Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s: The Vitamin D Connection That Can’t be Ignored
The importance of vitamin D, and the ever-increasing rates of vitamin D deficiency in the United States, have steadily been in headlines over the last five years. But now, new studies are showing that vitamin D may help those suffering from two kinds of central nervous system disorders: Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Parkinson’s.
A report published in late January 2014 in JAMA Neurology suggests that vitamin D may be a way to slow the progression of MS, especially if deficiency is corrected early in the disease. But don’t look for doctors to prescribe vitamin D to people suffering from MS just yet. Statements from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society say the actual connection between vitamin D and MS is unknown at this point, and how much vitamin D to prescribe is unclear. Randomized clinical trials are needed before vitamin D is utilized within the general medical community for treatment of MS.
The JAMA Neurology findings paired with previous studies do indicate two possible connections. First, that vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for developing MS and secondly that maintaining vitamin D levels during treatment is equally important. Data from the actual study found that vitamin D levels at the time of initial MS symptom onset, predicted how the disease would progress over the next five years. People with vitamin D levels below 50 nmol/L had a worse prognosis than those with higher levels of vitamin D. According to NIH, levels of 30-50 nmol/L are considered inadequate for overall health.
New research in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease suggests that vitamin D may also help or prevent “cognitive impairment and depressive symptoms” in those with Parkinson’s. Researchers indicate that vitamin D has been found in previous studies to play a role in the central nervous system. In this study, vitamin D levels were analyzed to see how they affected cognitive impairment and mood within the Parkinson’s population. The patients who had higher levels of vitamin D were seen to have better memory recall than those with lower levels. The study also found that higher vitamin D levels improved depressive symptoms in the subject population.
Much like the vitamin D and MS study, researchers are unable to figure out exactly what the interaction is between vitamin D and this particular central nervous system disorder.
While awaiting further studies and clinical trials, the general population should be aware of their own vitamin D status, which the National Institutes of Health found to be highly vitamin D deficient (roughly 40 percent). Vitamin D can be obtained from the sun, although during the winter months it is very difficult for most of the population to use this method. Vitamin D is also found in fortified dairy and orange juice as well as fatty fish, mushrooms and supplements.
Carlene Thomas RD,LD is a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in weight loss and wellness. She provides nutrition guidance to the public in a variety of ways including corporate wellness, private clients and contributes an expert nutrition voice to a variety of media.