Vitamins and Supplements: Friend or Foe?

When was the last time you spoke to your doctor about vitamins? Or let’s put it like this – has the topic actually ever come up in any of your doctor’s visits?

Many of us stock up on vitamins during the winter months – anything to give us a helping hand when it comes to warding off coughs and colds. But what if you have multiple sclerosis? Can pricey supplements make any difference to the disease – and, more to the point, are they safe?

Vitamin D may slow progression of MS

The whole vitamin thing is a tricky one. For starters, it depends on the vitamin. Let’s take a look at vitamin D, for example. There appears to be a link between low levels of this vitamin and incidence of MS . But can taking a supplement make any difference to the course of the disease? The answer is… it might do. One study found people with MS who had higher levels of vitamin D at the beginning of a 5-year study showed a slower progression of the disease. Findings that led the researchers to conclude “correction of vitamin D insufficiency has an important role in the early treatment of MS”. Sure enough, a brand new study published in December 2015 found that people with MS who received a high dose of vitamin D had fewer inflammatory T-cells than those given a lower dose. In other words, vitamin D appeared to calm the immune system and reduce inflammation associated with the breakdown of myelin .

Of course, more research is needed – the study involved just 40 people, and it’s still not clear what the optimum dose of vitamin D is. One thing we do know, however, is that vitamin D deficiency is quite common in Europe, so it’s worth to bring up the issue at your next doctor’s visit. But keep in mind, at very high doses, vitamin D can have harmful effects, so don’t even think about taking a supplement without speaking to a medical professional.

In the meantime, you can help to increase your levels by eating vitamin D rich foods such as oily fish, eggs, fortified milk and cereals. However, most of our vitamin D is made by our own bodies when we get exposed to sunlight . Just always make sure not to overdo it – the aim is to get a little sun, not frazzle your skin!

Is it safe to take vitamin C with MS?

Vitamin C is another one most of us pop with abandon in winter although there’s actually very little evidence it can lessen symptoms of colds and flu . But what about MS?

Vitamin C plays an important role in absorbing harmful free radicals, and preventing cell damage . But here’s the thing: antioxidants like vitamin C stimulate the immune system, so in theory there’s a chance they could pose a risk for people with MS. After all, you’re boosting the very thing that’s attacking your nervous system .

That said, the evidence is mixed. Until there’s more evidence, it’s best to err on the side of caution and get optimal levels from your diet instead of supplements. Citrus fruits, peas, strawberries, and potatoes all contain good amounts of the vitamin . In fact you can get your recommended daily amount (45mg for adults ) from a single orange .

B-vitamin-deficiency and MS

Many people reach for the B vitamins when they need an energy boost – and with about 75% of people with MS experiencing fatigue at some stage , you may be one of them. There is some evidence that people with MS may have lower levels of vitamin B12 than the general population and therefore benefit from taking a supplement to correct the deficiency . Before you begin popping any pills, though, it’s best to get your B12 levels tested. Maybe it’s best to bring it up next time you talk to your doctor so you can schedule yourself in for a test. For those who have adequate levels of the vitamin, a healthy balanced diet rich in foods like eggs, meat, fish and dairy products should provide all the B12 you need .

Nutrition and your MS team

If you have any concerns about your diet, speak to your doctor. As well as checking for vitamin deficiencies, he or she may refer you to a dietician. Dieticians offer nutritional advice about appetite, eating difficulties, weight loss and weight gain, as well as ensuring you’re receiving all the nutrients you need

When it comes to the role of vitamin supplements in the management of MS, more research is definitely needed. In the meantime, be sure to eat healthily. No amount of supplements can compensate for an unhealthy diet. Plus, you know what? The real thing is so much tastier!

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