Two recent studies have linked a lack of exposure to vitamin D, which is created naturally by sunshine or artificial ultraviolet (UV) light, to the development of multiple sclerosis (MS), an often debilitating disease that affects 250,000 to 350,000 Americans.
The body makes vitamin D through exposure to sunlight’s UV-B ultraviolet rays. The exact causes of MS remain unknown, but MS becomes more prevalent in people living farther away from the Equator. It is thought that a minimum level of UV exposure throughout the year might be important in conferring protection by influencing the immune system response, possibly through changes in the production of vitamin D and melanin, the substance involved in acquiring a tan.
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A major hindrance to generating sufficient vitamin D is living at high latitudes, where exposure to natural sunlight may be insufficient. Some research, including these two new studies, has shown a correlation between high latitudes and increases in diseases linked to vitamin D deficiency.
In the National Institutes of Health study of more than 185,000 women, MS was 40% less likely to develop in women who maintained recommended levels of vitamin D than in women who were otherwise deficient in vitamin D.