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New Study Finds Low Vitamin D Levels in Newborns Linked to Increased Risk for MS Later in Life

November 30, 2016

Summary
  • Researchers in Denmark and Boston found that newborns with low blood levels of vitamin D were at increased risk of developing MS later in life, and that newborns with higher levels of vitamin D were at significantly reduced risk.   
  • Low vitamin D levels have previously been reported to be among the risk factors that contribute to the risk for developing MS, but it is not clear when during a person’s lifetime vitamin D levels might play a role. 
  • Although this study does not establish whether vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy would be safe and effective at reducing MS risk in offspring, it contributes to growing evidence for factors that if altered, might reduce the incidence of MS.   
  • This study was co-funded by the National MS Society. The National MS Society provides information for people affected with MS about vitamins, minerals and herbs in MS, and also provides guidance for healthcare professionals about addressing vitamin D issues in people with MS. Read more about vitamin D research in MS.
  • The team (Nete Munk Nielsen, MD, MSc, PhD, of Statens Serum Institut, Copenhagen, Denmark, and colleagues in Denmark and Harvard Medical School, Boston) has published results in Neurology (2017;88:1–8).
 
Background: A number of genetic and environmental factors are related to whether a person will get MS. These factors may also impact the severity of the disease. Research is increasingly pointing to reduced levels of vitamin D in the blood as one of the risk factors that are related to the risk of developing MS. At present, it is not clear when during a person’s lifetime vitamin D levels may play a role. At least one previous study found a link between a pregnant woman’s vitamin D levels and the risk of her offspring developing MS.
 
The Study: Using the nationwide Danish MS registry and the Danish Newborn Screening
Biobank (where blood samples from virtually all Danish newborns are stored), the team identified 521 people who had onset of MS by 2012 and whose blood samples were included in the biobank. They compared the samples to those from 972 people who did not have MS.
 
The team categorized participants according to five vitamin D levels. Those in the lowest tier, who had vitamin D levels lower than 20.7 nmol/L, had the highest risk of developing MS. Those in the highest tier, with more than 48.9 nmol/L of vitamin D, had the lowest risk. The risk of developing MS decreased by 30% with each 25-nmol/L increase in neonatal vitamin D levels.
 
The study was co-funded by the Danish Society of Multiple Sclerosis, Aase & Ejnar Danielsen’s Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the National MS Society. The team (Nete Munk Nielsen, MD, MSc, PhD, of Statens Serum Institut, Copenhagen, Denmark, and colleagues in Denmark and Harvard Medical School, Boston) has published results in Neurology (2017;88:1–8).
 
Comment: This study contributes to growing evidence for factors which, if altered might reduce the risk of developing MS. It does not establish whether vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy would be safe and effective at reducing MS risk in offspring.  However, in an accompanying editorial, Ruth Ann Marrie, MD, PhD (University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada) and Martin Daumer, PhD (Sylvia Lawry Centre for MS Research, Munich, Germany) suggest ensuring that pregnant women and their children have the minimum levels of vitamin D that are considered healthy. “The tools to prevent MS are emerging; it is time to put them to use,” they write.
 
Read more:  The National MS Society provides information for people affected with MS about vitamins, minerals and herbs in MS, and also provides guidance for healthcare professionals about addressing vitamin D issues in people with MS. Read more about vitamin D research in MS.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

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