All the cable TV doctors are out today reporting that people who spend more time in the sun and those with higher vitamin D levels may be less likely to develop multiple sclerosis (MS). This is according to a study published in the February 8, 2011, issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. MS is a chronic disease of the brain and spinal cord, usually with recurrent flare-ups of symptoms. It is often preceded by a first episode (or event) of similar symptoms lasting days to weeks.
“Previous studies have found similar results, but this is the first study to look at people who have just had the first symptoms of MS and haven’t even been diagnosed with the disease yet,” said study author Robyn Lucas, PhD, of Australian National University. “Other studies have looked at people who already have MS—then it’s hard to know whether having the disease led them to change their habits in the sun or in their diet.”
The multi-site study involved 216 people age 18 to 59 who had a first event with symptoms of the type seen in MS. Those people were matched with 395 people with no symptoms of possible MS who were of similar ages, of the same sex and from the same regions of Australia.
The participants reported how much sun they were exposed to during different periods of their lives, and researchers also measured the amount of skin damage participants had from sun exposure and the amount of melanin in their skin. Vitamin D levels (from sun exposure, diet and supplement use) were measured by blood tests. The risk of having a first event, diagnosed by a doctor, ranged from approximately 2 to 9 new cases for every 100,000 people per year in this study. The reported UV light exposure of participants ranged from about 500 to over 6,000 kilojoules per meter squared.
The researchers found that the risk of having a diagnosed first event decreased by 30 percent for each UV increase of 1,000 kilojoules. They also found that people with most evidence of skin damage from sun exposure were 60 percent less likely to develop a first event than the people with the least damage. People with the highest levels of vitamin D also were less likely to have a diagnosed first event than people with the lowest levels.
Studies have shown that MS is more common in latitudes further away from the equator, and this has been confirmed in Australia.