A few of my patients have Multiple sclerosis and I know what a frustrating condition it can be. It’s hard for them to understand how their own immune system can trigger damage to their neurological system and cause it to break down, creating a whole host of difficult symptoms.
They can be going along, stable with their treatments, seemingly doing well, and then out of the blue they can suffer a relapse. A relapse can be a very depressing and anxiety-producing time for people with MS. It can mean just a temporary set back which should only last for about 24 hours and they will recover back to baseline, or it could mean a sign that their MS is worsening.
Of my patients with MS, I make sure that all of them have an adequate Vitamin D intake as recent research has proven that MS patients typically have deficiencies in Vitamin D. Not only that, but treatment with high doses of Vitamin D3 can help prevent and greatly diminish relapses in MS patients. Here’s why.
MS: Relapses and The Vitamin D Connection
Approximately 2.5 million people worldwide have MS. Researchers are not quite sure what exactly causes MS to develop but it’s thought that several things may contribute to immune system damage such as genetics, environmental conditions, viruses like Epstein-Barr and human herpes type 6 and bacteria like Chlamydia pneumoniae.
MS can be kept relatively under control with medication, proper rest, diet and exercise. As I explain to my patients with MS, relapses, are part of having the condition and they can, and do, occur. It is important that you know the symptoms of the possible onset of a relapse. They can include:
- Sudden or worsening weakness – dropping things, difficulty performing little tasks like turning door handles, or opening cans, legs giving way/falling.
- Change in vision – blurred vision, double vision, change in depth or color perception.
- Numbness/tingling – usually the most common sign of a relapse, can occur in fingers/hands, making it difficult to hold objects or write.
- Memory/thought problems – trouble thinking clearly, remote memory problems, concentration.
- Dizziness – sudden onset of dizziness, unsteadiness of gait, another common symptom.
- Balance/coordination change – staggering gait, problems coordinating arm movements.
- Stress – a bout with a stressful life experience, can cause a flare up/relapse of MS.
To prevent, or minimize relapses, be sure to take your prescribed MS medications as well as follow the rest and exercise recommendations of your doctor. In addition, Vitamin D can be an invaluable supplement in the treatment of MS, especially in preventing relapses.
In fact, the University of Toronto recently presented a study to the American Academy of Neurology with findings that showed high doses of Vitamin D can significantly decrease the relapse rate of MS patients and help with overall physical functioning.
The study participants were people with relapsing-form MS and had had the condition for at least 8 years. They were given fluctuating doses up to 40,000 IU Vitamin D daily, averaging 14,000 IU daily for 1 year. The control group were given varying doses, averaging 1,000 IU daily of Vitamin D. The results were a 41% reduction in relapses in the high intake group and a 40% relapse rate in the control group, almost half of the participants! These rates surpassed even the current standard drug treatment. There were no side effects in either group from the Vitamin D and blood calcium levels remained normal even at the highest doses.
Vitamin D is what’s called an immunomodulator substance, a big medical word simply meaning it has the ability to influence/change the immune system. MS is an immune system disorder in which T-cells, which normally are protective and fight invading substances, begin to attack the nerve cells of the myelin sheaths that protect brain cells. In the study cited above, people who took the highest doses of Vitamin D had a significant drop in T-cell activity and less relapses.
Sunlight and Multiple Sclerosis
To my patients with MS and those who ask me about Vitamin D supplementation, I tell them that the best source of Vitamin D is free and comes from sunshine. In fact, research has shown that the highest rates of MS occur in areas of the world, such as the Scandinavian countries, Canada and the northern United States, which are furthest away from the equator and the shortest hours of sunlight. Notably, skin cancer is also lower in MS patients, likely from lack of sun exposure.
Everyone, whether you have MS or not, should get at least 15 minutes of sunlight during the high point of the sun, noon to about 2 pm, every day to help your body make Vitamin D.
My Best Advice
If you, or a loved one, suffers with MS, please talk to your neurologist first about adding Vitamin D in high doses to your MS regimen. There are some studies that say it can be toxic in high doses, but other studies, such as the one mentioned above, have shown no side effects. Have your Vitamin D levels checked by a simple blood test to see if you are deficient in it.
To avoid, or minimize relapses, be sure to take your prescribed MS medications and follow the recommendations your neurologist gives you for the amount of rest and activity you need. In addition, Vitamin D supplementation may be just what you need to help keep your MS in control.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
High Doses of Vitamin D Cuts MS Relapses, http://www.webmd.com/multiple-sclerosis/news/20090428/high-doses-vitamin-d-cut-ms-relapses?page=2
Vitamin D: The Multiple Sclerosis Connection, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-david-perlmutter-md/vitamin-d-benefits_b_818912.html
Sunshine May Lower Multiple Sclerosis, http://www.webmd.com/multiple-sclerosis/news/20040114/sunshine-lower-multiple-sclerosis-risk
Photo Credit: ddservices.biz