While you may have heard that vitamin D deficiency can be a risk factor for developing MS, a new study presented at the American Neurological Association (ANA) 2016 Annual Meeting suggests that the nutrient could potentially play a role in the probability of MS relapse. Essentially, the study was performed across two pediatric MS centers to analyze individuals genetic risk score for low vitamin D levels. All of the participants met the clinical criteria for pediatric MS, or had a high risk of MS with clinically isolated syndrome.
A total of 182 children were included in the initial study, and their DNA was analyzed in search of the genotypes of 29 functional SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms). The polymorphisms were thought to be involved in the vitamin D pathway and related to genes involved in vitamin D production. They were specifically proposed to be associated with 25-OH vitamin D levels. After analyzing the vitamin D genes further, the researchers concluded that 6 of these 29 were, in fact, heavily involved in the overall vitamin D levels within the body.
Individuals in the study who were carriers for all 6 of these SNPs were given a “high-risk” score for MS relapse and on average, expressed vitamin D levels that were 15ng/mL lower than their counterparts. This genetic factor explained 13% of the total vitamin D differences in the patients, a significant proportion. The results were replicated again with 110 more patients and nearly identical results were obtained.
Scoring just 6 units higher on the researchers’ vitamin D risk score scale was indicative of possessing a nearly 95% higher chance of MS relapse. The results of this experiment can be considered very exciting, as although they don’t prove that vitamin D deficiency directly causes MS relapse, the study is indicative of a strong correlation between the two. With further investigation, it can be determined if this correlation is in fact causal, and to what extent vitamin D directly impacts MS relapse.
Additionally, vitamin D deficiency is an environmental factor that can be controlled, and therefore, can be adjusted in individuals with MS. As many individuals know, life with MS is very unpredictable and tricky, so having an easily modifiable and changeable risk factor could be a step in the right direction to taming this beast. Even small steps could open many more research doors.
This research could also pave the way for further study of other conditions that could be affected by vitamin D deficiency, and could encourage more awareness on the importance of achieving healthy vitamin D levels for everyone. Senior author Jennifer Graves, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine said,
“These results support a causal association of vitamin D with relapse activity in MS, and the score may have some utility in other disease states where vitamin D may be contributing to the disease course.”
This is definitely a very interesting study that is opening a window into future MS research. Any steps towards making MS and MS relapse more predictable are definitely positive!1