A Deeper Understanding of MS and Vitamin D

Published in Physician Update Spring 2018 and NeuroLogic - Winter 2018

When Johns Hopkins neurologist Ellen Mowry was beginning her fellowship in 2007, she already knew about the possible link between vitamin D and multiple sclerosis (MS). A study that came out around that time connected low vitamin D levels in U.S. military members with a higher risk of MS. Those findings supported previous observations that MS prevalence is higher the farther populations live from the equator, where sunlight exposure is lower, resulting in lower vitamin levels.

Today, she and her colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Multiple Sclerosis Center  have strengthened the understanding of the relationship between vitamin D and MS and use these findings to improve patient care.

In a recent talk at the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis 2017 meeting, she presented an overview of research in this area led by herself and colleagues at other institutions. These include work that Mowry and her team published in 2010 showing that children with pediatric-onset MS who had low blood concentrations of vitamin D levels are more likely to experience relapses than those with higher levels of this vitamin. Later research showed that low circulating vitamin D is associated with more areas of demyelination revealed by MRI.

She also collaborated with MS Center Director Peter Calabresi on a study he led to understand how differences in vitamin D supplementation dose might affect patients’ immune regulation. The findings of that 2015 study show that patients on a higher dose of vitamin D experienced beneficial immunomodulatory effects, which could in turn lead to better outcomes for this autoimmune disease.

She’s currently leading the VIDAMS (Vitamin D to Ameliorate MS) trial, a multicenter effort to understand how vitamin D supplementation, along with a standard MS drug, might affect MS progression.

Says Mowry, “By developing a better understanding of how vitamin D is important in this disease process, it could lead us to identify new targets that could offer a whole new way of treating this disease.” 

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