All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for January 2004

Deadly Disease Linked to Lack of Sunlight-Generated Vitamin D

January 28, 2004

Two recent scientific studies published or announced within the past two weeks have linked a lack of exposure to Vitamin D, which is created naturally by sunshine or artificial ultraviolet light, as a significantly increased risk factor for developing multiple sclerosis.

A Harvard study published in the January 13 issue of the respected medical journal, Neurology – the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology – has identified a lack of Vitamin D as a principle indicator in incidence of the deadly, debilitating disease, multiple sclerosis in women. The study’s author, Kassandra Munger, MSc, of Harvard School of Public Health in Boston – noted that the body makes vitamin D through exposure to sunlight’s UV-B ultraviolet rays.

In addition, sunshine may protect against the development of multiple sclerosis, according to the findings of an Oxford University study to be published in next month’s Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. According to that study, the exact causes of MS remain unknown, but the disease becomes more prevalent the further away people live from the equator. Records spanning over 30 years – from 1963 up to 1999 – of people with MS and other autoimmune or neurological diseases were included in the study. Scientists at the Unit of Health-Care Epidemiology, Department of Public Health at Oxford conducted this research.

According to the authors of that study, a minimum level of UV exposure throughout the year might therefore be important in conferring protection. They feel this exposure has the potential to better protect individuals against the development of MS by beneficially influencing the immune system response, possibly through changes to the production of vitamin D and melanin, the substance involved in acquiring a tan.

A major problem with generating sufficient Vitamin D, according to UV-energy researcher and widely published author Michael Stepp, is that so many humans live in high latitudes where, for climatic and other reasons, they are not exposed to sufficient natural sunlight. “From his position as professor of Medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, Dr. Michael Holick’s research has demonstrated that, for children suffering from Vitamin D deficiency, the incidence is 27% lower in Phoenix than in Boston,” Stepp said. “Much other research, including these two new studies, show a correlation between high latitudes and increases in diseases linked to Vitamin D deficiency.”

“Because the number of cases of MS increases the further) you get from the equator, one hypothesis has been that sunlight exposure and high levels of vitamin D may reduce the risk of MS,” said Harvard study author Kassandra Munger, MSc, of Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, MA.

Over the long run, the data in Munger’s 10-years National Institute of Health-funded study of more than 185,000 women, showed that the women who maintained the recommended level of vitamin D in their system were 40 per cent less likely to develop than those women who were otherwise Vitamin D deficient. There are an estimated 250,000 to 350,000 Americans with MS.

“Vitamin D is produced naturally by the body when exposed to UV-B sunlight,” Stepp explained, “and appropriate exposure to either natural and artificial sources of this ultraviolet light such as tanning beds can produce the same levels of Vitamin D in the human body.”

“This research,” Stepp notes, “adds to the growing body of knowledge that points to the benefits of moderate and responsible exposure to naturally- or artificially-produced UV-B sunlight, and of the risks that come from insufficient exposure to this critical element of sunlight. Other studies in 2002 and 2003 have linked insufficient UV-B exposure to a host of other serious health problems, from rickets to diabetes – and have demonstrated that UV-B is not a factor in cancerous melanoma as was previously believed.”

Earlier research also points to the role of vitamin D in MS. In MS patients, levels of Vitamin D in the body can predict periods of low or high disease activity – the higher the Vitamin D, the lower the disease activity.

While the Harvard and Oxford studies are among the first to specifically address Vitamin D deficiency and the onset of MS, other research, Stepp noted, has shown that appropriate levels of Vitamin D can, in mice, arrest or slow the progress of autoimmune diseases such as MS.

In addition to his UV research and his many published trade articles and active participation in a variety of tanning forums, Michael Stepp is president and CEO of Wolff System Technology.

About Wolff System Technology

Wolff System Technology was founded by Friedrich Wolff, "the father" of the indoor tanning industry. Since 1978, Wolff has been a leading advocate of the use of UV light for health-related benefits and a leading educator to the media and consumers of responsible tanning techniques. The company manufactures lighting systems for tanning beds and with patents in 16 countries, is the exclusive licensor of Wolff System certified tanning beds in the United States and Canada. As the leading manufacturer of lamps for indoor tanning beds, Wolff has more than 500,000 systems in use worldwide. With licensed Wolff System tanning equipment, the amount and type of exposure to ultraviolet light is predictable and consistent, unlike outdoor tanning where variables include the time of day, season, cloud cover, and proximity to the equator.

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