Sunday, February 8, 2009

Vitamin D

I remember learning about rickets in grade 8 home economics. There was a drastic decrease in the incidence of this disease once Vitamin D was added to milk. Cool. I recently read a study saying that rickets was on the rise again in the past 15 years. (Of course I can't find the study, but I know I read it) My first thought about it, was that we'll probably see a rise in MS cases in the next 10-15 years; over the past several years there has been a big push on to protect children from the rays of the sun. And I didn't think much more of it.

Until this week, with the recent announcement of the discovery of another link between vitamin D and MS. We've all heard the news and read about the study by this point in time, but here it is again anyway. The recommendation is for pregnant and breastfeeding women to get plenty of Vitamin D, especially if you aren't subject to effective sunshine. In northern and extreme southern latitudes, the UV rays aren't strong enough to activate the Vitamin D building abilities of our bodies.

The study links lack of Vitamin D and genes for MS. If you have the genes for MS, Vitamin D may inactivate them.

As a child, I had a "milk belly". My mom started feeding me skim milk to get rid of that. And until a few years ago, I drank at least two glasses of milk every single day. (Now I appear to be somewhat lactose intolerant) I certainly wasn't Vitamin D deficient growing up and when I was diagnosed. Several years ago, a link was made between the month you were born and incidence of MS. Those born in November had a much lesser chance of developing MS than those born in May. This led researchers to believe that prenatal nutrition was another clue to Vitamin D's involvement in MS. It would appear that the second and third trimester exposure to Vitamin D offers a protective factor to the fetus. I was born in June and only after a pregnancy that had my mom quite sick for most of it.

This study doesn't explain all cases of MS but it is a huge piece of the MS puzzle.

Let's turn our attention to the thymus. The thymus is a little gland that sits at the top of your ribcage, just behind the top of the sternum. It is vital to the development of our immune systems as children. In fact the gland continues to grow and produce T-cells (immune cells) until we're in our teens. (T-cells are named for the thymus actually.) Some of those T-cells aren't quite right and are supposed to be "silenced" by regulator T-cells. But if they aren't silenced and get released to the bloodstream..voila! Autoimmunity occurs.

While we are still in our mother's womb, this little organ doesn't really show much capacity for anything until later in the pregnancy. That's when the precursor cells for T-cells begin to develop. Once we're born, the T-cells begin to develop at a much faster rate and our immune system begins to kick in. Thymic activity is greatest between birth and puberty.

Lack of vitamin D may be responsible for the body's inability to silence the "not quite right" T-cells.

My head has been spinning with all this information over the past couple of days, trying to make sense of it. I can only liken MS to a perfect storm. If your immune system is defective from lack of Vitamin D (or an inability to make it) and you have the genes for MS, then you can develop it. this shows how complex MS is. And it demonstrates how a simple $2. widget may be the key to preventing it.

7 comments:

Denver Refashionista said...

I still don't entirely understand this link but it does seem important for many people. When my vitamin D was tested it was fine so go figure.

Shauna said...

Nadja,
The really important thing about this study is that it indicates that prenatal and early childhood exposure to vitamin D is what may determine development of MS. The point is that it doesn't matter what your vitamin D levels are as a teen or adult, if you didn't have the proper exposure while still a fetus and as a baby, your immune system may develop with a defect. It appears that the thymus, which makes T-cells, is most productive before puberty, before MS hits. Just as folic acid won't help your spine after you've been born with spina bifida, Vitamin D after an MS diagnosis may not help either. But it may be a preventative.

This study is also important because it offers more support to the theory of MS as an autoimmune disease.

Right now, the main theory of MS is that there is a genetic component which combines with an environmental one (or more than one) to trigger and autoimmune response. This study combines both those components.

What does it mean for those of us with MS? It means that we are getting closer to a cause of this disease.

S.

LISA EMRICH said...

This research is very interesting. I was born in September and have seen photos of my mom while she was pregnant. She looks to be rather pale and I imagine wasn't getting as much sun as we did growing up.

But I do know that when she was growing up, my grandfather was a milkman so she drank lots and has loved milk for life. I should ask her what she did nutritionally or sunshine-wise while she was pregnant with me.

As far as vitamin D for myself, in highschool I often sunbathed in the backyard. Not enough to really ever get tan, but just to enjoy the feeling of the sun on my skin. After moving to Indiana, I didn't get as much sun and then after moving to DC, hardly any. Just less time outside really and not having my own backyard.

This past September, my vitamin D level was tested and it was shockingly low. My doctor has said it was almost unmeasurable at 7.8 ng/mL when "normal" is 30-100 ng/mL. I'm hoping to get it up to about 70 ng/mL. In the meantime, I've actually started to feel better and my MS symptoms have finally subsided somewhat after almost a year of difficulties (and a couple of relapses).

If ever, I find myself pregnant, you better believe that I'll be supplementing the vitamin D in addition to Folic Acid.

Lanette said...

Yes, Yes and Yes. This all makes sense. What stinks is that there is nothing we can do about it now. And being 1 of 4 kids my mom (who had MS) had why is it that only my gene composition was affected.

My Dr. wants me to take Vit D and Vit E. I add in a few other supplements myself. But, frankly I think they upset my acid reflux so I do not take them all the time. I think i am going to opt for the natural way to get Vit D and get more sunlight. :)

Good Post!

Shauna said...

Lisa, Lanette.

I believe there are studies currently under way to determine if Vitamin D is beneficial to people already diagnosed with MS. It appears to have other benefits, so it's good for you anyway.

S.

harkoo said...

Your post was very interesting. My mother had MS also. Ironically, I developed my first symptoms years before she did. She has died, but I can still ask her identical twin about her milk use and sun exposure. She was raised in the midwest; I was raised in Maine....I rarely drank milk.....but take Vitamin D daily now....I have asked my younger nieces and nephews to take daily Vitamin D supplements, but they don't seem concerned--they were too young to see how sick my mother got. I will be watching further research on this...

harkoo said...

Your post was very interesting. My mother had MS also. Ironically, I developed my first symptoms years before she did. She has died, but I can still ask her identical twin about her milk use and sun exposure. She was raised in the midwest; I was raised in Maine....I rarely drank milk.....but take Vitamin D daily now....I have asked my younger nieces and nephews to take daily Vitamin D supplements, but they don't seem concerned--they were too young to see how sick my mother got. They are so healthy and young and aren't able to see the family pattern of MS. They just assume I have always had MS and never knew me when I was active and healthy. I will be watching further research on this...