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."

News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Sport
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Voices
voices
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
News
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
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

    Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

    salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

    Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

    Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

    Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower