Vitamin D and Multiple Sclerosis-How They're Connected

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Interviewer: Doctor, talk about vitamin D's relationship to Multiple sclerosis. You had that in the book and there's been a lot of information I think in the last few years out on that disease. Can you talk about vitamin D's relationship there?

Dr. Dowd: Yeah, vitamin D and Multiple Sclerosis. So the relationship was, we believed there was a relationship because of several facts. One, Doctor Kertsi (sp) was actually with the VA of all places to study Multiple Sclerosis, which is much more common in women than in men. But the beauty of the VA is he has lots of data that other people don't, because of the Veteran's Administration, which is almost like a socialized medicine within our system. And what he found was that risk for Multiple Sclerosis seemed to correlate with latitude and that the further away from the equator you were born and raised, the higher your risk for developing Multiple Sclerosis. With some very few exceptions, some islands in the North Atlantic, South Pacific where lifestyles were very different and they may have also been isolated from certain infectious diseases because they weren't part of some main land thing. But so there's this latitude association away from the sun, more risk toward the sun, at the equator less risk. He also found that your risk seems to be established before the age of 15. So something was happening related to this latitude before your 15th birthday that's set your risk in stone, and then your risk was the same. So if you were born in North Dakota, you have one of the highest risks in the Continental United States for the rest of your life. Even if you move at 16 years of age to Naples Florida, okay? Conversely you're born in Naples Florida and at 15 years of age move to North Dakota, you will always have one of the lowest risks for Multiple sclerosis in the Continental United States. So these were interesting facts that allude to maybe what the cause of the disease is. Then we have other studies looking at global incidents from the World Health Organization, and they matched up with the VA data that we were seeing. So it wasn't just our data it was data at different places all around the globe that correlated this. There have been several studies done over the last several decades. The most recent ones in the last decade, one was the nurses' health study, another was a military study out of Harvard, and they both showed a relationship between vitamin D in-take and risk for developing Multiple Sclerosis. And so the higher your D in-take the lower your risk of developing Multiple sclerosis. And the effect of that seems to be greater the younger you were in the study population. So when they looked in the military group the youngest recruits who were under 20 years of age, they're the correlation between their D level and their risk of MS was much stronger than older military personnel and their risk for Multiple sclerosis with vitamin D. So again it confirmed this age relationship risk and the closer you get to disease onset, or establishment of disease which is in childhood somewhere, and vitamin D so it clearly confirmed this relationship that D is probably important and that something's happening very early in life to establish this risk and D is relevant to that path of physiology. Then there was a study done... Obviously you take that information and you say, "What can we do with it? So if we treat patients now, they get better?" This is the obvious question. So Ryan (inaudible) who's a biochemist in Toronto, University of Toronto, who's a world expert on the safety of vitamin D and he's written numerous papers on what is a safe dose and why, and compiled all of the data. He also did a study, I'm looking at high dose vitamin D replacement in MS patients in Toronto, and that study showed that high dose replacement of vitamin D seemed to reduce the symptoms of MS. It wasn't dramatic, but there was a difference between the group that got high dose vitamin D and the control group. So that tells us two things about autoimmune disease in general. One, vitamin D is probably important in the cause, okay? One of several variables, but one important variable, in the cause of the disease. And two maybe important in manifestations of the disease, the severity of disease once it's established, and the prognosis. So D early on may prevent disease, D later on may reduce disease symptoms and reduce disease activity. Okay.

Interviewer: Now that really interesting because a couple of times you've mentioned how important it is to get it in those early years, to fifteen twenty years old, again I don't think that's something that most people realize. It's important throughout your life, but those early years are really a key, aren't they?

Dr. Dowd: Right, I think of it almost like a hide and seek game. Mother Nature is like . . . What were those games we use to play where you'd go treasure hunt thing for a birthday party or something and you would try to hide things in the most unlikely places so nobody would think to look there, okay? So if you're Mother Nature and say, "Well I gave him this big brain let's just play a little intellectual game with these humans we have here. We should see how smart they really are for fun." So I'm going to hide all the important stuff where they either don't want to look or they would never think to look. So she hides it in pregnancy. And you ask a pregnant woman and say, "Well do you think this is important?" And they say, "Oh yeah, it's really important." "Well did you're Ob-Gyn talk to you about your diet?" "No." "And did he talk to you about any key nutrients that might be important?" "Well he put me on a prenatal vitamin." "Do you know what's in it?" "No." And so there's so little attention paid. And then our current medical system, that's the highest risk legally. So nobody wants to touch the pregnant lady. That's where all the money is man. That's where everything is going on. From the moment of conception through the first two years of life is where I'd say 90% of our health is set in motion. And then we can modify it slightly after that, but there are some risk factors that are set in motion there that are very difficult to modify later on. I liken it to cannon, and so my arm is the cannon and at the base you have the cannon ball sitting at the base. And your childhood those first 20 years is the length of that barrel and once that cannon ball leaves the barrel you're on your way. And if you say, "I don't want to go that way; I want to go this way." It's not going to make any difference that you turned the cannon this way now that the cannon balls left the barrel. So that early part of life is critical for causation for a lot of diseases that occur later on in life. And we really need to pay more attention to that.

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Dr. James Dowd is an expert in vitamin D. Here he discusses how it is connected to multiple sclerosis. He also discusses the importance of vitamin d in the early years including pregnancy.

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