Low vitamin D levels seen as multiple sclerosis risk for African Americans

Vitamin D levels in the blood are lower in African Americans who have the disease, compared to African Americans who do not, revealed by researchers exploring the connection between vitamin D and multiple sclerosis in African Americans.

“It seems relatively clear,” said Ari Green, who is the assistant director of the UCSF Multiple Sclerosis Center, director of the UCSF Neurodiagnostics Center and the senior author on the study.

“Low vitamin D levels are a risk factor for developing multiple sclerosis.”

Published this week in the journal Neurology, the results of the study are consistent with observations in Caucasian populations that link low vitamin D levels to having multiple sclerosis. However, the research could not explain why multiple sclerosis tends to be more severe in African Americans even though the disease is less common than in Caucasian populations.

“There are likely other factors that drive the severity of the disease including genes and other environmental factors such as smoking,” said Jeffrey Gelfand, MD, the first author on the study. Work is now underway to determine how genetic differences may affect the severity of multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease in which a person’s immune system periodically attacks the myelin sheaths that insulate nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord.

Researchers at the UCSF Multiple Sclerosis Center have been investigating for a number of years how genetics and environmental triggers, like low vitamin D levels, can make people susceptible to multiple sclerosis.

How exactly low vitamin D levels contribute to causing multiple sclerosis is not clear, according to Green. Vitamin D may play a protective role for nerve cells or it may modulate the action of immune cells, preventing them from attacking the myelin around nerves.

Previous studies have shown a dramatic link between vitamin D levels and multiple sclerosis ? but only in Caucasian populations.

For the last 10 years, Cree and colleagues at UCSF have created a nationwide network of U.S. clinics that treat large numbers of African Americans with the disease. It includes roughly 6 percent of all African Americans who have multiple sclerosis and live in the United States.

This large cohort of African Americans with multiple sclerosis allowed them to compare 339 African Americans with multiple sclerosis to those of a group of 342 African Americans who did not have the disease. Though vitamin D deficiency was very high among both groups, those who had multiple sclerosis were more likely to be vitamin D deficient ? 77 percent as opposed to 71 percent.

Source: University of California, San Francisco, USA

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Low vitamin D levels seen as multiple sclerosis risk for African Americans
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