When I’m not calling patients with the results of MRIs, I’m usually calling them to tell them their Vitamin D level is too low. And I feel their pain, my level was a whopping 9 when I was diagnosed! Most patients know that they have had a Vitamin D deficiency at some time or another, but they usually don’t know why their doctors care so much about it. So I thought today we could dive deeper into the Who, What, Where, When, and Why of Vitamin D deficiencies.
Vitamin D is a vitamin (duh) and also a hormone that is made by your body. It aids in calcium absorption and bone health, and has been shown to play a major role in diseases such as osteoporosis, depression, and…drumroll please…multiple sclerosis! In order for our body to use the Vitamin D that it produces we need sunlight. This is why we often see deficiencies in certain parts of the world, during the winter, and in people who obsessively slather themselves in sunscreen. Vitamin D deficiency has officially been labeled as an epidemic in the U.S., affecting up to 77% of adults!
When it comes to Vitamin D deficiency and MS scientists don’t really know what comes first, the chicken or the egg. It’s been hypothesized that MS inflammation causes a destruction of Vitamin D, and it’s been hypothesized that low levels of Vitamin D lead to the development of MS. What we do know is that low Vitamin D levels lead to a higher amount of disease activity, such as new lesions on MRIs and worsening muscle weakness. Some clinicians argue that Vitamin D should even be classified as a Disease Modifying Treatment, which says that it’s not simply a supplement but in fact could be as important as taking your DMD. There is also convincing data that suggests Vitamin D can help prevent, or at least prolong the development of MS in children of MS sufferers. So if you are a parent with MS it may be beneficial for your children to take supplements starting at the age of 18 to counteract their slightly increased risk of developing MS.
Vitamin D levels are determined by a simple blood test. For MS patients we aim to keep levels > 40ng/mL because this is the level that has been shown to decrease disease activity. Supplements are generally recommended for most MSers in addition to consuming Vitamin D rich foods such as salmon and fortified milk. The dosage of Vitamin D3 supplements actually varies based on where you live and your environment, and can vary from 800IU’s-5,000IU’s daily. Additionally, if your levels are very low then high dose Vitamin D will generally be given for up to three months.
Here are some foods rich in Vitamin D:
To read more about Vitamin D deficiencies and MS check out the MS Society’s website. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go take my supplements!