. The cause is uncertain and the course of the disease is unpredictable. In this disorder the immune system runs amok and attacks the myelin sheath that insulates nerves. Symptoms can include numbness, muscle weakness, difficulty with balance and coordination, fatigue and many others. Although there are new drugs to treat MS, there is no cure.

A new epidemiological study from England suggests that two factors may predispose susceptible patients to MS. The investigators analyzed data over seven years and found the highest rates of MS occurred in areas that had less sunlight and higher rates of the infectious disease mononucleosis. The researchers speculate that if vitamin D levels are too low, the immune system may not be able to ward off late complications of the Epstein Barr virus that causes mono. Previous studies have shown lower rates of MS where sun exposure is stronger, suggesting that there may be something about vitamin D levels that is protective.

[Neurology, online, April 18, 2011]

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If one is "diagnosed" with MS, will getting more sun help move it into remission or keep it from progressing? I expect we don't have an answer, but an interesting thought.

The 1997 Harvard Nurse study (a long term evaluation of many health factors) indicated a very significant lower incidence of MS in nurse who had taken vitamin D supplements for an extended period. Vitamin D is so important in many medical conditions that there is now good reason to consider that the reason that Caucasians (those who migrated from Africa long ago to Europe, which has much less sunshine) developed pale skin which is more susceptible to sun damage than darker skinned persons so that they could obtain more vitamin D from sunlight exposure during the summer, and thus those with fair skin had a higher survival rate.
Of course, sea food is also a good source of vitamin D, thus Eskimos were not as affected.

This is very interesting. I live in Buffalo, NY where there is a high rate of MS and also long periods of low sunshine=low vit D levels for many people. Please keep us updated in this if more information is available. Love your website and column.

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