Low levels of vitamin D could be responsible for more severe multiple sclerosis symptoms and an increased risk of death in the elderly, according to the findings of two new studies.
The new studies look into how low levels of vitamin D – often referred to as the sunshine vitamin – affect health and risk factors for disease.
Published in the Annals of Neurology and the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (JCEM) the research papers suggest that battling deficiencies in elderly populations and people with multiple sclerosis (MS) could help to improve health and quality of life.
In the first study, published in Annals of Neurology, researchers from Johns Hopkins University, USA, reveal that low blood levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased number of brain lesions and signs of a more active disease state in people with MS.
However the team, led by Dr Ellen Mowry, caution that more research is needed before ‘across the board’ mega-doses of vitamin D are recommended for MS patients
"Even though lower levels of vitamin D are associated with more inflammation and lesions in the brain, there is no evidence that taking vitamin D supplements will prevent those symptoms," she says. "If we are able to prove that through our currently-enrolling trial, it will change the way people with multiple sclerosis are treated."
The second study, published in JCEM, suggests that low levels of the sunshine vitamin – in combination with high levels of parathyroid hormone – are associated with increased mortality in African American and Caucasian older adults.
"We observed vitamin D insufficiency in one third of our study participants. This was associated with nearly a 50 percent increase in the mortality rate in older adults," said Professor Stephen Kritchevsky of Wake Forest School of Medicine, USA – who led the study.
"Our findings suggest that low levels of vitamin D may be a substantial public health concern for our nation's older adults."
"We all know that good nutrition is important to overall health and our study adds to a growing body of literature that underscores the importance of vitamin D and indicates that poor vitamin D nutrition is wide-spread," Kritchevsky added."The good news is it's easy to improve vitamin D status either through increased skin exposure to sunlight or through diet or supplements."