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Vitamin D and MS

13th January 2020

Our bodies need vitamin D for overall health and to help us absorb other nutrients like calcium for strong bones. It is also essential for immune function and brain function.

Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin, which means the best way to get enough vitamin D is sunlight. However modern living can make this difficult. If you tend to spend a lot of time indoors, your vitamin D could be lower than it should be.

How do I get enough vitamin D?

Sunlight

Vitamin D forms in the skin when it is exposed to UV from sunlight. The amount of sunlight you need varies depending on your location, the season, the time of day and your skin type.

Keep an eye on UV levels to determine how much sun exposure you need and when to use sun protection. You can track the UV levels daily using the SunSmart app.

In Summer, when the UV is 3 or above, most people get enough vitamin D with just a few minutes outdoors on most days of the week such as walking from the office to get lunch.

In winter, when the UV is less than 3, most people struggle to get enough vitamin D. It is best to spend some time outdoors in the middle of the day with some skin uncovered. Help maintain your vitamin D by keeping physically active with activities such as gardening or a brisk walk.

UV radiation levels in northern areas of Australia are higher than in southern areas, so in the Northern Territory, sun protection is needed all year round, whenever the UV Index is 3 or higher.

Food

It’s tricky to get enough vitamin D just from food alone, which means that sunlight is still the most important source. But some foods do contain more vitamin D than others, including oily fish and eggs.

Supplements

If you are not exposed to the sun every day, speak to your GP about whether you should have a blood test to find out if you’re getting enough vitamin D. It is common for people with MS to have their vitamin D levels tested regularly.

Based on your blood test results, your doctor may suggest vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D supplements are available as tablets, capsules, drops or liquid. Your doctor will advise you on the best dose for your needs.

As a general rule vitamin D3 is more effective than vitamin D2 in raising overall vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D in MS research

We know that MS is more common in countries further away from the equator. There are many possible reasons for this pattern, but researchers are particularly interested in the role vitamin D could play in MS.

Experts are always learning more and there are currently several research studies and clinical trials around the world looking at the link between vitamin D and MS. The AusImmune Study is an Australian based research study looking into the environmental factors that may lead to a diagnosis of MS including sun exposure and vitamin D levels. For more information visit www.msra.org.au/ausimmune

Sources:

  • Cancer Council Australia
  • Cancer Council SA
  • Osteoporosis Australia
  • The National MS Society, USA
  • MS Trust UK
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Vitamin D and MS