Don’t Blame it on The Sunshine…The Role of Vitamin D in MS

Did you know that the five countries with the lowest prevalence of MS are Zambia, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Cameroon, and Malawi? And the five with the highest rates are Canada, San Marino, Denmark, Sweden and Hungary. Notice anything? It is actually true that, with just a small number of exceptions, the further away from the equator you live, the more common you’ll find MS to be. But why?

Scientists think it might have something to do with the sunshine. Or, more specifically, with the vitamin D that you produce through sun exposure.

The Sunshine Vitamin

Everyone loves a bit of sunshine – whether on holiday or at home – and maintaining a decent level of vitamin D has long been regarded as part of a healthy lifestyle. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a range of diseases including rickets, heart disease, cancer, depression and now MS. Of course, jetting off to the beach once a year isn’t necessarily going to affect your chances of developing MS, but the research does indicate a possible link between a lack of vitamin D in early childhood and the likelihood of developing the condition: vitamin D plays an important role in bone development, and evidence suggests it is also crucial to the immune and neuromuscular systems in the body.

So could vitamin D also play a role in the management of MS? Low levels of vitamin D have indeed been linked to a greater number of relapses and increased disability in people with MS. These studies offer a glimpse at the role that sunshine may play in helping the body cope with major diseases. But it is very difficult to assess the true effects of vitamin D because you can’t tightly regulate the amount of sun exposure that people receive.

Walk on the Sunny Side of the Street

Although following a healthy, balanced diet is always good for many reasons, sunlight remains the body’s main source of vitamin D. A big concern among nutritionists is that our worries about over-exposure to the sun’s rays have made us overly cautious in slapping on the sunscreen and preventing the body from producing the vitamin D it needs. More people are also now spending more time inside, and the rise in obesity shows how society has become more sedentary and less active.

Do remember, though – while it’s important to get your sunshine fix, it’s essential to be sun savvy and be very careful never to let your skin burn. While many things are pointing towards the potential benefits of vitamin D in MS, more research is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn.

While the scientists are hard at work on that research, (safely) enjoy the sun and all the feel-good factors that go along with it. You never know, that sunshine get-away might just be doing more for you and your MS than beating the winter blues.

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