Vitamin D and the Shortest Day of the Year: MS the Worst Prison Sentence lack of Vit D Provides

December 06, 2006

Vitamin D and the Shortest Day of the Year:  MS the Worst Prison Sentence lack of Vit D Provides 

 Competency # 17  Vitamin D                        ReferenceJournal of the American Medical Association,Dec 20th 2006 

 Here it is again.  The Harvard Nurses Study has already suggested this sort of association.  Now, another main-line Journal is coming out with a confirming study.  Published yesterday in JAMA and widely spread in the national news media is another article confirming that Vit D is strongly correlated with MS, or preventing it. (You can read more if you Google the Washington Post and Vitamin D) 

 The details were as follows.  Dr. Ascherio, also at the Harvard School of Public Health, found blood work on women who developed MS and two matched controls who didn’t.  Those women who had the highest Vit D blood levels (top 20%) had a 62% lower risk of developing MS over the subsequent years than those with the lowest levels.  The data came out of the Armed Forces database where blood work can be tracked down from many years prior and samples can be tested for the amount of Vit D in the blood.  They didn’t find the same effect in Hispanic and African Americans, but they conjectured that their sample sizes were much smaller and may simply not had the ability to statistically predict with confidence.  

We do know that the more pigment your skin contains, the more sunlight you need to make equivalent Vitamin D (by as much as a 500% factor) and we do know that women of color have dramatically lower blood levels of Vit D.  But this study didn’t prove that association. We’ve known for years that there is a strong association between MS and living in the north.  There is much less MS in the southern American states, and in the tropics.  

This effect seems to be set in childhood with folks growing up in the south having a lower risk than folks who grow up in the north.  So, taking Vit D may not prevent MS in later years.  But we do know that MS also has a greater incidence of onset during winter months by almost double.  So, something about winter and our plunging Vit D blood levels is important and does set off something. 

 But this is the shortest day of the year.  The angle of the sun is at its lowest.  It's raining in Wisconsin and we are all indoors.  As we celebrate the return of sunlight (albeit way too slow for me) we can contemplate the value that a good dose of sunshine does for each of us.  Here in Wisconsin, the angle of the sun is so low that we will get virtually no Vit D until April, and then only if we can brave the cold air with our bare skin.  This study’s authors caution that it is way too early to recommend the use of Vit D to prevent MS.  I’m a little more comfortable recommending more. 

 WWW.  What Will Work for me?  Scientific studies need to be rigorous and not make claims they can’t prove.  That’s good.  I like that caution.  But I want to weave together the convergence of ideas.  I personally haven’t got 30 more years of time to wait for definitive answers, and like all of life’ persistent questions, I’m trying to muddle through as best I can.  The Vitamin D story is unfolding and the momentum continues to be in the direction of increasing comfort with higher recommended doses.   I’m taking 2000 units a day of Vit D.  And everyone I can badger enough is too.  Every Aurora Pharmacy now carries the stuff.  It’s cheap.  But does anyone have an extra ticket to Cancun in January?  God intended us to be getting more sunshine.

This column was written by Dr.  John E. Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI, (262-784-5300)