Vitamin D deficiency may increase MS risk

Vitamin D deficiency before and after birth may increase the risk of multiple sclerosis in some individuals, a study has shown.











Scientists have found evidence that MS susceptibility is influenced by vitamin D levels coupled with a common genetic variant.



Children with the gene mutation may be more at risk of developing the disease if they lack vitamin D while growing in the womb or during their early years of life.



The researchers suggest that as a precaution mothers should take vitamin D supplements during pregnancy or give them to their young children.



MS is the most common disabling neurological condition affecting young adults. More than 85,000 people in the UK and 2.5 million worldwide are thought to suffer from the condition, which results from the loss of nerve fibres and their protective myelin sheath "insulation".



Although the causes of MS are unclear, experts believe both environmental and genetic factors play a role.



Previous studies have shown that populations from northern Europe are more at risk of MS if they live in areas with little sunshine.



This could be explained by the link with vitamin D, which is produced in the skin through the action of sunlight.



The largest genetic influence on MS is known to arise from a gene variant called DRB1*1501 and neighbouring DNA sequences.



While one in 1,000 people in the UK is likely to develop MS, the incidence rises to around one in 300 for those carrying a single copy of the variant. People with two variant copies of the gene pair have a one in 100 chance of developing the disease.



Researchers at Oxford University and the University of British Columbia in Canada established a direct relationship between DRB1*1501 and vitamin D.



They found that proteins activated by vitamin D in the body effectively flick a molecular switch that turns the gene on.



Co-author Dr Julian Knight, of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University, said: "In people with the DRB1 variant associated with MS, it seems that vitamin D may play a critical role. If too little of the vitamin is available, the gene may not function properly."



The scientists believe the gene-vitamin interaction might impair the thymus gland, a "factory" for immune system cells located in the chest.



The thymus produces an army of white blood cells known as T-cells, which identify invaders such as bacteria and viruses and attack and destroy them. There are millions of different T-cells designed to recognise specific invaders, but sometimes they can mistakenly target the body's own cells or proteins.



Normally the thymus regulates the T-cells and deletes those that pose the greatest risk of "friendly fire". However, the researchers believe that in people with the genetic variant, a lack of vitamin D during early life might remove this safeguard. Rogue T-cells are then allowed to continue to attack the body, leading to a loss of myelin from nerve fibres.



Study leader Professor George Ebers, from Oxford University, said: "We have known for a long time that genes and environment determine MS risk. Here we show that the main environmental risk candidate - vitamin D - and the main gene region are directly linked and interact."



The findings are published online today in the journal PLoS Genetics.



Another member of the Oxford team, Dr Sreeram Ramagopalan, said: "Our study implies that taking vitamin D supplements during pregnancy and the early years may reduce the risk of a child developing MS in later life.



"Vitamin D is a safe and relatively cheap supplement with substantial potential health benefits. There is accumulating evidence that it can reduce the risk of developing cancer and offer protection from other autoimmune diseases."



Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the MS Society, which part-funded the research, said: "These remarkable results tie together leading theories about the environment, genes and MS but they are only part of the jigsaw.



"This discovery opens up new avenues of MS research and future experiments will help put the pieces together."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

    Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy