Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means that it is stored in fatty tissues until the body needs it. It is manufactured in the body from cholesterol when sunlight hits your skin.
Historically, doctors and nutritionists have believed that the main role of Vitamin D in the body is to help absorb calcium and keep it at healthy levels in the bloodstream. More recently, Vitamin D has been found necessary for proper immune system and brain function.
In new studies, healthy levels of Vitamin D show promise for helping people with multiple sclerosis (MS) delay disease progression and prevent or delay disability. However, more research must be done before Vitamin D can be established as a useful and safe treatment for MS.
How do I take it?
Since the body produces Vitamin D when sunlight interacts with your skin, time outside in the sun can increase your Vitamin D levels. As little as 10 to 15 minutes in the sun three times a week can maintain a healthy level. Be sure to wear sunblock if your skin burns easily. Factors that decrease the amount of Vitamin D your skin makes naturally include your geographic region (northern latitudes receive less sunshine), overcast weather, and darker skin tones.
You can also supplement your Vitamin D levels by including it in your diet. Vitamin D occurs naturally in foods such as fatty fish, eggs, beef liver and cod liver oil. Foods including milk, soy milk and cereal are often fortified with Vitamin D during processing; check labels to be certain.
Vitamin D can also be taken orally as a dietary supplement. The most effective form of Vitamin D supplement is D3, or cholecalciferol. This is the same form made naturally in your body. Be sure to consult your doctor before starting a new supplement to make sure it is safe for you and to find the right dosage. There is currently no established dosage for those with MS.
You can ask your doctor for a blood test to check your Vitamin D level to find out if it is within a healthy range. This may help them decide whether a Vitamin D supplement is right for you.
A recent study tracked Vitamin D levels in 465 people with early symptoms of MS. At the end of one year, those with higher Vitamin D levels exhibited 57 percent lower likelihood of relapse and 57 percent less chance of developing new brain lesions. They also showed 25 percent smaller increase in brain lesions, and a tiny percent less decrease in brain size. The patients in this study were also taking interferon beta-1b.
There are no side effects to maintaining healthy levels of Vitamin D by spending time in sunshine and eating foods rich in or fortified with Vitamin D.
Although Vitamin D supplements are sold over the counter, it may not necessarily be safe to take them. Taking too much Vitamin D can raise the calcium levels in your blood too high. This can result in kidney stones, kidney damage, the formation of calcium deposits in the heart and lungs, and digestive complaints such as nausea, vomiting and constipation.
Further studies are needed to establish safe and therapeutic dosage for MS patients.