Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating disease that affects the central nervous system. The disease interferes with the transmission of nerve impulses throughout the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves, and despite years of research, its cause and a cure remain elusive. There is no effective treatment for the disease.
Australian Researchers Find Important Clue
A new study from Australia, though, has found links between sun exposure and MS. The study, by researchers at the Australian National University’s Medicine, Biology and Environment department, found that people who have spent more time in the sun and those with higher vitamin D levels may be less likely to develop MS.
While it has long been known by researchers that the further a person lives from the equator, the more likelihood there is of MS, until now the link between the sun and levels of vitamin D had not been made.
The Link Between Vitamin D and MS
Vitamin D occurs in certain foods and can be taken in supplements, but it is also manufactured by the body in response to the UV radiation in sunlight hitting the skin.
The coordinator of the study, Associate Professor Robyn Lucas, said that the study showed for the first time that the effects of sun exposure and vitamin D act independently of each other, and each seems to have a beneficial effect in decreasing the risk of experiencing preliminary symptoms of MS.
“Further research should evaluate both sun exposure and vitamin D for the prevention of MS,” she said.
Our relationship with the sun in Australia is a complicated one – on the one hand, we know its harsh rays can cause skin cancer and so shield ourselves zealously from it; on the other hand, many still believe that a tan is a sign of good health. It’s important to note that the current findings do not prove that being exposed to very little sunlight or having low vitamin D levels are risk factors in developing MS. The risk of skin cancer is real, and there is no evidence to suggest that dosing up on vitamin D will prevent MS.
Where to From Here?
It’s clear that more research needs to be done, but the main message is that small amounts of sun exposure could be beneficial for maintaining the body’s levels of vitamin D and for general health and wellbeing.