Vitamin D, diet, and MS – is the answer in the gut?

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One of the more interesting poster sessions I attended today here at AAN focused on risk factors in MS. In particular, there was an increase in research presented this year on the links between vitamin D and MS, and diet and MS. Turns out, new study results are suggesting that the association between either of these factors and the risk for MS may be related to the trillions of bacteria found within the gut. Collectively referred to as the gut microbiome or gut flora, these microorganisms reside in the digestive tract and enable the body to function normally. The bacteria have co-evolved with humans, thus building a symbiotic relationship that, if disturbed, can have significant consequences, and may lead to the development of autoimmune diseases.

In a poster presentation from Dr. Howard Weiner’s laboratory in Boston, MA, Stephanie Tankou presented evidence showing that low vitamin D levels are associated with increased MS relapses. They believe that that this correlation may be attributed to vitamin D deficiency-induced gut dysregulation or imbalance, leading to exacerbation of MS. In the study, researchers looked at vitamin D levels in the blood of 43 subjects. They also collected stool samples to assess the state of the subjects’ gut flora. Analysis revealed that subjects who had higher levels of vitamin D (above 40 ng/ml) had an abundance of an anti-inflammatory bacteria called ruminococcaceae, compared to subjects whose vitamin D levels fell below 40 ng/ml. The researchers concluded that the lower abundance of ruminococcaceae caused by vitamin D deficiency might be linked to increased inflammation in MS. The outcome of the study warrants further studies to elucidate the mechanism by which vitamin D regulates the composition of the microbiome in MS.

In a second poster presentation from Dr. Ellen Mowry’s group in Baltimore, MD and colleagues, it was reported that people living with MS differ from healthy controls in the levels of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients they consume from their diets. In the study, presented by Sandra Cassard, researchers evaluated the recorded diets of female participants enrolled in a vitamin D supplementation study. Analysis of 27 MS patients and 30 healthy controls revealed that the MS group has lower intake of folate, alpha-tocopherol, magnesium, lutein-zeaxanthin, and quercetin. The researchers concluded that the observed decrease in levels of these antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients may have important implications for neurological health. They added that it is unclear whether low levels of the nutrients is a causative factor in MS or a consequence of the disease.

To view these and other abstracts from the conference, visit the AAN website.

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