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Vitamin D supplement may benefit MS patients' immune systems

While researchers saw a reduction of the immune cells that cause MS-related inflammation, further studies are needed to see the effects on progression of the disease.

By Stephen Feller
Vitamin D supplement may benefit MS patients' immune systems
Previous studies have shown people with low vitamin D levels are at increased risk for developing multiple sclerosis, leading researchers to suspect supplements could both help people with the disease as well as prevent it. Photo by Minerva Studio/Shutterstock

BALTIMORE, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- People with multiple sclerosis who took high-dose supplements of vitamin D had reduced levels of inflammation related to the disease, according to researchers in a new study.

Low vitamin D is linked with an increased risk for MS, and previous studies have shown taking supplements can help treatment and prevention of disease progression.

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MS is caused by the immune system attacking the protective sheath covering nerve fibers, causing communication problems between the brain and body.

In the new study, published in the journal Neurology, high doses of vitamin D reduced the presence of cells that cause MS-related inflammation, which researchers at Johns Hopkins University said could help patients with the disease.

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"These results are exciting, as vitamin D has the potential to be an inexpensive, safe and convenient treatment for people with MS," said Dr. Peter Calabresi, director of the Johns Hopkins Multiple Sclerosis Center, in a press release.

The researchers recruited 40 patients with relapsing-remitting MS for a double-blind randomized study, giving them either 10,400 international units or 800 international units of cholecalciferol, a form of vitamin D, daily for six months, assessing them at the start, halfway point, and end of the study.

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Patients given the higher dose showed a reduction in inflammatory T cells related to MS, while those given the lower dose had no noticeable changes. The researchers reported side effects were minor, and similar in both groups, but said further studies are needed to see the effects of vitamin D supplements on MS progression.

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"More research is needed to confirm these findings with larger groups of people and to help us understand the mechanisms for these effects, but the results are promising," Calabresi said.

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