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Can Vitamin D help MS sufferers?

19 Aug 2013
Can Vitamin D help MS sufferers? article image

Australian researchers have begun a series of trials to determine whether vitamin D can stall or prevent the development of multiple sclerosis (MS).  

In a world-first, the researchers will conduct the clinical trials in Hobart, Tasmania – the Australian state with one of the highest incidences of the disease.  

Though the cause of MS is not known, research shows those living further from the equator are at higher risk.  

People who live in Tasmania are 10 times more likely to develop the condition than their counterparts in the Northern Territory.  

It has long been suspected that vitamin D, or a lack of it, has a large part to play in the development of MS.  

Menzies Research Institute professor Bruce Taylor says a placebo-controlled trial to be conducted at Royal Hobart Hospital will hopefully give scientific proof to that hypothesis.  

"We know that MS is not evenly distributed around the world," he said.  

"The further you get away from the equator in a genetically susceptible population, the greater your risk of getting MS.  

That means about 90 per cent of your risk of getting MS can be due to your environment.  

"Our science all points to this, that vitamin D, derived from solar radiation, may be one of the clues," Professor Taylor said.  

MS is an inflammatory disease that affects the brain and spinal chord, but those with MS can have varying symptoms.  

Common symptoms of MS include:

  • Fatigue: one of the most common symptoms)
  • Visual problems: blurring of vision, double vision (diplopia), optic neuritis, involuntary rapid eye movement, (rarely) total loss of sight.
  • Balance and coordination problems: loss of balance, tremors, unstable walking (ataxia), giddiness (vertigo), clumsiness of a limb, lack of co-ordination, weakness 
  • Spasticity
  • Altered sensations: tingling, pins and needles, numbness (paraesthesia), burning sensations
  • Pain: muscle pains, facial pain (such as trigeminal neuralgia), stabbing sharp pains, burning tingling pain.
  • Abnormal speech: slowing of speech, slurring of words, changes in rhythm of speech, difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia).
  • Bladder and bowel problems
  • Sexuality and intimacy: impotence, diminished arousal, loss of sensation
  • Sensitivity to heat
  • Cognitive and emotional disturbances: loss of short-term memory, loss of concentration, judgment or reasoning.

New hope  

Professor Taylor says MS is one of the most difficult diseases to study.  

"And that's why it's unfortunately been very badly studied in the past, because it has a huge what we call interpersonal and intrapersonal variation," he said.  

"So one can have very bad MS for a period of time and then they can just stop having attacks.  

"We spent a lot of time designing the study, which means that if there is a significant effect of MS, we will be able to pick this is up in this study.  

"And this is unique - no-one else in the world is doing this.  

"This is an Australian and New Zealand first and this is really a major scientific step forward for MS," Professor Taylor said.  

MS Research Australia chief executive Jeremy Wright says the study will provide new hope to those battling MS. 

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