BOSTONIndividuals in the early stages of multiple sclerosis (MS) who increase their dietary intake of vitamin D may be able to reduce the severity of symptoms and may even slow the progression of the disease, according to a new study published online in JAMA Neurology.
Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), in collaboration with Bayer HealthCare, said low levels of vitamin D were found to strongly predict disease severity and hasten its progression in patients in the early stages of MS.
Because low vitamin D levels are common and can be easily and safely increased by oral supplementation, these findings may contribute to better outcomes for many MS patients," said lead author Alberto Ascherio, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at HSPH.
Previous research indicated a connection between low levels of vitamin D and risk of developing MS or having MS symptoms worsen; however, those studies included patients with longstanding MS whose vitamin D levels could partly be a consequence, not a predictor, of disease severity. The new study looked at vitamin D levels among patients at the time of their first symptoms of the disease. Researchers analyzed data from 465 MS patients from 18 European countries, Israel, and Canada who enrolled in 2002 and 2003 in the BENEFIT (Betaseron in Newly Emerging Multiple Sclerosis for Initial Treatment) trial, which was aimed at comparing the effectiveness of early versus late interferon beta-1b in treating the disease. The scientists looked at how the patients vitamin D levelswhich were measured at the onset of their symptoms and at regular intervals over a 24-month periodcorrelated with their disease symptoms and progression over a 5-year period.
They found that early-stage MS patients who had adequate levels of vitamin D had a 57% lower rate of new brain lesions, a 57% lower relapse rate, and a 25% lower yearly increase in lesion volume than those with lower levels of vitamin D. Loss in brain volume, which is an important predictor of disability, was also lower among patients with adequate vitamin D levels.
The results suggest that vitamin D has a strong protective effect on the disease process underlying MS, and underscore the importance of correcting vitamin D insufficiency that is widespread in Europe and the United States.