A new study has shown that increased exposure to sunlight may ease the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. MS is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system in which myelin, the protective sheath which encapsulates the nerve fibres is damaged. This leads to the signals between neurons in the brain becoming disrupted and affects parts of the body. The effects of MS include dizziness, tremors, blurred vision and muscle stiffness. Researcher Dr Sreeram Ramagopalan from Oxford University says, “Our work strongly suggests that Vitamin D levels are associated with the risk of a relapse of the symptoms of MS.” Vitamin D is called the Sunshine Vitamin as we make 90% of it through exposure from the sun, specifically, from ultraviolet B exposure to the skin, which naturally initiates the conversion of cholesterol in the skin to vitamin D3.
Perhaps due to health worries such as skin cancer, humans now spend less time in the sun today than at any point in human history – which is why more than 1 billion people worldwide are vitamin D deficient. The study, which is based on over 70,000 hospital emergency admissions of MS patients, found a correlation between low levels of vitamin D and their increased symptoms. This suggests that this vitamin could play an important role in a lack of sunshine and a relapse in patients. It is also thought that the seasons in which we are born could be a feature in acquiring the condition in the first place. Studies have shown that a person who is born in the spring, with the mother being pregnant throughout the autumn and winter, has a more increased chance of MS in later life.
More tests were carried out in Scotland where patients who were admitted to hospital with MS had their blood taken. The blood tests revealed that those with low levels of vitamin D were morel likely to be admitted with emergency conditions than those with higher levels. Scotland has some of the lowest sunlight recorded in the UK. With over 100,000 people in Britain suffering from MS alone, this could be an important break through as getting out in the sun is something we can all do. However, as Dr Ramagopalan says, “Due to a lack of sunshine in the UK, a large proportion of the public is vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D is important to your immune system. This is another reason to make sure you are vitamin D replete.” One reason then why we should all spend more time out doors and in the fresh air.