Researchers Discover How Vitamin D May Benefit MS

shutterstock_95707429There has been an ongoing debate as to how vitamin D may benefit people suffering from multiple sclerosis. Studies have shown that this nutrient offers a means to prevent or ease the symptoms of the disease. But the scientists do not know the underlying reasons behind it. The association was based on the observation that the disease is more prevalent in countries where there is less sunshine. But a recent study may finally shed some light as to how this “sunshine vitamin” may be working to help people with MS.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine may offer new insight just how vitamin D may work in the body to help prevent or ease the symptoms of MS. The nutrient seems to prevent damage-causing immune cells from migrating into the central nervous system. “With this research, we learned vitamin D might be working not by altering the function of damaging immune cells but by preventing their journey into the brain,” states Anne R. Gocke, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the main lead of the said study.

“If we are right, and we can exploit Mother Nature’s natural protective mechanism, an approach like this could be as effective as and safer than existing drugs that treat MS,” Dr. Gocke further added.

For the study, Dr. Gocke and her colleagues simultaneously gave mice a rodent form of MS and a high dose of vitamin D. the researchers found out that this protected the mice from showing the usual signs and symptoms of the disease. The researchers still discovered a large number of T cells in the bloodstream of the mice. However, they also discovered only a few of the immune cells in their brains and spinal cords.

According to Dr. Gocke, “Vitamin D doesn’t seem to cause global immunosuppression. What’s interesting is that the T cells are primed, but they are being kept away from the places in the body where they can do the most damage.”

But what the researchers also found out is that the effects of the vitamin D treatment may also be momentary. Once the vitamin D is withdrawn, the MS flare-ups may start to appear quickly. But now that researchers have gained some insight on how it may affect MS, doctors may consider it as a potential MS therapy. Clinical trials on vitamin D supplementation are currently ongoing, with the recent discovery offering a new opportunity to study how vitamin D may have the same effect on human cells as it did on the mice model of the disease.

Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine. “How ‘sunshine vitamin’ D may be helpful in fighting multiple sclerosis.” ScienceDaily, 9 Dec. 2013. Web. 14 Dec. 2013.
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