There is some good news to report about Multiple Sclerosis. It appears that scientists are now unraveling some of the mystery behind this horrible disease. Researchers from the Oxford University in England, and the University of British Columbia, in Canada have found that there is a type of vitamin D deficiency linked to Multiple Sclerosis. They have found the genetic marker on chromosome 6. This is the first study of its kind to make a genetic link with vitamin D deficiency and M.S.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. It is not a vitamin, which is naturally found in many foods, but it is artificially added to some. Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and is associated with the disease known as rickets. Rickets is responsible for the softening of bones leading to fractures and deformity in children.
Vitamin D can be synthesized from the ultra violet rays from the sun when humans will absorb these rays through the skin. People in warmer countries are less likely to have a Vitamin D deficiency than their counterparts in the Northern Countries.
What was known previously was that people who lived the farthest away from the equator not only had lower levels of vitamin D there were also more incidents of Multiple Sclerosis.
Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease where the body will attack the covering of the nerves cells called the myelin sheath in the brain and the spinal chord. There are over 2.5 million people who have Multiple Sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis is the most common neurological disorder among young adults.
The new discovery concerning Multiple Sclerosis and vitamin D concerns what is called an allele on the Chromosome 6. People carrying this allele, HLA-DRB1*1501, have a three times greater risk for contracting multiple sclerosis. HLA-DRB1*1501 somehow switches on in the autoimmune system. It may influence the thymus to send out T cells to attack itself; thinking there is a foreign invasion in the body that must be destroyed.
“The researchers found that proteins activated by vitamin D in the body bind to a particular DNA sequence lying next to the DRB1*1501 variant, in effect switching the gene on.
In people with the DRB1 variant associated with MS, it seems that vitamin D may play a critical role,” says co-author Dr Julian Knight. “If too little of the vitamin is available, the gene may not function properly.”
With this new knowledge researchers not only can identify people who have this genetic marker, they may also be able to prevent the disorder by giving pregnant woman vitamin D supplements early on in the pregnancy thus combating Multiple Sclerosis from the womb. It is now known that vitamin D is influenced by environmental factors and with this knowledge researchers can alter the functions of this aberrant allele. They believe the gene must be altered in the early formation of the immune system, thus the emphasis on the forming fetus in the uterus (womb).
Thus this new medical break through may even have far reaching implications for determining the risk of getting and combating Multiple Sclerosis in future generations.
“Epigenetics will have important implications, not only for MS, but for other common diseases,” says Professor Ebers. “For mothers, taking care of their health during their reproductive years may have beneficial effects on the health of their future children or even grandchildren.”
According to Doctor Sreeram Ramagopalan vitamin D supplements are cheap and the benefits are many. Not only can it help reduce the risk of contracting Multiple Sclerosis, but also it will aid in the fight against other autoimmune diseases such as cancer.