Taking a high dose of vitamin D3 is safe for people with multiple sclerosis and may help regulate the body's hyperactive immune response, according to a pilot study just published by Johns Hopkins physicians.
"These results are exciting, as vitamin D has the potential to be an inexpensive, safe and convenient treatment for people with MS," said the study author and director of the Johns Hopkins Multiple Sclerosis Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "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."
Low levels of vitamin D in the blood are associated with an increased risk of developing MS. People who have MS and low levels of vitamin D are more likely to have greater disability and more disease activity.
For the study, 40 people with relapsing-remitting MS received either 10,400 international units (IU) or 800 IU of vitamin D3 supplements per day for six months. Patients with severe vitamin D deficiency were not included in the study. The current recommended daily allowance of vitamin D3 is 600 IU for adults to age 70 and 800 IU for older adults.
Blood tests at the start of the study and again at three and six months measured the amount of vitamin D in the blood and the response in the immune system's T cells, which play a key role in MS.
While researchers are still determining the optimal level of vitamin D in the blood for people with MS, a suggested range of 40 to 60 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) or 100 to 150 nanomoles per litre (nmol/L) has been proposed as a target.
Participants taking the high dose of vitamin D reached levels within the proposed target, whereas the group taking the low dose did not reach the target.
Side effects from the vitamin supplements were minor and were not different between the people taking the high dose and the people taking the low dose. One person in each group relapsed.
The people taking the high dose had a reduction in the percentage of inflammatory T cells related to MS severity, specifically IL-17+CD4+ and CD161+CD4+ cells. The people taking the low dose did not have any noticeable changes in the percentages of their T cell subsets.
The researchers hope that these changes in inflammatory T cell responses translate to a reduced severity of disease. Other clinical trials are underway to determine if that is the case.
Source: Neurology, online December 30, 2015.
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