Study Finds Links Between Risk of MS in Children and Low Vitamin D and Obesity
May 15, 2017
- New research, partly funded by the National MS Society, has found that being overweight and having low blood levels of vitamin D increase the risk for children to develop pediatric-onset MS.
- Scientists from several institutions used “genetic risk scores” (GRS) -- which are based on DNA information -- to confirm these links. The team conducted the study in 569 non-Hispanic whites with MS from several pediatric MS centers in the U.S. and in Sweden, matched with 16,251 controls without MS.
- The results add to the growing evidence for the role of genetic and environmental factors in susceptibility to childhood-onset MS.
- The team (Emmanuelle Waubant, MD, PhD, University of California at San Francisco, Lisa F. Barcellos, PhD, MPH, UC Berkeley School of Public Health, and colleagues in the Network of Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Centers) published their results in Neurology on April 25, 2017.
Most people are diagnosed with MS between the ages of 20 and 50. However, approximately 5 percent of people with MS experience symptoms before they turn 18. While it’s not clear what sets off MS in children, researchers wonder if the same triggers that affect adult-onset MS play a similar role in kids. While there is strong evidence of the relationship between low vitamin D and increased risk of adult MS, few studies have looked at whether this is also the case in pediatric MS. Several studies indicate that the majority of American children, including newborns, have deficient levels of vitamin D. Previous research has uncovered an association between risk of pediatric MS and childhood obesity, infection with Epstein-Barr virus, and exposure to cigarette smoke.
The researchers (Emmanuelle Waubant, MD, PhD, University of California at San Francisco, Lisa F. Barcellos, PhD, MPH, UC Berkeley School of Public Health, and colleagues in the Network of Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Centers) -- who were partly funded by the National MS Society -- used blood samples from 569 non-Hispanic whites with MS from pediatric MS centers around the U.S. and in Sweden, matched with 16,251 people without MS. They prepared “genetic risk scores” (GRS) -- which are based on DNA information -- using three genetic variations associated with Vitamin D in the blood as well as 97 genetic variations associated with excess body weight, to compare the people with MS to those without MS, looking for risk factors in childhood-onset MS.
After taking into account sex, genetic ancestry, and a large number of other MS risk variants, the scientists found that similar to adults, excess body weight and low blood levels of Vitamin D were indeed risk factors for pediatric-onset MS, and that the effect of both were more pronounced in children than in adults. In addition, while previous studies suggested that the increased risk of MS associated with excess weight is due to lower vitamin D levels commonly seen in obese individuals, the new findings suggest that both obesity and vitamin D deficiency independently contribute to MS risk.
The team published their results in Neurology on April 25, 2017
These results add to the growing evidence of genetic and environmental factors in the risk of developing pediatric-onset MS. Knowing that both low vitamin D levels and obesity are risk factors has potential implications for preventing MS in children and adults
Read more about pediatric MS
Read more about Vitamin D and MS
Read more about obesity and MS
Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system. Currently there is no cure. Symptoms vary from person to person and may include disabling fatigue, mobility challenges, cognitive changes, and vision issues. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to minimize disability. Significant progress is being made to achieve a world free of MS.