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New Study Shows Link Between Sun Exposure and Lower Risk of Childhood MS

December 9, 2021

  • See recommendations for safely increasing sun exposure and vitamin D
A new study suggests that children or adolescents with 30 minutes or more of sun exposure daily, and who live in areas with increased ambient ultraviolet light, have a significantly decreased risk of developing MS. These findings, by investigators participating in the National MS Society-supported U.S. Network of Pediatric MS Centers, align with studies in adults with MS, and contribute to growing evidence that sun exposure, and the vitamin D absorbed through sun exposure, may confer some protection from MS. 
  • Sunlight and vitamin D have previously been linked to the risk of developing MS. Evidence suggests that higher lifetime exposure to sunlight (through which the skin makes vitamin D) and higher blood levels of vitamin D are associated with a lower risk of developing MS. MS is more common at latitudes that are farther from the equator and less common in areas closer to the equator – a factor that also suggests the influence of sunlight exposure on MS.
  • The authors administered questionnaires to 332 people diagnosed with MS before age 18 (or their parents), and 534 controls without MS. The questions looked at daily time spent in the sun in the year prior to birth, and the recent year prior to MS diagnosis. Exposure to ambient ultraviolet light was determined based on location. The team also looked at other factors that might affect MS risk, such as tobacco smoke exposure, being overweight, and Epstein-Barr virus infection.
  • The results suggest that greater time spent outdoors (more than 30 minutes) and living in an area with higher ultraviolet light were linked to reduced risks of pediatric MS. This relation held even when other factors affecting MS risk were accounted for.
  • Further research is needed to better understand the relation between vitamin D status and sun exposure and the development of pediatric MS.
This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National MS Society.
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Vitamin D: The best source of Vitamin D is sun exposure, which allows our body to make its own Vitamin D by absorption through the skin. The authors recommend at least 30 minutes daily during summer, using sun protection as needed, especially for children who are first degree relatives of people with MS. But with skin cancer risk and sunscreen use, sun exposure is often limited. Also, for some, heat exposure can temporarily make MS symptoms feel worse. Food sources of Vitamin D include oily fish (salmon or tuna), egg yolks, pork, and milk. People with low Vitamin D may take a supplement, but too much can cause side effects such as kidney stones, bone loss, confusion, and nausea. Work with your child's MS provider or primary care provider to determine the dose that they should take.
Pediatric MS: Less than 5,000 children and adolescents are living with MS in the United States and less than 10,000 worldwide. MS in children is not that different from MS in adults. Learn more
“Association Between Time Spent Outdoors and Risk of Multiple Sclerosis” by Prince Sebastian, PhB, Nicolas Cherbuin, PhD, Lisa F Barcellos, PhD, Shelly Roalstad, MS, Charles Casper, PhD, Janace Hart, BA; Gregory S Aaen, MD, Lauren Krupp, MD, Leslie Benson, MD, Mark Gorman, MD, Meghan Candee, MD, Tanuja Chitnis, MD, Manu Goyal, MD, Benjamin Greenberg, MD, Soe Mar, MD, Moses Rodriguez, MD, Jennifer Rubin, MD, Teri Schreiner, MD, Amy Waldman, MD, Bianca Weinstock-Guttman, MD, Jennifer Graves, PhD, Emmanuelle Waubant, PhD, Robyn Lucas, PhD, on behalf of US Network of Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Centers is published in Neurology (Published online December 8, 2021).

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. 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. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


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