vitamin D
Results showed a direct link between low level of vitamin D (25-OH) in childhood and development of increased carotid intima-media thickness (IMT) or thickening of the innermost layers of the artery wall, a well-known factor which can increase the risk of atherosclerosis.Shezamm/Flickr

Maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D may help slow down progression of a nervous system disease known as multiple sclerosis (MS), a new study says.

The findings, reported in the online edition of JAMA Neurology, were found particularly relevant for treating early stages of the disease.

Multiple sclerosis affects the brain and spinal cord by damaging the myelin sheath, a substance that guards nerve cells. This affects the normal communication between brain and the body. Persons with the disease experience vision-related problems, muscle weakness, coordination and balancing difficulties, feelings of numbness or prickling and poor memory/ thinking process.

For analysing the link between vitamin D deficiency and MS, a team of researchers from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) in the US selected 465 patients, part of the 2002-03 BENEFIT (Betaseron in Newly Emerging Multiple Sclerosis for Initial Treatment) trial. The participants were from different parts of the world, including Europe, Canada and Israel.  Vitamin D levels of the patients were measured and recorded at the beginning of the study and at regular intervals for the next two years. During the five-year-follow up, researchers analysed severity and progression of the disease.

Results highlighted the role of vitamin D in severity of MS and progression. Sufficient levels of vitamin D dramatically reduced risk of new brain lesions (57 percent), possibility of relapsing (57 percent), an increase in the lesion volume (25 percent) and a loss in brain volume.

Encouraged by the findings, researchers recommended people affected with the disease to monitor their vitamin D levels and take it along with the MS medication beta-ib, to improve the treatment outcome. "Because low vitamin D levels are common and can be easily and safely increased by oral supplementation, these findings may contribute to better outcomes for many MS patients," lead author Alberto Ascherio, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at HSPH, said in a news release.

Similarly, many studies in the past have shown a direct link between MS severity and vitamin D deficiency. A study published in the Annals of Neurology in 2012 found an association between low vitamin D levels and greater number of brain lesions.  In 2011, a team of Oxford University researchers identified a mutated gene CYP27B1 that played a major role in lowering vitamin D levels in MS patients.